Capital Games | The Nation


Capital Games

 Washington: a city of denials, spin, and political calculations. The Nation's former DC editor David Corn spent 2002-2007 blogging on the policies, personalities and lies that spew out of the nation's capital. The complete archive appears below. Corn is now the DC editor at Mother Jones.

Conservative Realism or Disingenuous Callousness?

Last week, The Nation and The National Interest held a public discussion to explore whether these days foreign policy realists of the right could make common cause with foreign policy idealists of the left. (The event was titled, "Beyond Neocons and Neolibs: Can Realism Bridge Left and Right" and can be viewed here.) After all, both groups share an opposition to the messianic crusaderism and bullying interventionism of the neocons that has yielded the Iraq war. Speaking for the left were Kai Bird, co-author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Sherle Schwenninger, a senior fellow of the World Policy Institute and a regular contributor to The Nation. The hardheaded crowd was represented by Dov Zakheim, an undersecretary of defense from 2001 to 2004 and now a vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton (who supported the invasion of Iraq), and Dmitri Simes, a former Nixon adviser and now publisher of The National Interest

The presentation showed there was not a lot of territory to share. In his opening remarks, Bird noted that Henry Kissinger had been wrong about everything, and he referred to Vietnam and the US support of the military junta that in 1973 overthrew Salvador Allende, a democratically elected socialist, in Chile. Invoking Kissinger as the embodiment of all that has been wrong with U.S. foreign policy for decades was a deep insult to the conservative realists. Kissinger is the honorary chairman of The National Interest. Bird's salvo prompted Zakheim to defend Kissinger, particularly on Chile. (Nixon and Kissinger, via the CIA, had backed efforts to topple Allende.) "Chile," Zakheim said, "doesn't look to me like a failure....Quite a success. It wasn't doing that well in the 1970s." Simes then chimed in: "I'm not appalled by what Kissinger and Nixon have done in Chile. I'm not aware of them ever endorsing torture."

There's realism; then there's callousness. More than 3,000 Chileans were killed by the junta that was encouraged and then supported by Nixon and Kissinger; millions of Chileans lost all their political rights for years, as well. That's hardly "quite a success." And Simes is wrong to suggest that Kissinger was unaware of the abuses of the Chilean regime. The coup occurred on September 11, 1973. A quick search at the website of the National Security Archive, a nonprofit outfit, produced a November 16, 1973 cable from Jack Kubisch, the assistant secretary of state for Latin America, to Secretary of State Kissinger that noted that the Chilean junta had carried out "summary, on-the-spot executions." The cable also reported that military and police units had engaged in the "rather frequent use of random violence" in the post-coup days.

Weeks earlier, at an October 1 meeting Kubisch told Kissinger about a Newsweek story that maintained that over 2700 Chileans had been killed by the junta and added that the government had only acknowledged 284 deaths. Kissinger noted that the Nixon administration did not "want to get into the position of explaining horror....[W]e should not knock down stories that later prove to be true, nor should we be in the position of defending what they're doing in Santiago. But I think we should understand our policy--that however unpleasant they act, the government is better for us than Allende was."

Here were some early indications for Kissinger of the brutality of the Chilean junta. He obviously cared little about what was happening to Chileans apprehended by the junta. And he tacitly went along with the regime's violent means. Two years later, he showed his scorn for human rights concerns when he met with the Chilean foreign minister. At the start of that meeting, according to a State Department memo, Kissinger pooh-poohed the human rights issue. He told the Chilean, "Well, I read the briefing papers for this meeting and it was nothing but human rights. The State Department is made up of people who have a vocation for the ministry. Because there were not enough churches for them, they went into the Department of State." Kissinger added that it was a "total injustice" to fixate on Chile's human rights record.

In August 1976, according to another State Department document, Kissinger was briefed on Operation Condor, a secret project concocted by the Chilean junta and other military dictatorships in South America to conduct "murder operations" against opponents of those regimes. By the way, two months later, Kissinger met with the foreign minister of the military regime of Argentina, which at that time was conducting a dirty war that would come to "disappear" at least 10,000 people (and maybe over 30,000), and Kissinger took a rather casual attitude toward the abuses in that country. As a State Department memo recounted, Kissinger told the Argentine,

Look, our basic attitude is that we would like you to succeed. I have an old-fashioned view that friends ought to be supported. What is not understood in the United States is that you have a civil war. We read about human rights problems but not the context. The quicker you succeed the better… The human rights problem is growing one. Your Ambassador can apprise you. We want a stable situation. We won't cause you unnecessary difficulties. If you can finish before Congress gets back, the better. Whatever freedoms you could restore would help."

In other words, get your abuses over with quickly, while I look away. Unfortunately, the fascistic and anti-Semitic Argentine military regime would continue to disappear and torture its citizens for another seven years.

I'm all for reaching across the ideological divide, seeking common ground, making alliances. And Simes--unlike Zakheim--advocated working together whenever possible. Referring to the current course in US foreign policy, he noted, "This republic is facing a mortal damage," and the Bush administration is "pursuing policies that make us more vulnerable."

But foreign policy intellectuals should not forget about the past as they move ahead. I appreciate the fact that realists fancy being hardheaded. Simes noted that he was aghast at the corruption and state violence he saw when he recently visited Russia. But he added that since the United States needs Russian assistance in dealing with Iran and North Korea a realistic approach has prevented him from insisting that Washington pressure Moscow too forcefully on issues of corruption and political rights.

