Tuesday, November 01, 2005

What we don't know

In my column of June 9, 2003, I led with the assertion that:

"The Bush Administration's case for invading Iraq was a combination of willfully gross exaggerations and flat-out lies."

Even at the time, this was nothing new; it was a claim critics of the war had been making for nearly a year. The lack of discovery of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was simply confirming what war opponents knew all along.

Now, with Friday's five-count felony indictment of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the investigation of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has parted the curtains on some of the mechanisms of that campaign of lies -- specifically, the lengths to which the Vice President's chief of staff was willing to go to in an attempt to smear an ex-ambassador, Joseph Wilson, who had meticulously dis-proven a key administration claim. Those lengths allegedly included lying twice to a grand jury, and twice more to FBI investigators, about whether he had leaked to the press that Valerie Wilson, the wife of the ex-ambassador, was a CIA operative.

There seems little room for doubt in Fitzgerald's indictment that Libby was, indeed, caught telling a whopper -- and a particularly clumsy one at that. It's a far more serious matter than the lie that got President Bill Clinton hauled up before an impeachment tribunal -- involving not just marital infidelity, but a key justification for putting the lives of hundreds of thousands of American soldiers -- and millions of Iraqis -- at risk.

But in prosecuting the cover-up of the crime, rather than the original crime itself, Fitzgerald's indictment raises or leaves unanswered more questions than it settles. Here are a few of the biggest:

  • Who actually leaked the CIA identity of Valerie Wilson to conservative columnist Robert Novak, whose July 2003 column first unmasked Wilson? The figure is referred to in Fitzgerald's indictment as "Official A" -- probably Karl Rove. Prosecution of Rove would seem to hinge on the ability to prove that Rove knew of Wilson's covert status, a difficult proposition. But there seems little doubt that Rove, as one of the leakers alongside Libby, acted in a highly unethical (if not treasonous) manner. President Bush once averred that there was no room for unethical behavior in his administration. He also said he'd fire anyone who leaked Wilson's name. He has been conspicuously silent on such topics of late, but if he's serious about upholding ethical standards Bush should fire Rove.

  • Why did Scooter Libby lie to the grand jury? Did he do so on his own initiative? Was he acting as part of an intentional White House strategy, and if so, who was in on the formulation of that strategy? Was he trying to protect Cheney? Bush?

  • What was Dick Cheney's role in the Wilson smear campaign? We now know that both Libby and Cheney were independently gathering dirt on Joe Wilson; both discovered independently that his wife worked at the CIA, and it was from Cheney that Libby learned that Valerie Wilson worked in the counter-proliferation division. From the beginning of the war campaign, Cheney has been spewing disinformation and outrageous claims about Iraq, particularly its alleged weapons programs and (nonexistent) links to Al-Qaeda. We now know that Cheney simply lied when he told a 2003 television interviewer that he had no idea Joseph Wilson even had a wife. What other intentional lies did he tell?

  • Who forged the documents alleging Niger sold yellowcake uranium to Saddam Hussein's Iraq? Joseph Wilson's 2002 trip to Niger disproved that claim, but only later was it concluded by the International Atomic Energy Agency that the documents the claim was based on were crude forgeries. An investigative series last week in the Italian daily La Republica traces the origins of that document back through the Italian intelligence agency SISMI -- and points also to the possible involvement of CIA and FBI officials. Did the Bush Administration or its allies plant the forgery in the intelligence stream in the first place, for use in justifying claims of an imminent threat to American security? (or was it a NeoCon outside the administration, like Michael Ledeen, for example?) 

  • How much of all this did George Bush know, and when? We now know that an alternative intelligence cabal, operating primarily out of the Vice President's office, was bypassing the usual channels of the CIA and State Department to cherry-pick (if not generate) intelligence that could justify an invasion. Did Bush know that much of this information was fictitious? How long has he known that Libby and Rove leaked Valerie Wilson's CIA identity? It seems likely he's known since the beginning of Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation, which begs the question of why either of them have continued to work at the White House for the past two years.

    It was no secret in 2002 and 2003 that the claims of the Bush Administration in making the case of war against Iraq ranged from highly improbable to ludicrous. They achieved something resembling received Beltway wisdom through a combination of endless repetition, a credulous media, and the lack of any spine whatsoever in the opposition party. The indictment of I. Lewis Libby is a saga of a campaign of lies, orchestrated by the inner sanctum of the White House, and used to justify a flagrantly illegal war. Libby should go down hard for his misdeeds.

    But he did not act alone. This entire administration sold the invasion of Iraq, and, as the Downing Street Memo suggested, fixed the intelligence around the predetermined policy. They lied about whether they were going to war, and they lied about the reasons for going to war.

    The decision to engage in war is the most serious a president can make. The more we learn, the more we confirm that George Bush, Dick Cheney, and every single one of their senior advisors participated in a campaign of lies. They lied to Congress, they lied to the U.N., they lied to international allies, and they lied to the American public. And if only one of them lied to a grand jury, that's hardly where the criminality of the matter stops.

    Libby lied to investigators in order to protect somebody, and there are really only two possibilities as to who: the Vice President of the United States, and the President of the United States. There's a lot more we still need to find out -- if not from Fitzgerald's ongoing probe, then from a Congressional inquiry. If a president can be impeached for lying about sex, what is the proper fate for a president who lies about war? See more in the Geov Parrish archives.

  • http://www.workingforchange.com/article.cfm?ItemID=19812


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