Political Affairs Magazine
By Joel Wendland
It’s all very exciting. Just days ago, word came out that White House aid and President Bush’s close friend, Karl Rove, leaked classified information to the press about the identity of an undercover CIA agent.
When the story broke last year, that someone from the White House may have been the source of the leak, Bush promised to fire the culprit. Earlier this week, when it became clear that Rove was the culprit, rather than keeping his word, Bush kept mum. He also refused to express confidence in Rove, an admission that something serious is going down.
Then yesterday the Washington Post reported that the special prosecutor, appointed by the Justice Department, is preparing to indict someone related to the leaking case.
Indictments, the Post added, may be sought not just for leaking classified information, but also for perjury and obstruction of justice (for lying and conspiring to lie under oath to the grand jury).
Investigation into the President’s role in the leak, the conspiracy to level partisan attacks on critics of the war, and the conspiracy to cover up who was responsible is also called for.
Still no word from Bush. We are waiting for firings or indictments. Which will it be?
Meanwhile, the core issue at stake is being seriously overlooked.
Rove leaked the name of a CIA agent who happened to be the wife of former Ambassador Joe Wilson. Wilson had traveled to Niger in February 2002, on her suggestion to her superiors at the agency, to check on questions about whether or not Saddam Hussein had tried to purchase nuclear materials in that country.
One might recall that in the fall of 2002, several administration officials, including President Bush and the current Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, scared the American public with talk of "mushroom clouds" appearing if war were not authorized by Congress. Specifically, they claimed that Iraq was trying to purchase nuclear material "from Africa."
The claim turned out to be wrong and at worst an intentional lie.
Wilson’s trip to Niger proved it, and he published the fact in the New York Times in July 2003 (two months after Bush claimed the war in Iraq was over).
The White House flipped out. To reap vengeance, Rove tried to discredit Wilson by leaking his wife’s identity to the press and suggesting that she had arranged a lucrative junket for him to Africa. Rove described Valerie Wilson as "fair game" for partisan attacks by the White House.
There are hints that New York Times reporter Judith Miller, a pro-war advocate for the administration, now serving time for apparently failing to reveal sources for a story on Wilson’s wife that she never wrote, collaborated with Rove on leaking the information to others like Matthew Cooper of Time magazine and arch-conservative columnist Robert Novak, who actually was the first person to use Valerie Wilson’s name in his column.
But let’s look closer at the results of Wilson’s trip and the claim that Saddam tried to buy nuclear material "from Africa." To support this claim and as part of a highly coordinated public relations campaign worked out between the British government and the Bush administration, the British released a report claiming that Iraq tried to purchase nuclear material. And, they said, they had a memo signed by Niger officials authorizing the sale to prove it.
In March of 2003, just days before Bush ordered the launch of the invasion, the head of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed El Baradei, told the UN Security Council that experts had examined the memo in question and dismissed it as a forgery.
"There is no indication of resumed nuclear activities," El Baradei said.
"Based on thorough analysis, the IAEA has concluded, with the concurrence of outside experts, that documents which formed the basis for the reports of recent uranium transactions between Iraq and Niger are in fact not authentic," he added. "We have therefore concluded that these specific allegations are unfounded."
But it is likely the administration knew this already, because Joe Wilson had gone to Niger in February 2002, a full year before the specific uranium claim was made public. Here’s how they knew.
Joe Wilson’s 2003 New York Times article was called, "What I Didn’t Find in Africa." In it, Wilson argued that the Bush administration "twisted [at least some of the evidence] to exaggerate the Iraqi threat."
Wilson, who began his diplomatic career under Reagan and was appointed by George H. W. Bush to high-level posts, had traveled to Niger in February 2002 (one year and one month before the war started) to explore questions raised by Dick Cheney’s office of whether or not Iraq had tried to purchase uranium materials in that country.
Upon Wilson’s in Niger arrival, US Ambassador Owens-Kirkpatrick told him that she had already reported back to the administration that rumors of such sales were not true.
Wilson then interviewed numerous people who had insider information on Niger’s uranium dealings and concluded on his own that rumors of a deal with Iraq were false. In particular, Wilson sought to find out about the authenticity of the memo in the possession of the British government that proved such a deal with Iraq had taken place.
According to Wilson, who had relationships with Niger officials as he had worked as Clinton’s top Africa adviser in the 1990s, the memo was clearly a forgery as it contained signatures of officials who were not in office at the time the uranium deal with Iraq was supposed to have gone down.
Wilson then presented his findings to the appropriate administration people. Nevertheless, the administration continued to claim that Iraq tried to buy nuclear weapons. When Wilson revealed what he knew and how he knew it, Rove retaliated by outing his wife, Valerie Wilson, as a CIA agent.
This episode raises some important questions that cry out for investigation:
Does the fact that Wilson’s information (and Ambassador Owens-Kirkpatrick’s) was ignored point to a concerted effort on the part of the Bush administration to hide evidence that contradicted their claims about the dangers posed by Iraq and the need to go to war?
Were they looking for evidence as early as February 2002 to justify an attack on Iraq?
Why did they continue to claim that Iraq was trying to buy nuclear material when their evidence for such a claim was forged?
Who forged the Niger memo that fit so well into the administration’s rationale for war?
Was there an attempted cover up of who leaked the identity of Valerie Wilson?
If so, does that cover up also constitute an attempt to cover up information that might reveal whether or not the Bush administration misled the public into war with Iraq?
Other related matters worth examining more closely includes former Deputy Secretary of State John Bolton’s successful campaign to fire Jose Bustani, a chemical weapons specialist who headed a UN anti-WMD organization and who wanted to go to Iraq in early 2002 to find and destroy Iraq’s WMD. If Bustani had gone to Iraq in early 2002 it is possible that the crisis with Iraq could have been averted, making the administration’s demand that Congress authorize war in the fall of 2002 unnecessary. (Read more about Bolton vs. Bustani here.)
Was Bolton’s campaign orchestrated by the White House and was it part of an effort to eliminate obstacles to going to war?
Did the administration really try to pursue every peaceful and diplomatic means to avoid war?
We know some partial answers to these questions because of leaked British government documents known as the Downing Street Memo and others (read them at AfterDowningStreet.org).
According to these documents, British officials as early as March 2002 (one month after Wilson’s trip) felt that the administration was intent on going to war and that it was fixing the evidence and intelligence to make their claims of the dangers Iraq posed – described in the memos as "thin" and lacking credibility – seem true.
So Prime Minister Blair’s advisers knew that something was seriously wrong with what the Bush administration was doing.
What emerges from the British memos is a picture of Blair’s government, also having accepted the intent to go war, trying to work out an effective public relations strategy in conjunction with the White House to convince the public in both countries, despite evidence to the contrary, that war was justified.
Rove’s role in all of this deserves scrutiny. He should be fired and indictments should be forthcoming.
But in addition to that gesture towards justice, a serious, open and thorough investigation into the Bush administration’s campaign to go to war with Iraq, the question of suppression of evidence that countered its claims, misleading Congress and the people, and the political maneuvers that have cost the lives of 1,800 US troops is required.
Skirting the issue by focusing on Rove being a mean guy who drops classified information during a time of war to the press is not enough.
The mainstream media, which, since this episode began, has gotten onto its high horse and made claims about a free press being the last bastion of democracy, can make up for its severe failure to investigate the administration’s rationale for war by doing its job correctly this time.
--Reach Joel Wendland at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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