Such calculations--whether correct or not in the particulars--are understandable. They have a logic to them (whether you agree or not with that logic). But, please, let's be realistic about past decisions and calculations. It's not realism to whitewash history and to deny responsibility for actions taken. Those who distort the past cannot be expected to save American foreign policy from those who distort the present.

DON'T FORGET ABOUT HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR: Tom Brokaw says "Hubris, the new best-seller by Michael Isikoff and David Corn, is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For more information on Hubris, click here.

The Drip, Drip, Drip of the Foley-Hastert Scandal

I appeared on ABC News This Week yesterday, as a member of its roundtable. (You can get a podcast of the show here.) Prior to that segment, Representative Adam Putnam of Florida, who chairs the House Republican Policy Committee, debated Representative Rahm Emanuel, the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, on the Foley-Hastert affair. Representative Tom Reynolds, the chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, was originally scheduled to be in the GOP slot. Though Reynolds has been incriminated in the Mark Foley scandal and is now in danger of losing his seat in upstate New York, he had surprisingly accepted ABC News' invitation to appear on the show and be questioned by George Stephanopoulos. Common sense finally prevailed, and Reynolds pulled out. As Putnam recounted in the green room before the show, Putnam had been in Florida hunting doves when the call came from Reynolds' NRCC with an order for Putnam: you have to go on the Sunday talk show. Putnam saluted and flew back to Washington.

On the show, Putnam, naturally, defended House Speaker Denny Hastert. It was a hard case to argue, but he did the best he could in the face of Emanuel's assault. That's what you're expected to do when you're a junior (though ambitious) member of your party's leadership. But it may not be cost-free--and Putnam seems to know that. After he was done and about to leave the studio, I remarked to him, "You're betting nothing else is going to come out on this." He nodded but rolled his eyes, adding, "In Washington, that's a dangerous bet."

Indeed it is. The news the next day (via The Washington Post) was that Representative Jim Kolbe, an Arizona Republican who is openly gay, confronted Foley in 2000 after a former page complained to Kolbe that Foley had sent him sexually explicit Internet messages. The newspaper noted it was not clear whether Kolbe did anything beyond talk to Foley. But this development means that the Foley problem was known within GOP circles for six years. Hastert, though, has claimed he knew nothing about Foley's conduct until the day the story broke--even though statements from GOP legislators and staffers suggest his office was informed of the Foley problem years earlier.

Putnam's bet doesn't look so hot right now.

The Kolbe revelation might prompt Republicans to revive their criticism of the so-called Velvet Mafia: that small group of gay Republicans. As I've written about earlier (see here), at the start of the scandal, some within the House Republican caucus were griping that the party had been done in by GOP gays on Capitol Hill who had supposedly covered for Foley for years. (At the same time, social conservative allies of the party publicly blamed the gay rights agenda for somehow leading to Foley's page-pursuing troubles.)

Responding to the effort to scapegoat the GOP's Lavender Bund, gay Hill GOPers told reporters they had years ago warned Hastert's office about Foley. These gay Republicans were essentially declaring: we ratted out one of our own, so don't blame us for Hastert having not done anything. As this intra-Republican sniping between gays and heteros transpired, gay politicos outside Republican circles began circulating what they called The List--a roster of two dozen or so gay senior Republican staffers in the House and Senate. With a possible shoot-out about to ensue within the Republican caucus, these gay politicos--who have long been upset with gays who serve a Republican party that opposes gay rights and embraces outfits that demonize gays and lesbians--were hoping to pour gasoline on the fire. They passed the list to social conservative groups outside the Republican party with a message: maybe this is why your political agenda is not racing through this GOP-controlled Congress. Their goal is obvious--to set off a civil war within the Republican party.

The Kolbe news is all the more intriguing because of these behind-the-scenes scuffles. Will Republicans and social conservatives who were looking to blame gay Republicans for the Foley scandal now revive their efforts to dump the blame on Velvet mafioso within their midst? They can argue that Kolbe, one of them, did not do enough in 2000 after he learned of the Foley problem. But can Kolbe really be made the fall guy? Any GOPer who tries to adopt such a strategy will encounter problems. Kolbe is already retiring at the end of this year. That means he cannot resign in disgrace and provide the Republicans cover. Moreover, Hastert has yet to explain away the claims of congressional aides that his office was informed about Foley's sexual interest in pages several years ago. So even if Kolbe did not share the bad news with Hastert's office; others say they did. What's undeniable is that Hastert did not take the appropriate steps. (There is also an allegation that a drunken Foley tried to gain entrance to the page's residence in 2002 or 2003.)

Back to Representative Putnam, the NRCC's loyal foot solider. Drip, drip, drip. This story is hardly over. He may want to rethink that bet.


DON'T FORGET ABOUT HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR: Tom Brokaw says "Hubris, the new best-seller by Michael Isikoff and David Corn, is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For more information on Hubris, click here.

Woodward's Book and the CIA/Plame Leak Case

Here's an interesting scene from Bob Woodward's new book. It's the summer of 2004 and George Tenet has resigned as CIA chief:

[White House chief of staff] Andy Card called [Deputy Secretary of State Richard] Armitage to see if he was interested in taking over the CIA.

No, Armitage replied emphatically.

"Can I ask the reason? We're disappointed."

Armitage replied that he could give the reason but he would prefer not to because it might hurt Cards feelings.

Card knew the problem for Armitage was Cheney and Rumsfeld. He nonetheless asked Powell if there was a way to persuade Armitage.

"You can ask him again," Powell replied, "but he doesn't fool around." An Armitage no is a no. "My personal view is he won't do it."

