This week as President Bush and his closest advisors altered stories in an ongoing effort to deflect blame about "intelligence failures," I am reminded of a quote by Oliver North from his Iran-Contra testimony, "I was provided with additional input that was radically different from the truth. I assisted in furthering that version."
One cannot help but ask if these false and terrifying depictions of Iraq's destructive capabilities were really the products of intelligence failures, or if they were part of an ongoing and systematic policy on the part of those at the very head of government.
Thirty years ago during the Watergate hearings, investigators asked the simple question: "What did the president know and when did he know it?" A more appropriate question to ask today might be "Why didn't the president know before going to war what common people marching in streets all over the world knew?"
For those with Internet, BBC, and world news access, the information about forged Niger uranium documents, UN inspector's assessments on Iraq's unlikely chemical and biological capabilities, the CIA pronouncements that Iraq did not constitute a significant threat, the International Atomic Energy Agency position that no evidence existed of an Iraqi nuclear program, the absence of our CIA finding any credible links between Saddam and Al Qaeda, were all known among many citizens before Bush single-mindedly took the country to war.
Despite this, the president and his advisors repeatedly proffered in speeches and public appearances discredited information and hyped rhetoric linking Iraq to terrorism and 9/11. "Weapons of mass destruction" figured most prominently in arguing to the American people that there was an absolute necessity for ending UN inspections and waging a preemptive attack upon Iraq. This unsubstantiated argument was so persuasive that by the time the invasion began, fully 72 percent of the American public believed that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11, without a shred of credible evidence to support such a claim.
Now we are engaged in counting the dead, assessing blame, looking at huge financial burdens, and considering the ongoing loss of young American lives in an unwelcome occupation of Iraq. What is becoming increasingly clear is that if the president and his closest advisors knowingly lied in making the case for a preemptive war based on Iraq constituting an imminent threat to the security of the United States, this is assuredly an impeachable offense of the highest order of magnitude, manifestly greater than the constitutional abuses of Dick Nixon or the sexual lying of Bill Clinton.
We can unfortunately be assured that the Republican-controlled House and Senate will never allow an investigation of this president or his advisors, despite a truckload of incriminating evidence leading straight to the front door of the Oval Office. This leaves us, as citizens, to make assessments on our own without benefit of Congressional hearings or testimony on those who mislead us. In this effort, we can note however, that among those with something to hide, the administration's actions speak louder than words.
Most revealing and scarcely reported, is the crucial change that the Bush Administration initiated in the intelligence community, one which has had severe implications for our constitutional processes and national credibility. Always seeking to demonize Saddam, it appears that sometime in 2002 the tight cabal surrounding the president became increasingly dissatisfied with the CIA and other intelligence data which did not support their hawkish view on Iraq.
To address this, Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld created the Office of Special Plans (OSP) within the Pentagon. As Seymour Hersch and other investigative journalists have reported, this small group of OSP analysts was charged with finding evidence of what Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld postulated, and what our intelligence agencies did not endorse; namely that Saddam Hussein had close ties to Al Qaeda and that Iraq had enormous arsenals of chemical, biological, and possibly nuclear weapons that threatened the United States.
The OSP group relied heavily on data gathered by the exiled Iraqi National Congress, headed by Ahmad Chalabi, a character whose veracity and integrity were strongly doubted by the CIA and who had little respect from the Iraqi people, but who was nevertheless hand-picked by the Bush Administration to head any new Iraqi regime. (Chalabi had been, among other shady business deals and improprieties, convicted of a $7 million bank fraud in Jordan.)
Unfortunately it appears that Chalabi and the OSP office of the Pentagon became the primary source of the questionable "intelligence" accepted by the Bush White House. The CIA and the State Department were virtually eliminated from the loop.
According to W. Patrick Lang, former chief of Middle East Intelligence at the Defense Intelligence Agency, the OSP and the president's advisors manipulated and "cherry-picked the intelligence information to build a case for war."
The OSP provided largely unverified information, but it was the only information the administration wanted to hear. Further, it requires a rather enormous suspension of judgment to believe that George Bush knew nothing of these activities by the Vice President and his closest advisors.
Now Americans and the rest of the world know the truth: that the president took this country to war based on "faulty intelligence." But what does this really mean? It means the country was likely intentionally misled, and this is a prosecutable offense. It is a prosecutable offense because when a president takes the oath of office, he swears to "uphold the Constitution of the United States."
Manipulation or deliberate abuse of national security intelligence data is "a high crime" under the Constitution's impeachment clause. It is also a violation of federal criminal law and the anti-conspiracy statute which considers it a felony "to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose. "
Richard Nixon faced impeachment for misusing the CIA and the FBI, a serious abuse of presidential power. George Bush and his administration apparently manipulated and misrepresented intelligence to get Congress to authorize, and the public to support, a preemptive war to take control of Iraq.
For those who would give George Bush some largely undeserved latitude, let's be clear that this was not a benign act with no victims and no ongoing consequences. This was not a personal impropriety, a sexual tryst or a stain on a blue dress. This was a stain upon American democracy.
Thousands of innocent Iraqis died and many continue to suffer in a lawless war-ravaged country. Millions of civilians, including American servicemen and women are exposed to the health hazards of depleted uranium from U.S. missiles. Every day, more young soldiers die as Iraqis make sitting ducks out of American troops. The cost of war and a long occupation rises into the hundreds of billions of dollars, while our country faces a depleted treasury and deficits as far as the eye can see.
This is demonstrably a misdeed of monstrous proportions. A huge, costly, and deadly lie was foisted on the American public and the Congress. The credibility of the United States was severely damaged and the constitutional powers of the presidency abused.
George Walker Bush deserves impeachment. He deserves impeachment and removal from the office he was never elected to hold. Those who have paid the ultimate price with their lives demand no less. Our democracy demands no less. As citizens, we must clamor for the justice and accountability which our leaders would like to avoid. We must not forget.
Belva Ann Prycel is a resident of Alna, Maine.
©Lincoln County Weekly 2003