As Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel noted in a recent weblog, the Freedom of Information Act has been under severe assault from the Bush Administration since October 2001, when Attorney General John Ashcroft began reversing long-standing FOIA policies.
Since its establishment in 1967, the FOIA has been critical in exposing waste, fraud and government abuse. FOIA replaced a "need to know" standard with a "right to know" threshold, putting a burden on the government to show that requested information should not be disclosed, rather than assuming the Government always had good reason to withhold data from the public. Unsurprisingly, the Bush Administration appears determined to systematically undermine this showpiece of good government legislation.
So comprehensive is the Administration's attack that the presidents of twenty major journalists' organizations declared in a recent joint statement that Ashcroft's "restrictions pose dangers to American democracy and prevent American citizens from obtaining the information they need." (For example, FOIA allows neighbors who live near a chemical plant to get the same safety reports that the plant provides to the Environmental Protection Agency to monitor the plant's compliance with emissions standards.)
To counter this onslaught, a handful of Democratic Senators, including Robert Byrd, Patrick Leahy, Carl Levin and Jim Jeffords, recently introduced S609-- The Restore FOIA Act--which would re-establish legal protection for federal whistle-blowers and would revive public access to the type of health, safety and environmental information that citizens have had a right to obtain for the last thirty years.
The bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee last March, where it will be voted on, probably in September, and then likely sent back to the full Senate for a chamber vote.
Click here to send a letter to your Senators imploring them to support the Restore FOIA Act. It'll take about ninety second with The Nation's new online activist kit, and on this issue, it could really make a difference.
Only hours after British Prime Minister Tony Blair told a cheering US Congress that history would forgive the United States and Great Britain for using dubious data to make the case for a preemptive war with Iraq, history was catching up with Blair. And it did not look as if forgiveness was in the offering.
As the man British newspapers describe as George W. Bush's "poodle" was flying from his cheerleader-in-chief appearance before Congress to a meeting in Tokyo, Blair learned of the suspicious death of a British expert on weapons of mass destruction. The dead scientist had been hounded by the prime minister's aides and allies for apparently assisting a BBC investigation into manipulation of intelligence data by the Blair team.
The news of the death, an apparent suicide, has created a crisis for Blair, and perhaps for his partners in Washington. Within minutes after the body was discovered, Washington observers were referring to Dr. David Kelly, the dead scientist, as "the British Vince Foster." That reference to the mysterious death of Clinton White House lawyer Vince Foster, which launched a thousand conspiracy theories that remain fodder for right-wing talk radio hosts in the US, was a wide stretch. Foster's death, while certainly as tragic as Kelly's, was never so closely linked to immediate and internationally significant questions as that of a former United Nations weapons inspector who had become one of the British Ministry of Defense's most highly regarded experts on chemical and biological weapons.
Blair knows full well that there is no debating the somber assessment of London's Daily Telegraph newspaper, which declared Saturday that the prime minister has been "plunged into the biggest crisis of his premiership." Already, the prime minister has conceded that that there will have to be a judicial inquiry and other investigations into the death. The leader of Britain's Conservative opposition to Blair's Labour government has suggested that the parliament may have to be called back into session to examine the matter. Amid mounting speculation that some of Blair's closest aides – including Alastair Campbell, the man charged with doctoring the intelligence data – could be forced to resign, London's Guardian newspaper declared: "Tony Blair's government was last night shaken to its foundations by the apparent suicide of Dr David Kelly." How shaky are the foundations? Blair has been forced to personally answer questions from reporters about whether he has "blood on (his) hands" and whether he sould resign. Glenda Jackson, a member of Blair's Labour party majority in the Parliament and a former Blair Cabinet minister, called on Saturday for Blair, Campbell and the Minister of State for Defence to step down. Descibing the actions of the Blair government in the weeks before Kelly's death as "an absolutely shameful, shameful episode," Jackson said, "There should be resignations and they should come as quickly as possible."
The shock waves that have caused the foundations of Blair's government to shake are being felt in Washington. Bush Administration aides who had hoped Blair's appearance before Congress would silence at least some of the questioning about the American president's use of dubious British intelligence to make a "case" for war with Iraq, suddenly found themselves lashed to a British leader whose credibility was sinking by the hour.
Because the Bush Administration relied so heavily on dossiers developed by Blair's spin doctors – even after their dubious claims were challenged by American intelligence agencies – Blair's crisis could well become Bush's crisis. After all, Bush's poll numbers have been dropping in recent days as media and Congressional attention has focused on his use of discredited information about Iraq's supposed efforts to obtain uranium in Africa. According to Andrew Kohut, director of the non-partisan Pew Research Center, Bush "is being seen for the first time in his presidency as a president under fire." And he is under fire, at least in part, because of his decision to build his case for war with Iraq on British intelligence data that US intelligence agencies had rejected as unsound. "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa," Bush said in his State of the Union address.
