Time to count the ranks of the faithful

by Daniel on January 19, 2004

Over the last year, those of us who were against starting the particular conflict in Iraq which took place in the second quarter of 2003, have taken an awful lot of criticism from those of our fellow left-wingers who supported it. Which is fair enough; robust debate is important. But it is a bit much to be accused of supporting the murder of innocents, by people who know perfectly well that you don’t, because you refuse to lend your voice to an already deafening clamor of approbation for a policy which you didn’t support, still regard as misguided, but which happened to have some favourable consequences. For example.

I personally have a very great antipathy to loyalty oaths, but am never happier than when discarding principles in order to fight dirty. So, it’s sauce for the gander time.

I hereby question the “left” credentials, and indeed the commitment to democracy, of anyone who takes the government side against Katharine Gun. Saddam’s gone and nothing can bring him back. Whatever happens in Iraq, happens. The war was fought and cannot be unfought. All that turns on this case, is whether someone who is aware that the government is trying to do something in private which they would not dare to do in public, has the right to blow the whistle. If you think that Ms Gun deserves to go to jail, then all I can say, mes amis is examine your conscience.

[EDIT] Just to emphasise that this is my own personal view, rather than the “party line” of CT. I’ve not discussed it with any other contributor and suspect that a number of them won’t agree.

{ 61 comments }

1

Andrew Boucher 01.19.04 at 5:54 pm

The “for example” points to a post at Harry’s Place. Could you please say where in this post he accuses the anti-war left of “supporting the murder of innocents”? He makes this accusation against one Tariq Ali or, to be precise, “the likes of Tariq Ali.” I’m not knowledgeable enough to judge about this charge, but the rest of the post strikes me as entirely reasonable.

Do you disagree with any of Harry’s 10 propositions?

2

Chris Lawrence 01.19.04 at 6:00 pm

She followed her conscience, and she apparently broke the law. Now she has to face the consequences. Such is life. I, for one, will shed no tears for her, so long as her prosecution is within the law (Herbert drags in Nixon’s dirty tricks toward Ellsworth in an obvious effort to set up a parallel to Ms. Gun’s “persecution” for doing nothing worse than, apparently, breaking the law; call me back when Peter Mendelson’s “plumbers” break into her shrink’s office, and then I might care).

But then again, I’m an evil warmongering type, and not a leftist by any stretch of the imagination.

3

dsquared 01.19.04 at 6:01 pm

Could you please say where in this post he accuses the anti-war left of “supporting the murder of innocents”?

I’ve provided a link and so I daresay anyone who’s interested can judge for themselves whether it’s a fair enough precis.

He makes this accusation against one Tariq Ali or, to be precise, “the likes of Tariq Ali.”

And then says “In attacking the likes of Tariq Ali for supporting the murderers of the Iraqi resistance, in highlighting the New Stalinism of the Socialist Workers Party or the retro Stalinism of Andrew Murray, we are accused of ‘smearing’ the entire body of anti-war opinion. [...] I am not convinced this is a fair criticism.” And ends with ten propositions that any “reasonable and principled” opponent of the war ought to sign up to, with the implication that if you don’t you’re not “reasonable and principled”. I think I’m being fair enough.

Do you disagree with any of Harry’s 10 propositions?

Not telling you. This is my post, so you show your cards first. What’s your position on Valerie Gun?

4

Chris Lawrence 01.19.04 at 6:16 pm

“Valerie Gun”? Yes, I can see how the cases of Ms. Plame and Ms. Gun would seem similar (the difference being that Ms. Plame was apparently the victim of a possibly criminal act while Ms. Gun was apparently the perpetrator of a definitely criminal act).

Other than that, yes, they are the Twin Leftist Martyrs of the Toppling of Saddam.

5

Chris Lawrence 01.19.04 at 6:18 pm

BTW, Andrew: D^2’s position is in the comments of that post. No need to show your hole cards first!

6

dsquared 01.19.04 at 6:19 pm

Chris, just a friendly word, you’re coming across as a bit of a prick here.

7

Chris Bertram 01.19.04 at 6:36 pm

2 issues: should she face criminal prosecution? Should she keep her job?

On the first: no. I don’t like to see this kind of prosecution and (an independent issue) this is politically stupid.

On the second: probably she should be in another career. _If_ we want to have spooks and those around them at all, then we also want them to have consciences and to be prepared to blow the whistle sometimes. But my (entirely defeasible) view is that it would be better to have spooks whose go-public-and-expose-wrongdoing trigger is somewhat less sensitive than hers (ie set to go off at massacre and coverup thereof, rather than at bugging UN delegations to seek an advantage). (And for emphasis: I said _if_ we want to have spooks ….)

8

dsquared 01.19.04 at 6:49 pm

But my (entirely defeasible) view is that it would be better to have spooks whose go-public-and-expose-wrongdoing trigger is somewhat less sensitive than hers (ie set to go off at massacre and coverup thereof, rather than at bugging UN delegations to seek an advantage).

As you know, I tend more to the anarchic, so I regard it as a positive benefit that there be at least a few spooks who might suddenly fly off the handle on more or less any issue. Means that the government has to more or less always keep to the Private Eye rule (ie; if you wouldn’t like the way that this would look when reported in Private Eye, don’t do it).

9

Chris Bertram 01.19.04 at 6:53 pm

But lots of legit government activity probably fails the Private Eye rule….

10

dsquared 01.19.04 at 6:57 pm

… which engenders precisely that healthy mistrust for and hatred of government which I regard as the cornerstone of liberty.

my personal political philosophical system is unlikely to give Rawls many sleepless nights, I admit, but it keeps me off the streets, most of the time.

11

Keith M Ellis 01.19.04 at 7:02 pm

I agree with Chris Lawrence. If she broke the law, she broke the law. Following one’s conscience when it is contrary to the law is the “right” thing to do; but there will be consequences, and in this the law, too, is “right”.

