March 23rd, 2009

Skip Vallee Attacks Leahy Push For Truth Commission; Defends Bush-Era Domestic Wiretapping as “Court Approved”; Receives Bowling Shirt In Lavish Ceremony, Too

by Philip Baruth

You may have missed it, and it was eminently missable, but former GOP spokesman and ex-Slovakian Ambassador Skip Vallee took to the editorial pages of the Free Press a few days ago to whip on Pat Leahy, for Leahy’s ongoing attempts to empanel a Truth Commission on various abuses of power during the Bush Administration. And in general, VDB’s take on screeds like this is the following: the fewer links the better. But one aspect of Vallee’s op-ed is so myopic, so deeply and ideologically blind, that we just can’t let it go.

Vallee, right, receives the Most Exalted Order of the Crimson Bowling Shirt, at Embassy Bratislava

Essentially, Vallee wants to argue that Leahy’s truth commission would be a dark day for America because A) JFK and FDR did worse, and no one hounded them, and B) looking into abuses of power will let the terrorists know the details of our abuses of power.

But beyond these argumentative points, Vallee moves finally to tug the heartstrings. He tells the story of a meeting with a man who felt the true whip of totalitarianism:

“During my term as Slovak ambassador, I held an emotional meeting with Slovak Cardinal Korec, imprisoned for over a decade by the Communists for daring to ordain priests. In our meeting he pulled out from behind a door a hollow tube, putting the far end to my ear and whispering, ‘This is how we used to have to talk to each other.’”

Now, aside from the shopworn feel of a tale Vallee has retailed to a hundred Chambers of Commerce, this story is powerful enough. In fact, it would seem to lead one in the direction of Leahy’s truth commission, the sort of institution countries create to examine far-reaching abuses of civil liberties, abuses so systemic that they pollute a nation’s ordinary mechanisms for self-scrutiny.

But no. Vallee follows the story of Cardinal Korec with a ringing endorsement of domestic wiretapping: “President Bush has used court approved wiretaps, sanctioned by the very Congress of which Sen. Leahy was a member, to keep us safe every day since 9/11.”

The point, of course, is that Bush did not limit himself to court approved wiretaps. And Congress did not sanction his various covert domestic intelligence operations.

Here Vallee is either willfully ignorant, or utterly disingenuous. But in the next sentence, he becomes outright dangerous.

“For Sen. Leahy to create a moral equivalency between the tormentors of Korec and the trackers of mass murderers is insulting, particularly since the president who kept us safe has also liberated 28 million Iraqis from the very same tyranny suffered by my beloved Slovak friends for 40 years.”

It is Vallee, of course, who is creating a false moral equivalency: between the Bush-era Unitary Executive — with self-declared power to torture and detain and wiretap at will, anywhere within or without US borders — and freedom fighters worldwide who resisted the efforts of the State to prey upon its citizens.

pat leahy

To his credit, Vallee served capably as an ambassador to a country with a dark Communist past. He has seen first-hand what creeping authoritarianism can do. But to return to the United States and use that experience as a figleaf for the unprecedented usurpation of very basic civil liberties here at home, in the name of anti-terrorism or anything else, is, in a word, disgraceful.

Vallee, if memory serves, ran the most expensive campaign for the Chittenden County Senate in history, spending between $100,000 and $200,000 in a failed attempt to purchase a seat. He attacked the entire Democratic slate with wave after wave of glossy four-color mailers, retailing lies of various sorts.

No one, as VDB remembers, was more pleased about his loss than the late Peter Freyne.

Vallee’s only spot of luck, in this odd little attempt to support the brave freedom-enhancing wiretapping of the Bush administration, is that Freyne isn’t here in the flesh today to bust a move himself. Because when Freyne busted a move, baby, and especially a move on Skip “Gasoline” Vallee, that move stayed busted.