Corrupt endeavor: Who lied us into war?
If you want to know why and how the vice president’s chief of staff came to be convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice and now faces up to 20 or so years in jail and a hefty fine, then let’s go back to the winter of 2005, when prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald announced Scooter Libby’s indictment and took questions from the media. Asked why he wasn’t indicting under the terms of the Espionage Act, which makes it a crime to give classified information to persons not entitled to receive it, Fitzgerald explained by giving his famous baseball analogy:
“Let’s say a pitcher winds up and hurls a fastball at a batter’s head, you have to ask, why did the pitcher do it? Was it an accident? Did he do it out of a grudge or did his fingers slip? Did he hit the target or did he aim for the chin and miss? You’d have to look beyond the field, find out what happened in the dugout, see if it might have been retaliation (did the batter trash-talk the pitcher’s mama?), or at the end of the day was it just a bad pitch, get over it?”
The problem, said Fitzgerald, is that sand had been thrown in the umpire’s eyes. That’s what Scooter Libby did when he lied to a grand jury and to the FBI – he made it impossible to see what had happened and who was behind the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame. In the indictment, which contains some interesting language, Fitzgerald characterizes the pattern of deception displayed by Libby’s testimony as “a corrupt endeavor,” and the uncovering of this corruption is what Fitzgerald was tasked with. He accomplished this with admirable precision.
This trial revealed the machinations of a Washington network, centered in the vice president’s office, intent on driving us into a disastrous war no matter what the consequences, even going so far as to endanger American national security. They had their own agenda, having set up what journalist Bob Woodward, citing Colin Powell, called “a separate government” not answerable to Congress, and operating beneath the radar in most instances.
This was – and is – the “corrupt endeavor” Fitzgerald took on, but the outing of Plame is hardly the full extent of their crimes. Because when you ask why Cheney and his top aide were so eager to debunk the claims and credibility of Joe Wilson, it all goes back to those infamous “16 words” in Bush’s 2003 State of the Union speech, in which he claimed Saddam had been seeking uranium ore in “an African nation” known to be Niger. This “intelligence,” attributed by Bush to the British, turned out to be sourced to some very odd-looking documents, which were proved to be forgeries. This is the only instance I know of, prior to the outbreak of the war, when the White House actually made an important retraction regarding the alleged “evidence” for Iraqi WMD.
Who forged those documents – and how did the “intelligence” they contained wind up in the president’s vitally important State of the Union speech, uttered on the eve of war with Iraq? This is a question I’ll bet many in the White House would like to know the answer to. Well, this blogger sure has done a lot of research on the matter, and sohave these guys. The origin of the forged Niger uranium documents is a matter that ought to concern both law enforcement agencies and the Congress of the United States, as it involves what appears to be espionage engaged in by parties unknown. The goal of the conspirators was to provide documentary “evidence” that would make it possible for the administration to play the all-powerful nuclear card and declare that Saddam was rushing to build – and use – The Bomb. Fitzgerald has offered to let Congress look at the full record of his investigation, and I’m wondering how eager they are to jump on this chance to get at the real heart of the Libby case. Provided, of course, no Democrats are implicated, and no interests they hold dear are hurt…
The Niger uranium fable was just one in a whole repertoire of tall tales told by the neocons – in government and the media – to buttress the case for war. Not just distortions of the truth to suit their war agenda, but stories made up out of whole cloth – like Scooter’s lie about how Tim Russert told him about Plame’s CIA job and he “heard it as if for the first time.”
Remember the Mohammed Atta meeting with an Iraqi agent at Prague airport – you know, the one that never really happened? This was a story particularly beloved by the vice president’s office, one that they kept pushing until long after it had been definitively debunked. Then there was that long line of Iraqi “defectors” and supposed inside sources who knew just where the “weapons of mass destruction” were hidden – in underground bunkers beneath Saddam’s many palaces, in secret desert compounds, ensconced in mobile units that could unleash chemical and biological terror at a moment’s notice – not to mention Judith Miller’s Iraqi “sources.”
Many if not most of those sources turned out to be either members of or shills for the Iraqi exile group known as the Iraqi National Congress, led by the wheeler-dealer-turned-Iranian-agent Ahmed Chalabi. In answer to those who blamed him for being the source of much of our completely bogus Iraq “intelligence,” the wily Chalabi, in typical neocon style – i.e., brazenly contemptuous of truth – characterized himself and his comrades in deception as “heroes in error.” Kind of like how Scooter was a “hero in error” when “misremembered” an imaginary conversation with Tim Russert and “forgot” about months of plotting to strike back at Joe Wilson.
