Innocence valued by Bush only when it is convenient
October 31, 2005 —
The inherent presumption of innocence and the right to due process and a fair trial are all ideals that this country was founded on. However, the fact that a charged individual must be proven guilty amongst his or her peers is taken for granted by many in this country. With Friday's indictment of I. Lewis Libby Jr., Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, it has become clear that this process is also one that is only truly emphasized when it is convenient to do so.
Libby was indicted by a federal grand jury on five felonies: one count of obstruction of justice, two counts of perjury, and two of making false statements in the course of an investigation. Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the special counsel in the case, said that his investigation showed that Libby told reporters of the identity of C.I.A. officer Valerie Wilson and that "he lied about it afterwards, under oath and repeatedly."
Although Libby was not charged with revealing the identity of Wilson - a federal crime in itself - he is accused of lying to the F.B.I. twice, perjuring himself in front of the grand jury twice, and obstructing justice by impeding the grand jury's investigation into the leaking of Wilson's affiliation with the C.I.A.
President George W. Bush, amidst his own P.R. troubles of having the 2,000th American death in Iraq recorded last week along with having Supreme Court nominee Harriet E. Miers withdraw her candidacy, commented Friday on the indictment of Libby, considered one of the most influential people in the president's administration.
"Special Counsel Fitzgerald's investigation and ongoing legal proceedings are serious," Bush said. "And now the process moves into a new phase. In our system each individual is presumed innocent and entitled to due process and a fair trial."
Cheney made a similar statement.
"In our system of government an accused person is presumed innocent until a contrary finding is made by a jury after an opportunity to answer the charges and a full airing of the facts," the statement said. "Mr. Libby is entitled to that opportunity."
What is ironic about this entire case is the reason Wilson's affiliation was leaked. Her husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, is a former diplomat who was highly critical of the Bush administration's case for going to war in Iraq. He wrote an op-ed article in the New York Times on July 6, 2003 telling of a trip to Niger, at the request of the C.I.A., that left him with reason to criticize assertions about Iraq's quest for nuclear material to make weapons. Eight days later, Mrs. Wilson's affiliation with the C.I.A. was revealed.
Both Bush and Cheney have stressed to the public that, essentially, Libby will have his day in court. While they did not say as much, they implied that Libby was innocent and wanted the public to presume that same innocence until it was proven otherwise. It is convenient for them to now emphasize "innocent until proven guilty," but where was that process when they were supposed to be making the case for going to war with Iraq? Shouldn't the Bush administration have at least proven Saddam Hussein and Iraq "guilty" beyond a reasonable doubt before rushing into such a terrible decision to go to war?
The president and vice-president's rash decision to go to war without a hard factual case is not a surprise, considering what state Bush governed at first. A main complaint behind the death penalty, besides moral issues, is that there are sometimes innocent people executed. Such a sentencing should be used in only extreme situations, much like war.
It would make sense, then, for the United States to at least prove a leader of a state guilty of an infraction before going to war over it. But while the Bush administration apparently felt Hussein and his country was guilty of having nuclear weapons - or the more overwhelming and scary term, weapons of mass destruction - it did not listen to those who felt the war was a bad idea. Those detractors did not have such beliefs simply because they thought war in general was a bad idea. In the case of Mr. Wilson, he went on a C.I.A.-sanctioned trip to Niger to explore intelligence reports that Iraq sought uranium from Niger that could be converted to weapons use and came back convinced going to war was not the right idea.
Due process is a two-way street. Not only does the defendant have the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, the prosecution has the burden of proof - proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If a former diplomat comes back from a trip such as the one Wilson went on and comes back reporting Iraq had not sought uranium as "intelligence" reports stated, reasonable doubt could most certainly be argued.
And therein lies the problem. Due process and the presumption of innocence are only of concern to the federal government when it works in its favor. It is more clear by the day that maybe the Bush administration should have utilized this country's dearest values when it decided to take over a country that had not yet been proven guilty.