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Published: Tuesday, 7/25/2006

A light in the darkness?

THE civil lawsuit filed by former CIA agent Valerie Plame and her husband against Vice President Dick Cheney, White House political adviser Karl Rove, and other officials could have a useful outcome for the American people. The suit stems from actions by government officials who blew her cover in revenge for her husband's revelation of the weak underpinnings of the administration's case for the Iraq war.

The affair remains murky, though it goes back to mid-2003.

The prosecuting chore in the federal case against the government leakers passed from the hands of then Attorney General John Ashcroft, who was forced to recuse himself, to special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald. Mr. Fitzgerald gave the appearance of close attention to the case, but in the end threw softballs that the administration hit out of the park.

The role of neither Mr. Cheney nor Mr. Rove drew an indictment. The only person who has gone to jail so far is former New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who served 85 days for refusing to reveal the names of her sources in the case.

The only indictment has been that of Mr. Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter " Libby, Jr., for obstruction of justice and perjury. President Bush praised Mr. Fitzgerald's decision not to indict Mr. Rove, calling him "an integral part of my team."

It is important to note, in considering Mr. Fitzgerald's performance, that he rendered the administration a very important service in agreeing that Mr. Libby's trial not start until after the November elections.

Ms. Plame's suit will seek financial compensation in return for the administration's trashing of her career as revenge for a New York Times opinion piece by former diplomat Joseph Wilson IV, her husband, which cast doubt on the administration's claim that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from an African country, Niger. It remains almost beyond belief that in the 21st century the most senior Bush officials would find it acceptable to demolish the career of a man's spouse for actions that he took.

The civil suit may cast light on aspects of the matter that Mr. Fitzgerald's inquiries have so far left in the dark. That is useful for all Americans, men or women, who run the risk of the same government action being taken against them.

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