October 30, 2005

Presidential Lemon Law

"We went into Iraq under false pretenses. There was deceptive advertising; you'd be taking [President Bush] to the Better Business Bureau if you bought a washing machine the way we went into the war in Iraq. We're taking casualties. We haven't made America safer by this. We've made America more engaged, more vulnerable, more committed, less able to respond. We've lost a tremendous amount of goodwill around the world by our actions and our continuing refusal to bring in international institutions."
--General Wesley Clark, CNN Late Edition, Aug 17, 2003

Instead of a washing machine, imagine you are shopping for a new car. You go to a dealership, and the salesman spends an hour touting a particular car's attributes. He primarily talks about what great gas mileage the car gets. He repeats "Great Gas Mileage" over and over. He even uses an acronym "GGM." Then he calls over his GGM Specialist, who proceeds to give you a detailed presentation, with slides, drawings and recordings, explaining the Great Gas Mileage that the car gets. You buy the car because you are so impressed by its GGM, and, lo and behold, the car's gas mileage is not so great. In fact, it's terrible. It runs out of gas after a short distance. You contact the owner of the dealershop to complain, and he says, "well, the gas mileage may not be good, but hey, isn't that ride smooth? I mean, you drive over those potholes, and you don't feel a thing. It's a real smooth-riding car."

How would you feel about the car and the dealer? What would you do? Probably a lot. Maybe you would contact the Better Business Bureau. You might also tell your family, friends and everyone else you know about this sleazy car dealer, and recommend that they not give him any of their business. Maybe you would contact your state or local officials and find out if you have any recourse. You might find out that, if the car is defective and cannot be repaired after several attempts, you get to return it for a new one under the state's Lemon Law. Or you may find that the salesman committed fraud, inducing you to buy the car under false pretenses.

Fine, you say, but I'm not currently car shopping, so what does this have to do with me? It has a lot to do with all of us, because a current favorite White House and Republican rationale for why we're fighting in Iraq is so that we can bring democracy to that country, and then expand it throughout the Middle East. That is an interesting (if incredibly naive) notion, and one that should be openly debated. The problem is, that was not the rationale President Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleeza Rice and other administration officials presented to the American people for invading Iraq, and it was never publicly debated. The principal rationale, as the CIA leak investigation saga reminds us, was Weapons of Mass Destruction, or WMD. The reason why White House officials such as Scooter Libby and Karl Rove went after former U.S. ambassador to Iraq Joe Wilson so violently, including outing his wife Valerie Plame as a CIA operative, was that Wilson had gone to Niger and had come back with a conclusion -- that there was no evidence of an attempt by Saddam Hussein to purchase yellowcake uranium from Niger -- that disagreed with the "mushroom cloud" WMD narrative being pushed by the Administration regarding Saddam. That narrative was forcefully presented by Colin Powell before the United Nations Security Council on February 5, 2003. As the linked transcript indicates, with CIA Director George Tenet sitting behind him, Powell gave a multimedia presentation, playing telephone recordings and showing drawings of mobile biological weapons trucks, chemical weapons sites, and aluminum tubes to enrich uranium for producing nuclear weapons to create that mushroom cloud. On April 2, 2004, 14 months after giving his U.N. presentation and 13 months after the U.S. invaded Iraq, Powell admitted that the evidence he presented regarding mobile biological weapons labs "appears not to be ... that solid." 17 months later, on September 8, 2005, Powell backtracked all the way, stating that many of the intelligence reports that had formed the basis of his U.N. presentation had turned out to be false. According to Powell, the presentation was "a blot" on his record. "I'm the one who presented it on behalf of the United States to the world, and (it) will always be a part of my record. It was painful. It's painful now."

What can the American taxpayer, the American consumer, do about this? Do we get our money back for the war? Do we get our soldiers' lives and limbs back, or those of thousands of innocent Iraqis? Do we get back the goodwill that we have squandered around the world? Can we return George W. Bush to Crawford, Texas under a Lemon Law? Does Bush and do his underlings get penalized if they committed fraud in selling a war to a country? Shouldn't there be investigations about this? Shouldn't there be hearings? Shouldn't someone be looking into whether Bush committed offenses that give rise to impeachment? Shouldn't we, at minimum, think about this on Election Day 2006, when Republicans who control the Congress and who decide whether to investigate and hold hearings about possible wrongdoing by members of the Executive branch, and who have failed miserably to do so, stand for re-election?

This is a bit more important than lying about having an affair, which resulted in the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. And it's more important than buying a car and being sold a lemon.

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October 27, 2005

My Meeting With Cindy Sheehan

"WASHINGTON -- In a shift of emphasis, President Bush on Friday termed the war against Iraq 'a noble purpose' . . . ."
--Edward Chen, "Bush shifts emphasis, calls war 'a noble cause,'" Los Angeles Times, March 29, 2003

Today I had a meeting in downtown Washington DC. At the meeting, I was told that there was no need for me to find something "compelling" about the particular case we were discussing. I was disappointed to hear that comment, since I find that when things are compelling, life becomes much more exciting. In fact, after the meeting, I wandered a few blocks down to the White House. I had found going to the White House compelling because I had read that Cindy Sheehan was holding a vigil there. For the few of you who may be not have been paying attention, Cindy Sheehan is the mother of U.S. Army Specialist Casey Sheehan, who was killed in Iraq in April 2004. Last August, Cindy Sheehan attained worlwide notoriety by camping out at makeshift "Camp Casey" near President Bush's ranch in Crawford, TX while Bush was on one of his 5-week vacations, and demanding to meet with Bush to ask what was the specific "noble cause" for which Casey Sheehan had died. Bush refused to meet with her, and, coincidentally, his presidency has been spiraling downward ever since.