From Plato’s Crito:

Socrates: Has a philosopher like you failed to discover that our country is more to be valued and higher and holier far than mother or father or any ancestor, and more to be regarded in the eyes of the gods and of men of understanding? also to be soothed, and gently and reverently entreated when angry, even more than a father, and if not persuaded, obeyed? And when we are punished by her, whether with imprisonment or stripes, the punishment is to be endured in silence; and if she leads us to wounds or death in battle, thither we follow as is right; neither may anyone yield or retreat or leave his rank, but whether in battle or in a court of law, or in any other place, he must do what his city and his country order him; or he must change their view of what is just: and if he may do no violence to his father or mother, much less may he do violence to his country.” What answer shall we make to this, Crito? Do the laws speak truly, or do they not?

Crito: I think that they do.

Socrates: Then the laws will say: “Consider, Socrates, if this is true, that in your present attempt you are going to do us wrong. For, after having brought you into the world, and nurtured and educated you, and given you and every other citizen a share in every good that we had to give, we further proclaim and give the right to every Athenian, that if he does not like us when he has come of age and has seen the ways of the city, and made our acquaintance, he may go where he pleases and take his goods with him; and none of us laws will forbid him or interfere with him. Any of you who does not like us and the city, and who wants to go to a colony or to any other city, may go where he likes, and take his goods with him. But he who has experience of the manner in which we order justice and administer the State, and still remains, has entered into an implied contract that he will do as we command him.

The law is not always just. The state will err. But respect for the rule of law itself is essential.

12

seth edenbaum 01.19.04 at 7:11 pm

So the division is between nationalists and internationalists? Fine by me, but I’m a bougie [sp?] leftist. I’m happy to say liberals can go to hell, along with Valerie Plame – what laws did she break as a CIA Op? – but this doesn’t simplify things much. So some semi-leftoids have become liberals during a crisis? I guess that’s true.

13

Aaron Bergman 01.19.04 at 7:16 pm

She was the one who revealed that the US was spying on people at the UN? You work for an intelligence agency, you agree to certain strictures. You break the rules, you face the consequences. If she broke the rules because someone was plotting something truly horrible, I’d have a lot of sympathy, but her revelations were on the order of “there’s gambling in this establishment?!?”. And, most of the diplomats interviewed at the time seemed to agree from my recollection.

So, I guess you can take away my lefty credentials, not that they really ever existed in the first place. But I still get to hate Bush, no matter what the label.

14

Keith M Ellis 01.19.04 at 7:25 pm

Yeah, I don’t see the comparison to Valerie Plame. She broke no laws, the administration’s leakers did.

And in spite of my Plato quote above, I don’t see this as an issue of “nationalism”, either.

Whether a law is just or not is a different question than whether the institution of law and its procedures in general is just. If I felt compelled by my conscience to violate a law, I would not argue that I should not be punished. This is what it means to be an adult.

15

Georgeq 01.19.04 at 7:33 pm

Generate blog-safe NYTimes links:
http://nytimes.blogspace.com/genlink

16

Andrew Boucher 01.19.04 at 7:36 pm

I don’t know all the ins and outs of the case of Ms Gun. But I would broadly agree with the others. If she did indeed work in a spy agency, it would strike me as bizarre that she thinks that she has the right to leak to the press a case when one nation is spying on another or others. Isn’t that, in the context of her work, what one’s supposed to do??

I would presume you think that the one who informed on Valerie Plume should go to prison (I do, anyway). Do you? If so, where’s the coherence? Are leaks only right when you agree with the political position of the leaker?

This is the second time in a week where a Crooked Timber commentator reads something on Iraq, misinterprets it, sputters rage at his own misinterpretation, and when called up on it, does not even have the self-reflexivity to admit that just perhaps he went overboard. Fine, I guess that’s the point of blogging. But it’s sad to see the disappearance of rational thought on both the left and right.

17

rogerg 01.19.04 at 7:41 pm

The problem is the Official Secrets Act, not Ms. Gun. Obviously, it is an act that can only be abused, as in the disparity between the punishment for leaking some information — for instance, the Campbell inspired leaks of who said what to the BBC — and other information, such as Ms. Gun’s. I wonder if there isn’t some equivalent in law to the ill formed sets in logic — laws the enforcement of which involve principles that undermine the law.

Obviously, the whole superstructure of secrecy acts is liable to this comment. Since we can’t even know if it has been applied without discrimination — because to know that would be to know what secrets are top secret, which is itself top secret — the best thing is to cut the law down to the roots. As to the ideological coloration of people who support the Official Secrecy Act — are there really a lot of Leftists out there who support this act? It would surprise me. Certainly I think Conservatives should find it ideologically suspect, too. But I wouldn’t count on seeing the act disappear, because it is a marvellous tool for whoever is in power.

18

jdsm 01.19.04 at 7:58 pm

I know the rule of law is important and it is required that people follow it for any society to function but there are times when it just doesn’t cut the mustard. Along with all man-made structures it is fallible and in this case it comes up against what is clearly the right thing to do. Surely there must be some provision within a system that can trump absurdities – especially when there is full separation of powers.

19

Matt 01.19.04 at 8:09 pm

The Ellsberg analogy is somewhat misleading– I don’t think anyone (including Ellsberg himself) denied that he broke the law, and was, consequently, in serious jeopardy of going to jail. But one understands that this is the price one may pay for acting according to the dictates of one’s conscience. If Nixon and his minions had taken the trouble to act within the law, Ellsberg probably would have gone to prison. Doing the right thing is -not- guaranteed to be frictionless.

20

Keith M Ellis 01.19.04 at 8:21 pm

Are some here seriously questioning the idea that a government should be able to keep some things secret?