Blair's trip to Washington was supposed to make Congress more comfortable with Bush's decision to treat claims from the British prime minister's spin doctors more seriously than information from US intelligence agencies. With questions about Blair's credibility growing in Britain, Bush and his aides are going to have a much harder time quelling the controversy in the US.
Things could get even tougher for the Bush camp, as details of the British controversy are revealed. Kelly came into the limelight during an investigation of whether Blair aides had inserted into the introduction of a September, 2002, dossier a questionable claim that the Iraqi military was capable of launching weapons of mass destruction "within 45 minutes."
On September 28, 2002, in a radio address to the American people that President Bush used to make the case for Congressional authorization of the use of force against Iraq, he said, "The danger to our country is grave and it is growing. The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons, is rebuilding the facilities to make more and, according to the British government, could launch a biological or chemical attack in as little as 45 minutes after the order is given."
Last week, Hans Blix, the former head of United Nations weapons inspections team, said the British government – and, by extension, Bush -- made a "fundamental mistake" when it claimed the Iraqis could deploy weapons of mass destruction so quickly. And, earlier this month, a British parliamentary committee chided Blair aides for giving "undue prominence" to the claim in their dossier on Iraqi threats.
The unraveling of another claim made by Bush in his arguments for war with Iraq points to the challenge the administration faces because of its high level of reliance on Blair's dossiers. As Blair is questioned, questioning of Bush is sure to follow. Indeed, while British papers refer to Blair as Bush's "poodle," it appears that the British prime minister may have been the master when it came to peddling questionable information.
Kelly's death and the controversy that has arisen should serve as a cautionary tale for defenders of the Bush Administration who, in their desperation to protect the president from questioning, have mimicked many of the worst excesses of what now appears to have been an out-of-control Blair team. It is still common for Republicans in Congress and conservative commentators to explode with anger when anyone -- especially a vteran intelligence analyst or diplomat -- expresses concern about whether the administration misled the country regarding threats posed by Iraq. GOP majorities in the House and Senate continue to block a full-scale investigation of the use -- or misuse -- of intelligence data by the Administration. And there are still those who question the patriotism of Americans who seek to get to the bottom of the question of whether American really needed to go to war when it did.
The Blair government's determination to prevent and punish this sort of questioning led it into the current crisis.
In recent weeks, Blair's government has conducted a full-scale witchhunt with the goal of discrediting top journalists – and their sources in the British government – who have produced reports on the manipulation of information regarding the supposed threat posed by Iraq on the eve of the US-led attack on that country. After the BBC's respected defense correspondent, Andrew Gilligan, revealed that the Blair's aides had "sexed up" information from the intelligence community, the Blair team unleashed a fierce assault on the BBC and Gilligan. After Kelly acknowledged he had spoken with Gilligan, the top scientist faced an equally fierce assault from Blair's spin doctors and their minions. Just this week, Kelly was subjected to a public grilling by members of parliament loyal to Blair, in an attempt to get the scientist to cast doubt on the BBC reports for which it now appears he may have been one of several high-ranking sources.
The Blair government's efforts to discredit the BBC, Kelly and any other institution or individual willing to question the prime minister's peddling of dubious data have been broadly referred to in Britain as a vendetta. After Kelly's body was discovered, the Guardian referred to him in a headline as "The Vendetta's Victim."
Did senior Bush officials blow the cover of a US intelligence officer working covertly in a field of vital importance to national security--and break the law--in order to strike at a Bush administration critic and intimidate others?
It sure looks that way, if conservative journalist Bob Novak can be trusted.
In a recent column on Nigergate, Novak examined the role of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson IV in the affair. Two weeks ago, Wilson went public, writing in The New York Times and telling The Washington Post about the trip he took to Niger in February 2002--at the request of the CIA--to check out allegations that Saddam Hussein had tried to purchase uranium for a nuclear weapons program from Niger. Wilson was a good pick for the job. He had been a State Department officer there in the mid-1970s. He was ambassador to Gabon in the early 1990s. And in 1997 and 1998, he was the senior director for Africa at the National Security Council and in that capacity spent a lot of time dealing with the Niger government. Wilson was also the last acting US ambassador in Iraq before the Gulf War, a military action he supported. In that post, he helped evacuate thousands of foreigners from Kuwait, worked to get over 120 American hostages out Iraq, and sheltered about 800 Americans in the embassy compound. At the time, Novak's then-partner, Rowland Evans, wrote that Wilson displayed "the stuff of heroism." And President George H. W. Bush commended Wilson: "Your courageous leadership during this period of great danger for American interests and American citizens has my admiration and respect. I salute, too, your skillful conduct of our tense dealings with the government of Iraq....The courage and tenacity you have exhibited throughout this ordeal prove that you are the right person for the job."