Walking through Lafayette Park toward the Pennsylvania Avenue side of the White house is now intimidating. A row of black iron barriers crosses the park, turning this once tranquil spot into DC's version of Omaha Beach. Across from a guardhouse, a black SUV with U.S. Government plates sits on the side street, its occupants scoping the area. Armed, uniformed officers patrol the street, which is now a pedestrian mall. Where I used to rollerblade, it feels like a fortress under siege. In the middle of the mall were about a half dozen folks, one of them holding a banner that read "Bring the Troops Home Now." A few tourists drifted by. At the edge of the park facing the White House, about a half dozen additional folks milled about, one with a sign that read "2,000 is Too Many." Another man with a Middle Eastern sounding accent had a large sign hanging around his neck like an albatross, with a photo of a soldier and a caption indicating that his son, the boy in the photo, had been killed in Iraq. One man held a skinny sign aloft indicating repeatedly that "Bush Lied." In the middle of this small gathering, behind a table, a short dark-haired woman in a blue parka shook hands and spoke to a tall woman with starkly cut golden hair, a long black wool overcoat and sneakers. She looked like a soccer mom, or perhaps a librarian. It was Cindy Sheehan.

When the short woman stepped away, I approached Cindy and introduced myself, telling her first that I was very sorry for her loss. Cindy shook my hand and held it much longer than the usual handshake. She stands almost six feet tall and appears American in a Midwestern kind of way. I looked into her pale blue deep-set eyes, and saw pain. Her tanned face was creased, and I guessed her to be in her fifties. When I looked up her biography later today, I was startled to find out that she is only 48. I have a feeling that she has aged those extra years in the past two.

I told Cindy that I am a moderate Democrat, and that I know some thoughtful, moderate Republicans who concede that the U.S. had invaded Iraq for the wrong reasons, but now that our soldiers are there, we couldn't simply pull them out, that to do so would be a sign of weakness and a loss of prestige, which would hurt us geopolitically. I asked Cindy how I could respond to this argument. She said, in a high, quavery and strangely young-sounding voice, that many Democrats also have this view, but that our military presence in Iraq is the problem, not the solution, and the sooner everyone realized that, the better. Sheehan said that she had taught her children "to solve problems with words, not violence." I asked her whether she then believed that all U.S. troops should be pulled out of Iraq immediately, or whether there should be a phased withdrawal. Sheehan said there should be a phased withdrawal. However, she said that John Kerry's proposal, announced in his speech at Georgetown University yesterday, that 20,000 troops should be brought home by this Christmas, was inadequate -- I think Cindy used the term "f___ing bull____" -- because, according to her, 20,000 extra U.S. troops were recently sent to Iraq for the elections.

I asked Cindy what she thought about Democratic senators, such as John Kerry, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, several of whom were running for president, who had voted to give President Bush the authority to use military force against Iraq, and how it seemed like they were voting against their principles out of fear that otherwise they would be branded as weak on security and defense. Sheehan had nothing but contempt for these Democrats, especially John Kerry, with his seeming inability during the 2004 campaign to take a clear stand on the Iraq War and stick with it. Sheehan also told me that she met with Howard Dean yesterday and pleaded with him to rally Democrats around the issue of bringing the troops home from Iraq. She said she told Dean that Democrats needed a cause to unite them, and this was the natural one, the issue of our time. But, Sheehan said rather disappointedly, Dean merely told her this was a very hard issue. She said she told him, "you know what, it is a hard issue. What I do is get up in the morning and do the hard things first, then the rest of the day is easy." Sheehan told me that she had been arrested last night, and expected to be arrested again tonight. I had read that she was planning to chain herself to the White House fence. I thought that telling Cindy Sheehan that something is hard is probably not the best approach.

As I began to wrap up our discussion, Cindy bent down toward the table and pointed to a book by Adam Shapiro et al., entitled "Neocon Middle East Policy: the Clean Break Plan Damage Assessment." The book's cover contains a photo of about 18 flag-draped coffins in three rows, as well as photos of Richard Perle and a couple of bespectacled men I did not recognize but whom I assume are noted neoconservatives. Cindy pointed to the photo and said that her son was in one of those flag-draped coffins in the photo, and added sarcastically, "isn't that great?"

I thanked Cindy for taking the lead on this issue, and told her that many people are afraid to lead on this, but are following her example. She told me that she never wanted to be a leader. I took that as having two meanings -- first, the literal meaning that she didn't want to be a leader of the anti-war movement, and second, that she never wanted to be thrust into the movement by having her son killed in the first place. As I turned to leave, I noticed that a cameraman was a couple of feet away, and had been filming us, apparently for some time. I don't know whether he was with the press, or perhaps the White House attack squad.