What's missing from Woodward's account? One significant fact disclosed by Hubris: the Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War (which I wrote with Michael Isikoff): that Armitage had leaked Valerie Plame Wilson's CIA identity to conservative columnist Robert Novak and had been under investigation by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. At the time he was offered the CIA job, Armitage, who had cooperated with the investigation, might have no longer been a primary target of Fitzgerald (though he would later be reinvestigated by Fitzgerald for having failed to disclose to the special prosecutor that he had also discussed Valerie Wilson's CIA employment with Woodward weeks before mentioning it to Novak), but his role in the leak was still a big secret.

He knew he had leaked classified information that had led to the outing of a CIA officer. Could he accept the CIA position and go through the confirmation process, knowing that at any moment the news could emerge that he had blown the cover of an undercover CIA employee? (And what if a senator asked him about the leak at the confirmation hearing?) There was no way he could place himself in such a possibly perilous position. It was dicey enough for him to remain at the State Department, realizing the Plame time bomb could detonate any time. And Woodward reports that months later--after the 2004 presidential election--the White House considered naming Armitage to the new position of national director of intelligence. Armitage was not interested. Woodward notes this was because, as Armitage told National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, "I just don't know how I can work in an administration that lets Secretary Powell walk and keeps Mr. Rumsfeld." But once again, he could not have accepted this position for the same reasons.

While writing the book, Woodward knew that Armitage had disclosed information to him about Valerie Wilson's CIA connection and, as we report in Hubris, Woodward had suspected his source had been Novak's source. And over a month before his book was published, a Newsweek article based on Hubris disclosed that Armitage had been the source for both Novak and Woodward.

This brief section of State of Denial--a book that does contain important (and sometime entertaining) disclosures--illustrates a side-problem of Woodward's methodology. He gets close to his high-level sources, almost becoming a player in the narrative he is chronicling. Consequently, he becomes entangled in the story and cannot disclose to the reader all he knows. Woodward came under criticism last year when the news broke that he, too, had been leaked information about Valerie Wilson but had not told his editors (or readers) about this. What compounded his problem was that Woodward had gone on television and radio shows to dismiss the leak investigation and criticize Fitzgerald, without revealing that he had had a personal stake in the matter because a source of his had been a target.

No doubt, Armitage, who was damn fed-up with the White House and the Pentagon, didn't want these jobs. In Hubris, he's quoted referring to the armchair warriors of the White House and the Defense Department as "a bunch of jerks." Woodward's depiction of these episodes places Armitage squarely in a place of principle. Regardless of his feelings toward the White House and the Pentagon leadership, Armitage couldn't accept either post because of his central role in the Plame scandal. Woodward had reason to know that, but he didn't report it.

Woodward's book has little in it about the Plame affair--just a few short mentions. That was his choice. But he does provide an interesting nugget related to the case. He reports that after 2005, Cheney no longer had a visible role in the management of Iraq. Once Scooter Libby was indicted in the leak case in October 2005 and resigned, Woodward writes,

Cheney was lost without Libby, many of the vice president's close associates felt. Libby had done so much of the preparation for the vice president's meetings and events, and so much of the hard work. He had been almost part of Cheney's brain.

So one consequence of the leak case, according to Woodward's account, was that it took Cheney out of the game. Readers of Woodward's book can decide whether that was a positive or negative development.


This was first posted on www.davidcorn.com.

INFO ON HUBRIS: Tom Brokaw says "Hubris is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For more information on Hubris, click here.

This Is What Waterboarding Looks Like

As Congress has debated legislation that would set up military tribunals and govern the questioning of suspected terrorists (whom the Bush administration would like to be able to detain indefinitely), at issue has been what interrogation techniques can be employed and whether information obtained during torture can be used against those deemed unlawful enemy combatants. One interrogation practice central to this debate is waterboarding. It's usually described in the media in a matter-of-fact manner. The Washington Post simply referred to waterboarding a few days ago as an interrogation measure that "simulates drowning." But what does waterboarding look like?

You can see here. Jonah Blank, an anthropologist and foreign policy adviser to the Democratic staff of the US Senate, was in Cambodia last month and came across an actual waterboard at a former prison turned into a museum that chronicles the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime. Blank took photos of the waterboard and a painting depicting its use. I cannot post photos in this space, but I've published his photos on my own blog at www.davidcorn.com.

Go there for Blank's photos and commentary. As he notes,

These photos are important because most of us have never seen an actual, real-life waterboard. The press typically describes it in the most anodyne ways: a device meant to "simulate drowning" or to "make the prisoner believe he might drown." But the Khymer Rouge were no jokesters, and they didn't tailor their abuse to the dictates of the Geneva Convention. They--like so many brutal regimes--made waterboarding one of their primary tools for a simple reason: it is one of the most viciously effective forms of torture ever devised.

Legislation backed by Bush and congressional Republicans would Congressional would explicitly permit the use of evidence obtained through waterboarding and other forms of torture. Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and other top al Qaeda leaders have reportedly been subjected to this technique. They would certainly note--or try to note--that at any trial. But with this legislation, the White House is seeking to declare the use of waterboarding (at least in the past) as a legitimate practice of the US government.

The House of Representatives voted for Bush's bill on Thursday, 253 to 168 (with 34 Democrats siding with the president and only seven Republicans breaking with their party's leader). The Senate is expected to vote on the bill today. Its members should consider Blank's photos and arguments before they, too, go off the deep end.


INFO ON HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR: Tom Brokaw says "Hubris, the new best-seller by Michael Isikoff and David Corn, is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For more information on Hubris, click here.

Corn Versus Hitchens: On Niger, Plame and WMDs

A version of this was first posted at my blog at www.davidcorn.com....