21

Jason McCullough 01.19.04 at 10:37 pm

“The Ellsberg analogy is somewhat misleading— I don’t think anyone (including Ellsberg himself) denied that he broke the law, and was, consequently, in serious jeopardy of going to jail.”

Not true; leaking classifieds documents results in revocation of your security clearances. There’s nothing actually illegal about it, Nixon trying to nail him to the wall not withstanding.

“…..while Ms. Gun was apparently the perpetrator of a definitely criminal act).”

Say what? She exposed another country’s intelligence operation; the only reason it’s illegal in the UK is the Offical Secrets Act. By contrast, if she was a US government employee and exposed a UK operation, it wouldn’t be illegal at all.

22

Unlearned Hand 01.19.04 at 10:47 pm

“the only reason it’s illegal in the UK is the Offical Secrets Act.”

Just to be clear, is your point that the only reason it is illegal is because there is a law that forbids it?

23

FDL 01.19.04 at 10:59 pm

Let’s cut to the chase here — Gun’s actions are meritorious because she blew the whistle on conduct of the US and UK govts which was utterly reprehensible. What, democracy stops at the borders? what the fuck ever happened to being a light on the hill unto other nations?

If we couldn’t make a winning case in the UN on its merits, that’s a damn good sign that our case sucked. Considering the amount of legal pressure the US can put on other nations (through grant and loan funds and a zillion other ways), the fact that we needed the dirty laundry in order to swing votes should have been a big old warning sign that us “exceptionalists” (see, e.g. winds of change) were not so exceptional, but were instead flat wrong.

Sure there’s a need for spies. I want my spy agency to know both the capabilities and intentions of every foreign government and ngo of concern. And yes, the very nature of spy work means that abuses will be impossible to prevent. (cispes? cointelpro?)

but i’m with d2. the US and UK were FLAT WRONG to attempt to blackmail foreign countries into a declaration of war against a third country. even in a world of realpolitik this is not a close call. christ almighty, what kind of precedent are we setting? And are our own ambassadors and diplomats so much purer than the rest that we aren’t concerned about getting some payback?

p.s. These are my answers to Harry’s 10 Questions, for what they’re worth.

1. Iraq is better off due to regime change and the Iraqi people now have a more hopeful future without the Ba’athist dictatorship in power.

Likely, but unknown. A really gruesome civil war also appears to be a growing possibility. The losers in the civil war will probably think that things were better under Saddam

2.I am very pleased that Saddam Hussein was captured and now faces justice.

Yes.

3. The Iraqi ‘resistance’ offers no hope for the Iraqi people and needs to be defeated.

Probably wrong on both clauses. As to no hope: Those Iraqis that desire a strict Islamic state are likely strong supporters of components of the resistance. As to needing defeat: a popular insurgency cannot be defeated; they will bring supporters to their cause faster than we can kill them off.

4. Support needs to be given to both the Iraqi governing council and the coalition forces in their struggle against these reactionaries.

No on council, yes on troops. According to voices like Riverbend and Juan Cole, the IGC is hopelessly corrupt. Increasing their power may only aggravate the likelihood of civil war. As to the troops, no I’m not a monster. I do not wish death on any of them.

5. I hope that defeat of the ‘resistance’ will allow for a progress towards free and fair elections and democratic self-government in Iraq.

Sure, as an expression of hope. I also hope to win the lottery, even though I don’t play. So long as we don’t even understand who we’re fighting against, we cannot possibly know the consequences of our battles against the resistance. Also, keep in mind that free and fair elections held today would probably put in power a theocratic, anti-woman and virulently anti-US government.

6.The Coalition troops should stay as long as they are needed to assist the transition to democracy and independence in Iraq.

Yup.

7. I hope that a successful, democratic Iraq will be an inspiration to democrats throughout the middle-east.

Sure. But at the moment it’s more likely to inspire fundamentalists to rise up against their corrupt monarchies to install anti-american govts.

8.I hope that the capture of Saddam and the fall of his regime will inspire other peoples who are fighting against dictatorship.

Sure. Let’s just hope also that the cure isn’t worse than the disease. see, e.g. Algeria.

9.And that the end of his regime may warn off others who are considering developing or hiding WMD programmes.

You must be kidding. the phones must be ringing off the hook in Pakistan these days. We sent the clearest possible message to second-rate dictatorships — join us in the war on terror until you have your own nuke, at which point you can just pretend to help while actually telling us to fuck off.

10.All of the above are more important to me than the success or otherwise of the political careers of Tony Blair or George W Bush.

Yes (on blair) and no (on bush). Since i blame Bush for the single most foolhardy, dangerous, blinkered, arrogant and just-plain-wrong regime since god knows when, I think that getting bush out of office is probably the single best thing that could happen on the planet for all our long-term safety, french, english, american . . . alike.

cheers.

Francis

24

Thorley Winston 01.20.04 at 12:07 am

Daniel Davies wrote:

I hereby question the “left” credentials, and indeed the commitment to democracy, of anyone who takes the government side against Katharine Gun.

I agree. Anyone who supports the actions of a rogue, unelected intelligence agent making foreign policy outside the boundaries of a civilian government that is bound by the checks and balances of elections clearly has no commitment to democracy.

Their “left credentials” though may still be solid.

25

Thorley Winston 01.20.04 at 12:10 am

FDL wrote:

Let’s cut to the chase here — Gun’s actions are meritorious because she blew the whistle on conduct of the US and UK govts which was utterly reprehensible.

Actually, the only thing reprehensive was Gun’s actions, which have no merit and were boarder line treasonous. Intelligence agents are answerable to the democratically elected officials in the republic and do not have the prerogative to make foreign policy on their own. Unless of course you would like to see generals and spooks starting wars and releasing classified information purely on their own “conscious” without having the checks and balances of elections.

What, democracy stops at the borders?

