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Will Steve Rosen's Attackers Apologize?

Mike wrote earlier today of the federal government's decision to drop its scurrilous espionage case against two former AIPAC employees, an abuse of prosecutorial power that ruined the careers of these men and damaged the reputation of America's premier pro-Israel organization. That's all well and good. The question I have is whether the legion of bloggers who recently attacked one of those men, Steve Rosen, over his role in l'affaire Chas Freeman, will acknowledge this news and apologize for their trumping of charges that have now been dropped.

Rosen, you may recall, was one of the first people to note Freeman's selection as head of the National Intelligence Council in February. Not long after, and with no prodding from Rosen, other writers (myself included) began to criticize Freeman for what we viewed as his indifference to human rights, coziness with totalitarian regimes from Beijing to Riyadh and--yes--his blinkered outlook on the Arab-Israeli conflict, particularly, his lending credence to the Stephen Walt-John Mearsheimer worldview which places America's relationship with Israel at the center of our foreign policy problems.

As soon as the Freeman story blew up into a major internet controversy, a whole host of (mostly left-leaning) bloggers began launching ad hominem attacks on Rosen. They chose not to contend with the entirely legitimate criticisms Rosen was making of Freeman's views and associations, but instead went after Rosen personally, arguing that because he had been indicted for espionage, nothing he said could be taken seriously. And by dint of our agreeing with Rosen, all of us who had expressed serious concern over the Freeman appointment were thus tarred as being willing dupes of "The Lobby." Joining in this crusade were:

M.J. Rosenberg: Director of Policy Analysis for the Israel Policy Forum: "I just can't get over the idea that a guy on trial for espionage has the temerity to take on a lifelong public servant for not being loyal to the country that he, Steve Rosen, is accused by the United States of being too loyal to."

Max Blumenthal: Author of an entire article about Rosen entitled, "Accused AIPAC Spy Leads Attack on Chas Freeman."

Andrew Sullivan: "Max Blumenthal profiles the leader of the anti-Freeman brigade: Steve Rosen, facing trial this spring for allegedly passing US national security secrets to reporters. No, I didn't make that up."

Robert Dreyfuss: The former Middle East Editor of Lyndon LaRouche's Executive Intelligence Review who now covers national security for both The American Prospect and The Nation wrote of Rosen as "the former official of the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee who's been indicted for pro-Israeli espionage in a long-running AIPAC scandal."

Matthew Yglesias: "Meanwhile, that the anti-Freeman charge would be led by Rosen, who’s a 'former AIPAC official' because he was charged with espionage crimes, is slightly bizarre."

Glenn Greenwald: The self-styled defender of American liberties observed that, "the man leading the anti-Freeman assault was Steve Rosen, the long-time AIPAC official currently on trial for violations of the Espionage Act in connection with the transmission of classified U.S. information intended for Israel." (Apparently Greenwald's presumption of innocence only applies to terrorists intent on murdering untold numbers of American citizens). 

And, of course, where would any crackpot anti-Israel conspiracy theory be without the musings of Stephen Walt, who compared Freeman's critics to Joseph McCarthy and referred to Rosen specifically as "the same guy who is now on trial for passing classified U.S. government information to Israel."

These are just a handful of the many, many Freeman defenders who wielded the Rosen indictment as a cudgel with which to smear all of Freeman's critics, and who held up Rosen's opposition to Freeman as if his involvement alone relieved them from the burden of addressing the merits of the case.

To his credit, Spencer Ackerman, who also inveighed against Rosen during the Freeman controversy, writes today that the government's case against Rosen "amounted to the criminalization of extremely routine practices in Washington: acquiring and distributing information that’s overclassified" and went onto say:

During the Chas Freeman affair, when Steve Rosen was leading the charge against Freeman’s appointment to be chairman of the National Intelligence Council for alleged hostility to Israel, alleged disinterest in human rights, and insinuated nefarious loyalties to China and Saudi Arabia, I remarked that Rosen shouldn’t have gone after another pro-Israel lobbyist with whom he disagreed over Freeman while being wrapped up in the case. I shouldn’t have said that Rosen was under indictment for spying for Israel, since that was a misstatement of the case. The point that I should have made is that someone who was railroaded in this case, with its intimations of dual loyalty, should be circumspect about flinging such charges against other people. Maybe we can all take a deep breath here--doubtful, but maybe--and reflect that it’s good for everyone who desires openness in government that the flimsy charges against Weissman and Rosen are on their way out, regardless of the politics of the accused.

This is a bit tendentious (Ackerman's admission that Rosen was "railroaded" ought to have absolved him of being "circumspect" about raising perfectly legitimate questions about Freeman's being on the payroll of the Saudi Arabian and Chinese governments), but it's far preferable to the radio silence in other corners of the liberal blogosphere.

--James Kirchick

Click here to read Eli Lake's 2005 piece on the AIPAC case and the Justice Department's increasing tendency to go after leakers--and journalists.