WASHINGTON - Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said Sunday that President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney should apologize for the actions of their aides in the CIA leak case.
This is a totally inappropriate request that treats an indictment as a conviction. If either Bush or Cheney apologized for the actions of their aids, then this would be presuming guilt. It would be contrary to the principle of “presumed innocent until proven guilty,” and serve only to taint any future trial with an assumption that merited an apology.
The reason for the principle of “presumed innocent until proven guilty” is to prohibit rash actions against a person only suspected of doing something wrong – actions like launching a war against a country only suspected of having weapons of mass destruction. It is there to protect people who are innocent because, sometimes, the accuser has made a mistake.
I know that a lot of people want to assume that Libby is guilty and are already buying tickets to his execution. The fact that a particular immorality is popular in certain circles does not make it right.
Demands that Rove Resign
Now, there are some additional requests that Reid made that actually did make sense. He is reported to have said that Bush should pledge not to pardon any aids convicted as a result of the investigation. Indeed, he should make that promise. However, he has not exactly earned our trust with his previous broken promise to fire any staff member involved in the leak.
On the basis of that earlier promise, Reid also said that Rove should step down because of his involvement in the leak. An individual does not need to be guilty of a crime to have done something worthy of terminating their employment. Even if Rove did not break the narrowly-defined letter of the law (which prohibits knowingly revealing the identity of a covert operative), he was still reckless with national-security information. This recklessness is not sufficient for a criminal conviction, but it is just cause for termination of employment.
However, on that matter, the White House should demand the resignation of everybody who was a part of the White House Iraq Group, for the crime of deceiving the nation into war and for a policy of personal attack against critics over substantive debate. The executive branch should have a zero-tolerance policy with regard for the deceiving a nation into war, and maybe a “three strikes” rule against using personal attack rather than substantive defense of administration policies. We would all be better off if this were the case.
Praise for Libby
Last, Reid condemned Bush and Cheney for praising Libby after accepting his resignation. They are praising an aide who is under indictment for obstructing justice, giving false statements, and perjury regarding actions that may have done damage to national security. An indictment is not a license to presume guilt; however, it is a license to suspect the possibility of guilt.
With these statements, Bush and Cheney have proved that they do not care about these crimes – that the fact that there is enough evidence against a staff member for indictment for criminal actions does not concern them. Potentially damaging national security, apparently, is not on their radar when it comes to making personal evaluations.
A priest, accused of abusing students, should not be described as a “fine and upstanding member of the church” by his superiors. At best, they can say, “We thought that he was a fine and upstanding member of the church.” Anything other than that belittles the seriousness of the crimes which the individual has been charged with. Bush’s and Cheney’s comments betray their sentiment that perjury, obstruction of justice, and making false statements are too insignificant to influence their opinions of Libby.
So, Reid got three out of four requests right. Bush should promise not to pardon those aids convicted of a crime. He should terminate Rove (and others) for involvement in a campaign to deceive the country into war, put personal attack above substance in defending administration policy, and for reckless and negligent treatment of national security information. He should not have praised an employee under indictment for criminal acts.
However, neither Bush nor Cheney nor Reid should make any official statements that assume that Libby is guilty – until that guilt has been proven in a court of law. Until that happens, these officials have not only a right, but a duty, to assume innocence and make their statements consistent with that assumption. Assuming guilt is a very dangerous practice. Assuming guilt is, perhaps, the core “wrong” responsible for getting us into this ill-planned war with Iraq to start with.