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David Swanson: Peering Under the Plame Outing

Peering Under the Plame Outing

Remarks at "Plan B for Baghdad" Event, Denver, Col., October 15, 2005
By David Swanson

I wrote these remarks down on Thursday, when a Washington Post columnist was pleading with Patrick Fitzgerald to please just go away, and a New York Times news article was claiming that if Lewis Libby leaked anything, he did so with the best of intentions. Meanwhile virtually no voices in the corporate media were asking why Joe Wilson had to be attacked, who had made the false claims that Wilson had debunked, and who had forged the documents that the Bush Administration had used to claim that Iraq was developing nuclear weapons – or, in the case of Dick Cheney, that Iraq already had nuclear weapons.

What I think we need, more than anything else, is a broader view of the situation we're in. Let's look at this war from a thousand miles up.

There are those who believe in such a thing as a just war. Many of them supported this war early on and have since changed their minds. And you can see why. Because, if there is such a thing a just war, this is the opposite. A just war, if we can fantasize about it, would be fought by the people who decided to wage it, would be fought purely in self-defense, would be decided upon in a democratic process with public information, would be based on generally honest information, would be fought with respect for the subsection of human rights that international law holds to apply even in war, and would not be exploited to limit rights domestically, destroy useful domestic programs, or transfer public wealth to the wealthy.

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I want to focus on one of the general areas that makes this a model unjust war, namely the lies that were used to launch it. I'm not an intelligence expert. I'm just an activist who's been part of a campaign that has made some noise in Congress and in the media about these lies. Still, I have faith in my own ability and that of the general public to grasp the important points here. For one thing, the important points here could hardly be more absurd had we just lived through a Marx Brothers movie.

Unmanned aircraft coming to kill us within 45 minutes! A mushroom cloud! Diseases, poisons, gasses! As a movie this would not make a millionth of the money the real thing cost.

Bush took office with the goal of removing Saddam Hussein written into the Republican Party platform. He immediately began demanding intelligence claims that could be used to justify that, and he intensified that demand immediately after September 11th. Cheney made at least 10 trips to the CIA to apply pressure, and the Pentagon set up its own shadow CIA in case the CIA couldn't be sufficiently pressured. Multiple CIA staff have independently told multiple reporters that they were instructed that "Bush wants to go to war, it's your job to give him a reason to do so."

And what reasons did the White House end up with? (And let's note that these were all reasons that most of the world rejected.)

First, a lot of the claims about Iraq having so-called weapons of mass destruction were based on statements made by Hussein Kamel, son-in-law of Saddam Hussein, who said at the same time that Iraq had destroyed all of its weapons of mass destruction in 1991. But the Bush gang accidentally left out that little fact with great consistency.

After the U.S. Department of Energy informed the White House that aluminum tubes being sent to Iraq were not suitable for use in developing nuclear weapons, the Bushies went out and claimed the opposite with absolute certainty.

A likely alcoholic informant to German spies, whom the Germans labeled "out of control" and "a waste of time" and named Curveball was used to justify Bush's claims about biological weapons, even though U.S. intelligence knew that the so-called weapons labs were actually making hydrogen for weather balloons.

Forged documents that wouldn't have gotten past my high school teachers were used to claim that Iraq was buying uranium, even though the CIA and the State Department thought that was nonsense and succeeded in having the claim removed from some Bush speeches before it made its way into his State of the Union address in 2003.

Meanwhile, doing their best Keystone Kops imitation, if we give them credit for honesty, U.S. intelligence gatherers were spotting increased activity at suspicious sites in Iraq, not realizing that what they were observing was not an increase in activity, but an increased frequency at which they themselves were taking satellite snapshots.

The intelligence community produced a National Intelligence Estimate for Congress, but it was 93-pages long. Only 17 Congress Members claim they read it. Most of Congress read, if anything, a 25-page unclassified version, which oddly made claims with a lot more confidence than did the longer paper.