I told readers of my regular blog that I would eventually get to Christopher Hitchens and his claims that Iraq had indeed sought uranium in Niger and that the Plame leak was not connected to a White House vendetta against Joe Wilson (and that I had promoted this "delusion.") Today's Slate contains a lengthy response from me that contends that Hitchens' Niger theorizing is contradicted by various facts he conveniently ignores. (These facts are covered at great length in the new book I wrote with Michael Isikoff, Hubris: the Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.) The piece also reminds (or, attempts to remind) Hitchens of other facts he never references when he writes about the Plame case: namely, that Karl Rove and Scooter Libby were out to undermine Wilson and in doing so leaked classified information about his wife's CIA employment. If you're interested in the details, you can go to the piece. Here's the finale:

For more than two decades, I have seen Hitchens weave facts and assertions into stylistically brilliant copy as he attempts to intuit great truths. But when he comes to believe that he can outthink the facts, he ends up enwrapped in creative conspiratorial fantasies. This past February, I participated in a radio debate with him on whether the Bush administration had misguided the nation into war. Hitchens largely avoided the question at hand and instead argued the necessity of the invasion. When he did address the issue of the absent WMDs in Iraq, he took a strange turn. "Doesn't anything ever strike you as odd," he said, "about the figure of zero for [WMD] deposits found in Iraq?...Isn't it odd that none after all this? None? Doesn't that suggest a crime scene that has been pretty well dusted in advance, the fingerprints wiped? Well, it does to me." Read that quote carefully. It is revealing. Hitchens was saying that the fact that no weapons had been uncovered in Iraq (after nearly three years of searching) was evidence that there had been weapons. How can one argue with a person of such intellectual prowess that he can turn absence into presence by mere deduction?

On the Niger and Plame matters, his accounts rely on the same conceit: that his deductions, as Byzantine as they might be, trump the known facts. In this manner, Hitchens has become a full-fledged ally of the reality-defying advocates of the Iraq invasion. I sadly count that as another casualty of the war.

Hitchens, of course, replied--mainly be repeating his previous assertions, without addressing the inconvenient facts I presented. As might be expected, he offers a caricature of my original argument, claiming that I adhere to a "simple-minded presumption of Iraqi innocence" on the matter of its alleged pursuit of uranium in Niger. He did not read my response carefully enough. I did not state that Iraq was innocent because it claimed to be. I pointed out that the facts--those developed primarily by Charles Duelfer and his Iraq Survey Group (and recently endorsed by the Republican-controlled Senate intelligence committee)--contradict Hitchens' charges. He wisely avoids that reality and instead swings his scythe at a straw man of his own construction.

Hitchens also belittles the work of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. But here he again ducks a significant slice of reality, such as Libby's alleged lying to the FBI and the grand jury. Does Hitchens, a crusader for the (that is, his) truth, believe that government officials who lie to federal prosecutors deserve a pass?

As for the missing WMDs, Hitchens writes,

Corn seems to believe that the dictator who not only acquired and concealed them, but who actually used them, must be granted the benefit of the doubt.

Why does such a brilliant man have such a difficult time with a simple concept? I do not grant Saddam any benefit. Nor did Duelfer or David Kay, his predecessor as ISG chief. I merely cite the conclusions of their investigations. If these two men--who both supported the war and believed there were WMDs in Iraq--determined there were no unconventional weapons (or WMD programs) in Iraq after 1991, then Hitchens must bring more to the table than his presumptions. Accepting the findings of Duelfer and Kay (as even George W. Bush reluctantly did; though I'm not sure about Dick Cheney) is not a sign of softness on Saddam. By conflating the two, Hitchens is resorting to disingenuous wordplay. It is a rhetorical tactic he should not have to resort to--unless he is on the ropes.

All in all, Hitchens' reply was in keeping with the columns that prompted my article. He still believes his deduction and analysis can trump the facts. That places him in fine company, for it was just that sort of thinking that landed the United States in the mess in Iraq.


For information on Hubris: the Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, click here.

Release the NIE on Iraq and Terrorism!

Reality intrudes again. President Bush and his allies keep insisting that the invasion of Iraq was essential to winning the fight against anti-American Islamic jihadists. The government's top experts on terrorism and Islamic extremism disagree. As The New York Times reported on Sunday, a National Intelligence Estimate produced earlier this year noted that the Iraq war has fueled Islamic radicalism around the globe and has caused the terrorist threat to grow. In other words, Bush's invasion of Iraq has been counterproductive. Or put this way: the ugly war in Iraq that has claimed the lives of thousands of American troops and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians has placed the United States more at risk.

Times reporter Mark Mazzetti noted in his front-page article that he had spoken to "more than a dozen" U.S. government officials and outside experts who had either seen the NIE or who had participated in its creation. That's a lot of footwork. But he did not quote from the document itself, except to note that the NIE describes a radical Islamic movement of "self-generating" cells. (An NIE is the intelligence community's most definitive assessment of a major strategic issue and is supposed to represent the consensus view of the government's various intelligence agencies. This particular NIE is the first evaluation of global terrorism since the invasion of Iraq.)

The White House has claimed that the Times's account of the NIE did not represent the complete document. And Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte has declared--in response to the news of this NIE--that the Bush administration has scored significant success against the "global jihadist threat."

Well, is the threat now worse because of Bush's war in Iraq? Does the NIE say the war has made the jihadist threat more dangerous? The White House could resolve this very quickly by declassifying the NIE. If the report contains nuances or success stories not conveyed by the Times report (and those of other newspapers), releasing the report will clear things up.

