On June 4, the AIPAC trial will commence in Northern Virginia. Keith Weissman and Steven J. Rosen, two former employees of the pro-Israel lobbying organization, are charged with violations of the espionage statutes for allegedly passing along “national defense information” to journalists and to representatives of the government of Israel. But before the trial can begin, the court has had to consider a raft of motions, including an important one that was ruled on earlier this week.
Prosecutors had sought to keep much of the classified information at issue in the case from being released to the public. To that end, they had proposed elaborate procedures under which secret evidence would be presented to the jury but kept from broad distribution. T.S. Ellis III, the judge presiding over the case, has explained what this would have entailed.
Witnesses would not be permitted to
speak the names of certain specific countries, foreign persons, or other things, but would instead use a code, “Country A,” “Report X,” “Foreign Person Y,” “Foreign Person Z,” and the like. That code would be provided to counsel, the Court, and the jury. The system of codes would change, moreover, to reflect . . . different alleged overt acts disclosing . . . classified information presumably to prevent the public from inferring the meaning or discerning the meaning of the code that’s being used.
The defendants’ attorneys vociferously protested this approach, claiming it is a clear violation of their clients’ Sixth Amendment right to a public trial.
In a fascinating essay called “The Ploy” in the current Atlantic, Mark Bowden explains how an elite group of Special Operations troops in Iraq known as Task Force 145 got the information that led to the killing last year of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq. In an online discussion forum regarding military affairs that I belong to (it’s called the Warlord Loop), Bowden’s article has been criticized by current and former intelligence officers for being overly detailed and for revealing our TTP’s (tactics, techniques, and procedures) to the enemy.
That seems a legitimate concern, but his essay raises another issue as well: have we handcuffed our soldiers with overly restrictive rules for the handling of detainees? The story repeats claims made in the New York Times, Washington Post, and other outlets that prior to the Abu Ghraib scandal of 2004, Task Force 6-26 (the predecessor to 145) had used some rough tactics: “Interrogators . . . were reportedly stripping prisoners naked and hosing them down in the cold, beating them, employ ‘stress positions,’ and keeping them awake for long hours.”
• Most modern biographies are vexingly long, and it vexes me even more when they’re so well written that I feel compelled to read them from cover to cover, taking in all sorts of brain-cluttering information along the way. I could have cut two hundred pages out of Hermione Lee’s Edith Wharton (Knopf, 869 pp., $35) without breaking a sweat, and another hundred without noticeably diminishing the book’s usefulness. Lee is the kind of biographer who feels obliged to tell absolutely everything she knows about her subject—and then some. Was it really necessary to devote half a page to a listing of the contents of the wine cellar of a woman who didn’t drink wine herself? Yet I never once felt tempted to abandon ship in midstream, for Edith Wharton is one of the most intelligent biographies of an American artist to come my way in years, and I read it with an interest almost entirely unaffected by its unselectivity.
Lee is sound on pretty much everything, including the touchy subjects of Wharton’s anti-Semitism and snobbishness, both of which she describes fully and frankly without feeling the need to reassure the reader of her own sensitivity (though I wonder whether she would have been quite so unostentatious about it had her subject been a man). I was especially pleased to learn that the supposedly stodgy Wharton was an admirer of Cézanne, Colette, Proust, The Rite of Spring, and Vile Bodies, not to mention Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.