The Libby trial gave us a glimpse into the inner workings of a truly corrupt endeavor – a well-planned and skillfully executed campaign to lie us into war. What the Libby trial has shown is that this symphony of disinformation was conducted, personally, by the vice president of the United States – the chief executive of that “separate government” Colin Powell so resented.
This rogue element of the Bush administration wasn’t confined to Dick Cheney’s office; it had its operational wing in the top civilian echelons of the Pentagon. It was centered in Doug Feith’s office of policy, where the neocons essentially set up their own intelligence-gathering outfit, under several different rubrics, and “stovepiped” (as Sy Hersh put it) the results directly to the White House via Cheney’s office.
Fitzgerald has done what he can, and it is up to Congress to take the ball and run with it. There is plenty here to investigate, and failure to do so will lack any credible explanation.
The Cheney coup d’etat that made the invasion of Iraq possible is, finally, overthrown: that’s the larger significance of this verdict, and, as such, it is a cause for celebration. But let’s not rest on Fitzgerald’s laurels: it is time, now, for Congress to follow up the plentiful leads provided by the prosecution in this case and expose the neocons’ corrupt endeavor to the light of day. Let’s lift up the rock under which the War Party has been hiding for so long and watch as swarms of uglies pour out – because they can’t live for long in full sunlight. Exposure neutralizes them: they curl up and die. Once the web of deception they have woven is swept away, we’ll finally see the War Party’s methods and motives – and, believe you me, it won’t be a pretty sight.
To get a glimpse of what we’re in for, if investigations proceed, take a look at the details of a very similar case coming to court this summer – the long-delayed trial of Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, two top officials of AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israel lobbying group.
In this case, the umpire didn’t get sand thrown in his eyes, because the FBI’s counterintelligence unit had the bad guys bugged from the beginning. They watched Larry Franklin, Doug Feith’s top Iran expert, as he offered Rosen and Weissman access to classified information. They listened to Rosen – the longtime spark plug behind AIPAC’s energetic efforts to influence government circles – as he boasted to Weissman what a good catch Franklin was. They followed the AIPAC duo as they met with Israeli officials, including the then-Israeli ambassador, and passed on classified information of a highly sensitive nature.
This is espionage, and that is precisely what the AIPAC Two are charged with – although their defenders claim that it isn’t “really” espionage to pass on classified information, and that this is what journalists and others do in Washington all the time. This defense resembles Scooter’s in many respects, and for good reason: both cases involve the antics of an ideologically coherent group operating inside the Bush administration, the neocon network run out of Cheney’s office and extending into the Pentagon. The story of how the AIPAC defendants were caught, however, brings out a new aspect of the recklessness of the pro-war cabal: how they were and are willing to go to any lengths, including betraying American secrets to a foreign power (in this case, Israel). This couldn’t be more timely – since the classfied information the AIPAC defendants are charged with stealing involves the War Party’s current target, Iran.
The corrupt endeavor Fitzgerald revealed is a lot bigger than the charges against Scooter – just as the Alger Hiss case encompassed a whole lot more than the perjury charges lodged against the defendant. Both trials were about the betrayal of vital state secrets, and in both cases the guilty defendant was motivated by ideology.
Naturally, the neocon spin machine is already running in high gear, portraying their boy Scooter as an innocent victim of the “criminalization” of “politics,” the same line they trotted out during the Iran-Contra scandal. Whether or not he is pardoned, the road is cleared to finally taking out Cheney – albeit not in the way Bill Maher imagined.
Back when this case was just a minor occurrence noticed by few, I predicted that the vice president would eventually be forced to resign, or at least would be cornered into considering that option. This is still very possible, in spite of the looming prospect of a presidential pardon – and will be made far likelier if Congress does its duty and investigates the key role of the vice president’s office in corrupting the intelligence-gathering process during the run-up to war. The “corrupt endeavor” Fitzgerald spoke of is ongoing – they’re pulling a reenactment of the same song-and-dance in order to gin up a war with Iran – but not if Congress initiates a preemptive strike and takes out the War Party’s command center.