Whether or not you agree with Cindy Sheehan's tactics, or think that she is a clown or a buffoon, put yourself in Cindy's sneakers for one day. Try to imagine your child being killed in a war, and then coming to the conclusion that the war was begun, and is still being fought, for imaginary or even fraudulent reasons. I felt privileged to have met a woman of such strength and character. I wondered how Casey Sheehan had felt upon joining the Army, how he must have found the noble cause of serving his country very compelling. I wondered what it was like now for Cindy Sheehan, who must find it so compelling to honor her son and to try to save other mothers from having to honor their dead sons and daughters for a fictitious war. I wondered how empty life must be for people who do not find anything compelling.

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October 25, 2005

Libby Flip-Flop

This speaks for itself:

"I certainly hope that if there is going to be an indictment . . . that it is an indictment on a crime and not some perjury technicality where they couldn't indict on the crime and so they go to something just to show that their two years of investigation was not a waste of time and taxpayer dollars. So they go to something that trips someone up because they said something in the first grand jury and then maybe they found new information or they forgot something and they tried to correct that in a second grand jury.
"I think we should be very careful here, especially as we are dealing with something very public and people's lives in the public arena."

-- Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) discussing the CIA leak investigation on NBC's "Meet the Press," Oct. 23, 2005.

"I do think . . . that something needs to be said that is a clear message that our rule of law is intact and the standards for perjury and obstruction of justice are not gray. And I think it is most important that we make that statement and that it be on the record for history.
"I very much worry that with the evidence that we have seen that grand juries across America are going to start asking questions about what is obstruction of justice, what is perjury. And I don't want there to be any lessening of the standard. Because our system of criminal justice depends on people telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."

-- Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison discussing President Bill Clinton's impeachment at a news conference, Feb. 5, 1999, 5 years into a 7-year, $73 million expenditure of time and taxpayer dollars.

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October 21, 2005

Plame Game

"We need more human intelligence. That means we need more protection for the methods we use to gather intelligence and more protection for our sources, particularly our human sources, people that are risking their lives for their country. (Applause)
Even though I'm a tranquil guy now at this stage of my life, I have nothing but contempt and anger for those who betray the trust by exposing the name of our sources. They are, in my view, the most insidious, of traitors.

--George H.W. Bush, Dedication Ceremony for the George Bush Center for Intelligence, 26 April 1999


"I will restore honor and integrity to the White House."

-- George W. Bush, 2000 Presidential Campaign.


Q On the Robert Novak-Joseph Wilson situation, Novak reported earlier this year -- quoting -- "anonymous government sources" telling him that Wilson's wife was a CIA operative. Now, this is apparently a federal offense, to burn the cover a CIA operative. Wilson now believes that the person who did this was Karl Rove. . . . Did Karl Rove tell that --
MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't heard that. That's just totally ridiculous. But we've already addressed this issue. If I could find out who anonymous people were, I would. I just said, it's totally ridiculous.
Q But did Karl Rove do it?
MR. McCLELLAN: I said, it's totally ridiculous.

--Press briefing by White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, Sept. 16, 2003


"The President has set high standards, the highest of standards for people in his administration. He's made it very clear to people in his administration that he expects them to adhere to the highest standards of conduct. If anyone in this administration was involved in it [leaking the CIA agent's name], they would no longer be in this administration."

--Press briefing by White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, Sept. 29, 2003


Q Given -- given recent developments in the CIA leak case, particularly Vice President Cheney's discussions with the investigators, do you still stand by what you said several months ago, a suggestion that it might be difficult to identify anybody who leaked the agent's name?
THE PRESIDENT: That's up to --
Q And, and, do you stand by your pledge to fire anyone found to have done so?

--June 10, 2004 Press Conference of the President following G-8 Summit, National Media Center, Savannah, GA


Q Mr. President, you said you don't want to talk about an ongoing investigation, so I'd like to ask you, regardless of whether a crime was committed, do you still intend to fire anyone found to be involved in the CIA leak case? And are you displeased that Karl Rove told a reporter that Ambassador Joe Wilson's wife worked for the Agency on WMD issues?
PRESIDENT BUSH: We have a serious ongoing investigation here. (Laughter.) And it's being played out in the press. . . . I would like this to end as quickly as possible so we know the facts, and if someone committed a crime, they will no longer work in my administration.

--July 18, 2005 White House Press Conference with President Bush and Prime Minister Singh of India


Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is expected to act any day now in the CIA leak case. He may indict White House aides Karl Rove, President Bush's senior advisor, chief political strategist, and Deputy White House Chief of Staff in charge of policy, or Irve Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Jr., Vice President Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff and Assistant for national security affairs. However, White House defenders are now arguing that, even if White House aides leaked the name of an undercover CIA operative, they did not commit a crime, due to the arcane laws governing such leaks (for example, the leaker must know that the CIA agent is undercover). But surely, the standard in the White House should be higher than "we don't commit crimes." For example, lots of folks criticized President Clinton vehemently, and rightfully so, for having an affair with Monica Lewinsky, even though it was not a crime for him to do so.

