In the Arena

Thoughts on Sentencing

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First, Juan Cole this morning on Paris Hilton and 19,000 Iraqi prisoners.

And from a few days ago, E.J. Dionne on Paris and Scooter. But I’m troubled by one quote in the column from the ineffable former Governor Jim Gilmore of Virginia:

“If the public believes there’s one law for a certain group of people in high places and another law for regular people, then you will destroy the law and destroy the system.”

Seems to me that could work either way in these cases: Neither Paris nor Scooter would be facing jail time if they weren’t part of “a certain group of people,” namely celebrities. In Hilton’s case, if she were another, less famous rich girl, say the daughter of a prominent Beverly Hills orthodontist, the court might have given her a stiff fine for get caught DUI while on probation, maybe some community service and sentenced her to rehab. But jail time for Hilton, however “unfair,” strikes me as a public service–it is exemplary: It sends the message, as Gilmore suggests, that even rich twits can’t avoid the law.

I have a different feeling about Libby. His “perjury”–not telling the truth about which reporters he talked to–would never be considered significant enough to reach trial, much less sentencing, much less time in stir if he weren’t Dick Cheney’s hatchet man. Now, I just loved the trial. It confirmed some reporting I’d done a few years ago: that the Bush administration was far more interested in spinning the war than fighting it in June 2003, when the Joe Wilson imbroglio absorbed the vice president–but, that very same month, Bush, Cheney et al did absolutely NOTHING in response to a CIA briefing that we were now facing a classic guerrilla insurgency in Iraq. The Libby trial brought needed public attention to the criminal negligence of the Bush White House.

But jail time? Do we really want to spend our tax dollars keeping Scooter Libby behind bars? I don’t think so. This “perjury” case only exists because of his celebrity–just as the ridiculous “perjury” case against Bill Clinton, which ballooned into the fantastically stupid and destructive impeachment proceedings.

Sentence Libby to community service–at Walter Reed Hospital, where he can spend his days comtemplating the broken victims of his ideological arrogance.