The report is classified. But an NIE of this sort is probably more of an analytical document than a run-down of secret intelligence. And, certainly, the real secrets in the report--particularly references to sources and methods--can be redacted.

There is precedent for a partial release of an NIE. Months into the war in Iraq, when no WMDs had been found and the Bush administration was being accused of having misrepresented the prewar intelligence to hype the Iraq threat, the White House did declassify portions of the NIE on Iraq's WMDs. The point was to show that the intelligence community had informed the White House that Saddam Hussein was sitting on stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons. But that flawed NIE also contained dissents and conflicting information indicating there were serious questions about the WMD case. And before the White House released these slices of the NIE, Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney authorized Scooter Libby to disclose potions of the NIE to friendly reporters--most notably, Judith Miller of The New York Times. Libby, though, made sure not to share the dissents and contradicting material. Libby's highly selective leak to Miller did not end up helping the White House, and Bush's press operation subsequently made public whole chunks of the NIE. That, too, didn't get Bush out of the where-are-the-WMDs jam, for these excerpts showed there had been questions about key parts of the WMD case. (For more on all this, see the book I co-wrote with Michael Isikoff: Hubris: the Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.)

If the White House was able to release parts of that NIE on WMDs, it can do the same with the NIE on Iraq and terrorism. It may, though, not be motivated to do so.

INFO ON HUBRIS: Tom Brokaw says "Hubris is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For more information on Hubris, click here.

At the UN, Bush Cites Human Rights Declaration

When George W. Bush addressed the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, he glowingly referred to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the UN in 1948. He said:

This morning, I want to speak about the more hopeful world that is within our reach, a world beyond terror, where ordinary men and women are free to determine their own destiny, where the voices of moderation are empowered, and where the extremists are marginalized by the peaceful majority. This world can be ours if we seek it and if we work together.

The principles of this world beyond terror can be found in the very first sentence of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document declares that "the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom and justice and peace in the world."

One of the authors of this document was a Lebanese diplomat named Charles Malik, who would go on to become president of this assembly. Mr. Malik insisted that these principles applied equally to all people, of all regions, of all religions, including the men and women of the Arab world that was his home.

In the nearly six decades since that document was approved, we have seen the forces of freedom and moderation transform entire continents....The words of the Universal Declaration are as true today as they were when they were written.

That is some endorsement. But how familiar is Bush with the entire document? Let's start with Article 5:

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Bush claims that his adminsitration has not tortured any terrorist suspect. But that claim has been challenged. (In the book I co-wrote with Michael Isikoff, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the War, we recount the tale of a captured al Qaeda commander handed over by the CIA to Egyptian authorities, who was aggressively questioned--perhaps tortured--and provided false information linking Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda. This information was then used by Colin Powell during his now infamous UN speech before the invasion of Iraq.)

Article 7:

All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.

Terrorist suspects detained as enemy combatants by the United States were not afforded equal protection of the law.

Article 9:

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

The Bush White House has argued that the president has the power to arrest and detain anyone suspected of being an enemy combatant and that a detainee can be held as long as the president deems fit, without any due process. The Supreme Court, though, has not gone along with that view.

Article 10:

Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him

Did Bush's original idea of using a military tribunal to try suspected terrorists jibe with this provision? Is his current proposal to try detainees with secret evidence in sync with this article?

Article 12:

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Bush keeps insisting on the right to wiretap people--including American citizens (under certain circumstances)--without a warrant, not even a secret warrant. As for the right not to have one's honor and reputation assailed, the drafters of this declaration must have forgotten to put in a clause exempting the targets of political campaigns.

Article 30:

Noting in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein

In other words, not even a wartime president gets a pass. So did Bush read this document before he praised it? Or was he just reading a speech?


INFO ON HUBRIS: Tom Brokaw says "Hubris is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For more information on Hubris, click here.

Bob Novak Slimes Me

Robert Novak was on C-SPAN on Friday, and he took the opportunity to slime me. I don't know what the conservative columnist has against yours truly. Countless times in the past three years I've explained to outraged White House critics that Novak could not be charged under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (which applies mainly to government officials and only to journalists who engage in a pattern of identifying undercover CIA officers with the intent of harming the spy service). I haven't even criticized him much--if at all--for publishing the Plame leak, for, as a journalist, I assign more culpability to the leakers in this case (Richard Armitage, Karl Rove, Scooter Libby) than the leak conveyors (Novak, Matt Cooper). Yet Novak has a bug up his keister about me, and he let it fly on C-SPAN.

I suspect his antipathy has something to do with his legal bills. He seems to blame me for the investigation that proceeded the leak he published--an inquiry that caused him to hire a lawyer and say nothing for two-and-a-half years. On C-SPAN, he declared,

There was an enormous hue and cry that was ginned up by left-wing journalists such as David Corn of The Nation and a left-wing investigative team from Newsday. And with Senator Chuck Schumer leading the way, some very partisan Democrats hyped up the case.

And, in Novak's telling, this all led to "a very unnecessary investigation." While presenting his paranoid account--a "left-wing investigative team" from Newsday?--he failed to mention that the CIA first examined the leak and then asked the Justice Department for an FBI investigation. I find it difficult to believe that my one web-column or the remarks of Senator Schumer somehow caused the CIA lawyers to do something they would not have otherwise done. Maybe I am too modest.