Therefore, it is worth looking at what was done here, even if legal, to determine whether it reflects proper behavior by the men in the White House. It is also worth looking at how government officials and others use the media to further their objectives, since, in this case, those objectives were to go to war, a decision which impacts us every day. Thanks largely to nonpartisan Factcheck.org, here's a timeline of what most everyone agrees has happened thus far:

1988-1997 Joseph Wilson serves, respectively, as Deputy Chief of Mission in Iraq, Ambassador to Iraq, Ambassador to the African nations of Gabon, the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe, political adviser to the Commander in Chief of the U.S. Armed Forces in Europe stationed in Germany, and Senior Director for African Affairs at the National Security Council.

1999 – Wilson travels to Niger at the behest of the CIA to investigate uranium-related matters separate from Iraq.

October 15, 2001 – US intelligence agencies learn of reports from Italy of a supposed agreement between Iraq and Niger for the sale of uranium yellowcake. The State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research considers the report “highly suspect.” (Senate Intelligence Cmte., Iraq 36, July 2004).

February 12, 2002 – The Defense Intelligence Agency writes a report concluding “Iraq is probably searching abroad for natural uranium to assist in its nuclear weapons program.” Vice President Cheney reads this report and asks for the CIA’s analysis. (Senate Intelligence Cmte., Iraq 38-39, July 2004). Responding to inquiries from Vice President Cheney’s office, the State Department and the Defense Department, the CIA’s Directorate of Operations’ Counterproliferation Division (CPD) sends Wilson to Niger again to investigate. One of Valerie Wilson’s colleagues later tells Senate investigators she “offered up his name” for the trip. Wilson says that her agency made the decision and she only later approached her husband on the CIA’s behalf. (Senate Intelligence Cmte., Iraq 39, July 2004).

February 26, 2002 – Wilson arrives in Niger. He concludes, after a few days of interviews, that “it was highly unlikely that anything was going on.” (Senate Intelligence Cmte., Iraq 42, July 2004).

March 8-9, 2002 – A CIA intelligence report of Wilson ’s trip is sent through routine channels. (Senate Intelligence Cmte., Iraq 43-44, July 2004). The government does not report to the public about the trip or Wilson's findings.

July 23, 2002 - Downing Street Memo in Britain states that the head of the British Secret Intelligence Service had met with Bush Administration officials, and "Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC [National Security Council] had no patience with the UN route . . . ."

August 2002 - White House Iraq Group is created. It includes Karl Rove, Lewis Libby, Presidential Counselor Karen Hughes, Cheney stategist Mary Matalin, James R. Wilkinson (Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of Communications for Planning), Nicholas E. Calio (Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs), National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Stephen J. Hadley (Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor). "The group...worked on setting strategy for selling the war in Iraq to the public in the months leading up to the March 2003 invasion." ("Focus of CIA Leak Probe Appears to Widen," Wall Street Journal, Oct. 12, 2005, p. A3).

2002-2003 - Cheney makes multiple trips to CIA headquarters and speaks to analysts regarding Iraq. Some analysts report that they felt pressure to come up with intelligence that served the White House view that Iraq was such a danger that war was necessary. (Walter Pincus and Dana Priest, "Some Iraq Analysts Felt Pressure from Cheney Visits," Washington Post, June 5, 2003, p. A1).

September 8, 2002 - Condoleeza Rice states on CNN that "America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud."

September 24, 2002The British government issues a public dossier saying, “[T]here is intelligence that Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa .” ( British Govt. Report 25, Sept. 2002). The Washington Post reports later that the CIA tried unsuccessfully to get the British to omit these claims. (" Bush, Rice blame CIA ,” July 2003).

October 2001-April 2003 - The New York Times publishes at least 6 sensational stories written or co-written by Judith Miller, detailing the high likelihood that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. According to the September 8, 2002 story "U.S. Says Hussein Intensifies Quest for A-Bomb Parts" by Miller and Michael R. Gordon, "In the last 14 months, Iraq has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes, which American officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium." Many stories quote an "unnamed Iraqi defector." He is Ahmad Chalabi, exiled former leader of the opposition Iraqi National Congress and favorite of Dick Cheney and neoconservatives Paul Wolfowitz (Deputy Secretary of Defense) and Richard Perle. Chalabi wants the U.S. to overthrow Saddam, and he and his tales of WMD are subsequently discredited. In June 2004, the U.S. accuses Chalabi tipping off Iran that the U.S. had broken Iran's secret codes.

October 7, 2002 - President Bush states that "Iraq has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes and other equipment needed for gas centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons." In a virtual word for word repetition of Condoleeza Rice's statement 30 days earlier, he then states "America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud."

January 28, 2003 – Bush’s State of the Union Address includes this 16-word sentence: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

March 7, 2003 – The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) – the international body that monitors nuclear proliferation – tells the UN Security Council that, after a “thorough analysis” with “concurrence of outside experts,” that the Italian documents which formed the basis for the reports of recent uranium transactions between Iraq and Niger are forgeries. ( Status of Nuclear Inspections in Iraq... , March 2003).

March 19, 2003 – U.S. invades Iraq.