Colin Powell put on a performance at the United Nations that went against countless warnings and advice from his own State Department and others, and as far as anyone knows included claims and audio recordings and photographic analyses that were quite simply made up.

The U.S. and the British said they needed UN approval for the war, didn't get it, and launched the war anyway.

The war makers said they wanted to find weapons in Iraq. Inspectors in Iraq concluded the weapons weren't there, and the U.S. launched the war anyway.

The Bush Administration's claims about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda were as laughable as all the claims about weapons. But they were made over and over again, and not debunked effectively by the media. As we meet today, a third of Americans still believe that Saddam Hussein was working with Osama Bin Laden.

A fair amount of the evidence of all of this dishonesty was made public through the mass media, but usually on page 18 in an article with an unrelated headline or in the cartoon section in the Boondocks cartoon, and in a newspaper with the lies trumpeted as truth on the front page.

In a survey of voters last November, the University of Maryland's PIPA, the Program on International Policy Attitudes, found that most of those who got their news from the commercial TV networks held at least 1 of 3 fundamental "misperceptions" about the war in Iraq (and some held 2 or 3 of them):

-- that Iraq had been directly linked to 9/11
-- that WMDs had been found in Iraq
-- that world opinion supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Viewers of Fox News were the most misled. But strong majorities of CBS, ABC, NBC and CNN viewers were also confused on at least one of these points. Among those informed on all 3 questions, only 23 percent supported Bush's war.

In May of this year, the British and European media made a huge story out of something they called the Downing Street Memo and, in subsequent weeks, of an additional seven related documents also leaked from high level sources in the British government.

I worked with an attorney and constitutional law expert named John Bonifaz, the President of Bob Fertik, the Director of Progressive Democrats of America Tim Carpenter, political strategist Steve Cobble, and brilliant researcher Jon Schwartz to pull together a large coalition in this country aimed at pressuring the media and Congress to pursue this topic. We called ourselves After Downing Street. The website is

We actually managed by the middle of June to make the Downing Street Memo a front-page story, a topic on the cable word wrestling shows, and the subject of a Democratic hearing on Capitol Hill. This effort was considered by some writers to be one of the progressive blogosphere's first successful efforts to force an uncovered issue into the corporate media. But by the end of June the media had lost interest, even as things progressed in Congress.

When we started demanding media coverage in May, the most common response we received from editors and producers was that the Downing Street Memo was old news. The Washington Post wrote an editorial to that effect, and then following protests printed a front-page story a week or so later. Of course, on one level the claim that this was old news was dishonest and disgusting. Editors may have long since known that the Bushies lied, but their readers and viewers largely did not know. And editors knew this ignorance was responsible for public support for the war, limited as it was. The corporate media never treated the lies as big stories, and as a result many military recruits and their mothers and fathers did not know about them. They should have been told.

On another level, though, there was truth to the claim that this was old news. If you had a lot of free time and pieced together all the books by former administration officials, declassified reports, public statements, official communications, and serious reporting, you had a very strong case that Bush lied, well before the Downing Street Memo showed up. We've posted links to much of this evidence down the left hand side of the After Downing Street website. If you want a good summary, I highly recommend the first 34 pages of a book called "Oil, Power, & Empire" by Larry Everest. For a more detailed examination of the evidence, try a book called "Hood-Winked" by John Prados.

What was new about the Downing Street Memo was that it made us a fly on the wall inside a top level meeting. This so-called memo was actually the official minutes of a meeting of Prime Minister Tony Blair with Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Then Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon, Attorney General Lord Goldsmith, Chief of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) Sir Richard Dearlove, Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee John Scarlett, Chief of Defence Staff Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, and top aide Sir David Manning. The Downing Street Memo is an incredibly frank glimpse of something we were never meant to see.

What these minutes, and the accompanying documents – particularly the cabinet office paper produced in preparation for that meeting -- confirm for us from very authoritative sources are the following points.