Novak was not content to assail me for concocting a scandal (would if I could!); he got personal when referring to the new book I wrote with Newsweek's Michael Isikoff, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War:

That's a very odd couple: Isikoff and Corn. Isikoff says he is non-ideological and nonpartisan. I think he is. I think he's a great investigative reporter....Corn is a left-wing ideologue from The Nation magazine. In Mr. [Joseph] Wilson's memoir, he has Corn advising him, telling him that a law was broken, egging him on. So he was a part of the whole buildup of this story. And its deeply ironic that his book is the book that is being used to indicate that there was no conspiracy. You can't in your wildest imagination imagine Armitage as part of a plot to undermine the Wilsons. So, of course, Corn is frantic. He's writing blogs and writing in The Nation saying there was another track. Which is a great conspiracy theory. There's always another track.

Being called an "ideologue" by Robert Novak is like being called a "cheat" by Jack Abramoff. Worse, Novak has his facts wrong. I was no adviser to Wilson and did not egg him. As Hubris makes clear--and let me remind readers once again, this book is about the selling of the war, not only the leak case--I called Wilson after the Novak column appeared and asked if he knew of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. Wilson said that he didn't and that he wasn't at this point looking to draw additional attention to the Novak column. The next day, I called him again to see if anyone had yet written about this angle. Wilson said no one had; he still was not eager to publicize the leak. When I mentioned I intended to write about the leak and the possible legal (criminal, that is) ramifications, Wilson said, "It's up to you." There was no egging going on--from either side.

Spouting on C-SPAN, Novak ignored this part of the story--just as he ignored whole sections of the book that show that Rove (Novak's friend) and Libby were hell-bent on discrediting Wilson and that during the push-back campaign they waged against Wilson, they each disclosed classified information about his wife's CIA employment to reporters (before the leak appeared in Novak's column). This is not a conspiracy theory. It's a documented narrative that appears in Hubris--with new details. Our account expands on a well-established public record. Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald filed court papers earlier this year noting that senior White House officials (meaning Rove and Libby) mounted a campaign to discredit or punish Joseph Wilson, who had criticized the administration's handling of the prewar intelligence on Iraq's WMDs. Is it Novak's position that Rove did not leak to Cooper? That Libby did not leak to Judith Miller of The New York Times? Novak ought to get out more--or, at least, read.

Novak went on:

Mr. Corn is a nasty piece of work--let me tell you that. And he was the one who really built this story up. He is in what I think is a deliciously ironic situation because he was one of the people--much more I believe than Chris Matthews--for building this story up from the outset....And he is in a position where most of the investigative work done by his partner Isikoff he is a party to breaking down this story....which must actually destroy him.

Destroyed? Having a book hit the No. 1 spot on the Amazon.com bestseller list and reach the bestseller lists of The New York Times and The Washington Post is hardly destruction. But see the bind Novak is in? He attributes the disclosure in Hubris that he fancies--that Armitage was his first source--solely to Isikoff; he disregards what the book (co-written by at least one great investigative reporter, according to Novak) reveals about Rove's and Libby's critical involvement in the leak affair. Talk about cherry-picking.

Novak then addressed my recent column on his cat fight with Armitage by attacking me--not by explaining the contradiction I pointed out. He told Brian Lamb:

[Corn] is so outraged at me with this that he seems to be taking Armitage's side....My account is completely truthful.

Novak should look at that column again. I did not take Armitage's side in this disagreement. To recap that tussle: after our book outed Armitage, the former deputy secretary of state confessed but said his leak to Novak was an inadvertent slip. Novak in a column this past week claimed the leak was a deliberate act. Here's how I sussed out the conflict:

Novak's current account may well be an accurate recollection. There's no reason to take Armitage's quasi-face-saving version at face-value.

How is that taking Armitage's side? Novak might need to hone his reading comprehension skills. But I did note that Novak had changed his story significantly. In an October 1, 2003 column, Novak described the leak this way:

It was an offhand revelation from this [unnamed] official, who is no partisan gunslinger.

Yet now Novak maintains that Armitage was slipping him the Plame info purposefully and even suggesting Novak use it in a column. What accounts for this flip-flop? Novak has not explained it. I suggested one possible reason for this change of tune. When Novak in 2003 characterized the leak as idle chitchat, the news had just broken that the White House was being investigated for the leak--and Rove was a possible target of that criminal probe. So Novak, who is close to Rove, had an interest in downplaying the significance of the leak and any intentionality behind it. Now that Bush-backers are exploiting (and misusing) our book to lay all the blame on Armitage's broad shoulders in order to absolve Rove of any wrongdoing, Novak is piling on by depicting Armitage's leak as deliberate. My hunch might be wrong. But Novak has yet to reconcile his recent column with his October 1, 2003 offering. Instead, he attacks me.

I'd rather not be in assorted pissing matches with fact-ignoring conservatives about the leak case. (See here for a rebuttal of a silly charge thrown at me by The Wall Street Journal and Victoria Toensing.) Our book, as I constantly note, is about so much more than the Plame affair. For instance, I'd like to see Novak and other White House allies respond to the scene in our book in which the new Iraqi intelligence chief--a year after the invasion--visits Bush in the Oval Office and tells him the security situation in Baghdad is hellish and getting worse and Bush asks him no question. But White House defenders are only interested in selectively mis-citing the book to help White House aides who share the responsibility for the current mess in Iraq. How shocking.

By the way, there is another contradiction for Novak to explain. On C-SPAN, he repeatedly dismissed me as an "ideologue" and "editorialist" with no reporting skills:

I don't think he's really interested in getting facts. He's interested in getting out a line.

