Malice of the powerful

2011-02-07 00:00

DUBYA’S war on terror resulted in many casualties. Some of them were unexpected.

Valerie Plame was one of them. She was a CIA agent. She did her job as an undercover agent as she was expected to. She was not a communist. She was not a Muslim. She was an American doing America’s bidding.

Then one day she was outed by a newspaper columnist, through a leak by the very government that employed her. The reason: her husband had dared expose one of the lies that George W Bush’s government used as justification to go to war with Iraq.

This was the era of WMDs, those mythical things that threatened the safety of the universe. They belonged to Saddam Hussein, only no-one could find them and after all was bombed and crushed, they turned out not to have been there.

To bolster its argument for war, the White House, among other things, trotted out two critical pieces of evidence that supposedly proved Saddam’s nuclear capability. One was a set of aluminium tubes built to the correct specifications. The other was 500 tons of uranium supposedly sourced by Iraq from Niger. What did this have to do with Plame?

Her husband, former ambassador Joe Wilson, a Democrat, went on a fact-finding mission to Niger and reported that such a transaction never took place. By the time the White House had put its spin on it, the uranium did exist and had been sold to Saddam.

Wilson exposed the lie in a column in the New York Times. And for that, his wife’s career was destroyed.

The chilling thing is the sheer pettiness of it, the personal vindictiveness that was carried out just because the White House could. The war was already on.

Most Americans, at that stage, backed it, lies and all. So destroying an individual’s life, as well as those who depended on her in her line of work, served no purpose. It’s frightening to see malice directed by the world’s most powerful men at an enemy. But when directed at one of their own it creates a Kafkaesque moral wasteland in which the arbitrary abuse of power amounts to no more than just another day at the office. Naomi Watts plays Plame, somewhat two-dimensionally for the most part, but by the end, when Plame’s life is completely in pieces, she pulls it together. Sean Penn plays her husband, a more distinguished role than he’s accustomed to although he wears jeans whenever he can.

If only we’d been spared his lecture at the end on what makes America great. It took the edge off what was, and remains, a savage indictment of an administration run amok, for whom anyone is fair game.

 

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