Thursday, January 11, 2007

New Iraq Commander Spoke Up for Judith Miller

January 11, 2007 Edition > Section: National
BY JOSH GERSTEIN - Staff Reporter of the Sun
January 11, 2007

The military commander President Bush is counting on to rescue Iraq from chaos, Lieutenant General David Petraeus, once came to the defense of an American reporter caught up in one of Washington's most intense legal battles.

In 2005, when Judith Miller of the New York Times was facing the possibility of jail for refusing to name one of her sources in front of a grand jury, General Petraeus wrote to a federal judge to discourage him from imprisoning her.

"Judith demonstrated a deep commitment to her work and values as an American citizen," the general wrote. "Based on my interaction with her, I find it unlikely that Judith would compromise on those values, to include betraying information gained in confidence from her sources. ... Judith is clearly a highly professional journalist, one who has demonstrated to me that she will keep her word."

Ms. Miller's lawyers filed the letter with Judge Thomas Hogan in a bid to convince him that the veteran reporter was so committed to protecting the confidentiality of her sources that a jail term would have no impact on her willingness to testify. The plea apparently fell on deaf ears, as Judge Hogan ordered Ms. Miller confined at a Virginia lock-up.

General Petraeus's letter raised some eyebrows at the time because the politically sensitive investigation involved claims that top White House officials leaked the name of a covert CIA operative, Valerie Plame, in order to lash back at her war critic husband, Joseph Wilson. By writing to the judge, the general was, in effect, undermining the demand of the special prosecutor in the case, Patrick Fitzgerald, that Ms. Miller be sent to jail. However, the general did not write on military letterhead and he made clear in his short letter that he was offering only his "personal views."

In an interview, Ms. Miller, who left the Times in late 2005 amid some contention, was effusive about the general. "I am not neutral about General Petraeus," she said. "He's enormously talented and we are damn lucky that he's going to take on a mission that some are calling ‘Mission Impossible.'"

Asked if the general can pacify Iraq, Ms. Miller said, "I don't know if it will work, but the fact that David Petraeus will be in charge of it has given me more optimism than I otherwise would have."

Ms. Miller got to know General Petraeus in 2003, while she was embedded with a special military team seeking Iraq's stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. A story in the Washington Post said she came to enjoy such influence with the general that at one point she persuaded him to help rescind orders to pull back the reconnaissance unit. Yesterday, Ms. Miller called that account "totally wrong in many, many respects."

The author of the Post piece, Howard Kurtz, defended it yesterday as "accurate in every detail." He also faulted Ms. Miller for refusing to comment before the story was published.

Ms. Miller spent 85 days in jail before she testified, citing renewed contact with her source that convinced her she had his permission to testify. The source she was protecting turned out to be Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, though Mr. Libby's attorneys later insisted he always wanted her to testify and was shocked to find out that he was the source that prompted her decision to go to jail.

Mr. Libby subsequently was indicted for lying to investigators and obstructing justice when he denied disclosing Ms. Plame's employment to the press. Prosecutors allege that Mr. Libby discussed the CIA employee with Ms. Miller on three occasions. Mr. Libby, who resigned the same day he was charged, has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to go on trial next week.

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