The UN has as much to do with democracy as the Five Families.

If we couldn’t make a winning case in the UN on its merits, that’s a damn good sign that our case sucked.

You cannot possibly be so stupid or naïve as to believe that the United Nations has ever been about “merit.”

The UN representatives voting on the issue of (yet) another resolution on Iraq based their vote on the interest of their respective nation-states and/or their leaders – dictators, democrats, and republicans alike. If you were in bed with the Baathists like the Germans, French, and Russians you were not going to support Iraqi liberation regardless of the case being made. It became (as it so often does) a bidding war to sway votes which is why so many lesser nations support the United Nations – because it provides a mechanism for extortion.

but i’m with d2. the US and UK were FLAT WRONG to attempt to blackmail foreign countries into a declaration of war against a third country.

Really and how would they be “blackmailed” if they were not doing something wrong (like say violating UN sanctions in Iraq) in the first place?

26

chun the unavoidable 01.20.04 at 12:44 am

You can’t possibly be so stupid and naive as to believe that beginning a comment with “you can’t possibly be so stupid and naive as to believe” is going win hearts and minds. Or is it that you can’t possibly be so stupid and naive as to believe that “you can’t possibly be so stupid and naive as to believe that beginning a comment with ‘you can’t possibly be so stupid and naive to believe’ is going to win hearts and minds?”

27

chun the unavoidable 01.20.04 at 12:50 am

And, to be clear, I think Gun deserves an OBE, the Congressional Medal of Honor, and a television show based on her career called Rogue Agent. I’d be proud to have her lecture elementary school students on the true meaning of patriotism, perhaps even as a marketing tie-in to the show.

28

Shalom Beck 01.20.04 at 12:57 am

Why is Ms. Gun being unfairly singled out for prosecution?

The journalist who reported the story, the editors who passed on it, should all be prosecuted as well.

And why is the maximum penalty only two years? The naval analyst in the US who leaked a trivial satellite photo of a Soviet aircraft carrier got two years.

Daniel Ellsberg a saint? Tell it to the boat people (and the Cambodians).

Yet the cases are distinguishable: Ellsberg leaked secrets about what the US had done, Ms. Gun leaked secrets about what the US was thinking of doing.

29

Shalom Beck 01.20.04 at 12:57 am

Why is Ms. Gun being unfairly singled out for prosecution?

The journalist who reported the story, the editors who passed on it, should all be prosecuted as well.

And why is the maximum penalty only two years? The naval analyst in the US who leaked a trivial satellite photo of a Soviet aircraft carrier got two years.

Daniel Ellsberg a saint? Tell it to the boat people (and the Cambodians).

Yet the cases are distinguishable: Ellsberg leaked secrets about what the US had done, Ms. Gun leaked secrets about what the US was thinking of doing.

30

Keith M Ellis 01.20.04 at 2:33 am

I am rather disapointed with some of the reasoning on display here. The ethics of her actions are not reducible to a single value. If I betray your confidence for the greater good, then that betrayal is justifiable but nevertheless a betrayal. Furthermore, even were you to agree that the betrayal was justified, the betrayal would nevertheless diminish your trust in me. That is the inevitable consequence of the betrayal qua betrayal—it has an existence independent of that of the utility of the betrayal.

The ultimate utility of the act is relevant in sentencing, not in establishing guilt; and even there it is understood not to ever be completely mitigating.

In this case, while reprehensible, the misdeeds that Ms. Gun brought to light are not so heinous that they prima facie trump the usual national security and rule-of-law concerns.

But even if they were…I’ve said previously that I believe that the US nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were war crimes. Had I been in a position to commit treason and warn the residents of those cities, perhaps I would have. I cannot imagine how I or anyone else could expect anything other than a firing squad for doing so, however.

31

Anthony 01.20.04 at 3:17 am

Since I don’t have, and don’t really care to hav, any “left credentials”, could someone who does explain to me how a democracy spying on governments like Angola’s, Cameroon’s, or Pakistan’s, or spying on an organization which weighs the vote of a dictatorship equal to that of a democracy, displays any lack of “committment to democracy”.

32

Jason McCullough 01.20.04 at 3:26 am

“Just to be clear, is your point that the only reason it is illegal is because there is a law that forbids it?”

I was trying to make a point that it’s not illegal in the US at all and I totally agree with the reasons why, so I don’t see why anyone cares. What, we’re supposed to kowtow to stupid laws?

Mostly, *she didn’t leak information about a UK plan*. Yeah, it looks bad, but would you argue that a US operative leaking info about a UK spy plan was “treasonous against the US?” It’s absurd.

33

fdl 01.20.04 at 3:45 am

re the UN:

last i checked, this country was a charter member of the UN treaty, and the senate ratified it. I may think that the US Senate has as much to do with democracy as the Five Families, but in both cases them’s the rules.

re Old Europe:

before insulting the french, german and russians again, thorley, you really should include in your calculation the fact that THEY WERE RIGHT. Where the hell is the WMD? oh, and by the way, the US press consistently mis-reported the french position on invasion. the french supported reso. 1441 in the fall; they just claimed (rightly) that the UN inspectors were doing their work effectively and that there was no need to rush to war.

re stupid and naive:

congrats on figuring out the umlaut; so your spelling is just as precious and useless as your thinking.

Please note, for example, that the Bush admin is crawling back to the UN right now for assistance in election planning. I agree, asshole, that it’s not about merit. It’s about credibility.

You may think that the US has no need of international credibility. In that case you shouldn’t care what Ms. Gun did.