June 23, 2003 - Libby has first of 3 conversations with Judy Miller regarding Wilson's trip. Miller says "I recalled Mr. Libby's frustration and anger about what he called 'selective leaking' by the C.I.A. and other agencies to distance themselves from what he recalled as their unequivocal prewar intelligence assessments. The selective leaks trying to shift blame to the White House, he told me, were part of a 'perverted war' over the war in Iraq." "Mr. Libby was angry about reports suggesting that senior administration officials, including Mr. Cheney, had embraced skimpy intelligence about Iraq's alleged efforts to buy uranium in Africa while ignoring evidence to the contrary." "Soon afterward Mr. Libby raised the subject of Mr. Wilson's wife for the first time." (Judith Miller, "My Four Hours Testifying in the Federal Grand Jury Room," New York Times, Oct. 16, 2005).

July 6, 2003 – Wilson publishes " What I didn’t find in Africa" in The New York Times, identifying himself for the first time as the unnamed “envoy.” He writes, “I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq 's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.” Wilson does not claim that Cheney sent him on the Niger trip, only that he was sent to answer questions from Cheney’s “office.” (Wilson, " What I didn’t find, New York Times July 6, 2003).

July 7, 2003Secretary of State Colin Powell, aboard Air Force One, reportedly receives a copy of a State Department memo prepared in June about the purported Niger-Iraq uranium deal, which mentions Valerie Wilson’s role in her husband’s trip, according to media reports. ("Memo Underscored … Shielding Plame’s Identity ,” Wall Street Journal , July 2005).

July 7, 2003White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer retracts the 16-word yellowcake claim from the State of the Union address, calling the President's statement “incorrect.” ( White House Press Gaggle, July 7 2003) .

July 8, 2003 – Columnist Robert Novak tells Karl Rove he had heard that Joseph Wilson’s wife, who worked for the CIA, played a role in Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger. Rove confirms the story to Novak. ( Rove ... Talk on C.I.A. Officer, NY Times, July 2003). Novak later writes that he originally acquired the information from another official, who has not yet been named. (Novak, " CIA Leak" Chicago Sun-Times, Oct 2003).

July 8, 2003 - Judith Miller agrees to identify Lewis Libby as a "former Hill staffer" rather than the usual "senior administration official" in order not to have White House fingerprints on Libby's statements criticizing Wilson and the CIA in Miller's articles. (Miller, NYT, Oct. 16, 2005).

July 11, 2003 –Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper calls Rove, who cautions him to be careful of Wilson’s story. Rove tells Cooper that Wilson’s wife works for the CIA on “WMD” (Weapons of Mass Destruction) and that she, not Cheney or the CIA director, was responsible for sending Wilson to Africa. (Matthew Cooper, " What I told the Grand Jury, ” Time, July 2005).

July 11, 2003Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet concedes in a statement that the State of the Union claims about Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Africa were a mistake and that the “16 words should never have been included in the text written for the President.” ( Tenet Statement, July 2003).

July 12, 2003 – Cooper says he “asked Libby if he had heard anything about Wilson 's wife sending her husband to Niger. Libby replied, ‘Yeah, I've heard that too,’ or words to that effect. (Matthew Cooper, " What I told the Grand Jury, ” Time, July 2005).

July 14, 2003Robert Novak’s " Mission to Niger" column is published in the Chicago Sun-Times and syndicated. This is the first published mention of Joseph Wilson’s wife’s name, her employment at the CIA, and her role in his trip to Niger. According to Novak, “[Wilson's] wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me Wilson 's wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report. The CIA says its counter-proliferation officials selected Wilson and asked his wife to contact him.”

July 17, 2003 – Time magazine publishes online “A War on Wilson?” by Cooper and others, for the first time naming Mrs. Wilson. Cooper quotes “government officials” as saying “that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, is a CIA official who monitors the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. These officials have suggested that she was involved in her husband's being dispatched Niger [sic] to investigate reports that Saddam Hussein's government had sought to purchase large quantities of uranium ore.”

July 30, 2003The CIA alerts the Criminal Division of the Justice Department noting “a possible violation of criminal law concerning the unauthorized disclosure of classified information,” according to a letter from the CIA’s Director of Congressional Affairs.

September 30, 2003 – The Justice Department publicly announces an official criminal investigation.

May 26, 2004 - The New York Times publishes an extraordinary Editor's Note stating that much of its previous coverage of Iraq WMD was inaccurate. The Times points to 5 articles written or co-written by Judith Miller. The note mentions that some of these articles' discussion of Iraq's aluminum tubes was imprudent, and did not explain that the tubes could well be used for purposes other than nuclear weapons, and that in fact the U.S. intelligence agencies were debating this point.

July 1, 2005 – Over Cooper’s objections, Time Inc. turns over subpoenaed material. ("Time Magazine ...” CNN.com, June 30, 2005 ).

July 6, 2005 – Miller, still refusing to testify before the grand jury, is jailed for contempt of court. Cooper says he receives last-minute permission from his confident.ial source, Karl Rove, to testify. (Matthew Cooper, " What I told the Grand Jury, ” Time, July 2005).

September 29, 2005 - Judith Miller is released from jail after naming Lewis Libby as her confidential source for her discussions regarding Valerie Plame in 2003.

So what does this all mean? Several things.

1. As the above information and many other reports confirm, there was a "perverted war" going on between the White House, led by Dick Cheney's office, and the CIA over the WMD in Iraq. This battle was being fought because the White House wanted to sell a war against Iraq to the American people, and the prospect of Saddam Hussein's nuclear "mushroom cloud" was the clincher for many.

