Bernard Weiner: Bush's 2004 Scandals for Dummies
Bush's 2004 Scandals for Dummies
By Bernard Weiner
The Crisis Papers
There are so many Bush Administration scandals and so little time to figure them all out. So I checked in with the franchised book series that succinctly provides clear answers for confused dummies like me.
Q. Why are all these scandals seeming to come at the same time? Am I imagining this? Is it a liberal media conspiracy?
A. No, you're not imagining it. And there's no conspiracy involved. It's a phenomenon not at all surprising. Here's how it works:
Many of the Bush scandals aren't new at all; they've been brewing for a long time, with the White House trying to push them off until after Election Day. But scandals, like viruses, erupt on their own schedules.
Then, too, when a mass of scandals all seem to be happening at once, the veneer of invulnerability around an administration is removed. Suddenly what looked impregnable now looks vulnerable, and so more people are willing to step up and be counted in opposition, including whistle-blowing insiders with secrets to reveal. And elements in the mass media, looking for juicy stories, participate in the sharks-in-the-water syndrome when they smell blood; these days, they feel they have to dive in because foreign journalists and internet writers are scooping them each day on the depths of the scandals.
In addition, when you've been around for a long time -- in the case of Bush&Co ., it's been nearly a full term -- you make a lot of enemies. There are a lot of politicians out there, many of them Republicans, who resent the Bush cabal (many refer to them colloquially as "those arrogant sons of bitches") for the way they've been pushed around and threatened and lied to over the years. Even though it may be bad for the party -- in the short term -- they don't mind watching Bush and his cohorts squirm and flail about, just like ordinary mortals; many of these true conservatives feel that if they are lucky, Bush&Co. will implode on their own, and they can get their political party back again.
Then, there are the spooks in the CIA and State who, thoroughly pissed at Bush trying to blame them for all the mistakes in intelligence and the war and 9/11 -- and at the felonious "outing" of one of their covert agents by Bush officials -- are happy to heap dirt (and there's lots of it) on the Bush neo-cons.
Finally, let us not forget that it's not the "liberal media," or Democrats, or disaffected Republicans who generated the scandals. It's Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and Ashcroft and their crews who got themselves into this huge mess, through their greed, lust for power, secretiveness, obstinacy, arrogance, and conviction that they are holy warriors in a divine crusade against those who don't believe exactly as they do. That's the irony, of course: In a sense, they're fighting the Taliban, when they want to BE the Taliban.
THE PRISONER-TORTURE SCANDAL
Q. All that's very interesting, but it's way too generalized for me. Maybe we should take the scandals one at a time. Tell me about -- oh, let's start with the abuse-of-prisoners scandal in Iraq.
A. OK, but let's agree on our terms of reference. It's not happening only in Iraq, but all over the world where Bush&Co. believe that information needs to be obtained from detainees, by whatever means necessary. And it's not just "abuse," but out-and-out torture as well.
Q. But the government says it's just a "few bad apples," a few guards who went off on their own, freelance sadists, so to speak. You don't believe the Administration denials?
A. Of course not. Yes, there always are, and will be, some cruel and sadistic guards, who get their jollies by humiliating and beating up and raping prisoners in their care, terror suspects or no. But in this case, it's pretty clear that the chain of command, at least from Rumsfeld and Ashcroft and all the way down the line, set the tone for the lower officers and troops.
Just look at the smoking-gun memos issued for the Bush Administration by law professor John Yoo, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzalez, and the lawyers in Rumsfeld's office -- all designed to permit, indeed facilitate, what is euphemistically called "harsh interrogation methods" (read: abuse, humiliation, physical and psychological torture) and to shield those ordering such tactics and those carrying them out from being tried later for war crimes.
Using those questionable, enabling advisories from their lawyers, the Bush Administration figured it had cleverly escaped the restrictions of the Geneva Convention with regard to prisoner-care -- by re-naming prisoners "enemy combatants" or "detainees," terms not mentioned in the Geneva rules -- and had engineered it so that U.S. forces could not be held liable in international courts.
At that point, Gen. Miller -- the guy in charge of the infamous Taliban/Al Qaida camp at Guantanamo -- was sent to Iraq to pass on some of these harsh interrogation techniques to the guards and CIA interrogators in Abu Ghraib and the other jail sites. These tactics included sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation, keeping the detainees nude and hooded, using beatings and dogs and near-drownings to terrorize them, etc. Miller leaves, and almost immediately the techniques harden up in Iraq and the abuse and torture goes big time.