You’d be wrong, though. Despite your apparent Red-Dawn-inspired desires for america to stand alone, even the Bush admin. is now coming to understand the terrible impact of the loss of credibility. Witness, say, China telling us to pound sand w/ regard to N. Korea.

cheers,

Francis

34

modestproposal 01.20.04 at 6:47 am

I’ve got an idea which preserves the rule of law, Gun, lefty cred, and the existence of intelligence agencies:

1. Gun gets fired. She goes on to lecture elementary schools, as proposed by Chun.

2. Intelligence agencies don’t do operations which voters would disagree with if they knew about them.

3. When intelligence agencies fuck this basic principle up, they expect to have the whistle blown.

If the whistleblower misjudges, they won’t have that lucrative elementary school lecture circuit career. If intelligence agencies get too drunk with power, they are (hopefully) reined in. So, we’ve got checks and balances. We’ve got incentives on all sides not to fuck up. We’ve got the continued existence of intelligence agencies for legitimate purposes, such as preventing or winning wars or fighting terrorism. What more do you want?

35

dsquared 01.20.04 at 6:54 am

This is extraordinary. The unanimous position of CT commentors appears to be that the UK government can do what it likes, including telling lies to gain support for a war and blackmailing friendly states, and the duty of anyone who witnesses this behaviour is to keep schtum about it. Even the self-styled “libertarians” appears to be in favour of a law whose main purpose is the protection of government against its citizens.

36

fdl 01.20.04 at 8:36 am

dsquared, what do you mean by “unanimous”?

chrs, frncs (ts lt,sdnly cnt fnd vwls)

37

Matthew 01.20.04 at 9:57 am

It’s not even 100% obvious that she has broken the law — presumably that is what the trial is there to do, biased as it may be.

But I agree dsquared that it is extraordinary the general (not unanimous) view that a foreign government (not even the UK government on the whole) can do what it want to other friendly countries and no-one should be allowed to say anything. Surely bugging them is illegal anyway?

38

ahem 01.20.04 at 10:00 am

To

I, for one, will shed no tears for her, so long as her prosecution is within the law

and

Just to be clear, is your point that the only reason it is illegal is because there is a law that forbids it?

we’ll reprise a favourite here:

That’s another of those irregular verbs, isn’t it? I give confidential briefings; you leak; [s]he is being prosecuted under Section 2(a) of the Official Secrets Act

Anyway, I’m with dsquared: I wouldn’t be surprised if GCHQ actually recruits a small percentage of spooks with a low tolerance threshold for deep governmental shittiness, just to remind the political bosses who’s really in charge. But, while Ms Gun may have been the canary while mining information, that’s no reason for her to tweet her last. That said, I’m sure that David Blunkett will want to ensure that she doesn’t get a jury trial.

could someone who does explain to me how a democracy spying on governments like Angola’s, Cameroon’s, or Pakistan’s,

The principle? You know: the kind of thing that wingnuts like yersel’ usually say sets apart ‘principled conservatives’ from muddy libruls?

Oh, and it’s ‘a country’, not ‘a democracy'; as wingnuts like yersel’ are wont to point out, the US is a republic.

or spying on an organization which weighs the vote of a dictatorship equal to that of a democracy

Yawn. Wingnut cliché. ‘United Nations’ != ‘United Nations That Fit Americans’ Rather Skewed Definition of “Democracy”‘. Sorry. Go back to reading Lileks before your wittle head hurts.

displays any lack of “committment to democracy”.

Or spelling. Add another one to the ‘bit of a prick’ pile. We must have enough for a whole prick now, surely?

39

Andrew Boucher 01.20.04 at 10:58 am

d2 : It seems you are jumping to conclusions when you say commentators (including me) think that “the UK government can do what it likes, including telling lies to gain support for a war and blackmailing friendly states”. My comment was directed specifically at the behaviour of Ms. Gun, in relation to her leaking to the press information about eavesdropping on certain U.N. members. Nothing can be inferred, therefore, about what I (and other commentators) think about the U.K. government, or telling lies, or even blackmailing friendly states (since eavesdropping could be used for blackmailing, but need not – it could simply be to see if the other side was making promises, which could then be revealed…).

40

Conrad Barwa 01.20.04 at 11:07 am

This is extraordinary. The unanimous position of CT commentors appears to be that the UK government can do what it likes, including telling lies to gain support for a war and blackmailing friendly states, and the duty of anyone who witnesses this behaviour is to keep schtum about it. Even the self-styled “libertarians” appears to be in favour of a law whose main purpose is the protection of government against its citizens.

Er, no it isn’t unaimous at all. I have a lot of sympathy for your position and agree broadly over the Gun affair in that I don’t see how narrow obedience to some law is meant to stop you from speaking out when you think your govt is doing something very wrong and trying to subvert the democratic process. I don’t understand many of the criticisms made here by some; it is quite clear that the govt did lie and mislead not only the public but possibly parliament as well over a number of things; which is kind, well, not a good thing. This isn’t genius level politics; but basic liberalism – when elected legislators cannot exercise the proper and effective control over the war-making capacities of the state and the executive can by-pass them, it is not a good sign.

Over the last year, those of us who were against starting the particular conflict in Iraq which took place in the second quarter of 2003, have taken an awful lot of criticism from those of our fellow left-wingers who supported it.

Yes, some of it has been hysterical in the extreme. I mean some of the stuff being churned out by the pro-war Left crowd has just been ridiculous; even commentators that I respect for not bowing to Blairite drivel like Nick Cohen have been, somewhat disingenuous in accusing anybody in the antiwar movement of siding with misogynistic and reactionary religious elements. In personal conversation, it has gotten even more ridiculous with the old “do you want to see more people die under SH” line being trotted out with wearying regularity. Right-wingers, on the other hand, couldn’t even keep much of a straight face for the most part when using these excuses – not that they somehow enjoy or support the repression of people in Third World dictatorships, many (alright some) don’t; it is just that alleviating this problem at the cost of British lives and taxpayers’ money is not a cornerstone or major objective of their foreign policy unless other factors are at stake.