The current Bush administration has not been so appreciative of Wilson's more recent efforts. In Niger, he met with past and present government officials and persons involved in the uranium business and concluded that it was "highly doubtful" that Hussein had been able to purchase uranium from that nation. On June 12, The Washington Post revealed that an unnamed ambassador had traveled to Niger and had reported back that the Niger caper probably never happened. This article revved up the controversy over Bush's claim--which he made in the state of the union speech--that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium in Africa for a nuclear weapons program.
Critics were charging that this allegation had been part of a Bush effort to mislead the country to war, and the administration was maintaining that at the time of the speech the White House had no reason to suspect this particular sentence was based on faulty intelligence. "Maybe someone knew down in the bowels of the agency," national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said days before the Post article ran. "But no one in our circles knew that there were doubts and suspicions." Wilson's mission to Niger provided more reason to wonder if the administration's denials were on the level. And once Wilson went public, he prompted a new round of inconvenient and troubling questions for the White House. (Wilson, who opposed the latest war in Iraq, had not revealed his trip to Niger during the prewar months, when he was a key participant in the media debate over whether the country should go to war.)
Soon after Wilson disclosed his trip in the media and made the White House look bad. the payback came. Novak's July 14, 2003, column presented the back-story on Wilson's mission and contained the following sentences: "Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his 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 allegation.
Wilson caused problems for the White House, and his wife was outed as an undercover CIA officer. Wilson says, "I will not answer questions about my wife. This is not about me and less so about my wife. It has always been about the facts underpinning the President's statement in the state of the union speech."
So he will neither confirm nor deny that his wife--who is the mother of three-year-old twins--works for the CIA. But let's assume she does. That would seem to mean that the Bush administration has screwed one of its own top-secret operatives in order to punish Wilson or to send a message to others who might challenge it.
The sources for Novak's assertion about Wilson's wife appear to be "two senior administration officials." If so, a pair of top Bush officials told a reporter the name of a CIA operative who apparently has worked under what's known as "nonofficial cover" and who has had the dicey and difficult mission of tracking parties trying to buy or sell weapons of mass destruction or WMD material. If Wilson's wife is such a person--and the CIA is unlikely to have many employees like her--her career has been destroyed by the Bush administration. (Assuming she did not tell friends and family about her real job, these Bush officials have also damaged her personal life.) Without acknowledging whether she is a deep-cover CIA employee, Wilson says, "Naming her this way would have compromised every operation, every relationship, every network with which she had been associated in her entire career. This is the stuff of Kim Philby and Aldrich Ames." If she is not a CIA employee and Novak is reporting accurately, then the White House has wrongly branded a woman known to friends as an energy analyst for a private firm as a CIA officer. That would not likely do her much good.
This is not only a possible breach of national security; it is a potential violation of law. Under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, it is a crime for anyone who has access to classified information to disclose intentionally information identifying a covert agent. The punishment for such an offense is a fine of up to $50,000 and/or up to ten years in prison. Journalists are protected from prosecution, unless they engage in a "pattern of activities" to name agents in order to impair US intelligence activities. So Novak need not worry.
Novak tells me that he was indeed tipped off by government officials about Wilson's wife and had no reluctance about naming her. "I figured if they gave it to me," he says. "They'd give it to others....I'm a reporter. Somebody gives me information and it's accurate. I generally use it." And Wilson says Novak told him that his sources were administration officials.
So where's the investigation? Remember Filegate--and the Republican charge that the Clinton White House was using privileged information against its political foes? In this instance, it appears possible--perhaps likely--that Bush administration officials gathered material on Wilson and his family and then revealed classified information to lash out at him, and in doing so compromised national security.
Was Wilson's wife involved in sending him off to Niger? Wilson won't talk about her. But in response to this query, he says, "I was invited out to meet with a group of people at the CIA who were interested in this subject. None I knew more than casually. They asked me about my understanding of the uranium business and my familiarity with the people in the Niger government at the time. And they asked, 'what would you do?' We gamed it out--what I would be looking for. Nothing was concluded at that time. I told them if they wanted me to go to Niger I would clear my schedule. Then they got back to me and said, 'yes, we want you to go.'"
Is it relevant that Wilson's wife might have suggested him for the unpaid gig. Not really. And Wilson notes, with a laugh, that at that point their twins were two years old, and it would not have been much in his wife's interest to encourage him to head off to Africa. What matters is that Wilson returned with the right answer and dutifully reported his conclusions. (In March 2003, the International Atomic Energy Agency concluded that the documents upon which the Niger allegation was based were amateurish forgeries.) His wife's role--if she had one--has nothing but anecdotal value. And Novak's sources could have mentioned it without providing her name. Instead, they were quite generous.