Things get pretty messy, including scores of prisoners dying while in American custody, presumably after having been beaten or crushed or drowned. Photos are taken -- some for personal enjoyment, some used to frighten other detainees -- and soon the word gets out about what's going on at the prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere. Damning reports on the tortures are issued by human rights groups, and the International Red Cross.
So Gen. Taguba is dispatched to find out what happened and write an internal Army report on the mess; his conclusions are devastating. But nobody pays any attention to his report, which languishes in the Pentagon, basically unread. Then all hell breaks loose when the photos and videos of the degrading, humiliating, violent treatment makes its way into the American and world media. Something has to be done.
A few guards are fingered for courts-martial, some lower-level officers are disciplined and moved around, some interrogation tactics are altered, at least temporarily. The whole object is to ride out the wave of bad publicity, and keep the investigation away from those who set the policy, and the tone of behavior, in the first place -- i.e., in the Pentagon and the White House. The strategy seems to be working, but the impact has done its damage to the American cause, especially in the Muslim world.
THE MORAL LOW GROUND
Q. What damage? We're still whoopin' ass in Iraq and the story is off the front pages now.
A. Well, one of the big reasons why Bush's numbers are going lower and lower is that the last remaining reasonable justification for the war disappeared with those tortures and humiliations. There were no WMDs, no nuclear weapons, no imminent threat, no Iraq ties to Al Qaida -- the only claim the Americans still had was that it had toppled a brutal dictator and the cruel regime he ran, one rife with torture and death of prisoners in his care. Now, thanks to the reports and photos and videos, it turns out that prisoners in U.S. care were tortured, humiliated, sexually abused and, in some cases, even killed. There goes the last piece of moral high ground.
Q. OK, so that looks bad for Bush, I grant you. But he's been able to cut off the damage at the lower levels for now, so the neocons are still in control -- that would seem to bode well for Bush's election hopes, yes? But what about the Chalabi scandal?
THE CHALABI ENIGMA
A. We may never find out what that one's all about, it's so involved in multiple layers of spies and double-agents and triple crosses in the convoluted world of Middle East intrigue. The important point seems to be -- beyond the one of finding out which officials in the Pentagon and/or White House committed treason by providing Chalabi top-secret information -- that the long-simmering war between the so-called "realists" at State and the neo-con "ideologues" at Defense is getting nastier and nastier. Each group is finking and leaking on the other with increasing rapidity and nastiness. Condi was supposed to act as a buffer between the two, but it's just too intense.
Chalabi may well be a double- or even triple-agent, feeding us intelligence (some of which actually is good, to justify his pay-grade) at the same time he's passing on U.S. secrets to the Iranians and maybe the Syrians and Jordanians. He's a dangerous viper, but for the moment, has lost much of his power, and his neo-con backers can't get him back into the game, at least not until after the November election.
The "realists" are driving the show right now: witness the new Iraqi interim government, filled with politicians the U.S. can do business with. Sure, it's a rigged selection process -- the guys appointed by the Americans now have appointed themselves to the important portfolios in the interim government -- but supposedly it's only temporary until January. In truth, the whole affair seems designed to help Bush get through the November election, then all bets are off.
But if the situation on the ground continues to deteriorate much further, if the American troops can't provide protection for the Iraqi civilians and government officials and police, the U.S.-friendly new Iraqi government may find itself forced to move even more into the nationalist camp and, at some near-future point, demand that the U.S. take its troops and reconstruction companies and depart the country.
Q. Do you think the U.S. would leave if the Iraq government demanded it?
A. Before the U.S. election, yes: anything to get daily news reports of slaughtered U.S. soldiers and "contractors" (mercenaries) off the electoral front pages. The spin would be: "We came to rid Iraq of Saddam and help set up a functioning democracy; Saddam is gone and a democratic government has made a request we can't ignore." And some troops would be pulled out, slowly, with an eye on the election in the States.