1. Bush had already decided to go to war long before approaching Congress or the public or the UN about it – Indeed, he had already started the attack with increased bombings
2. Bush had already decided to lie about weapons of mass destruction and ties to 9-11
3. The Brits were concerned by the illegality of an aggressive war, but Bush didn't care – The UK Attorney General was quite specific that the war would be illegal without the UN – a few days before the invasion he changed his mind without giving a reason
4. Going to the UN was an attempt to justify the war, and the hope was to craft an ultimatum that Saddam Hussein would reject
5. The focus of the Bush and Blair administrations was on selling the war to the public, and not at all on trying to avoid it
6. The Bush and Blair administrations were aware that Iraq was no threat, and were willing to attack Iraq precisely because it posed no serious threat of fighting back

After Downing Street began making a case for an investigation into grounds for impeachment. Our argument focused on the letter that Bush gave Congress on March 18, 2003, explaining why the war was necessary. His two reasons were the "threat posed by Iraq" and the need to "take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001."

If these were lies, they were felonies. If they were felonies, they were high crimes, the highest imaginable: taking the nation to war on the basis of lies. Impeachment was trivialized under Clinton, and under Clinton's desk, but Clinton's lies didn't kill 100,000 people, destroy foreign alliances, divert the National Guard from guarding the nation, waste hundreds of billions of dollars, promote unsustainable energy practices, or create a training ground for terrorists. A training ground for right wing whackos maybe, but not terrorists.

Interestingly, when the top news story was impeachment of Clinton, and we had to watch Kenneth Starr walk to the end of his driveway to get his newspaper every morning, only 36 percent of Americans supported hearings to consider impeachment, and only 26 percent supported actual impeachment and removal.

Now, when impeachment simply does not exist in the media or Congress, 50 percent of Americans support impeaching Bush if he lied about the war. And a majority believes he lied about the war.

The recent poll on impeachment was conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs, a non-partisan polling company that regularly polls for the Associated Press. But After Downing Street had to raise money and then pay Ipsos to ask the question. And the corporate media hasn't covered the results.

Among Democrats, the poll found that 72 percent favor impeachment. Among independents, 56 percent. So, we are making plans to enlarge our campaign and increase the pressure on the media to talk about it and on Democrats in Congress to introduce it. Not a single Democrat will touch it yet. Please call your Congress Member on Monday morning and ask them to introduce articles of impeachment because Bush lied about the war.

And please don't worry that we would then be stuck with Cheney. First of all, we can't shirk our responsibility to impeach a criminal because there's another one. If we don't do it, we can be sure there will be another one. The second panel today plans to talk about the costs of the war. This is a big one. If we don't hold responsible those who take us to war with blatant lies, they will do it again and again.

Secondly, we're unlikely to get a serious investigation of Bush that doesn't expose Cheney as well. Cheney may even be indicted and convicted before we stick Bush on that famous bus back to Crawford, Texas.

Third, we may not manage to impeach Bush, but unless we try, we waste a golden opportunity to further erode his undeserved vestiges of credibility, and we fail to do what we must to build an opposition party. There are those who say that the Democrats should deal with the tough issues just as soon as they're back in the majority in Congress.

I say nobody will vote the Dems a majority BEFORE the Dems stand for something. This whole chorus of "We'll try it once we have the majority," is self-contradictory. You can't GET the majority that way.

It's also inconsistent, because Dems are introducing and fighting for some bills, just not others, and are fighting for bills that no one would bet will pass.

And this way of thinking is also at odds with the record. When you elect Democrats with this line of thinking, you get the sort of Democrats who still don't do anything. In Washington D.C., people HAVE NO REPRESENTATION IN CONGRESS. And for how many years did a Democratic majority fail to do anything about that?

The Republicans moved into the majority through aggressive futile attacks and getting a message to THEIR base, not OURS. They still propose hopeless initiatives, like an amendment to ban same-sex marriage. But they win votes.

The first member of Congress to introduce articles of impeachment will help revive the Democratic Party and become a living folk hero, adored and praised by a greater outpouring of gratitude and support than most politicians can even dream about.


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