"Stories like this," Wilson says, "are not intended to intimidate me, since I've already told my story. But it's pretty clear it is intended to intimidate others who might come forward. You need only look at the stories of intelligence analysts who say they have been pressured. They may have kids in college, they may be vulnerable to these types of smears."
Will there be any inquiry? Journalists who write about national security matters (as I often do) tend not to big fans of pursuing government officials who leak classified information. But since Bush administration officials are so devoted to protecting government secrets--such as the identity of the energy lobbyists with whom the vice president meets--one might (theoretically) expect them to be appalled by the prospect that classified information was disclosed and national security harmed for the purposes of mounting a political hit job. Yet two days after the Novak column's appearance, there has not been any public comment from the White House or any other public reverberation.
The Wilson smear was a thuggish act. Bush and his crew abused and misused intelligence to make their case for war. Now there is evidence Bushies used classified information and put the nation's counter-proliferation efforts at risk merely to settle a score. It is a sign that with this gang politics trumps national security.
Here's a modest proposal. Let's start a Coalition of the Rational to take back our country from this radical rightwing Administration. After all, these are times when true conservatives are as concerned as liberal Democrats about the damage being done to our democracy and international credibility as a result of manipulated intelligence, preemptive war policy and arrogant unilateralism.
The coalition could bring together a broad, transpartisan group of concerned citizens--from Goldwater-style conservatives, Rockefeller Republicans and former State Department and intelligence officials, to progressive Democrats and religious, labor and student leaders--to mobilize Americans in informed opposition to the Bush Administration's undermining of US security in our name.
Here are some nominations for charter members of the Coalition of the Rational:
*The dozens of active intelligence officials who are coming forward--mostly through leaks in the press--to describe how Administration officials pressured them to exaggerate the Iraqi threat and deceive the country.
*Veteran Intelligence Professionals For Sanity, a national organization of retired CIA, military and NSA intelligence officers who called into question the Administration's rationale for war and is now up in arms over the Bush Team's manipulation of intelligence. Check out the group's statement released last May, which noted in part: "In intelligence, there is one unpardonable sin--cooking intelligence to the recipe of high policy. There is ample indication that this has been done with respect to Iraq....[N]ever before has such warping been used in such a systematic way to mislead our elected representatives into voting to authorize launching a war." The group's recent statement powerfully indicts the vice president and "strongly recommends Dick Cheney's immediate resignation" for his role in deceiving the public, the media and other policy-makers regarding the true threat Iraq actually posed to the United States.
*Rand Beers, a National Security Council adviser to five administrations, including those of Reagan and Bush 41, who recently resigned as Bush's special counterrorism assistant. As he stepped down, Beers blasted the Administration's handling of the war on terror as "making us less secure, not more secure."
*Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Adviser to President Carter, who cautions that "our single-minded and...demagogic fixation with Iraq is undermining the credibility as well as the legitimacy of US leadership."
*Joseph Wilson, the highest-ranking American diplomat in Baghdad immediately before the Gulf War, who argues that the "underlying objective of this war [Iraq] is the imposition of a Pax Americana on the region," and that "the projection of influence and power through the use of force will breed resistance in the Arab world that will sorely test our political will and stamina."
*James W. Ziglar, Sr., Bush's former Immigration commissioner and a self-described "conservative in the Barry Goldwater mold," recently warned that the Administration's increasingly aggressive antiterrorism tactics may be violating citizens' basic constitutional rights.
*Greg Thielmann, the former head of the State Department's Office of Strategic Proliferation and Military Affairs, and a career foreign service officer who served under three Republican and two Democratic Presidents, recently went public with his anger and disgust at the Bush Administration for completely misrepresenting Iraq as an imminent threat to US security by knowingly distorting intelligence information. "This Administration has had a faith-based intelligence attitude," Thielmann has said. "We know the answers--give us the intelligence to support those answers."
*John Brady Kiesling, a career diplomat for nearly twenty years, who resigned last February in protest against the Administration's drive to war. In his resignation letter, he warned that "Our fervent pursuit of war with Iraq is driving us to squander the international legitimacy that has been America's most potent weapon of both offense and defense since the days of Woodrow Wilson." When asked if his views were widely shared among his diplomatic colleagues, Kiesling replied: "Not one of my colleagues is comfortable with our policy." Several other career foreign service officials resigned in the weeks after Kiesling stepped down.
*George Kennan, the chief architect of the containment and deterrence policies that shaped American foreign policy for more than fifty years, attacked the Administration's national security doctrine as "a great mistake in principle." He also denounced dishonest efforts by the White House to link Al-Qaeda terrorists with Saddam Hussein.