But If Bush were to win in November, then my answer is a firm no. The logic would be: "We didn't come this far, and spend this much human and financial capital, to pack up and go home, our tails between our legs. We're in Iraq to help transform the entire Arab Middle East, stabilize the situation between Israel and its neighbors, and make sure the rich energy resources do not fall into the hands of the Bad Guys. We're staying, get used to it." The neo-con agenda would be re-activated; let the regime-changing begin anew.
FLAMING THE PLAME LEAKERS
Q. What about the Valerie Plame scandal, where two "senior Administration officials" outed the CIA covert agent as payback for her husband (Ambassador Joseph Wilson) revealing how Bush&Co. lied about "yellowcake" uranium in the State of the Union address? Are Karl Rove and Scooter Libby going to be fingered?
A. As John W. Dean and others have written, it could be worse than that. Both Cheney and Bush have approached criminal defense lawyers outside the White House for advice -- not a good sign. This felonious outing -- a bit of vindictiveness that has Rove M.O. written all over it -- always was a simmering pot that could blow up in their faces. Someone is going down on this one, with indictments coming soon; it's just a question of who the sacrificial lambs are going to be and at what level. Will it stop with the underlings or is it going up the line to Rove and Libby (Cheney's chief of staff) -- or, conceivably, if immunity deals are made, to Cheney and Bush? And will the indictments come this summer or right before the election, with the truth coming out at trial after November?
TENET: AN OPEN OR CLOSED MOUTH?
Q. What about CIA Director Tenet's resignation? What does this portend? Will it help or hurt Bush?
A. Whether the stone hits the pitcher or the pitcher hits the stone, it ain't good for the pitcher. The head of intelligence leaving in the midst of an election campaign centering on national security issues can only make Bush look more vulnerable. Whether Tenet was pushed or jumped on his own isn't really the point. Whether he keeps his mouth shut between now and November is the central question. So Bush&Co. have to play their deflection of blame onto the CIA with great sensitivity; the spooks are ready to lash back, with more leaks involving more scandalous Bush behavior, and Tenet might feel compelled to join in the fray to back up his former troops. How to keep Tenet quiet is the big job for Bush and Cheney.
Q. What about Cheney's scandals?
A. About time you mentioned his name, as he's far more vulnerable, in so many areas, than his sock-puppet in the Oval Office. Most of Cheney's scandals seem to involve energy -- the way Enron manipulated the California energy crisis, for example, with Cheney on the inside making sure Enron had free rein -- and his ultra-secret energy policy panel, which may have helped create the takeover of the Iraq oil fields. And, then, of course, there's Halliburton, his old company with which he claims he's no longer involved, even while there is evidence that he's deeply engaged. But, again, the whole aim of Cheney and Bush is to keep all this awfulness and political slime hidden under the rocks until after November. Wouldn't do to get impeached before the election.
Q. So much of what you've talked about seems to revolve around November 2. You seem to be cynically implying that everything Bush is doing now is based on winning that election, and that he's even willing to sacrifice his principles to gain a victory. I thought he was a strong guy who didn't flip flop or back down.
A. At this point, Bush/Cheney/Rove care about one thing and one thing only: staying in power. If they get kicked out of the White House in November, they can't complete their agenda of police-state powers at home, and controlling the world situation abroad. They will be in an extremely tenuous, vulnerable position, with many revenge-minded politicos and ordinary citizens working to get them convicted and into the federal slammer.
For all these reasons, be advised that Bush&Co. will do anything, ANYTHING, necessary to stay in the White House, including selling out their grandmothers, distorting the election vote-counts, and looking the other way while a major terrorist attack is mounted inside the U.S. (remembering 9/11 and thinking, perhaps erroneously, that if and when the big terrorist attack happens, the frightened populace once again will rally-'round-the-president).
If the Bushies were to emerge victorious in November, they would be a lame-duck administration, so all restraints would be off. They might well figure they'd be able to do whatever they want to do domestically and around the globe. Native-fascism at home, imperial wars abroad, wrecking even more of the environment, more extremist judges appointed, more corruption, the economy tanking, the middle-class getting squeezed even more, Social Security and Medicare down the tubes.
In sum, if you want to stop these guys, you've got to do it NOW.
Ph.D. in government, has written numerous "Dummies"-like
parodies, available at The Crisis Papers website ( crisispapers.org), which
he co-edits. He is a contributing author to the
just-released "Big Bush Lies" book, available at bookstores
and RiverWood Books (