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Medals of Dishonor: How the Right Rewards Cover Ups & Payback

December 23, 2007

On Friday, right-wing mouthpiece and failed Bush Labor nominee Linda Chavez demonstrated the Iron Law of Republican scandal management. Claiming the CIA official purportedly responsible for destroying detainee interrogation tapes "deserves a medal," Chavez showed the conservative commitment to rewarding those who conceal White House wrong-doing. The corollary, of course, is the GOP Payback Principle: those exposing Bush administration criminality should be prosecuted.
In her Friday column titled "Destroying CIA Tapes Deserves a Thank You," Chavez argued that the 2005 decision by Jose Rodriguez, then-head of the CIA's clandestine service, should be lauded. Chavez expressed her gratitude that Rodriguez destroyed evidence of "enhanced interrogation techniques" such as waterboarding, acts which may have violated U.S. law and American treaty commitments:

In the next few months, his name will likely be dragged through the mud, and he will be vilified as a rogue official engaged in a massive cover-up. I think he deserves a medal...
Even though he is likely to become a scapegoat, what he did was right. He protected not just his men but all of us. I, for one, thank him.

If Chavez wants to pin medals on those who help President Bush avoid a black eye, John Gibson from Fox News wants to bestow honors on those who exact revenge on Bush's opponents. Last month, Gibson cheered the White House operation to out covert CIA operative Valerie Plame as retribution for her husband Joe Wilson's July 2003 op-ed debunking President Bush's bogus claims about Iraq seeking uranium in Niger. Ending the classified career of CIA agent deeply involved in critical nuclear proliferation work and compromising her global network was essential, Gibson argued, because "this was about an anti-Bush cabal at the CIA" that needed to be "rooted out." Again, this right-wing water carrier declared, there ought to be a medal:

"I'm the guy who said a long, long time ago that whoever outed Valerie Plame should get a medal. And if it was Karl Rove, I'd pin it on him myself."

Unsurprisingly, President Bush's amen corner was none too pleased when CIA director George Tenet (himself a later Bush medal recipient) called for the Justice Department to investigate the outing of Plame. After all, she was, in Karl Rove's words, "fair game."
But while conservatives opposed a DOJ investigation into the Plame outing, they are positively ecstatic about the prospect of going after CIA agent John Kiriakou in the CIA tapes case. For reasons that remain unclear, Kiriakou came forward with an account of the interrogation and waterboarding of Al Qaeda terrorist Abu Zubaydah. In murky and often contradictory interviews with ABC News, the Washington Post and other media outlets earlier this month, Kiriakou claimed that Zubaydah "broke" after 35 seconds of waterboarding. Despite Kiriakou's unsupported claim that the interrogation disrupted "maybe dozens" of Al Qaeda attacks, he also concluded that the harsh techniques used were "torture."
CIA officials are said to be "furious" with Kiriakou and have asked the Justice Department to launch a criminal probe into whether he disclosed classified information. [It is worth noting that Kiriakou's lawyer Mark Zaid called this "both expected and normal," adding "It is a routine act that the CIA undertakes even when they know no violation has occurred."] But unlike in the Plame affair, this time the conservative chattering classes are thrilled with the inquiry. As the right-wing blog Atlas Shrugs put it:

"When did we stop prosecuting seditious behavior? When did we stop defending the sanctity of war time classified information...Send the bastard to jail!"

For conservatives, of course, the ultimate in payback for the leaking of information detailed President Bush's clandestine criminality involves NSA domestic surveillance. Clearly illegal before the passage of FISA revisions in the August "Protect America Act," the regime of illicit NSA spying on Americans was one Bush's allies wanted to conceal at all costs.
As it turned out, hell hath no fury like a conservative scorned. After the revelations about the NSA program by the New York Times, President Bush on December 19, 2005 raged about what he deemed "a shameful act" that is "helping the enemy". Claiming he didn't order an investigation, Bush added "the Justice Department, I presume, will proceed forward with a full investigation" At a subsequent press conference that same day, Alberto Gonzales suggested the retribution that was to come:

"As to whether or not there will be a leak investigation, as the President indicated, this is really hurting national security, this has really hurt our country, and we are concerned that a very valuable tool has been compromised. As to whether or not there will be a leak investigation, we'll just have to wait and see."

The FBI raid of the home of suspected NSA leaker Thomas Tamm reported in August 2007 was not enough to quell Republican calls for revenge in the NSA case. For the goose-steppers in President Bush's amen corner, retribution against those bringing the White House's crimes and misdeeds to light can't come soon - or harshly - enough. The day after the Tamm raid in the NSA case, Gabriel Schoenfeld took to the pages of Commentary to renew his 2006 claim that the New York Times should be prosecuted under federal criminal statutes, if not the Espionage Act of 1917. Ironically, Schoenfeld wanted the Times reporters James Risen and Eric Lichtblau to get the Judith Miller treatment:

"If Risen and Lichtblau promised their source confidentiality, they might choose not to testify. That would potentially place them, like Judith Miller in the Libby investigation, in contempt of court and even land them in prison."

And on and on it goes. For the conservative chattering classes, Bush opponents and whistleblowers should face prosecution for the patriotic act of revealing White House criminality. For the likes of Linda Chavez and John Gibson, those who conceal the administration's crimes or smear the brave Americans who bring them to light are deserving of medals.
That honor, as Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Bremer, George Tenet and Tommy Franks all demonstrated, is one President Bush used to reserve only for the incompetent.

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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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