2. Part of the White House effort was to attack Joe Wilson for criticizing the White House's use of the Niger uranium yellowcake story. But Wilson's central claim -- that the uranium yellowcake story was false -- was accurate. No one was dispatched on a second trip to Niger to investigate the claim again, as would logically happen if Wilson's report was inaccurate or slanted. On the contrary, both CIA chief George Tenet and White House spokesman Ari Fleischer confirmed his findings, and both said therefore that Bush's 16 words in his State of the Union Address were a mistake. Instead, White House officials went after Wilson and his wife personally, implying that Wilson's motives in going to Niger were impure. Moreover, White House officials did not attack Wilson directly. They hid behind newspaper reporters and let those reporters make their arguments for them. As a result, a covert CIA operative's identity was disclosed. Valerie Wilson's CIA career is over. Her life, those of her colleagues, and U.S. national security may all have been jeopardized as a result.

3. The Bush-Rove White House resorted to its familiar strategy of attacking the messenger personally whenever the message runs counter to their agenda. This is the same thing Bush and Rove did to Richard Clarke, counter-terrorism advisor on the U.S. National Security Council, after Clarke testified at the 9/11 Commission hearings that Bush and Condoleeza Rice were asleep at the switch on 9/11. It's the same thing Bush and Rove did to Georgia Senator Max Cleland, triple amputee from the Vietnam War, during the 2002 congressional elections. It's the same thing Bush and Rove did to John McCain during the 2000 presidential primary. And it's the same thing the GOP did to Bill Clinton when he ran for president in 1992, and each day thereafter for the next eight years. There is no evidence that the White House premise -- that Wilson and his wife colluded to send Wilson to Niger to bring back a biased, inaccurate report -- is correct. If Valerie Wilson suggested that her husband go to Niger, so what? She worked on WMD. He was well-versed in the subject matter, and the CIA had sent him on a similar mission to Niger previously. If he wasn't qualified, then Plame's superiors should not have sent Wilson, but the fact that they did isn't Plame's or Wilson's fault. Wilson's finding that the yellowcake story was bogus has not been refuted, and the White House and CIA have both since admitted that Bush's 16 words on the subject should never have been uttered. Unfortunately, by then the U.S. had invaded Iraq, and it was too late to put the genie back in the bottle.

4. The New York Times was used by both sides. They published Joe Wilson's op-ed piece attacking the Bush Administration. But they also published Judith Miller's articles leading up to the war, and in so doing became a principal cheerleader for the war. Lewis Libby trusted Miller enough to trash Joe Wilson and hope that she would print his attacks and attribute them to a "former Hill staffer." So much for the myth of the liberal media. It would appear that the New York Times' offense wasn't liberalism, it was a lack of independence and control. Some serious soul-searching and house-cleaning is in order at the Times.

Even if those in the White House who spread information about Joe Wilson's wife didn't commit a crime, is this "honor and integrity" or "the highest standards of conduct?" Is this the way we want to decide whether to go to war? Did senior Administration officials, including Bush and Cheney, purposely cherry-pick intelligence reports, hyping some and ignoring others, to mislead the American public into supporting a war, and purposely attack Joe Wilson because his good faith conclusions from his CIA mission did not fit their agenda? Are Joe Wilson and his wife unfortunate casualties of the White House's war against the CIA? How safe are we when the White House and the CIA are at war instead of fully cooperating with each other?

Supporters of Bush and the Iraq war say that critics "hate America." It's the opposite: critics of Bush's Iraq War love America, but they hate the policies of the administration that is temporarily running the government, and they know America can do much better. In contrast, are White House aides who expose the identity of CIA agents in the middle of a War On Terror to win political battles committing treason? If someone doesn't know if a CIA agent is undercover, shouldn't he first be required to check before revealing her name? Better yet, shouldn't it always be illegal or at least off-limits to leak a CIA agent's name? If America represents freedom, democracy, and government by the people, aren't these leakers the folks who really hate America?

2,000 brave young U.S. men and women, dutifully following orders from their Commander-In-Chief, have been killed in Iraq, and over 15,000 have been wounded. The U.S. may be stuck in Iraq for many years, during which new generations of soldiers will be sent there to add to these grisly numbers. Many of the soldiers are from poor families, who joined the military for an economic way out. They rely on a president to send them into harm's way only as a last resort. Now, these soldiers face not only insurgents who resent our occupation, but foreign terrorists who were not in Iraq before Bush invaded. How many new terrorists have been minted since Bush invaded Iraq, angry that we are occupying the country two and a half years after Bush proclaimed "Mission Accomplished"? Who knows how much less safe America is since Bush shifted focus from Al Queda to Iraq? Who knows whether all this makes it more likely that we will have another 9/11 on U.S. soil?

