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Truth, consequences, and responsibility


Fri, Jun 15th, 2007
Posted in Commentary



So, Paris Hilton doesn't like being in jail. Who would? She obviously broke the law and was incarcerated. Then, by some strange means she is released. Then, due to a public outcry of preferential treatment, she is sent back to the slammer, sparking a debate as to whether she was being mistreated because of her celebrity status. Some say she was "picked on" by the judge, given a sentence that did not match the crime. Others say she got what she deserved. One supposes that the "truth" resides in the middle somewhere. While this debate went forward, the fact that she DID break the law was lost. As the old jailhouse saying goes, "if you can't do the time, don't do the crime".

This leads us to the sentencing of "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, to more than two years in prison. As we know, Mr. Libby was found guilty of lying to a grand jury during questioning about the circumstances around the "outing" of a former CIA operative. It's not that he was guilty of the "outing", it's that he lied under oath when questioned about the circumstances of the outing.

Now some, such as the President, say this is a tragedy. Some say that Mr. Libby should not go to prison because he wasn't responsible for the outing. Some say leniency should be given because of his past government service. Some even suggest, as did at least two Republican candidates for President, that they would pardon Mr. Libby.

But, like the Paris Hilton case, sight has been lost regarding the crime. Mr. Libby was found guilty of lying under oath by a jury of his peers. Not by an "activist" judge. Not by a Democratic controlled panel. But, by ordinary citizens who, to the best of their ability, heard evidence from the prosecution and the defense and then rendered a judgment. In other words, the system worked. Why would anyone believe that lying under oath should be allowed and thus pardoned?

This then, brings us to the ongoing saga of United State Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Mr. Gonzales is in trouble because he fired several U. S. Attorneys supposedly because they were not doing the job he and the present Administration wanted them to. While there may have been political reasons for the firings, there is no doubt that U. S. Attorneys serve at the pleasure of the Administration. And, if they wish to replace them they can.

Some in Congress are trying to make hay over the fact that there were political reasons for the firings. Mr. Gonzales, and several of his present and former aides, have testified before various Congressional committees. During his testimonies, under oath, Mr. Gonzales first said he had nothing to do with the firings, then he said he knew a little bit about them, then he said he was aware that the firings were to take place. He also said he couldn't recall a great many things about the decisions leading top the firings. This is in contrast to the testimonies of some of his aides, also under oath, who essentially said that Mr. Gonzales knew a great deal about the firings and was present at meetings about the firings. Meetings that he said he did not attend or that he could not recall attending.

As this saga goes on, with the emphasis on the political ramifications that supposedly prompted the firings, the "truth" seems to be lost. It seems there is conflicting testimony between Mr. Gonzales and some of his aides. Someone is not telling the truth.

What should we make of this? Is it right to excuse people of responsibility and accountability because they are famous, or because they served the government, or because their memories fail them selectively? When can we expect those in whom we have trusted to not only say they accept responsibility, but to own up to the fact that they have committed an error and be held accountable? When?

Alan Lipowitz lives in Peterson.

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