*Ray McGovern, who worked for the CIA at high levels for twenty-seven years, and regularly briefed Bush's father in the 1980s, and who recently quit his post in protest at the Bush Administration's misuse of intelligence briefings.
*Arthur Schlesinger, presidential special assistant and author, who argues that "the Bush Doctrine converts us into the world's judge, jury and executioner--a self-appointed status that, however benign our motives, is bound to corrupt our leadership," and who warns that because of Bush, the "global wave of sympathy that engulfed the United States after 9/11 has given way to a global wave of hatred of American arrogance and militarism."
*Ted Sorensen, former chief speechwriter to a muscular Democrat--President John Kennedy--who laments that the "long uneasiness with bloodletting and battle that followed Vietnam has been replaced by a new infatuation for war, a preference for invasion over persuasion."
And there are scores of others inside and outside the Administration; in Establishment circles; in military and business organizations, who are alarmed by the White House's radical extremism. At off-the-record meetings at the Council on Foreign Relations, for example, prominent figures regularly express shock (and no awe) at how this Administration is undermining America's security--and reputation in the world.
The Coalition of the Rational could launch nationwide public hearings and town hall meetings to expose the dangers posed by the Bush Administration. Members could propose sane, alternative foreign and security policies. Its key members could speak out on TV, radio and on op-ed pages, and its institutions could join forces with internet-based networks such as MoveOn and TrueMajority to create a broad-based coalition sufficiently powerful to take back this country from the extremists now running our government.
In my debate with Dick Armey on Hardball last Thursday night, the former House majority leader and current MSNBC consultant was obsessed with presidential lies and impeachment--that is, President Bill Clinton's lies and impeachment. But, as I pointed out, Clinton may have lied in office but no one died--and Congress impeached him.
Meanwhile, Bush and his Administration have lied, many have died and the majority of Congress treats it as business-as-usual. I wonder if the families of the 212 soldiers killed thus far in Iraq are as offended by Armey's statements as I am. I know that scores of Nation readers and cable viewers are--many e-mailed me after watching the segment, expressing disgust with Armey's refusal to hold Bush accountable for deceiving the public.
...And Rumsfeld's Flailing
Meanwhile, on yesterday's Meet the Press, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was lacking his usual macho bluster. As Tim Russert posed pointed questions about intelligence lapses and the failure of postwar planning, Rumsfeld flailed about:
**Essentially agreeing with antiwar Senator Robert Byrd's assessment of the situation in Iraq as "an open-ended shooting gallery..."
**Declaring that the United Nations---an organization he reviled in the runup to war-was important for Iraq's successful postwar reconstruction.
**And embodying what former highranking intelligence official Gregory Thielmann describes as a "faith-based intelligence attitude." When Russert asked if US credibility would be undermined if no Iraqi WMDs were found, Rumsfeld sought refuge in a faith-based reply: "I believe we will find them." This hedge is a far cry from his assertion last March that, "We know where they are."
Have you heard about the Restore Freedom of Information Act? Support it--If you care about our democracy. Since October 2001, when Attorney General John Ashcroft reversed longstanding Freedom of Information Act policies, this poster child of good government legislation, which provided citizens with broad access to FBI records which previously had been severely limited, has been under severe assault.
So comprehensive is the Bush Administration's systematic attack that the presidents of twenty major journalists' organizations declared in a joint statement that Ashcroft's "restrictions pose dangers to American democracy and prevent American citizens from obtaining the information they need."
The Restore FOIA Act, recently introduced by Senators Leahy, Levin, Jeffords, Lieberman and Byrd, would restore protection for so-called federal whistleblowers, allow state and local "sunshine" disclosure laws to use information obtained from government agencies, and allow civil litigation against companies to use this information. But times are such that, as the ombudsman for the Freedom Forum says, "many in Congress are reluctant to challenge the administration" on security.
But, as Senator Patrick Leahy, one of the Act's sponsors, eloquently said: "We do not respect the spirit of our democracy when we cloak in secrecy the workings of our government from the public we are elected to serve."
Government watchdog groups warn that if the proposed changes to the Homeland Security Act are implemented, businesses could shield almost any data from public scrutiny, government regulations and civil litigation by claiming "critical infrastructure information" protection. As a spokesperson for Public Citizen put it, "these rules would allow corporations to dump information into a black hole of secrecy."
But there's some good news too: Last week, accountability trumped secrecy when a federal appeals court rejected Vice-President Dick Cheney's bid to keep secret all the workings of his energy task force. (The two to one ruling by a panel of judges from the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, said that sufficient safeguards were already in place to prevent the disclosure of genuinely privileged information.) And there was another victory for openness when Thomas Kean, 9/11 Commission head and former Republican governor of New Jersey, publicly criticized the Administration for stonewalling a politically damaging inquiry.
