Our Titus Oates
Titus Oates was once a name every schoolboy knew.
Oates was the disgraced Church of England clergyman who, in 1678
and 1679, accused various English Catholics of a "popish
plot" to assassinate King Charles II and take control of
the government of England.
On the basis of the testimony of Oates and a few
other similar characters, more than a dozen Catholics were found
guilty and executed. Priests were arrested and held indefinitely,
and Catholics were excluded from Parliament.
Then, as the trials went on, it became clear that
Oates' detailed charges were all lies. His name became a synonym
for liar. Lord Justice Scroggs, who had sentenced several of Oates'
targets to death, turned on him: "I wonder at your impudence
that you dare to look a court of justice in the face, after having
been made to appear so notorious a villain."
Joseph Wilson is our latest Titus Oates. Wilson
is the former diplomat who traveled to Niger to check out whether
Saddam Hussein's Iraq was trying to buy nuclear materials there
and who wrote an article for The New York Times in July
2003 asserting that he had found there were no grounds for believing
A few days later, columnist Robert Novak reported
that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA official who had
helped send him on this mission. That sparked an outcry that someone
in the government had blown Plame's cover as a covert agent in
violation of a 1982 law.
A special prosecutor was appointed to investigate.
In September 2003, Wilson said, "It's of keen interest to
me to see whether or not we can get Karl Rove frog-marched out
of the White House in handcuffs." He wrote a book called
"The Politics of Truth," which got rave reviews from
the mainstream press, and he became a foreign policy adviser to
John Kerry's campaign.
But Wilson, like Oates, lied. His Times
article said he had been sent by the CIA at the request of Vice
President Dick Cheney. But Cheney denies he made any such request,
and former CIA Director George Tenet said the trip was initiated
inside the agency.
Wilson's article said George W. Bush lied in his
2003 State of the Union Address when he said that British intelligence
reported that Iraq had sought to buy uranium in Africa. But Wilson's
mission covered only one country, and the British government has
stood by its report.
Moreover, the report that Wilson sent the CIA
said that Iraq had sought to buy uranium in Niger in 1998, unsuccessfully;
agency analysts concluded, not unreasonably, that this strengthened
rather than weakened the case against Saddam.
Wilson denied repeatedly that his wife had played
any part in his assignment to Niger. But the Senate Intelligence
Committee, in a report subscribed to by members of both parties,
said she had suggested his name.
Titus Oates' charges were embraced by some of
the leading politicians of his time. The Earl of Shaftesbury,
a former minister of the king and proprietor of the Carolina colony,
endorsed his charges and encouraged demonstrations in London on
his behalf. Shaftesbury, an advocate of (by our standards, limited)
religious tolerance, is a sympathetic figure to many, but he was
also by his embrace of Oates an accomplice in judicial murder.
Since 2003, many Democrats have embraced Joseph
Wilson -- just last week, Sen. Charles Schumer stood up with him
at a press conference and demanded that Karl Rove's security clearance
The Democrats who were so outraged by Plame's
outing have not, to my knowledge, expressed outrage over The
New York Times' May 31 story outing a CIA-run airline, a
story that may have put agents in more danger than Plame faced
as a result of hers. Many Democrats have uncritically assumed
that whoever leaked Plame's name violated the 1982 statute, although
it requires that the person doing so must have known about the
agent's covert status and have named the agent deliberately to
endanger her, and that the person named must have served abroad
in the previous five years.
Plame, according to Wilson's book, returned from
serving abroad in 1997 and, since then, was a desk officer in
CIA headquarters in Langley, entering and leaving the building
every day in public view.
Shaftesbury's championing of Titus Oates had grave
consequences: He was confined for a time in the Tower of London
and later fled to Amsterdam, where he died in exile.
Schumer's and other Democrats' championing of
Joseph Wilson will not have such dire consequences. But voters
may want to hold them accountable for allying themselves with
today's Titus Oates.
Copyright 2005 Creators Syndicate
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