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Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Cunning of Treason

Cal Thomas has my vote for "Worst Major American Columnist." It goes without saying that he's a partisan hack, but that doesn't necessarily distinguish him from a host of other writers, particularly on the right, and partisanship isn't necessarily a bad thing. Given the adverserial nature of our political system, rival perspectives need vigorous advocates. What most galls about Thomas, however, is his rank hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty.

In his column today, for example, Thomas goes after Mary McCarthy, the CIA officer recently fired for leaking classified information to the media. Rumor has it that McCarthy was the one who leaked stories about the CIA's secret torture prisons in eastern Europe to Dana Priest at the Washington Post, a story for which Priest won a Pulitzer. As it happens, this is unconfirmed by any official source, and McCarthy denies that she was, or even could have been, the source for that particular story, although she has admitted speaking with Priest about something CIA related. So we don't yet really know what happened here. Nonetheless, Thomas is fast out of the gate with charges of "treason": "Former CIA operative Aldrich Ames went to prison for selling American secrets to the Soviet Union. McCarthy allegedly gave hers away. If she is prosecuted and found guilty, her fate should be no less severe." He goes on to say, "Has politics come to this: that the national security of this country can be compromised for political gain? In previous wars, traitors were shot or served lenghty prison terms. Now they get fired and the reporter who prints the secrtes, possibly damaging her nation, wins prestigious journalism awards. Morality and patritoism appear to have been turned upside down."

So for Thomas, this whole story is about "political gain," an indictment of Democrats as America-hating traitors, a theme that has sold a lot of books for the prominent neo-fascist, Ann Coulter. Not surprisingly, Thomas skates over most of the important issues here. Is leaking to American reporters the same same thing as selling secrets to a foreign government? Yes, if our own press qualifies as "the enemy." Of course, you can be convicted of spying for an ally, as the Jonathan Pollard case shows, but that was at least a foreign government (Israel). What we've got in the McCarthy case, by contrast, is a leak of secrets to the American people, which would suggest that we are the government's real enemy. We might also ask what the "harm" done here is--has al Qaeda been able to raid our secret prisons? Have they suddenly realized that they might be tortured if captured? Maybe they hadn't already heard about Gitmo and Abu Ghraib. No matter. Treason is treason. Leakers must be punished.

Well, OK, maybe not all leakers. The elephant in the room is the leaking that Rove, Libby, et al. did to discredit Joe Wilson by exposing his wife's undercover CIA status. That's a case that, unlike McCarthy's, actually did compromise American intelligence operations abroad in ways that could damage national security. So why no condemnation from Thomas? I presume it is because Bush can be seen as authorizing that leak, and if the president does it, it cannot be treason. That would be a contradiction in terms. Why then, an American citizen might ask, does the Constitution itself specify that a president can be impeached for treason? I don't know that what Libby and Rove did was "treason" in the strict sense, but I do know that any serious examination of this issue would raise both cases, not just the one. For my part, I'm happy to say that a whistleblower leak that reveals potential government illegalities to the American people cannot be equated with selling out to the enemy. Such a position makes our government an overlord at war with its own people. John Locke would call that "tyranny."


At 7:23 AM, Blogger Number Three said...

Cal Thomas is bad. But living here in D.C., I have to say that I rarely see his columns. Here, the leading contender for worst major columnist has to be "Chuckles," also known as Charles Krauthammer. (Twice a week in the WaPo!)

At 12:44 PM, Blogger tenaciousmcd said...

Must be a red state blue state thing. I've never lived anywhere that didn't get Cal Thomas columns twice a week, and I don't know that I've ever gotten to read Chuckles on a regular basis. Thomas's close ties to the religious right make him a staple out here in "real America."

My favorite Cal Thomas as columnist-whore story? On November 15, 2001, he wrote an unexpected column proclaiming that "McGovern Was Right." It was mostly a bash on LBJ, but it made some strikingly honest points: "Among the many lessons of Vietnam, which, as Beschloss notes, can teach us something about present and future conflicts, is that no president should have exclusive power when it comes to committing so many American lives and resources to a war. The Johnson tapes should also teach conservatives a lesson. Many anti-war activists love this country as much as those who supported the Vietnam War. Just because someone is of a different party or persuasion does not necessarily mean they are wrong." Funny how fast all of that reasoning disappeared for CT. I wonder if anyone has ever called him on this.


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