Is it illegal to lie to an investigative commission constituted by the Supreme Court of Pakistan?
It’s an interesting question, because I can attest first-hand that a lie was told there.
The Memo Commission is looking into Pakistan’s bitterly inflammatory “Memogate” controversy. I won’t recapitulate the details of the controversy now. They can be read in the column linked in the next paragraph. Suffice it to say that the controversy very nearly toppled Pakistan's civilian government—and did force the resignation of Pakistan's ambassador to the United States.
The controversy was set in motion by the allegations of a Pakistani-American businessman named Mansoor Ijaz. In a December 2011 column about the Memogate controversy on CNN.com, I wrote the following about Mansoor Ijaz (please forgive the long self-quotation; it’s highly relevant to the story):
Ijaz came to view in the United States in the months after 9/11, when he told an amazing story to anyone who would listen: In the mid-1990s, when Osama bin Laden still lived in Sudan, he -- Ijaz -- had brokered a deal whereby the Sudanese would surrender bin Laden to the United States. The Clinton administration had perversely rejected the deal. This story would ultimately be repudiated as groundless by the 9/11 Commission, but at the time it gained a wide hearing on Fox News and right-wing talk radio. Ijaz himself got a contract as a Fox News analyst.
In the 2000s, Ijaz produced a series of sensational revelations, which again and again proved untrue.
One of Ijaz’s claims in the Memo-gate story was that high authorities in Pakistan had tasked him to convey a top-secret communication to the United States. About that claim, I wrote in my CNN.com column:
You might wonder: Why would any "senior diplomat" in his right mind trust Mansoor Ijaz, of all people, to carry a message?
And it's not like it would be so hard for the president of Pakistan to get a secret message directly to the president of the United States: There's a large and highly capable U.S. diplomatic mission in Islamabad. Ijaz's story was bizarre on its face.
I finally concluded that Ijaz’s version of events was almost certainly bogus, and I raised the possibility that “Pakistani democracy has been corroded, and the U.S. and Pakistan have been pushed toward a dangerous confrontation, by a reckless fantasist motivated by childish vanity.”
In commission proceedings on March 15, Ijaz was asked about my column. He answered as follows:
Q: Do you know Mr. David Frum, who is also a contributor to CNN?
A: I don’t know Mr. David Frum personally, but I know about him. He has extensively written against me with regard to this matter.
Q: Do you have an article contributed on December 8, 2011, by Mr. David Frum?
A: I don’t have it.
Q: How did Mr. David Frum describe you in the said article?
A: I don’t recall, but it was in negative terms. [Volunteers] In view of the fact Mr. Frum defamed me my lawyers in Washington informed him that if he does not retract, I will be taking legal action against him.
(You can read the transcript here. This exchange is on page 43.)
Let me state flatly for the record: that quoted statement of Mansoor Ijaz is false. I have not been threatened with legal action by any lawyer representing Mansoor Ijaz. I have not had any communication of any kind from any lawyer representing Mansoor Ijaz.
Mansoor Ijaz did ask CNN.com to post a response from him, not only to my column, but also to a column by my CNN colleague Peter Bergen detailing the long, sorry history of false claims by Ijaz. That response can be read here:
David Frum can call me all the names he wants -- it won't change the facts. It certainly will not deter me. And it won't help to fix what ails Pakistan.
Peter Bergen can ridicule my three or four claims that turned out to be inaccurate over a five year period of being interviewed nearly four or five times a week -- it won't change the facts, or the accuracy with which I recorded them in this instance.
That’s a bold new defense: 'My claims turned out to be false only three or four times!'
Now there is a fifth time (at least) when an Ijaz statement has been revealed as false.
May it please the court, I think we have a regular pattern of behavior here.