What's clear is that whether it's stonewalling the 9/11 Commission, the Courts or the American public, this Administration is contemptuous of the public's right to know, which unavoidably undermines a democratic society. Listen to Senator Robert Byrd who's seen it all in his forty-five years in office: "If the government is allowed to operate in secrecy without scrutiny, then the people's liberties easily can be lost."
The Left on the Move?
Yesterday's Washington Post caught up with what we've known for months. To read more, check out the Post's front-page story arguing that "the left is once again a driving force" in the Democratic Party.
When it was proposed during the Constitutional Convention of 1787 that the sole power "to make war" be vested in the Congress, the measure carried overwhelmingly. Only one delegate favored granting the authority to the executive branch, South Carolina's Pierce Butler and his proposal was greeted with horror by his fellow delegates. Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts said he "never expected to hear in a republic a motion to empower the Executive alone to declare war." George Mason of Virginia explained that he was against empowering a president to declare war because an individual could "not be trusted with it." Charles Pinckney of South Carolina closed the debate by declaring, "In a democratic republic, it is essential that the decision to go to war be made by the most broadly representative body: the legislative."
Fully conscious of the threat that an executive bent on illegitimate warmaking could pose to the republic, the founders took great care to structure a governing system based on checks and balances. The Congress was charged with the task of declaring wars; the president, as commander-in-chief, was given the power to pursue military action.
Each of those duties came with profound responsibilities. The Congress was required to analyze all the arguments for sending American troops into combat, review the costs and consider the long-term diplomatic, political and moral consequences of so serious a decision. The president's role, as head of the executive branch, was to serve as a guide and a resource -- providing insights on the best approach and assuring that the legislative branch had the information in needed to determine whether war is necessary.
Last fall and winter, as the Bush administration agitated for war with Iraq, the too-powerful leadership of the Congress failed to live up to its most basic responsibility: the checking of a presidential rush to war. Despite demands from millions of citizens, Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate allowed their chambers to serve as little more than rubber stamps for a president who desperately needed to be checked and balanced. And they ultimately pushed through a vague resolution that was presumed to require the White House to work with the United Nations to address questions of whether Saddam Hussein's Iraq posed a threat to the rest of the world.
Millions of Americans demanded that Congress take seriously its responsibility to balance the executive, and some members of the House and Senate listened. U.S. Senator Robert Byrd, D-West Virginia, U,S, Senator Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairs Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, and Barbara Lee, D-Cal., and representatives such as Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois, and John Conyers, the Michigan Democrat who is the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, made valiant attempts to get the Congress to do its duty. In particular, Byrd, Kucinich and Conyers continued to challenge the administration. But, while they asked the right questions, they were isolated in a Congress where leaders refused to give official sanction to a necessary dialogue about the Bush administrations arguments and "evidence" for warmaking.
Throughout the months leading up to the start of the war, leaders of the House and Senate accepted the White House line with little or no questioning. They effectively steered the Congress out of commission.
Now, as Americans learn that the White House line was crooked, the question is whether those Congressional leaders will assert the Constitutional authority of their chambers or remain the pawns of the administration. New revelations by security advisors regarding what appears to have been a pattern of deliberate deception by the administration -- right up to and including the insertion into the president's State of the Union address of discredited claims about Iraq seeking to buy uranium in Africa -- have confirmed the concerns of the millions of citizens who said before the war started that George W. Bush had failed to make a credible case for the preemptive invasion of another country.
In the face of these revelations, there can be no doubt regarding the intent of the founders, or their charge to the current Congress. The Congress is required by the Constitution to police the president. The revelations regarding the fabrications, fantasies and falsehoods on which the arguments for war were based must be investigated. The investigations must be immediate, they must be thorough, they must be conducted in the open, they must follow the obvious lines of questioning that have been raised, and they must determine who in the administration was responsible for any and all deceits. And every indication from the founders is that the leaders of the Congress should have no qualms about advancing the investigation as the occupation of Iraq continues. Indeed, as John Marshall explained, "the whole powers of war being, by the Constitution of the United States vested in Congress, the acts of that body alone can be resorted to as our guides."
At the heart of the investigation must be an understanding that the Constitution charges the Congress with no greater duty than that of checking and balancing the executive branch in a time of war. The Congress failed in that duty during much of the past year. Now, it must reassert and redeem itself. It should do so with a consciousness of the warning the primary author of the Constitution itself, James Madison, gave America at its beginning:
"Of all the enemies of true liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manner and of morals, engendered in both. No nation can preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.