But it is a bit much to be accused of supporting the murder of innocents, by people who know perfectly well that you don’t, because you refuse to lend your voice to an already deafening clamour of approbation for a policy which you didn’t support, still regard as misguided, but which happened to have some favourable consequences

Do people still believe, that we went to war for humanitarian reasons? Frankly this worries me; when will some sections of the political spectrum realise that states are not moral actors and that considerations of morality do not play a big role in how they conduct themselves. Many lives could be saved by all sorts of changes, including how international trade policy is conducted, aid disbursed etc. that it is not done so; does not mean that govts in question are immoral or somehow bent on creating this suffering but because they have other priorities and interests. Ultimately each state acts only in accordance with its own national interest; this idea that we go to war for humanitarian purposes is really quite damaging and should be laid to rest. The latter does play a role and can be a favourable outcome of military action; but it is almost never the sole or primary cause in the absence of some national interest consideration.

I personally have a very great antipathy to loyalty oaths, but am never happier than when discarding principles in order to fight dirty.

This is probably where I would part company from you; I remain wedded to the concept that loyalty oaths are not good things in general and not appropriate in this context. Apart from anything else, I would have thought that the Left-liberal side of the political divide is the natural home of ‘big-tent’ politics at least as far as public reasoning and individual opinions go. Do we really need to start kicking people out of the tent?

My response to those who wanted these absurd oaths in the run up to the war on such baseless grounds, is that they have already left the tent (on the other hand if they want to come back in, I don’t think it should be rubbed in their faces – well not a lot anyway).

I hereby question the “left” credentials, and indeed the commitment to democracy, of anyone who takes the government side against Katharine Gun. Saddam’s gone and nothing can bring him back. Whatever happens in Iraq, happens. The war was fought and cannot be unfought. All that turns on this case, is whether someone who is aware that the government is trying to do something in private which they would not dare to do in public, has the right to blow the whistle. If you think that Ms Gun deserves to go to jail, then all I can say, mes amis is examine your conscience.

I can see your reasoning but would approach the problem from a different angle. What I would question is not the conscience of people who believe this, but their political self-identification and their analytical capability; the latter for reasons already outlines above and the former because it is becoming apparent to me that many people who self-identify themselves as being on the amorphous and seething body know as the “Left” quite clearly are mistaken and might have migrated to different parts of the spectrum, without quite having noticed it. For some more clearly defined Leftists who still think this, there seems to be a number of other explanatory factors ranging from the ‘contrarian absurdities’ that contorted positions espoused by professional dissenters like Chris “two whiskeys” Hitchens to the more confused realignments of former or self-styled ‘democratic socialists’ etc. etc. who ask silly questions like “can there be a decent Left” (my short answer: yes) and former Marxists of varying hues who, like some Democratic Liberals in the US, suddenly have decided that the World changed on 9-11-01 and that having hitherto fought the Good Fight but gotten an almightily ungrateful response; they have in a fit of pique undergone a sea-change in their policy prescriptions aka “if they don’t love me, then they can hate me”. Nothing else can explain some of the bizarre antics of these erstwhile radicals who amongst other things sincerely believe that the BBC is somehow a hothouse of Leftist intrigue and that there is a need to have a monitoring of this organisation to “correct liberal bias”. SCLM where are you when we need you?

Just to emphasise that this is my own personal view, rather than the “party line” of CT. I’ve not discussed it with any other contributor and suspect that a number of them won’t agree.

Hmmm, I would be interested to know, who lines up where on this issue.

41

James Russell 01.20.04 at 11:27 am

is your point that the only reason it is illegal is because there is a law that forbids it?

Well, I’d have thought that if there was no law against a thing then by definition it couldn’t be illegal. It could be immoral, or fattening, but that’s another matter…

42

Matthew 01.20.04 at 11:39 am

I’m with modestproposal: checks and balances.

Oh and the big problem (for the law-breaking) is the official secrets act; but hey! this country is still a monarchy after all. A lot of work remains to be done, starting with a proper constitution…

43

Chris Lawrence 01.20.04 at 1:13 pm

1. If it makes me a “prick” to object to the veneration of someone who almost certainly committed a crime, and the implicit comparison of someone who was apparently made a political example of with someone who actually did something wrong, so be it.

2. Ms. Gun made a choice that she thought was morally correct. There is a price attached to that choice. To now say “oh, but I get to make that choice without any price because I thought I was right” seems a bit self-serving.

3. The reason Ms. Gun is being prosecuted is that it would harm US-British intelligence relations if US (or British) intelligence could willy-nilly reveal each other’s secrets. I assure you a hypothetical Ms. Gun in the U.S. would have suffered similar consequences had she, for example, revealed British strategy in gaining support for its intervention in the Falklands or in the isolation of Zimbabwe. The relationship between the NSA and GCHQ is a cornerstone of the “special relationship,” whether or not the governments involved like to admit it in public or not. (Without that relationship, NSA would have no compunction against spying on Britain, like it does against every other country on this planet not named “Australia.”)

4. All that said, if Ms. Gun were simply “disappeared,” imprisoned without trial, sentenced to death or life imprisonment, sent to Gitmo, exiled to St. Helena, or otherwise treated outside the norms of the rule of law, I would join your protests–with or without any “leftist” credentials to burnish.

44

Steve Carr 01.20.04 at 1:19 pm

Not that it matters all that much, but how do we know that, as dsquared argues, the NSA was planning to “blackmail” UN delegates? I always assumed they wanted the information in order to figure out how to tailor their pitch. Are we really supposed to believe that UN delegates would vote against the wishes of their own governments out of a fear of being blackmailed?

