So much outrage. So much hypocrisy.
In recent weeks, plenty of scandal fodder has become public: more corrupt contracting in Iraq; allegations that Air Force Academy cadets are coerced into becoming evangelical Christians; new evidence that the military tried to cover up the details of the friendly-fire death of Pat Tillman (who turned down an NFL contract to serve as an Army Ranger in Afghanistan); and, most notably, the Downing Street memo, which is the latest indication that the Bush Administration misled the nation on the way to war. On May 1 the Sunday Times of London disclosed a memo that detailed a secret July 23, 2002, briefing for Prime Minister Tony Blair at 10 Downing Street. As part of this meeting, Richard Dearlove, the head of MI-6 (England’s CIA), just back from consultations in Washington, reported that the Bush Administration viewed war with Iraq as inevitable. According to the memo, Dearlove told Blair, “Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. [Bush’s National Security Council] had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime’s record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.” The memo also noted that Foreign Secretary Jack Straw had said that the case against Saddam Hussein was “thin” and that Iraq’s “WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran.” British Attorney General Peter Goldsmith observed that the legal basis for an invasion of Iraq was iffy.
The British memo undermines the Administration’s claim that it pursued a diplomatic solution in good faith before opting for war. It is also a reminder that the White House was recklessly negligent in its failure to prepare for the postinvasion period (a scandal in and of itself). But the most explosive portion of the memo–neglected by US mainstream media for weeks before finally getting inside-page coverage–was the assertion that intelligence and facts were being “fixed” by the Administration. Yet it caused hardly a ripple in official Washington. John Conyers and eighty-seven other House Democrats wrote Bush a letter noting that the leaked memo raised “troubling new questions regarding the legal justifications for the war as well as the integrity of your own Administration” and they asked whether there had been an effort to “fix” the intelligence. Bush did not reply.
But the White House, the Pentagon and the Republicans did go crazy over a retracted Newsweek report, based on an anonymous senior government source who later backed away from his assertion that interrogators at Guantánamo had flushed a Koran down a toilet. This short report–which followed similar claims by detainees–was blamed for deadly riots in Afghanistan, and led to self-righteous Administration officials decrying the newsmagazine for inaccurate reporting. “The report has had serious consequences,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan huffed. “People have lost their lives. The image of the United States has been damaged abroad.” And before Newsweek fully retracted the item, McClellan declared, “It’s puzzling that while Newsweek now acknowledges that they got the facts wrong, they refused to retract the story. I think there’s a certain journalistic standard that should be met and in this instance it was not.”
McClellan could have been talking about the Bush White House. As the Downing Street memo shows, Bush was not concerned with standards. And he got the facts wrong, people lost their lives and the image of the United States was damaged abroad. As tragic as the Newsweek episode has been, the true scandal is the Downing Street memo. But unlike Newsweek, the White House has not apologized. And it has not retracted its lies.