Cheney Sued For Outing CIA Spy

Random Lengths News | July 19, 2006
"On April 26, 1999, at the dedication of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) facility named for him, former President George H.W. Bush said: '[W]e need more protection for the methods we use to gather intelligence and more protection for our sources, particularly our human sources, people that are risking their lives for this country.... I have nothing but contempt and anger for those who betray the trust by exposing the names or our sources. They are, in my view, the most insidious of traitors.'"

So begins the preliminary statement in the civil suit filed by Ambassador Joseph Wilson and his wife, former CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson, against Vice President Dick Cheney, his former chief of staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, presidential advisor Karl Rove and 10 unnamed “John Does.”

The suit arises from the exposure of Plame’s identity, which endangered her and her contacts, and effectively ended her CIA career. It charges four violations of constitutional rights, claims injuries including "gross invasion of privacy" and states, "Both Mr. and Mrs. Wilson fear for their safety and for the safety of their children as a result of the Defendants' conduct. The disclosure of Mrs. Wilson's covert identity makes her and her family a target for those persons and groups who bear hostility to the United States and/or its intelligence officers."

The diametric opposition between the words of former President George H.W. Bush and the actions of his son’s administration underscore the unprecedented nature of this case.

Plame, Wilson and their lawyer, Christopher Wolf, announced the suit at a press conference in Washington, DC, on July 14, three years to the day after Plame was exposed in a column by Robert Novak, in retaliation for Wilson going public with evidence that the Administration lied about reasons for invading Iraq. Erwin Chemerinsky, Duke University professor of constitutional law, is also part of the Wilson’s team. The complaint includes a list of 24 specific events cited by prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald in his indictment of Libby for obstruction of justice and related charges.

"I and my former colleagues trusted the government to protect us in our jobs," said Plame, and it "betrayed that trust. I'd much rather be continuing my career as a public servant than as a plaintiff in a lawsuit."

"This attack was based on lies and disinformation and it included the compromise of Valerie's identity," said Wilson. "I have confidence in the American system of justice and this suit is about the pursuit of justice," he added.

Despite numerous warnings from the CIA, President Bush and other Administration officials repeatedly insisted that Iraq had sought to purchase uranium from Niger in the late 1990s. In response to a question by Cheney, Wilson was sent to Niger to investigate these claims by CIA officers superior to his wife in rank. He confirmed the same story that US Ambassador Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick had previously reported to Washington: the claims were without merit, and the Niger government could not have sold the uranium ore even if it had been approached, since the uranium was under international control.

Documents to support the claims were crude forgeries, identified as such by the CIA station chief in Rome when they were first shown to him. But Italian intelligence accepted them as real, and Bush Administration officials believed the Italians. They were again identified as forgeries within hours of being turned over to UN personnel shortly before the invasion of Iraq. The fact that they were forgeries had no effect in delaying, much less stopping the invasion, which has now cost the lives of over 2,500 U.S. military personnel, and as many as 100,000 Iraqi civilians.

There are eight causes of action (analogous to counts in a criminal indictment) in the suit. One is brought under the First Amendment—abusing state power to stifle freedom of speech, and three under the Fifth Amendment—pertaining to violations of Equal Protection, and Due Process rights to privacy and property. Suits for violations of Constitutional rights are a relatively recent development, called Bivens actions, after the 1971 case that first established the principle. Under Bivens, traditional tort remedies apply, allowing suit for lost wages, pain and suffering, emotional harm, even punitive damages.

Regardless of the suit’s outcome, the discovery process will reveal an unprecedented level of detail about the inner workings of this White House and its vendetta against Wilson. With GOP control of Congress, the Bush Administration has so far been able to avoid any sort of serious scrutiny for any of its numerous scandals and violations of law.

Federal Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald brought charges of obstruction of justice against Libby, but did not charge for the underlying crime, thus leaving a large mass of documents he examined hidden from public scrutiny.

“Discovery in this case would be extremely damaging to the White House. This is a highly secretive White House,” George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley told the website “The notion of a team of lawyers with subpoenas is an obvious concern. These attorneys would be operating under a lower standard of proof than the criminal standard applied to [Patrick] Fitzgerald. And because the Wilsons are raising conspiracy claims, the scope of discovery could be quite broad. It would include emails as well as in-person depositions of the White House staff.”

Discovery will not begin, however, until after preliminary arguments seeking to dismiss the suit outright on what is known as “summary judgment”—the defendants’ argument that legally there is no case against them. In this case arguments are expected to center on questions of immunity.

“The key is going to be whether they can overcome the threshold constitutional issues ––whether the Vice President is immune from this type of lawsuit,” Turley said.

There are three types of immunity. Sovereign immunity prevents the government from being sued for money, unless an exception is made by statute. There are two types of individual immunity: absolute and qualified. Absolute immunity means that you cannot sue a governmental official for doing what they were elected or (in the case of judges) appointed to do. Non-elected staff gets qualified immunity, which protects ‘all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.’ (Malley v. Briggs, cited in Anderson v. Creighton.)

The underlying logic is that elected officials should be impeached, not sued. Despite the counter-example of Paula Jones suing Bill Clinton, absolute immunity may very well protect Cheney in this case. But Libby, Rove and the unnamed Does’ appear unprotected by qualified immunity. These issues will have to be decided first, before discovery can begin.

[Behind the issue of Plame’s outing lie deeper questions of motive. Was it merely political retaliation? Or is something even more sinister involved with the forged Niger documents? There is some suspicion that Americans were knowingly involved in producing and/or passing on the forgeries. KPFK’s Ian Masters has pointed the finger specifically at neo-con fixer Michael Ledeen, who played a murky go-between role in the Iran-Contra scandal. The new Italian government has already showed signs of cracking down on Italian intelligence cooperation with Americans kidnapping a terrorist suspect under the previous pro-Bush Berlisconi regime. If discovery in the new suit goes deep enough, a whole new level of conspiracy just might be revealed.]

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