"War is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement. In war, a physical force is to be created; and it is the executive will, which is to direct it. In war, the public treasuries are to be unlocked; and it is the executive hand which is to dispense them. In war, the honors and emoluments of office are to be multiplied; and it is the executive patronage under which they are to be enjoyed; and it is the executive brow they are to encircle. The strongest passions and most dangerous weaknesses of the human breast; ambition, avarice, vanity, the honorable or venal love of fame, are all in conspiracy against the desire and duty of peace."
The American people have already changed the character of the debate over media consolidation and monopoly. Now, they may well be on the verge of winning a historically unprecedented victory in Congress. Many thought the FCC's 3-2 vote on June 2 permitting media conglomerates to own more TV stations in every market and nationally, as well as permitting the same firm to own multiple TV stations, the daily newspaper, and multiple radio stations in the same community -- the dreaded cross-ownership -- settled the matter.
Now it appears dissenting FCC members Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein hit the nail on the head when they said the June 2 vote was so deeply absurd and corrupt -- it was payback time for the huge media conglomerates that traditionally have their way with regulators -- that it would provoke an onslaught of public outrage that would not recede until the FCC's changes were overturned.
How much public outrage? It is arguable that more Americans want to see Osama bin Laden's bust enshrined on Mount Rushmore than wish to allow fewer and fewer media companies the right to gobble up what remains of our media system.
An absurd statement, you say? Well consider this. When FCC Chairman Michael Powell refused to hold more than one official public hearing on whether to relax media ownership rules this winter and spring, he urged Americans to send him, the other commissioners, and members of Congress their thoughts via post, telephone and email. According to the FCC's Adelstein nearly two million people have done so. And by the FCC's own calculations, over 99.9 percent of these citizens demand that the FCC keep the existing media ownership rules, or tighten them.
Congress got the message that Powell and his fellow Republican pranksters on the FCC somehow missed as they were polishing off their resumes for their post-FCC careers in industry. In three Senate Commerce committee hearings chaired by John McCain (Rep., AZ) since June 2, the FCC has been attacked mercilessly and most of the rules overturned. Now there is legislation in both the Senate and the House to throw out what the FCC hath wrought. Senator Byron Dorgan (De., N.D.) is considering using the Congressional Review Act to have the Senate toss out the FCC's rules relaxation.
As we go to press, the situation is white hot on Capitol Hill, and may well be settled before the end of July. The corporate media lobbies have been reduced to depending on a few tried and true corrupt leaders, most notably Billy Tauzin and Tom DeLay, to carry their water. Even Karl Rove and the Bush administration, which absolutely adores letting Clear Channel and Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation own more media, are keeping a low public profile on this topic, because they know that with leading independent media owners, the NRA, William Safire, and the much of the Christian right opposing the FCC -- heck, as we said, just about everyone -- this is political dynamite.
And that is why the people may well win this one. What is crucial is for Americans to flood their members of Congress with telephone calls, letters and emails in the next two weeks telling them to junk the FCC media rules changes. For easily accessible information on how to do that, go to www.mediareform.net/stopthefcc. If supportive members hear from enough people, it will strengthen their backbones; if those on the other side hear from many people, too, it may help them change their minds or at least that it is not worth sacrificing their political careers to enhance Mel Karmazin's and Rupert Murdoch's net worth.
ACTIVIST NOTE:Call your Congressional representatives and demand that they support a rollback of the FCC decision. One phone call from a constituent is more effective than scores of email petitions.
Click here and follow the easy steps for more information.(Don't worry, you don't need to know your Senators' or Rep's names, only your zipcode.)
With Robert W. McChesney
If you blinked--or were busy buying hot-dogs and beer for a Fourth of July cookout--you might have missed the latest evidence that George W. Bush misrepresented the threat from Iraq as he guided the country into invasion and occupation in the Middle East.
The day before Independence Day, Richard Kerr, a former CIA deputy director who is leading a review of the CIA's prewar intelligence on Iraq's unconventional weapons, held a series of interviews with journalists and revealed that his unfinished inquiry had so far found that the intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction had been somewhat ambiguous, that analysts at the CIA and other intelligence services had received pressure from the Bush administration, and that the CIA had not found any proof of operational ties between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's regime.
In other words, Bush lied.
Bush had said that intelligence gathered by the United States and other nations had determined--"no doubt"--that Hussein possessed WMDs, and he had declared that the Iraqi dictator was "dealing" with al Qaeda. Kerr's statements undermined these vital assertions Bush had made to justify the war.
