Saturday, April 09, 2005

The WSJ on Sandy Berger

This WSJ editorial about the deal cut by the Justice Department with Sandy Berger over his sneaking classified material out of the National Archives. Their willingness to cut Berger slack puzzles me. Here's some of their reasoning:
After a long investigation,
however, Justice says the picture that emerged is of a man who knowingly and
recklessly violated the law in handling classified documents, but who was not
trying to hide any evidence. Prosecutors believe Mr. Berger genuinely wanted to
prepare for his testimony before the 9/11 Commission but felt he was somehow
above having to spend numerous hours in the Archives as the rules required, and
that he didn't exactly know how to return the documents once he'd taken them
More than a few conservatives have been crying foul, or whitewash, in
part because Mr. Berger's plea means he'll likely avoid jail and lose his
security clearance for only three years. So we called Justice Department Public
Integrity chief prosecutor Noel Hillman, who assured us that Mr. Berger did not
deny any documents to history. "There is no evidence that he intended to destroy
originals," said Mr. Hillman. "There is no evidence that he did destroy
originals. We have objectively and affirmatively confirmed that the contents of
all the five documents at issue exist today and were made available to the 9/11

Apparently convenience justified stealing documents and then deliberately lying about it when he got caught in the Journal's view, as long as he didn't "deny any documents to history". Note that it doesn't bother them that lesser officials committing lesser offenses are treated more harshly. Why? Here's the Journal again:
It's worth noting that Mr. Berger will
still have to explain his actions to a judge at sentencing--a judge who could
reject Justice's recommendation and give him to up a year in jail. We hope the
judge does insist on a full explanation of motive. Lesser officials have
received harsher penalties for more minor transgressions, so a complete airing
of the facts will show the public that justice is being done. But given the
minimal damage from the crime, this looks to be a case where prosecutors have
shown some commendable restraint against a high-powered political

If the offender is a "high powered political figure", they should get more lenient treatment, according to the Journal. I argue that since Mr. Berger was indeed a high-ranking government official experienced in handling classified material who chose to unlawfully remove them from the Archives, he should be held to a higher standard of responsibility for his actions and should actually be punished more harshly. Permanently revoking his security clearances, and sending him to jail for awhile seem to me penalties more appropriate to his offenses.

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