Neocons' rejection of the rule of law extends to the personal level

Examining the reflexive and near unanimous defense by neoconservatives whenever one of their own is accused of wrongdoing or criminality.


Glenn Greenwald
May 8, 2007 4:00PM (UTC)

Neoconservatives are most frequently associated with the endless (Middle Eastern) militarism they relentlessly advocate, but they have also been the principal advocates of all of the domestic, liberty-infringing radicalism which accompanies -- and is justified by -- that infinite war agenda. The same people who are most responsible for our invasion and endless occupation of Iraq and who are pining for similar confrontation with Iran are the ones who have ushered in the array of lawlessness and increased federal surveillance and other police powers at home.

The central premise of the Bush presidency has been that this Middle East agenda -- the Epic War of Civilizations for Our Very Existence -- is so paramount that no limits can be tolerated, whether those limits be expressed by long-standing worldwide conventions, moral and political taboos against torture and lawless detention, or even the basic limits imposed by our constitutional framework and by the rule law. All of that must give way to glorious neoconservative triumph over the Supreme Evil Muslim Enemy.

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But what has become increasingly apparent of late is that the rejection of the rule of law finds expression not only on a political level -- as a license for political leaders to break the law to advance the neoconservative political agenda -- but it also serves as personal immunity for individual neoconservatives who are charged with breaking the law or committing serious ethical violations.

When it comes to instances where neoconservatives stand accused of criminality and other wrongdoing, the same neoconservative movement which shrilly advocates the virtually complete abolition of limits on federal power to detain and punish people -- a movement which mocks every notion of due process or restraints on federal power as terrorist-loving subversion -- suddenly reverses course and begins reflexively defending the accused, complaining that they are the victims of wrongful prosecutions and overzealous government power.

Any neoconservative accused of wrongdoing is, by definition, innocent and wrongfully persecuted. The real criminals are always the prosecutors, the investigators, and the accusers. And even when a noeconservative is demonstrated to be guilty, the pure Goodness -- the Overarching Importance -- of their mission means that they ought to be immune from punishment.

Currently, there are numerous examples of prominent neoconservatives who are accused of criminal acts or serious ethical improprieties -- Lewis Libby, Conrad Black, Paul Wolfowitz, and several AIPAC officials accused of espionage. And one of the current highest ranking neoconservatives in the Bush White House, Elliot Abrams, is a convicted criminal, which has not reduced his standing at all in this movement.

In each of these cases, neoconservatives -- with virtual unanimity -- insist that their neoconservative comrades are guilty of nothing, and that they are merely being persecuted by their accusers, who are the real wrongdoers. They make these claims before even a fraction of the relevant evidence is available. These defenses almost always accompany character smears against those who bring the charges. And the neoconservative defense of their comrades always rests on the ultimate defense that even if they engaged in wrongdoing, they are people who crusade for the Good, and these acts were undertaken for the Greater Good, and they therefore ought to be immune from punishment.

Lewis Libby -- though represented by the most expensive and highly-regarded criminal defense lawyers in the country -- was convicted by a conscientious jury of four felony counts. Conrad Black -- the Canadian neoconservative heir and right-wing financier and close associate of Richard Perle -- has been indicted (by Pat Fitzgerald) and currently stands trial on charges of defrauding his investors of $85 million, obstruction of justice and similar alleged crimes.

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A World Bank committee just "concluded that [Paul Wolfowitz] was guilty of breaking rules barring conflicts of interest." And one DoD official -- former Doug Feith underling Larry Franklin -- has already pled guilty to passing classified information to AIPAC officials and the Israeli government, and the two AIPAC officials are to stand trial for multiple espionage-related felonies.

Yet in each of these cases -- where wrongdoing has been established (in the cases of Libby, Franklin and Wolfowitz) or where federal prosecutors with the Bush DOJ have concluded there is overwhelming evidence of guilt (in the case of the AIPAC officials and Black) -- neoconservatives jointly proclaim their fellow neocons to be entirely innocent and to be the real victims.

The Libby case is perhaps the most extreme example, as a finding of guilt on multiple felony counts -- brought by a GOP prosecutor and convicted by an obviously conscientious and unanimous jury -- has done nothing to dampen the pro-Libby fervor. In fact, it has done the opposite.

Almost immediately after the conviction, National Review's Byron York cast aspersions on the integrity of the jurors. Scores of right-wing Bush supporters agitated for an immediate pardon of Libby, including Bill Kristol and Ramesh Ponnuru. David Frum called the prosecution a "travesty" and demanded: "Pardon Libby Now." Fred Barnes went on Fox News and assured viewers that it's "a minor case," that Libby has "been a loyal and effective member of this administration," and therefore "there's every reason to pardon him."

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Marty Peretz proudly announced he was on the Board of the Libby Defense Fund -- a group of neocons who raised millions for Libby's lawyers -- and pronounced Libby "brilliant, very honest, and brave," and said "the charges against Libby should go into the trash." The Wall St. Journal Editorial Page -- leaders of the lynch-Clinton-for-perjury brigade of the 1990s -- actually said that "Mr. Bush owes the former aide a pardon, and an apology" and "the time for a pardon is now."

Then there is Paul Wolfowitz. Almost immediately upon the emergence of the accusations -- before any real evidence was known -- the neoconservative brigade pronounced him completely innocent and his accusers guilty. Jonah Goldberg said it was a case of "Wolfowitz in the Crosshairs" and then linked to a lengthy and absolute defense of his innocence. The Wall St. Journal editorialized that it "makes us wonder if some bank officials weren't trying to ambush Mr. Wolfowitz from the start" and -- just as they said for Libby, using almost identical language -- concluded: "Mr. Wolfowitz has apologized for any mistakes he's made, though we're not sure why. He's the one who deserves an apology."

