Letters to Holly

Wednesday, February 14

Inherit the Wind

We're attending a basketball conference at her high school, and attendance is free for us if we bring eats for the visiting personnel. We made brownies and cookies and managed only to eat a few of each. Then we sat down for wine, soup, and bread. We finished up the last half of Inherit the Wind, and now I must read the original play. I bought it at a library sale last year, and I'm curious more than ever how the two versions differ. The film walks on much the same water as Contact, the 1997 Jodie Foster film based on the Carl Sagan book. That movie is one I always forget to mention as a favorite of mine despite its unceasing ability to get me all emotional like.

Inherit the Wind works as a great film on every level. The characters get plenty of time to develop in and out of the courtroom, the direction is clever but subtle, and the film, arriving as it did mid-century, presents both the broad theatre style of Fredric March and the nuanced manner of Spencer Tracy. This variety of style serves to further distinguish the two opponents in the Scopes Monkey Trial: March is of the country and Tracy of the city. The former advocates faith and religion above all while the latter espouses the sovereignty and sanctity of the mind. And both overstep their ground to make their cases. It's a thoroughly balanced and intelligent film that allows both viewpoints their time to shine.

It's also a pop-culture trove. Both leads played Dr. Jekyll, the accused is one of the "Bewitched" Darrens, the bad guy later played Sheriff Lobo, the judge is Sherman T. Potter, and even Mr. Roper pops up near the end.

Picture of the Day
Mars as seen from an orbiter.

In the News
The Libby trial is nearing the end, and defense attorneys are trying to present Libby testimony without putting him on the stand. The prosecution is understandably protesting. What is most surprising about the trial is that the reporters appearing on the stand all cite different people as their source for the Valerie Plame leak. Libby is on trial for perjury and obstruction; leaking the name of a classified CIA official would be a felony. But no one is under charges of that despite all this testimony that many folks did so -- the first press secretary (who copped a deal with the prosecutor after pleading the fifth), the deputy secretary of the Pentagon, and Libby himself.

Cheney is not appearing in front of this jury although he did testify to the prosecutor during the investigation. Cheney can claim he declassified the name under power of a presidential signing statement. But doing so would be an admission that he purposefully targeted her in order to send a signal to her husband, an official who discredited the Nigerian-Iraq connection Cheney needed to purse the invasion. If this name could only be known by folks with access to classified info, someone had to have disseminated her name to the various administration staffs and told them to get her name out there. If the name wasn't classified, there's no value in identifying her. The only reason then for outing her is to scare other CIA agents into going along with the Iraq-9/11 rationale for war despite evidence to the contrary.

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A government press briefing over the weekend tried to prove Iran's government is supplying the insurgency with weapons. But two things raise eyebrows. First, the ammo shown in photos displays Western numerals and letters. Second, the chairman of the joint chiefs, who was out of the country during the briefing, only learned of it and the alleged evidence when asked by reporters. When press secretary Tony Snow was asked about it, he was caught flatfooted. The following is from yesterday's White House press briefing.

Q Tony, on Iran, General Peter Pace is now saying that he was not aware that this briefing was going ahead in Baghdad, where military officers were talking about Iran's influence in Iraq this past weekend. How could the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs not know that military officers would be briefing in Baghdad?

MR. SNOW: I'll refer that back to General Pace, frankly. But I'll tell you, what General Pace --

Q But did the White House loop him in? Did the White House loop in the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs?

MR. SNOW: I believe that this was a Pentagon briefing. Again, it typically is something that when the Pentagon is doing it, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs knows about it.

Let me tell you what -- I think a lot of people are trying to whomp up a fight here that doesn't exist. I spoke with General Pace a bit this morning, as well. And there is a core of information that everybody agrees upon. Number one, there is weaponry that is of Iranian manufacture that's in Iraq killing Americans. There are Iranians involved, there are Iranians on the ground. Our intelligence indicates that the explosively formed penetrators, the EFP, in fact, are directly associated with Quds forces, which are part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, which are part of the government. The Quds force is, in fact, an official arm of the Iranian government and, as such, the government bears responsibility and accountability for its actions, as you would expect of any sovereign government.