Kerr was not trying to be difficult. His remarks were primarily pro-CIA. He maintained that the agency had been right to tell Bush and top administration officials that Hussein was seeking WMDs. He said that intelligence analysts had resisted pressure and had done a fine job, considering the limited amount of material they had to work with. Kerr noted that US intelligence analysts had been forced to rely upon information from the early and mid-1990s and had little hard evidence to evaluate after 1998 (when UN weapons inspectors left the Iraq). The material that did come in after then was mostly "circumstantial" or "inferential," he said. It was "less specific and detailed" than in earlier years, "scattered." Speaking to The Washington Post, he commented, "It would have been very hard to conclude those [WMD] programs were not continuing, based on the reports being gathered in recent years." And he noted that CIA intelligence reports included the "appropriate caveats" regarding their less-than-definitive conclusions. (An unclassified CIA report released last October said, without qualification, "Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons." But its supporting material was nuanced, and Kerr noted that intelligence analysts usually pointed out that their information was not perfect.)
Though Kerr did not say so outright, his findings indicate that there was no hard-and-fast intelligence that Iraq possessed ready-to-go chemical or biological weapons. Yet that is what Bush, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Ari Fleischer and other administration officials had asserted repeatedly. In his interviews, Kerr remarked that US intelligence analysts were right to assume, based on older evidence and more recent circumstantial material, that Iraq was maintaining its unconventional weapons programs. But developing weapons is not the same as possessing weapons. Bush and his advisers did not argue that the United States was compelled to go to war--rather than support more intrusive inspections--because Hussein had ongoing weapons programs; they claimed the United States had to invade because it was imminently threatened by actual weapons that were in Hussein's mitts (and that he could slip at any moment to his partners in al Qaeda).
Before the war, there was little doubt that Hussein had a fancy for mass-killing weapons and was defying UN disarmament resolutions in part to maintain programs to develop such awful devices. Yet a desire for WMDs and a development program are not as threatening as the real things, and Bush and his colleagues said the intelligence showed--without question--Hussein was armed with biological and chemical weapons, was close to building a nuclear bomb, and was in league with Osama bin Laden. Kerr's comments offer further proof none of this was true.
So did front-page headlines scream, "Former Deputy CIA Director Contradicts Bush's Key War Claims"? Nope. Kerr's remarks were treated more as a hiccup than a bombshell. A search of the Lexis-Nexis newspaper database turned up only three stories that were published; they appeared in the Post, The Los Angeles Times, and The San Diego Union-Tribune. And the headlines focused on Kerr's rah-rahing for the CIA. "Basis for Arms Claims Affirmed" (the Post). "Official Backs Prewar Claims" ( The Los Angeles). "Internal Review Backs CIA on Iraqi Weapons" ( The San Diego Union-Tribune). Each piece emphasized Kerr's endorsement of the CIA's analysts, rather than the fact that his findings revealed that the Bush administration had misrepresented the work of the analysts. As of this writing, The New York Times has not published a word about Kerr's preliminary findings. You think it's a coincidence that Kerr spoke to reporters the day prior to a long holiday weekend? You don't have to be James Bond to figure that out.
Slowly, official material is seeping out that confirms the allegation that Bush and his national security crew misled the country into war. Last week, Representative Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, referred to preliminary findings of a review being conducted by her committee. This examination, like Kerr's, has found that the intelligence analysts had attached caveats and qualifiers to their assessments of the WMD threat from Iraq (which Bush never bothered to mention) and that there had been no good intelligence linking Hussein with bin Laden. (Click here to read more about her remarks.)
Perhaps Kerr is right and that US intelligence analysts had good cause--if not good evidence--to conclude that Hussein was still on the prowl for WMDs. A cynic, though, might wonder whether this former senior CIA official (who was a longtime analyst for the agency) is being overly kind to his alma mater. Nevertheless, the issue at hand is what Bush and his administration told the public. Kerr's remarks add to the case against Bush. They are another signal that thorough investigations could end up establishing that the accusation that Bush lied needs no qualifiers or caveats.
What's it come to when Arnold Schwarzenegger plays the role of commander-in-chief and the US President acts like the Terminator? On his fourth of July USO tour of Baghdad, Schwarzengger braved fierce heat to "pump up" and praise US service people for their efforts in Iraq. Meanwhile, and on the same day that one Marine was killed and three were injured while clearing mines in Iraq, Bush taunted insurgent Iraqis Terminator-style from the comfort of his air-conditioned offices.
"Bring 'em on," he said, asserting that US forces are "plenty tough" to deal with the now daily deadly attacks being waged guerilla-style against US occupation forces throughout Iraq. Some newspapers called Bush's challenge "colorful." Senator Frank Lautenberg, a decorated World War II army vet, called his remarks "tantamount to inciting and inviting more attacks against US forces."
Bush's macho rhetoric is only the latest example of the arrogant and irresponsible attitude of a President who should show more respect for the brave men and women he has asked to die for a lie. And all Americans--whether supporters or opponents of the war--should be concerned that Bush's immature rhetoric is inflaming an already dangerous situation for US forces on the ground. What's next from the Terminator President? Hasta la Vista, Saddam.