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October 13, 2005

Saving Base

This is a short piece I wrote last August 26, after it was reported that the Base Closure and Realignment Commission had voted to keep Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota open. This smelled of rank politics in a process that is supposed to be free of politics:

Today, in an article entitled "Commission Votes to Save Ellsworth Base," Liz Sidoti of the Associated Press reports that the Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) voted to keep Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota open, against the Pentagon's wishes. Ms. Sodoti's article called the BRAC decision, and the process surrounding it, "a politically delicate task." The article noted that one of the issues on which Republican Senator (then candidate) John Thune of South Dakota ran against incumbent Democrat Tom Daschle in 2004 was that Thune would be more able to keep Ellsworth open. Obviously, the only way Thune could accomplish this would be through partisan politics, specifically, his membership in the same political party as President Bush and those in charge of the federal government. However, BRAC's web site indicates that "Congress established the 2005 BRAC Commission to ensure the integrity of the base closure and realignment process. As directed by law, the Commission will provide an objective, non-partisan, and independent review and analysis of the list of military installation recommendations issued by the Department of Defense (DoD) on May 13, 2005." Senator Thune's web site today features the BRAC decision, and states that "I am proud to have been a part of this victory to keep Ellsworth open." So much for BRAC fulfilling its mandate to remove politics from the base closure process.

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October 06, 2005

Something We Can All Agree On -- No Torture

President Bush gave a speech today on efforts to combat terrorism. Bush's speech contained the usual references to Iraq, but in a rather stunning admission, Bush said that "we were not in Iraq on September 11, 2001, and al Qaeda attacked us anyway. The hatred of the radicals existed before Iraq was an issue...." Exactly. In other words, Iraq was not part of the "war on terror" when Bush invaded there in 2003. That's something to keep in mind as George Bush and his supporters continue to try and revise history in statement after statement claiming that Iraq is part of, or even the central front in, the "war on terror."

All of this obscures an even more stunning defeat for Bush last night. The U.S. Senate voted 90 to 9 to include Senator and former Vietnam War prisoner John McCain's anti-torture amendment to the Defense Appropriations Bill. The amendment would confirm that the Army Field Manual, which has been in place for decades, is the uniform standard for the interrogation of Department of Defense detainees. The amendment would thus prohibit the use of "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" against anyone in U.S. government custody, regardless of where they are held. Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican from SC and a former military lawyer, gave an impassioned speech yesterday in favor of the amendment. Graham said that the U.S. should treat all prisoners with basic human rights, even if they wouldn't do the same for us, because we are the U.S., and it's about us, not them. Other Republican Senators, such as John Warner (R-VA), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and former Secretary of the Navy, also vigorously support the McCain amendment. So does former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State Colin Powell.

The overwhelming bipartisan support for this amendment is remarkable, especially given the Bush Administration's intense lobbying against it. Could it be that it's simply a good idea? It seems like a no-brainer. There are at least 5 major reasons why our troops should be given strict guidelines prohibiting torture:

1. It gives us the moral high ground. We claim to be more civilized, humane and freedom-loving than other countries. If so, we cannot lower ourselves to the lowest common denominator, the barbarian level, in the treatment of prisoners.

2. It makes our troops safer if they are taken prisoner. If we do not afford Geneva Convention rights to all war prisoners, we cannot expect other countries to afford these rights to our soldiers.

3. It helps us in the war against terrorists, by giving them one less reason to hate us and one less action around which to rally support. Surely no one is under the illusion that we are killing terrorists faster than they are being created. Let's give them one less reason to become terrorists.

4. Many military experts, including John McCain, say that torture doesn't work. The prisoner, faced with torture, will often tell his captors anything he thinks they want to hear in order to be spared. That's a rather small return on investment, considering the high price paid in international hatred, scorn, and just plain bad PR.

5. The amendment provides certainty to the troops. As Senator McCain explained, even if they currently act in good faith, much confusion exists as to the proper treatement of different detainees, even those imprisoned in the same facility such as Abu Ghraib. According to McCain, "Several weeks ago I received a letter from Captain Ian Fishback, a member of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, and a veteran of combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. Over 17 months he struggled to get answers from his chain of command to a basic question: what standards apply to the treatment of enemy detainees? But he found no answers. In his remarkable letter, he pleads with Congress, asking us to take action, to establish standards, to clear up the confusion – not for the good of the terrorists, but for the good of our soldiers and our country. The Captain closes his letter by saying, 'I strongly urge you to do justice to your men and women in uniform. Give them clear standards of conduct that reflect the ideals they risk their lives for.'” Don't we owe our men and women in uniform this much?

The McCain amendment is far from becoming law. It still needs to pass a House-Senate Conference Committee, where the White House is already lobbying furiously to kill it. Even if it passes the Committee, Bush has said he would veto the entire Defense Appropriations bill in which it is contained. Of course, based on the Senate vote, perhaps the will exists in Congress, and in the country, to give a dose of reality and shame to this lame duck president who seems increasingly out of touch with reality, and to ovverride such a veto.

So why does George Bush oppose this amendment? Apparently he wants the military, the CIA and others to remain free to torture prisoners. There isn't any other possible reason. Many of us remember the August 2002 memo written for Alberto Gonzales, the counsel for the president (and now Attorney General), signed by Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee. The memo sought to redefine "torture" as commonly defined by the U.N. and the Geneva Convention by arguing that “physical pain amounting to torture must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." Then the Bush Administration could conveniently claim that no prisoner is being tortured. Of course, in the real world, actions that violate humanitarian norms cannot be swept away by a lawyer's new definition in a memo. The Bush Justice Department can declare that the sky is green, but everyone knows that it is still blue.