Please don't laugh at the thought of Novak assailing anyone else on such terms--until I reach the punch line. After hearing Novak say that about me, I went to my bookshelf and found a copy of his last book, Completing the Revolution: A Vision for Victory in 2000, which was released in 2000. A book that is certainly the work of an ideologue. (That's "Revolution" as in "Conservative Revolution.") And I located a page describing me as a "bright, young left-wing journalist." (Emphasis added.) High praise indeed from a right-wing ideologue--especially the "young." (I was in my early 40s at the time.) What went wrong? Perhaps Novak simply does not appreciate journalism when it is applied to him and his self-contradicting columns.


INFO ON HUBRIS: Tom Brokaw says "Hubris is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For more information on Hubris, click here.

Novak vs. Armitage: Was the Plame Leak Deliberate?

The book I co-wrote with Michael Isikoff, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, has set off a dispute between conservative columnist Bob Novak and former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

The book--which recounts the behind-the-scenes battles that went on within the CIA, the State Department, Congress and the White House over the administration's case for war before and after the Iraq invasion--discloses that Armitage was the original source for the Novak column of July 14, 2003, which outed Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA "operative on weapons of mass destruction." (The book also reveals that Valerie Wilson was operations chief for the clandestine Joint Task Force on Iraq and oversaw espionage operations aimed at gathering intelligence on Saddam Hussein's supposed WMDs.) Following the book's release, Armitage publicly confessed and apologized to Valerie Wilson and her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson. He said that the leak had been an inadvertent slip, an act of gossip that came during an interview with Novak about Colin Powell and the State Department. Armitage claimed he had merely told Novak--in an off-the-cuff fashion--"I think his wife works out there," meaning the CIA.

In a column published on Wednesday, Novak accuses Armitage of not telling the truth. The former No. 2 at the State Department, Novak insists, "obscured what he really did." Novak writes:

First, Armitage did not, as he now indicates, merely pass on something he had heard and that he "thought" might be so. Rather, he identified to me the CIA division where Mrs. Wilson worked, and said flatly that she recommended the mission to Niger by her husband, former Amb. Joseph Wilson.

Second, Armitage did not slip me this information as idle chitchat, as he now suggests. He made clear he considered it especially suited for my column.

This account depicts Armitage as deliberately leaking information on Valerie Wilson. In our book, Isikoff and I raise the possibility that Armitage might have told Novak about Wilson's wife and her CIA employment to distance the State Department from the burgeoning Wilson imbroglio--as a way of saying, We here at State had nothing to do with that trouble-causing Wilson trip to Niger. Novak claims that Armitage "told me unequivocally that Mrs. Wilson worked in the CIA's Counter-Proliferation Division and that she had suggested her husband's mission." (Valerie Wilson's role in her husband's mission has been overblown; Isikoff and I lay this out in the book.)

Novak, as he acknowledges, did not take notes of this hour-long conversation, which might strike some reporters as odd, given that he had been endeavoring for years to snag an interview with Armitage. So outsiders are left with a he-said/he-said tussle. But Novak's latest account does seem to contradict an earlier version.

In his recent column, Novak contends that Armitage intentionally passed him information on Wilson and went so far as to suggest the material might be good fodder for a column. Yet in an October 1, 2003 column, Novak said of the leak,

It was an offhand revelation from this [unnamed] official, who is no partisan gunslinger.

"Offhand revelation" doesn't quite cover Novak's (current) depiction of the exchange as a deliberate leak. Novak's October 1, 2003 column--written days after the news broke that the FBI had launched a criminal investigation of the leak that was targeting the White House--seemed intended to downplay the leak as significant or intentional. (That article also stated, "It was well known around Washington that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA.") Novak's recent column, written at a time when White House defenders are trying to dump all the blame on Armitage, claims the leak was purposeful. Which was it?

Novak's current account may well be an accurate recollection. There's no reason to take Armitage's quasi-face-saving version at face-value. But perhaps Novak can explain in yet one more column why he first called the leak an "offhand revelation"?

At the end of his new column, Novak excoriates Armitage:

Armitage's silence the next 2 1/2 years caused intense pain for his colleagues in government and enabled partisan Democrats in Congress to falsely accuse Rove of being my primary source.

Novak neglects to note that Karl Rove was the source he used to confirm the leak he had received from Armitage--and that Rove also leaked classified information on Valerie Wilson to Matt Cooper of Time magazine before the leak appeared in Novak's column. Nor does Novak mention that Scooter Libby leaked information on Valerie Wilson to Judith Miller of The New York Times weeks before Novak entered Armitage's office--and also confirmed Rove's leak to Cooper. (A source close to Rove is quoted in Hubris saying that Rove "probably" learned about Valerie Wilson from Libby.) Like Armitage, Rove and Libby kept silent, even as the White House claimed they were not involved in the leak. Maybe it's time for all leakers to come clean and tell what happened.


INFO ON HUBRIS: Tom Brokaw says "Hubris is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For more information on Hubris, click here

Cheney, 9/11 and the Truth about Iraq

Dick Cheney commemorated the fifth anniversary of 9/11 by sticking to the MO that he and his running-mate used to lead the nation into the current mess in Iraq.

Appearing on Meet the Press on Sunday, Cheney encountered a decent grilling from host Tim Russert, who pressed him on how Cheney and George W. Bush had justified the war in Iraq. "Based on what you know now, that Saddam did not have the weapons of mass destruction that were described, would you still have gone into Iraq?" Russert asked. Yes, indeed, Cheney said, hewing to the company line. And he pointed to what appeared to be evidence that supported that no-regrets stance:

Look at the Duelfer Report and what it said. No stockpiles, but they also said he has the capability. He'd done it before. He had produced chemical weapons before and used them. He had produced biological weapons. He had a robust nuclear program in '91. All of this is true, said by Duelfer, facts.