More substantively, I think dsquared and the other supporters of Gun need to answer Keith’s question: Are we seriously arguing that a democratic government should not be allowed to keep anything secret? And, relatedly, are we seriously arguing that democratic governments should not be allowed to spy at all? (This doesn’t require a defense of the NSA’s spying in this case, but since spying can only be done in secret, if you think democratic governments can keep no secrets, then essentially you’re arguing against all spying.)

I’m not sure the “Private Eye” rule really clarifies matters here, in any case. If you’d asked most Americans in March of 2002 whether the NSA should spy on Pakistan, Guinea, and Angola in the interests of making the war on Iraq more successful, I suspect a majority would have said yes. As for the British intelligence agency, the “Private Eye” question isn’t whether spying on the UN was wrong — because it didn’t do that — but whether it should have failed to disclose that the NSA had requested it to help spy on the UN. Again, do we really think that British intelligence agents would be ashamed if it came out that they had listened to such a request without making it public?

45

dsquared 01.20.04 at 1:48 pm

Are we seriously arguing that a democratic government should not be allowed to keep anything secret?

I thought that the correct answer on this doctrine was better known than it apparently is, probably because my background is in central banking.

It is necessary from time to time for a central bank to act secretly — when it executes a devaluation of the currency, or when it provides emergency support for an illiquid bank. However, this is regarded (correctly) in the theory of central banking as a highly uncomfortable and antidemocratic state of affairs, which can only be tolerated on two conditions:

1. The secrecy should be kept for the minimum time possible – secret actions should be made public as soon as doing so is consistent with being able to carry them out.

2. Actions should only be carried out secretly if they are of a general type which the central bank is known to engage in from time to time.

So, it is known that central banks in general provide last-resort lending, carry out market operations, freeze accounts, etc, and so it is okay for them to do so, even though this can often only be done at all if done secretly. But if a central bank were to do something outside its vires, then it ought to be done publicly, so that everyone could judge whether this was an appropriate action to take.

Secret services have vires; there are kinds of actions which they are generally known to carry out. Spying on friendly nations in order to generate support for a motion in the UN is ultra those vires, and therefore shouldn’t be done.

46

Matthew 01.20.04 at 3:40 pm

Nice Juan Cole post on this: Here

47

Steve Carr 01.20.04 at 3:52 pm

Both points 1 and 2 seem reasonable to me. But it also seems clear that the length of time after which disclosure of a secret action is “consistent with being able to carry it out” is very different for spying than it is for central banking. Certainly Gun’s leaking of the memo before the Security Council vote was taken was inconsistent, for instance, with the NSA being able to carry out its intended action.

Okay, but its intended action was, you argue, not of a type in which intelligence agencies are known to engage in from time to time. Is this really true? If you asked Americans and British citizens if their intelligence agencies spied on “friendly” nations — more accurately, on the equivalent of non-aligned nations, since none of the countries mentioned are in formal alliances with the States — I’m far from convinced most would say that the agencies didn’t spy. It’s not, in any case, an open-and-shut question worthy of a loyalty oath. Now, if you add the proviso “in order to generate support for a motion in the UN,” most people might agree that was wrong, but even then I’m not sure.
Certainly people’s definition of #2 — that is, their idea of the kinds of general actions intelligence agencies can and should carry out from time to time — is justifiably much broader today than before 9/11.

The truth is, though, that this particular defense of Katharine Gun is a red herring. I don’t see any evidence that she leaked the memo because she thought it was in and of itself immoral that the U.S. was spying on friendly UN delegations. She leaked the memo because she thought the war on Iraq was immoral, and that therefore anything which made the war more likely was unacceptable (and anything that made it less likely was not).

48

Jake McGuire 01.20.04 at 4:02 pm

Secret services have vires; there are kinds of actions which they are generally known to carry out. Spying on friendly nations in order to generate support for a motion in the UN is ultra those vires, and therefore shouldn’t be done.

Here is the problem. Generally known by whom? I freely admit that I have very little idea about what central banks actually do – “something with setting the money supply”. Presumably this does not make their lending money to failing banks in secret any more immoral; there’s an implicit “to people who follow such things” attached to the “generally known.”

I suspect that you’ll find, if you ask people who follow such things, that of course intelligence agencies spy on friendly countries to get comparative advantage at the UN, and especially if said spying is done by planting eavesdropping devices rather than suborning foreign nationals, that this is a good thing.

49

Keith M Ellis 01.20.04 at 5:10 pm

What is interesting to me is that there is a rough correspondence between the Gun and Plame matters. The Plame leakers violated the law, in their opinion and that of their supporters, in service to a higher good and in opposition to an intelligence agency and agent acting badly. I happen to think that their motives were in reality more malign (or petty) and Ms. Gun’s more benign (or noble); but that simply is _not_ incontrovertible. What _is_ incontrovertible is that in both cases, a law intended to protect national security interests was violated by someone who (presumably) claims to have been morally justified in doing so (well, the Plame leakers aren’t making that argument, but their defenders are).

I am not prepared to let my political sympathies violate my intellectual consistency, nor—and far more importantly—assert that they subordinate the rule of law.

You know, in the real world, it is not unusual for various benign and noble interests to come into conflict. In my opinion, “Modestproposal” has it essentially correct. A leftist can correctly and consistently argue that she should be convicted of a crime, but that her punishment be very light. And the Plame leakers should also be convicted of a crime, but their punishment more severe.

50

dsquared 01.20.04 at 6:10 pm

The Plame leakers violated the law, in their opinion and that of their supporters, in service to a higher good and in opposition to an intelligence agency and agent acting badly

Joseph Plame was not an intelligence agent and Valerie Plame never did anything. It’s also worth pointing out that an individual leaking against a government is not the same as a government leaking against an individual.

51

chun the unavoidable 01.20.04 at 9:22 pm

(Without that relationship, NSA would have no compunction against spying on Britain, like it does against every other country on this planet not named “Australia.”)

Now who’s being naive?