And I think that's pretty clear. I mean, General Pace, again, if you go through his --

Q No, you didn't say that, though -- that's where you said "people are trying to whomp up a fight." With all due respect, it's General Pace's comments, not anyone else's, where he said --

MR. SNOW: No, go back --

Q Well, he said -- let me just say, he said, "It is clear that Iranians are involved and it's clear that materials from Iran are involved. But I would not say but what I know that the Iranian government clearly knows or is complicit." Are you saying that you, from this podium, know more than the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff?

MR. SNOW: I am telling you that -- I'm telling you what the intelligence indicates.

Q So is he not in the loop? I'm just trying to understand why there's a contradiction, where the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs --

MR. SNOW: I'll tell you what -- I just know that there's -- Ed, calm down. I know you're excited, your voice is rising, your pace is increasing --

Q I don't need to calm down. I'm telling you that he is saying this; I'm not.

MR. SNOW: Well, I'm telling you I talked with him. Okay?

Q Okay.

MR. SNOW: And I've talked with him --

Q Well, we'll follow up with him, as well.

MR. SNOW: You better, because I think you will find out that the intelligence does indicate, as he said, this stuff was -- let me pose you with two possibilities. But first, the intelligence indicates that the Quds forces, which are part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, are associated with this.

Now, let me ask a second question to you. I don't know what's more frightening, the fact that the Quds forces would be operating with the knowledge of senior officials or without the knowledge of senior officials. What is beyond dispute, and what is of primary importance here -- and General Pace hasn't disagreed with it, and we don't disagree, and frankly, again, I think you'll find upon further conversation -- he's going to be in the air for about 23 hours, so give him a day -- that, in fact, we generally agree on the basics of the situation here, which is there are armaments that have made their way from Iran into Iraq. There are Iranian forces in Iraq. These weapons are being used to kill Americans; we're going to do everything we can to protect our people.

Q Right. But on the substance of it, the briefers over the weekend said that these parts are sent to Iraq with the approval of senior Iranian officials. And the bottom line is he seems to be contradicting that.

MR. SNOW: Well, I think what General Pace may have been saying -- in fact, I know what he's saying -- and this is where we get to the rhetorical question I was asking you before -- do we have a signed piece of paper from Mr. Khomeini or from President Ahmadinejad signing off on this? No. But are the Quds forces part of the government? The answer is yes.

So the question is, I think this ends up being a semantic dispute about senior levels of the government or the government. And the fact is, the government knows about it.

Q Okay. But isn't it really a question about whether or not you have strong evidence? When the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff seem to be saying something different than the White House, does that raise questions about how solid this evidence is?

MR. SNOW: No, because you've got -- you have explosively formed penetrators. He says they exist, correct?

Q I didn't see that in this particular quote, but --

MR. SNOW: Well, no -- he said that there are weapons --

Q He says that there are projectiles manufactured in Iraq.

MR. SNOW: Okay, all right. So, okay, so there's no doubt about that, correct? There are Iranians in Iraq. There's no question about that, correct?

Q Sure.

MR. SNOW: All right, so where's the credibility problem, in terms of -- are you saying --

Q In terms of the Iranian government being behind it. That's not -- nobody's disputing whether it's manufactured in Iran. That's what -- you keep changing what my question is.

MR. SNOW: No, no, I'm trying to clarify your question, because I think this is a --

Q I don't need it clarified, I'm trying to tell you -- I know what my question is, and basically, he's saying that he doesn't see evidence that the Iranian government is clearly behind it. That's my -- I've asked that three or four times. You haven't answered that. You're saying the Iranian government is behind it.

MR. SNOW: Okay, let me put it this way -- I'll say it one more time. The Quds force is part of the Iranian government. The Quds force is behind it, is associated with it.

Q Okay --

MR. SNOW: All right? Thank you.

