William Rivers Pitt: Setting the Record Straight
Setting the Record Straight
By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Wednesday 19 April 2006
I hear the voices. And I read the front page. And I know the speculation. But I'm the decider and I decide what is best.
- George W. Bush, 18 April 2006
Bill Simmons, an excellent sportswriter for ESPN, uses a yardstick he calls the Unintentional Comedy Rating to measure the humor of events that were not designed to be funny. For example, level 86 on a scale of 100 is achieved by "any Wimbledon interview where Bud Collins tried to say something foreign to a non-American champion like 'danke shein.'"
A recent perusal of the White House web site unearthed a page that, I think, scores a perfect 100 on the Simmons scale. The page is titled Setting the Record Straight, and is intended to carry forth the administration's argument that it did nothing wrong in pushing for the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Note the rough-edged graphic at the top, meant to display the gritty reality of truth according to Bush and the boys. It isn't funny, not at all, and yet ... it is unintentional comedy of the purest ray serene, a perfect 100 no matter what the East German judges have to say. It is almost, dare I say, sublime.
Take note of the lack of substance to be found. Specifically, note that the rebuttals to accusations of wrongdoing offered here by the White House stop at November of 2005. That's funny all by itself. Just about every action taken by this administration that is now being exposed took place well before 2005. Most, including the leaking of Valerie Plame's name and the decisions to use false and debunked intelligence to defend the decision to invade, took place in 2003.
One document that is conspicuously absent from the White House's rebuttal page is the background briefing held by a "senior administration official" from July 18, 2003. The briefing focused on what the official described as "key judgments of the National Intelligence Estimate." Those key judgments, according to the official, conclude that Iraq was in possession of weapons of mass destruction, was embarked upon a significant program to develop nuclear weapons and had pursued uranium from Niger for this purpose.
We now know that the "senior administration official" delivering this briefing was none other than Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Cheney, who is currently under indictment for perjury in the Plame investigation. The talking points from this July 18 briefing had already been given by Libby to New York Times reporter Judith Miller ten days before. Authorization for this leak to Miller came from none other than George W. Bush, who instructed Cheney to "get it out."
The reason for the scramble to spread the White House's version of WMD reality in Iraq has since become crystal clear: they were desperate to put forth a rebuttal to the editorial by Ambassador Joseph Wilson, published on July 6 by the New York Times, which completely dismantled the claims of nuclear threat from Iraq put forth by the administration to justify invasion.
The Libby leak to Miller, and the July 18 briefing ten days later, were all part of a coordinated effort by the White House to undermine and discredit Wilson. In the process, those involved outed Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, who was at the time a deep-cover CIA agent running a network dedicated to tracking any person, nation or group that might give weapons of mass destruction to terrorists.
It seems that for this White House, setting the record straight does not need to include these matters. Certainly, setting the record straight does not include the revelations made by the release of a newly declassified State Department memo described in a late-breaking story by t r u t h o u t investigative journalist Jason Leopold.
"Sixteen days before President Bush's January 28, 2003, State of the Union address," reported Leopold, "in which he said that the US learned from British intelligence that Iraq had attempted to acquire uranium from Africa - an explosive claim that helped pave the way to war - the State Department told the CIA that the documents the uranium claims were based upon were forgeries, according to a newly declassified State Department memo. The revelation of the warning from the closely guarded State Department memo is the first piece of hard evidence and the strongest to date that the Bush administration manipulated and ignored intelligence information in their zeal to win public support for invading Iraq."
The warnings from the State Department were joined at the time by reservations voiced by the International Atomic Energy Agency and American intelligence agencies, all of whom made concerted efforts to deliver their doubts to the White House. The doubts expressed were enough to keep Secretary of State Colin Powell from using the uranium-from-Niger claims in his now-infamous presentation to the United Nations. The White House, however, denies ever having been informed of such warnings.
"One high-ranking State Department official," reported Leopold, "said that when the department's analysts briefed Colin Powell about the Niger forgeries, Powell met with former Director of the CIA George Tenet and shared that information with him. Tenet then told Vice President Dick Cheney and then-National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice and her former deputy, Stephen Hadley, that the uranium claims were 'dubious,' according to current and former State Department and CIA officials who have direct knowledge of what Tenet discussed with the White House at the time. The White House has long maintained that they were never briefed about the State Department's or the CIA's concerns related to the Niger uranium claims."
Leopold's report carries this statement from a high-ranking State Department official: "I refuse to believe that the findings of a four-star general and an envoy the CIA sent to Niger to personally investigate the accuracy of the intelligence, as well as our own research at the State Department, never got into the hands of President Bush or Vice President Cheney. I don't buy it."
Another bit of the record that has yet to be set straight can still be found on the White House web site, on a page titled Disarm Saddam Hussein. On this page, dated April 18, 2003, the White House states with no ambiguity that Iraq is in possession of 26,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin, 500 tons of sarin, mustard gas and VX nerve agent - 500 tons being 1,000,000 pounds - plus almost 30,000 munitions to deliver the stuff, mobile biological weapons labs and connections to al Qaeda. The uranium-from-Niger accusations are also present here. These items were lifted directly from the text of Bush's 2003 State of the Union address.
Amusingly enough, the first item on the White House's "Setting the Record Straight" page is a scolding, directed at the Washington Post, for reporting that the administration knew that the mobile weapons labs claims were utter baloney when they made them. As for the anthrax, botulinum toxin, sarin, mustard gas, VX gas, munitions and connections to al Qaeda ... well ... the world now knows how true that was.
Setting the record straight? It is to laugh ... until you see the headlines from Tuesday:
Reuters: Ministry Copes With Rising Numbers of Orphaned Children
AP: Two Bodies Found in Baghdad
Reuters: Four Bodies Found in Yusufiya
KUNA: Two US Soldiers Wounded in Baghdad
AP: Clashes Force Closure of Baghdad District
Reuters: Gunmen Wound Three Policemen in Baiji
Reuters: Gunmen Kill Policeman, Wound Two Others in Tikrit
MassLive: Marine Injured by Bomb
Reuters: Baghdad Street Battle Smacks of Open Civil War
BNA: Gunmen Kill Two Endowment Authority Employees in Touz Kharmato
AP: Gunmen Kill Policeman in Basra, Bomb Wounds Civilian in Baghdad
AP: Bomb Under Couch at Baghdad Cafe Kills 7
AFP: New Rift Mars Iraq Unity Government Talks
AP: Car Bomb Kills Two Police in Iraq
It is to laugh, until you read the butcher's bill. 2,377 American soldiers have been killed, 49 of those deaths coming in the first eighteen days of April. Tens of thousands more have been wounded. Tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians have been killed and maimed. The country, and indeed the entire region, teeters on the verge of total chaos.
This administration thinks it can set the record straight with a page on their web site? Now that's funny. If the record were indeed ever made truly straight, if all the lies that have been told to such bloody and costly effect were presented before an empowered investigation or inside a courtroom, the men and women within this administration would be staring down the barrel of significant prison time.
Impeachment? That's small potatoes. They'd all be in jail for premeditated murder.
William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence.