Memory on Trial

“I do not recall” may be I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby’s best defense. Libby, 55, faces charges of perjury, making false statements, and obstructing justice in the investigation of whether Bush administration officials unlawfully disclosed Plame’s identity to the media. The former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney has enlisted the aid of renowned memory researcher Daniel L. Schacter.

The Harvard University psychology professor’s work could be key to the defense team’s claim that in 2003 and 2004 Libby was so consumed with national security matters he almost certainly forgot details of conversations about undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame.

Schacter, an APS Fellow and Charter Member, is one of the world’s leading scientists in field of memory loss. His books, The Seven Sins of Memory and Searching for Memory: The Brain, the Mind and the Past discuss, among other things, the vulnerability of memory to the distorting effects of time and distraction.

Schacter’s work could be used to support what reportedly is one of the central themes of Libby’s defense, which, according to documents filed by his lawyers, is that “any misstatements he made during his FBI interviews or grand jury testimony were not intentional, but rather the result of confusion, mistake or faulty memory.” Libby’s lawyers also contend that “Given the urgent national security issues that commanded Libby’s attention, it is understandable that he may have forgotten or misremembered relatively less significant events [such as] alleged snippets of conversations Memory on Trial about Valerie Plame Wilson’s employment status.”

The trial is scheduled to begin in January, 2007.

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