Q Let me follow up on this, because we have a situation where right now, a lot of the American people are hearing a lot about Iran and whether the government is involved in sending the weapons across or not. And now it would appear that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the administration seem to be on two different pages.

MR. SNOW: We're not. And that's why I'm going to let General Pace speak for himself. We're not on a different page.

Q But you talked to him --

MR. SNOW: I know, and that's why I'm saying, because Ed's question -- Ed is citing a quote that he said earlier. I'm going to let him -- he'll be able to put it all together, because Ed's not going to believe me when I tell him what my conversation was.

Q But he's in the air for 23 hours. And these are the --

Q Let's hear it. (Laughter.)

MR. SNOW: I already laid it out for you, man.

Q But it seems to be a reasonable expectation the American people can have, to get some kind of explanation for how you can have the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the administration on two separate pages.

MR. SNOW: We're not on separate pages. The explanation --

Q Certainly, we seem to be, from what was said.

MR. SNOW: I know, because everybody is trying to get into semantic --

Q But yesterday you said the administration is confident the report on Iran is accurate and the weaponry is coming with knowledge of the Iranian government.

MR. SNOW: Of the government. And I still --

Q But now you're saying that the Quds forces, which is part of the Iranian government -- you're sort of parsing.

MR. SNOW: Well, I was parsing yesterday. I'm trying to be careful about how we do this. The question is, do we know that some particular senior official signed off? No, it's an opaque government; it's not a transparent government. But on the other hand, this is part of the Revolutionary Guard, which is part of the government, and therefore you do hold the government responsible.

Q So somebody who reads General Pace's quote, and says, hmm, that's different than what Tony Snow said yesterday -- they're wrong?

MR. SNOW: Yes. Yes. And I think what's -- again, we'll let General -- here's the --

Q So did Pace retract what he said when he spoke to you?

MR. SNOW: No, he didn't retract because what he said was accurate, as well. What he was thinking is, are you trying to lay this at the feet of members of the Supreme Governing Council; are you trying to lay this at the feet of particular individuals? The answer is, no, we don't have the intelligence that makes it that specific. He was trying to be very precise in how he answered the question. And I was being careful in how I answered it yesterday, as well. We know the Quds forces are involved. They're part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. That's part of the government. Just not going to go any further than that.

Q A deputy assistant undersecretary of agriculture is part of the government. Would you say that that -- if somebody was involved at that level, that that's a top level --

MR. SNOW: If you had somebody who was operating with an elite military unit, operating inside the United States, committing acts of violence, would you say that the sponsor government had some -- bore some responsibility for that elite military unit? We're not talking about deputy assistant secretaries of agriculture -- cute question, but it doesn't get to the point that people have moved armaments into Iraq and are killing Americans.

Q Yesterday you said, "In that regime there are not freelancers."

MR. SNOW: Right.

Q Do you stick by that statement, and thereby drawing it to the larger --

MR. SNOW: Again, let me just -- here's your rhetorical question: What's more frightening, the notion that they are freelancing or that they're not?

Q So they might.

MR. SNOW: No, I'm just posing a question for your consideration.

Q But then how solid is the information, though? I think the bottom line question still is if the Chairman --

MR. SNOW: Ed, the information is --

Q He's expressing doubts. He's a General. He knows this better than any of us in this room.

MR. SNOW: There are two things you need to understand. Number one, you guys have been constantly -- I did see what may be the dumbest lead of an editorial I've seen in a long time today in The New York Times, which is, "We need to declare ourselves on Iran." We've declared it over and over -- we're not going to war with them. Let me make that clear. So anybody who is trying to use this as "the administration trying to lay the predicate for a war with Iran" -- no, we're committed to diplomacy with Iran. But we are also committed to protecting our forces.

Let's go back through what we understand. We understand that these weapons came from Iran, no dispute about that. We know that Quds forces have been within Iraq, no dispute about that. We know that the Quds forces are, in fact, part of the Revolutionary Guard; they're an instrument of the Iranian government. Nobody doubts that. So the question therefore becomes, who wrote the orders -- I'm not going to -- we're not going to be able to tell you who signed the orders. But we do know that the Iranian government at that level has been involved.

