Were Rosen and Weissman Guilty Only of Being Right Too Early?

By Michael Berenbaum

Published August 25, 2006, issue of August 25, 2006.
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Instead of being grounds for prosecution, perhaps the influence Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman were trying to exert — making officials and the public aware of the danger from Iran — should be heralded.

Last week, federal judge T.S. Ellis III declared that the law under which the two former American Israel Public Affairs Committee staffers are being prosecuted is constitutional. However, in handing down his decision the judge set a new bar by ruling that in order to be found guilty under the provisions of the law, the receiving and disseminating of secret information must be harmful to the interests of the United States.

It would seem appropriate, then, to revisit whether Rosen, who was Aipac’s foreign policy chief at the time, and Weissman, who was Aipac’s top expert on Iran, have indeed caused damage to the interests of the United States.

Recall that the information they received was that Iranian forces hostile to the United States and Israel were poised to kill Israelis operating in Iraq, apparently clandestinely, but with the knowledge of American forces. Rosen and Weissman were allegedly told by Defense Department official Lawrence Franklin — who was cooperating with the government and has since pleaded guilty to security leaks — that the Iranian threat was being downplayed by the U.S. government.

Franklin turned to them because of his concern that American policy was misguidedly focused on Iraq when Iran was the real threat. Recall, as well, that Rosen and Weissman are accused of seeking to focus the U.S. government’s attention on the danger emanating from Iran at a time when the Bush administration was solely focused on Iraq.

The public record has demonstrated that Saddam Hussein’s regime had no weapons of mass destruction and that Iraq had no direct connection to the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington. The public record has also clearly shown that the threat to global stability posed by both Iran and North Korea is far more significant than the threat that was posed by Iraq.

In Washington, as Rosen and Weissman are learning the hard way, the “crime” is often not being wrong, but rather being right too early or at the wrong time, or being out of sync with the conventional wisdom, or pushing an inconvenient truth.

With Iran now openly pushing its nuclear program and defying American ultimatums, European negotiators and the United Nations’ resolutions, the American government is finding it has little choice but to face up to the inconvenient truth — which would make it appear that the prosecutors making the case against Rosen and Weissman have their work cut out for them. It is hard to conceive of any evidence the government’s lawyers can muster that will establish that the Aipac staffers passed on information, whether to friend or foe, that was harmful to America’s national security. More likely, Rosen and Weissman’s revealing the information about the Iranian threat they learned from their Pentagon source served American interests.

Their “crime” may be that they advanced the interests of the United States at a moment when our national leadership — the Bush administration and Congress — had made a determination that American interests were best served by confronting Iraq, rather than Iran. History has already shown that this judgment was conceived in haste, nurtured with misinformation — deliberate or otherwise — and pursued misguidedly and incompetently. The result has been a strengthening and emboldening of Iran and a weakening of American power in the region.

American citizens, lobbyists and media have every right to advance their perception of American interests. It may well be that Rosen and Weissman’s ultimate crime was being right, and that the administration that is preparing to prosecute them is wrong on both substance and process. History may yet reveal that Rosen and Weissman should be revered as wise patriots instead of being vilified as traitors.

In the interim, they wait, unemployed and seemingly unemployable. No date for their trial has been set, even though the accusations against them are now more than two years old — and with every passing hour the case against them becomes ever more difficult to make.

Michael Berenbaum is the director of the Sigi Ziering Institute and an adjunct professor of theology at the University of Judaism.

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