Can't we all agree, no matter what political stripe, that torture is not only morally wrong, but also counter-productive in the wars we're fighting? Can't we agree that the best way to support our troops, as all those bumper stickers say, is to enact this law? Apparently, Senators across the political spectrum, representing their constitutuents, do.

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October 01, 2005

Justice Delay-ed

Republican Congressman Tom DeLay of Texas has been indicted by a grand jury in Travis County, TX for conspiracy to launder money through the Republican National Committee, and has had to step down temporarily from his post as House Majority Leader. Immediately upon being indicted, he sat before the cameras and lashed out at Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, stating that Earle is "rogue district attorney" and an"unabashed partisan zealot."

Since then, he has been indicted on additional charges, and he and his spokespeople have countered with additional statements, including calling Earle "the Elmer Fudd of politics." Presumably this refers to Elmer Fudd's constant, but unsuccessful, hunting of Bugs Bunny. That's an interesting contrast to the name given to Kenneth Starr when he was pursuing President Bill Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky matter: Inspector Javert. Perhaps this is a reflection of the intelligence Republicans and Democrats attribute to their respective bases. At any rate, these attacks on Earle are understandible, and perhaps even tactically clever, in attempting to make Delay the victim rather than the perpetrator, and to make the prosecutor's motives, rather than the crimes alleged, the issue. In today's media society, the court of public opinion is as important as the court of law. But thus far there is little or no evidence that these attacks contain any truth.

The two key figures that have jumped out of the coverage of this issue are 15 and 12. 15 is the number of state officials Ronnie Earle has prosecuted. 12 is the number who are Democrats. On its face, that would seem more than enough to insulate Earle from charges of partisanship. And lest someone try to claim that the 12 Democrats were somehow small fish, consider that one of them was Attorney General Jim Maddox. The highest law enforcement official in the state. Another was Assistant Attorney General Gary Bledsoe. Imagine a Republican federal prosecutor bringing up U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, or his predecessor John Ashcroft, on charges, say, of ordering or promoting the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, in violation of U.S. law including the Geneva Convention, which is the law of the land. Don't hold your breath. That's comparable to these prior Ronnie Earle prosecutions. It hardly sounds like the work of a rogue partisan.

If more evidence is needed, consider that Earle investigated Texas Democratic Congressman Martin Frost based on a complaint by GOP state Senator Bob Deuell that Mr. Frost misused corporate funds in 2000, even though Deuell's complaint was widely seen as baseless and intended as a distraction from, and even payback for, the House ethics investigations that were taking place against DeLay at the time. Finally, it has even been reported that Earle, who has been the DA since 1976 and has been re-elected by his fellow Texans many times, filed misdemeanor charges against himself, and paid a fine as penalty. himself in the mid-80s, for missing a deadline to file financial disclosure forms. Supposedly, he paid several hundred dollars in fines.
It sounds as though Ronnie Earle is a tough, by-the-book prosecutor who is not afraid to go after violations of the law no matter who commits them. He sounds more like Dudley Do-Right than Elmer Fudd. Aren't Republicans the ones who like to call themselves tough on crime? Does that only apply to Democratic criminals?

Sifting through all the name-calling, the only evidence of Earle's alleged partisanship that DeLay and his supporters point to is that he previously brought charges against current Texas GOP Senator, then-Senate candidate, Kay Bailey Hutchison. Apparently, a Democratic prosecutor in Texas is considered a rogue partisan if he brings charges against a Republican, no matter how many officials he has prosecuted in his own party. In the Hutchison case, the judge indicated before trial that he had doubts about the admissibility of Earle's evidence, so Earle withdrew the charges. The judge then directed the jury to acquit Hutchison. But again, this hardly sounds like the work of Elmer Fudd or Inspector Javert or Klondike Kat (who "always gets his mouse"). If Earle was intent on pursuing a case against Hutchison out of partisan spite, he could have continued to prosecute her instead of withdrawing the charges, dragging out the case even if he eventually lost.

Another fact to remember is that Ronnie Earle did not indict Tom DeLay. A grand jury of DeLay's peers did. Why would they have done so if the charges were as baseless as DeLay claims? On the contrary, according to the Dallas Morning News, "Grand jurors were presented a load of evidence, including testimony and phone records, that led them to believe Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, should be tried on a conspiracy charge, the leader of the Travis County grand jury that indicted the congressman said yesterday. 'It was not one of those sugar-coated deals that we handed to [District Attorney] Ronnie Earle,' William Gibson said. He added: 'Mr. Earle has stacks and stacks of papers — evidence of telephone calls from Mr. DeLay and everybody.'"

Finally, it is possible, despite the evidence thus far, that Ronnie Earle was motivated in part by politics -- but that Tom DeLay is still guilty of the crimes with which he has been charged. The two are not mutually exclusive. If Earle acted improperly, he should be held accountable for his actions, but that does not give Tom DeLay a free pass to commit crimes.

It is not yet known if DeLay is guilty. Perhaps he is a victim of hardball partisan politics, which would be extremely ironic, given that his utter mastery of that very craft has earned him the nickname "the Hammer." Or perhaps he is merely a victim of his own hubris and corruption.

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