David Frum described "the gathering b

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National Review told its readers in a viciously pro-Wolfowitz Editorial: "This looks suspiciously like a deliberate coup against Wolfowitz." And Marty Peretz called it "The Faux Wolfowitz Scandale" and identified the real culprits: "Wolfowitz's new troubles were hatched by his political enemies in the World Bank because he has been trying to make it more effective, more honest, and less politicized."

Like Wolfowitz and Libby, poor Conrad Black is also a completely innocent victim of corrupt and hateful accusers. That's why Jonah Goldberg said: "I am all in favor of defending Conrad Black." David Frum has told us that Black is "brilliant and brave, generous and learned," and regularly posts links to articles attacking his prosecutors. He recently promoted a lengthy defense of Black movingly entitled "The Tragedy of Conrad Black."

Frum's father-in-law, Peter Worthington (step-father of Frum's wife, Danielle Crittenden) is so obsessed with the Black trial that he writes daily dispatches defending Black and attacking the prosecutors. He tells us that everything was just fine until overzealous prosecutors went after the innocent Black: ""the reality in the Hollinger case is that it was a thriving, viable company until the prosecutors took aim on Conrad Black." Identically, Mark Steyn is live-blogging Black's trial, mocking the prosecutors and its witnesses and vigorously arguing for Black's innocence.

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And finally we have the case of the AIPAC spies. The Wall St. Journal's Dorothy Rabinowitz actually claimed -- in an Op-Ed entitled "First they came for the Jews" -- that the prosecution itself was dangerous and even insinuated that it was anti-Semitic, claiming (about the Bush DOJ) of "the government's singular focus on nailing the AIPAC lobbyists." She compared the case to Libby's prosecution, both of which are "show trials" persecuting people who have done nothing wrong.

Michael Ledeen wrote a lengthy defense in National Review of the now-convicted Franklin, telling readers that the case against Franklin is so weak that he "may well be exonerated." He argued that the people responsible for the prosecution -- inside the Bush DOJ -- are "either incompetent or McCarthyites," and pronounced the whole case "disgusting."

David Frum insisted that this case was petty because no real classified information was passed to Israel and AIPAC, while Joel Mowbray in The Washington Times at least was candid enough to admit the leaked-to-AIPAC documents were classified, but claimed it was no big deal because the documents "had no sensitive material of any kind. It was nothing more than a policy paper."

The DOD/AIPAC espionage controversy -- whereby minions of Doug Feith passed classified information about Iran and our government's plans to AIPAC and the Israeli Government -- first emerged during the Republican National Convention. The New Republic's Noam Scheiber documented how furious neoconservatives at the RNC Convention were that AIPAC officials and Franklin would be prosecuted, and -- before the evidence was even known -- were emphatic that Franklin and AIPAC were innocent and were busy spinning all sorts of conspiracy theories about the real culprits persecuting these poor, innocent neoconseravtives.

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A couple of caveats are in order here. The mere fact that someone is accused of wrongdoing by the government does not mean they are guilty. Plenty of people so accused are innocent. And while I personally have become completely convinced of both Lewis Libby's and Larry Franklin's guilt, I have no real opinion about the substance of the Wolfowitz accusations, nor the strength of the Conrad Black prosecution. And I think there are genuine reasons to find the prosecution against these AIPAC officials disturbing on First Amendment grounds, as I've written before.

But neoconservatives automatically and reflexively defend any neoconservative accused of wrongdoing, before any facts are even known. They insist that they have done no wrong, that the real guilty parties are the accusers, and that even where they have done wrong, they should not be punished.

And what is so striking -- and most revealing -- about that behavior is that these same neoconservatives are the ones who scoff at notions of due process, of the need for limitations on federal power of incarceration and punishment. They want to vest George Bush with the power to imprison whomever he wants with no charges -- including U.S. citizens, indefinitely, and place blind faith in The Leader to spy on us, detain us, and exert any other power he wants without limits, provided that is all directed against their enemies, but never against them.

They believe the executive should have no limits in declaring people Guilty and subjecting them to any treatment. Objections to such powers are routinely and scornfully dismissed by them. They urge endless expansions of federal police power. As this article demonstrates, the same people vigorously defending Wolfowitz for promoting and giving raises to his girlfriend were calling for Kofi Annan's head because of nepotism charges involving his son. And these are the people who could not be any less sympathetic to claims about prosecutorial abuses or mistreatment of criminal defendants, except when those defendants are their comrades, in which case everything is reversed.

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All of this may seem jumbled and inconsistent but it is actually quite coherent and clear. Neoconservatives do not believe in any limits on their power. Their mission in the world is so important and so Good that anyone devoted to it is, by definition, a hero, a Warrior, on the side of Good. By definition, a neoconservative cannot be guilty. Only those who accuse neoconservatives of wrongdoing or who seek to impede them are the guilty parties.

On the macro level, they do not believe in the constraints of the rule of law for political leaders devoted to their agenda. And on the personal level, these oh-so-tough-on-crime warriors believe in complete immunity and unaccountability for their fellow comrades. How else to explain their reflexive, emphatic and otherwise so-out-of-character defenses of all of these accused and/or convicted neoconservative criminals?


Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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Washington, D.c.



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