It would be a foolish endeavor to call for this Republican Congress to mount a thorough investigation of this Republican administration. But what else is there to do in response to the comments made by Secretary of State Colin Powell this past weekend?
Appearing on Meet the Press, Powell acknowledged–finally!–that he and the Bush administration misled the nation about the WMD threat posed by Iraq before the war. Specifically, he said that he was wrong when he appeared before the UN Security Council on February 5, 2003, and alleged that Iraq had developed mobile laboratories to produce biological weapons. That was one of the more dramatic claims he and the administration used to justify the invasion of Iraq. (Remember the drawings he displayed.) Yet Powell said on MTP, “it turned out that the sourcing was inaccurate and wrong and in some cases, deliberately misleading.” Powell did not spell it out, but the main source for this claim was an engineer linked to the Iraqi National Congress, the exile group led by Ahmed Chalabi, who is now part of the Iraqi Governing Council.
Powell noted that he was “comfortable at the time that I made the presentation it reflected the collective judgment, the sound judgment of the intelligence community.” In other words, the CIA was scammed by Chalabi’s outfit, and it never caught on. So who’s been fired over this? After all, the nation supposedly went to war partly due to this intelligence. And partly because of this bad information over 700 Americans and countless Iraqis have lost their lives. Shouldn’t someone be held accountable? Maybe CIA chief George Tenet, or his underlings who went for the bait? Or Chalabi’s neocon friends and champions at the Pentagon: Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Richard Perle? How do they feel about their pal, the great Iraqi leader, now?
For months after the invasion, George W. Bush told the public that he had based his decision to invade Iraq on “good, solid intelligence.” Does he still believe that? Has anyone told him that his government was hornswoggled by Chalabi, who was once convicted of massive bank fraud in Jordan. (Since Bush has said he does not read the newspapers or pay much attention to conventional media, he may not have heard about Powell’s remarks unless an aide bothered to brief him on them.) And in January, Dick Cheney said that there was “conclusive evidence” that Saddam Hussein had manufactured bioweapons labs on wheels. Is he willing to say he was wrong?
For his part, Chalabi has not shown any regret. In February, he told the London Telegraph, “we are heroes in error….As far as we’re concerned, we’ve been entirely successful. That tyrant Saddam is gone, and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important.” [UPDATE: On May 20, Chalabi’s compound in Baghdad was raided by US forces while Chalabi was present. Iraqi police, who participated in the raid, seized documents and a computer belonging to Chalabi. Several members of his entourage were taken away. Other offices of Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress were raided. A senior coalition official told Associated Press the raids were conducted pursuant to warrants issued by an Iraqi judge. And US officials in Iraq have complained that Chalabi has interfered with an investigation into corruption in the UN-run oil-for-food program. “I am America’s best friend in Iraq,” said Chalabi.]
Perhaps the previous–and apparently fraudulent– allegations made by the Chalabi gang are no longer “important” for him. But Powell–fronting for Bush–placed his credibility on the line before the war. A Powell associate told The New York Times that Powell is “out there publicly saying this now because he doesn’t want a legacy as the man who made up stories to provide the president with cover to go to war.” But if Powell did not make up the stories himself, he was none too reluctant to peddle them. And he has displayed little outrage in public that he was turned into a fibbing pimp for the war.
In fact, at the time of his UN presentation, there was reason for Powell and the administration to be suspicious of the claims Powell were hurling. After his UN speech, several experts in the field of bioweapons said that it was possible for Hussein to develop mobile bioweapons labs but not likely that he could. “This strikes me as a bit far-fetched,” observed Raymond Zilinskas, a former weapons inspector. Why did Powell and the CIA trust the word of a biased source that could not be confirmed more than the expertise of independent scientists? The answer is all too obvious. (There were plenty of other problems with Powell’s UN performance. For instance, he maintained that one Iraqi military official had ordered another to “clean out” an ammunition site that was about to be inspected; but the official translation of this intercepted conversation, which was posted on the State Department website, did not contain that order. Powell also claimed there was a direct and close connection between Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a terrorist operating in northern Iraq, which was an area outside of Baghdad’s control. But Powell provided sketchy evidence regarding what is probably a complicated, perhaps even competitive, relationship and one that apparently had nothing to do with Saddam Hussein.)
On Meet the Press, Powell said of the bioweapons claim, “I am disappointed and I regret it.” But that’s not good enough. Powell provided cover for Bush’s case for war. And he’s still providing cover for the Bush administration overall. Why is he not angrily calling for an inquiry into how Chalibi flim-flammed the CIA and the administration? Why is Powell sticking around and helping Bush get reelected, when it’s expected he will resign after that and leave the public with an administration that is not moderated (to the extent that it is) by the presence of this presumably sage grown-up?
Think about it. The secretary of state revealed that he, the CIA and the administration were conned (perhaps too easily) by exiles supported by the Pentagon, and this fraud helped set the stage for a war and a bloody and difficult occupation that still is claiming the lives of Americans. If this is not cause for investigations, dismissals, and angry statements from congressional leaders and administration officials, then what is?
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