The important thing is we're trying to do this, and what's interesting is that the Iranian officials -- if they deny it, that's fine. Let's make sure that they, therefore, become engaged in trying to make sure that none of that stuff comes across the border is being used to kill Americans or innocent Iraqis.

Q It's not Iranian officials denying it -- that's not -- again, it's about General Pace --

MR. SNOW: Well, actually, Jessica -- no, Jessica has pinged me many times in the last two days saying they have been denying it on her network.

Q Okay, but, again, when we're talking about -- can you clarify, though, did General Pace -- you said he had a phone conversation with him.

MR. SNOW: Yes.

Q Was he aware that this briefing was going to happen? That his own --

MR. SNOW: I actually -- I did not ask him whether he knew -- I did not ask the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs whether he knew that a Pentagon briefing was going to take place in Baghdad. Forgive me. I didn't ask the process question.

Q Well, he's the one who told reporters that he didn't know about it.

MR. SNOW: Okay. But what I said -- I think -- I asked him about the specific -- he said he wanted to be very precise, because he did not want to be making allegations that could be construed as saying that some senior official within the Iranian government was directly responsible for signing an order. I think that's right. I think he's right about that.

Q Is any of this the reason why the briefing over the weekend became on background, not on camera, because you're concerned about how -- whether --

MR. SNOW: No, what happened was the -- no, the reason it was on background -- the reason it was background -- I'm getting my exercise -- the reason it was on background was that one of the briefers otherwise would not have been able to do it. You guys understand how background briefings work. And that was the ground rule that was laid out. Now, I'm sure that you don't want to rule out background briefings now or anytime in the future. The fact is, we went public with the evidence, and you got the pictures -- again, nobody denies the armaments, nobody denies where they come from, nobody denies the importance of protecting our guys.


Q If I could just come at this one other way. Beyond the evidence of the involvement of the Quds forces, there's no other evidence of ties to the Iranian government?

MR. SNOW: I don't want to lay out -- for one thing, I don't have access to the full chain of intel. But I can tell you the intel community believes that the Quds forces was involved, and I don't want to get into any further characterizations. There I would direct you to the DNI.

Q But as far as you know, when you suggested -- the Iranian government --

MR. SNOW: As far as I'm going to say here, I'm not willing to go any further. I think that's appropriately answered by DNI.

Q Do you think that the off-the-record, low-level Iran briefing has backfired? The reason I ask that is because on the one hand you avoid the comparison with Colin Powell's presentation to the United Nations, but at the same time, what you've ended up with is the sense that no one senior in the administration seems to be willing to go on the record. And I understand that one of the people -- not all of the people, but one of the people would have been unable to brief; the other people wouldn't have been unable to brief.

MR. SNOW: No, look, again, I think what's happening is that everybody is trying to create a narrative here of something that's -- look, the problem before, nobody found weapons of mass destruction. You cannot say that nobody didn't -- nobody found explosively formed penetrators. You've got pictures of the things. You know where they came from. There is no doubt about the central fact here: that you have an explosive device that's being used to kill Americans.

So what everybody is trying to figure out now is what General Pace meant -- it's now being devolved into a process argument that overlooks the key fact, which is that weaponry made its way from Iran into Iraq and it's killing Americans, and we're going to try to stop the killing of Americans.

Q Well, isn't the key fact really not only that, but the key fact is, who is sending the weapons into Iraq?

MR. SNOW: Well, again, there is evidence that links Quds force to it. Now, again, the question --

Q Direct evidence?

MR. SNOW: I'm not going to characterize -- let me put it this way, I will push all the evidentiary questions to DNI, but the finding of the intelligence community is that it's, in fact, linked to the Quds forces.

Q That's kind of a "no."

MR. SNOW: No, it's not. It's one of those -- because what you're asking is for the nature and quality of classified evidence. I get my hands tied when I get -- I don't want to get too far in front of this, trying to give you any kind of characterization beyond what's already on the public record.

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