Well, let's look at the report of Charles Duelfer who headed up the Iraq Survey Group, which was responsible for searching for WMDs after the invasion. (Duelfer took the job following David Kay's resignation in late 2003.) It just so happens that in our new book, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, Michael Isikoff and I quote from that report, and it noted that Saddam's WMD capability

was essentially destroyed in 1991.

That is the opposite of what Cheney told Russert the report said. Cheney went on to remark,

Think where we'd be if [Saddam] was still there...We also would have a situation where he would have resumed his WMD programs.

Yet Duelfer reported that at the time of the invasion, Saddam had no

plan for the revival of WMD.

Cheney even justified the invasion of Iraq by citing an allegation that was just debunked in a Senate intelligence committee report released on Friday. Claiming there was a significant relationship between Saddam's regime and al Qaeda, he cited the case of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (who was recently killed in Iraq). After the US attacked the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan, Cheney said, Zarqawi

fled and went to Baghdad and set up operations in Baghdad in the spring of '02 and was there from then, basically, until basically the time we launched into Iraq.

The implication here is that Baghdad sanctioned the terrorist activity of Zarqawi, a supposed al Qaeda associate. But the Senate intelligence committee report--released by a Republican-run panel--noted that prior to the invasion of Iraq Zarqawi and his network were not part of al Qaeda. (That merging came after the invasion.) More important, the report cites CIA reports (based on captured documents and interrogations) that say that Baghdad was not protecting or assisting Zarqawi when he was in Iraq. In fact, Iraqi intelligence in the spring of 2002 had formed a "special committee" to locate and capture him--but failed to find the terrorist. A 2005 CIA report concluded that prior to the Iraq war,

the [Saddam] regime did not have a relationship, harbor, or turn a blind eye toward Zarqawi and his associates.

So why is Cheney still holding up Zarqawi as evidence that Baghdad was in cahoots with Osama bin Laden? If he knows something the CIA does not, perhaps he should inform the agency.

During the Meet the Press interview, Cheney blamed the CIA for his and Bush's prewar assertions that Iraq posed a WMD threat. That's what the intelligence said, Cheney insisted. Our book shows that this explanation (or, defense) is a dodge. There were dissents within the intelligence community on key aspects of the WMD argument for war--especially the charge that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program. Cheney dwelled on that frightening possibility before the war, repeatedly declaring that the US government knew for sure that Iraq had revved up its nuclear program. Yet there was only one strong piece of evidence for this claim--that Iraq had purchased tens of thousands of aluminum tubes for use in a centrifuge that would produce enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb. And that piece of evidence was hotly contested within the intelligence community.

One CIA analyst (whom we name for the first time in Hubris) was fiercely pushing the tube case. Yet practically every other top nuclear expert in the US government (including the centrifuge specialists at the Department of Energy) disagreed. This dispute was even mentioned in The Washington Post in September 2002. But neither Cheney nor Bush (nor national security adviser Condoleezza Rce) took an interest in this important argument. Instead, they kept insisting the tube purchases were proof Saddam was building a bomb. They were wrong. And the nuclear scientists at the Department of Energy (again, as our book notes) were ordered not to say anything publicly about the tubes.

This is but one example of how the Bush White House rigged the case for war by selectively embracing (without reviewing) convenient pieces of iffy intelligence and then presenting them to the public as hard-and-fast proof. But Cheney is right--to a limited extent. The CIA did provide the White House with intelligence that was wrong (which the White House then used irresponsibly). The new Senate intelligence report, though, shows that this was not what happened regarding one crucial part of the Bush-Cheney argument for war: that al Qaeda and Iraq were in cahoots.

Before the war, Bush said that Saddam "was dealing" with al Qaeda. He even charged that Saddam had "financed" al Qaeda. The Senate intelligence report notes clearly that the prewar intelligence on this critical issue said no such thing.

The report quotes a CIA review of the prewar intelligence: "The data reveal few indications of an established relationship between al-Qa'ida and Saddam Hussein's regime." The lead Defense Intelligence Analyst on this issue told the Senate intelligence committee that "there was no partnership between the two organizations." And post-invasion debriefings of former Iraqi regime officials indicated that Saddam had no interest in working with al Qaeda and had refused to meet with an al Qaeda emissary in 1998.

The report also augments the section in our book on Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a captured al Qaeda commander who was taken by the CIA to Egypt where he was roughly--perhaps brutally--interrogated and claimed that Iraq had provided chemical weapons training to al Qaeda. Though there were questions about al-Libi's veracity from the start, Secretary of State Colin Powell used al-Libi's claims in his famous UN speech to argue that Saddam and Osama bin Laden were partners in evil--that there was a "sinister nexus" between the two. Al-Libi later recanted, and the CIA withdrew all the intelligence based on his claims. In other words, the Bush administration had hyped flimsy intelligence to depict Saddam and bin Laden as WMD-sharing allies.

The Senate intelligence report concluded that "Saddam Hussein was distrustful of al-Qa'ida and viewed Islamic extremists as a threat to his regime, refusing all requests from al-Qa'ida to provide material or operational support."

What did Cheney tell Russert? Saddam, he insisted, "had a relationship with al Qaeda." When Russert pointed out that the intelligence committee "said that there was no relationship," Cheney interrupted and commented, "I haven't had a chance to read it."

Perhaps he should before he talks about 9/11 and Iraq again.


INFO ON HUBRIS: Tom Brokaw says "Hubris is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For more information on Hubris, click here

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