52

modestproposal 01.20.04 at 11:27 pm

Oh, one more comment: Gun acted because she thought the war on Iraq was wrong. This is unquestionably the wrong reason for a whistleblower to act. She wasn’t revealing this memo because she thought it showed bad behavior on the part of the intelligence community, but in order to futher her political goals. She’s lucky that what she revealed actually did show wrongdoing.

53

Beldar 01.21.04 at 12:32 am

Spying on friendly nations in order to generate support for a motion in the UN is ultra those vires, and therefore shouldn’t be done.

Sorta depends on what the spying is. If it’s capturing representatives and torturing them to reveal their secrets, I’d agree. If it’s acting on an overheard comment in the UN lunchroom, surely even you wouldn’t condemn that.

The notion that “gentlemen don’t read other gentlemen’s mail” was fine for the 19th Century, but it’s rather out of date in the modern world. That’s not just an American view — that is a universal view. In fact, what prevents the countries who were the targets of this operation from doing the same to the United States is not their ethics, but their capabilities and our prevention and countermeasures.

Is there any suggestion that Ms. Gun tried to object through proper channels — that she went to her superiors and said, “We should try to persuade the Yanks not to do this because it’s ultra vires, not something we ‘good spooks’ should try to do”? I think not.

She’s a betrayer who knowingly broke the law and ought to be punished. Those who can’t see that are simply incredibly naive about the ways of the world.

54

Keith M Ellis 01.21.04 at 2:01 am

Joseph Plame was not an intelligence agent and Valerie Plame never did anything. It’s also worth pointing out that an individual leaking against a government is not the same as a government leaking against an individual.

Joseph Wilson was acting on behalf of the CIA; the Plame leakers believe that Plames connection to Wilson illustrates how the CIA was biased against the Niger intelligence and Wilson’s negative report was a foregone conclusion. Thus they believe that they were leaking news of misdeeds of the intelligence agency. As (roughly) Gun thought she was doing. The leakers were employees of the government, just as Gun was. So your attempt to distinguish the one case from the other is rather weak.

55

Keith M Ellis 01.21.04 at 2:14 am

She’s a betrayer who knowingly broke the law and ought to be punished. Those who can’t see that are simply incredibly naive about the ways of the world.

I wouldn’t go that far. But I do see naivete on the part of some—a _selective_ naivete that is felicitous to an ideologically motivated conclusion.

56

dave heasman 01.21.04 at 12:28 pm

“She’s a betrayer who knowingly broke the law and ought to be punished.”

Danny Baker in a throwaway comment on his radio show this morning: -
“there’s not one law for the rich and one for the poor. There’s no law for the rich, and thousands for the poor”.

57

dsquared 01.21.04 at 6:03 pm

Keith, your argument there seems to rely so much on swallowing whole a ludicrously overgenerous speculation about the motives of the leakers that I find it hard to believe you’re being serious.

58

John S 01.21.04 at 9:03 pm

Question, who said one month ago:

“We’re having rather a crusade on civility in the comments section at the moment”?

who also said in this post:

“Chris, just a friendly word, you’re coming across as a bit of a prick here.”

encouraging ahem to write:

“Add another one to the ‘bit of a prick’ pile. We must have enough for a whole prick now, surely?”

…without a ticking off.

That crusade didn’t last long dsquared. Or was the crusade against civility?

59

Keith M Ellis 01.21.04 at 10:08 pm

Daniel: I don’t accept that “overgenerous” explanation for the motives of the Plame leakers. But other people do. And other people interpret Gun’s motives in a way which you, no doubt, would find exceedingly ungenerous.

Perfect justice requires omniscience. Since I’m not persuaded that you or anyone else possesses such omniscience (and thus could offer dispensation of perfect justice), I’ll settle for the imperfect sort which requires at least a minimal amount of respect for law qua law.

Curtis LeMay, while he was head of Strategic Air Command, despaired that in an actual atomic war the President—by US law the only individual able to order the use of nuclear weapons—would actually have enough time to do so. So, he made his own seperate and secret arrangements with the the commander that ran the facility where the actual weapons were stored. LeMay also believed that a nuclear exchange with a sifficiently armed USSR would be disastrous to the US and urged a pre-emptive strike during the years before the USSR had built up a large arsenal. Indeed, he not only urged this, he used SAC planes, unknown to the President or the rest of the military, to fly over the USSR in order to provoke a response. SAC also overflew Cuba during the missile crisis, unknown to the President.

Now, if history had proven LeMay right in his paranoid fears, then history would also possibly endorse his actions. But I wouldn’t, and I certainly don’t. Because for every version of a LeMay that is indusputably in the right, there’s twenty others—like him—who would be in the wrong.

I have a certain admiration for LeMay—his courage of conviction and his ability to Get Things Done (see: Berlin Airlift)—but I think he should have been court-martialed. Even if he had been later proven right.

60

Anthony 01.21.04 at 11:53 pm

John S – I’m not too worried about the incivility of people like “ahem”. If (s)he wishes to respond to my questions by calling me a wingnut and trying to collect a complete prick for him- or herself, rather than addressing the questions, I’m not damaged thereby, and my (implicit) argument is strengthened by ahem’s apparent inability to address it.

I haven’t yet seen a coherent and realistic argument that says that the US or the UK should not spy on delegations to the UN. For that matter, I’d be a little disappointed if they didn’t do at least some spying on each other. The article didn’t say that Gun leaked information about the supposed blackmailing of the UN delegations, just that the US was looking for information of a certain sort, and how it obtained that information, so Gun’s case has nothing to do with the more quesitonable morality of the alleged blackmail.

61

Keith M Ellis 01.22.04 at 12:16 am

Yes…and, frankly, were I in a position responsible, I’d place nearly as much importance on spying on friends as I would spying on enemies.

Comments on this entry are closed.