The Crime and the Cover-Up
By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Monday 21 July 2003
The scandal axiom in Washington states that it is not the crime that destroys you, but the cover-up. Today in Washington you can hear terms like 'Iraqgate' and 'Weaponsgate' bandied about, but such obtuse labels do not provide an explanation for the profound movements that are taking place.
Clearly, there is a scandal brewing over the Iraq war and the Bush administration claims of Iraqi weapons arsenals that led to the shooting. Clearly, there is a cover-up taking place. Yet this instance, the crimes that have led to the cover-up are worse by orders of magnitude than the cover-up itself.
The simple fact is that America went to war in Iraq because George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and virtually every other public face within this administration vowed that Iraq had vast stockpiles of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. America went to war because these people vowed that Iraq had direct connections to al Qaeda, and by inference to the attacks of September 11.
"Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised," said Bush on March 17, 2003.
"We know now that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons," said Cheney on August 26, 2002.
"There is no doubt'' that Saddam Hussein ''has chemical weapons stocks,'' said Powell to FOX News on September 8, 2002.
"Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications, and statements by people now in custody reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of Al Qaeda," said Bush in his State of the Union address. On September 26, 2002, Don Rumsfeld laid the groundwork for Bush's statement by claiming that America had "bulletproof" evidence of Iraqi involvement with al Qaeda.
These public statements, augmented by hundreds more in the same vein, stoked fears within an already shellshocked American populace that Iraqi nuclear weapons and anthrax would come raining out of the sky at any moment, unless something was done. This same information was delivered in dire tones to Congress, which voted for war on Iraq based almost exclusively on the testimony of CIA Director George Tenet.
None of it was true. Not one ounce of chemical, biological or nuclear weaponry has been found in Iraq in the 82 days since "hostilities ceased" on May 1, 2003. Not one ounce of chemical, biological or nuclear weaponry has been found in Iraq in the 124 days since the shooting in Iraq officially started on March 19, 2003. Not one ounce of chemical, biological or nuclear weaponry has been found in Iraq in the 230 days since the UNMOVIC weapons inspections began in Iraq in late November of 2002. No proof whatsoever of Iraqi connections to al Qaeda has been established.
Recently, the scandal over the missing Iraq weapons and the Bush administration claims has focused on whether or not Iraq was trying to procure uranium "yellow cake" from Niger in order to reconstitute a nuclear weapons program. The last two weeks have shown decisively that the Bush administration used manufactured evidence, which had been denounced from virtually all corners of the American intelligence community, to justify their war. The administration's explanation for this has changed by the hour - They weren't told by the CIA, and then they were told but Bush and Cheney never heard about it, but it was only sixteen words in one speech, so everybody calm down.
No one is calming down. When the President of the United States terrifies the American people in his constitutionally-mandated State of the Union speech with nuclear threats based upon evidence that was universally known to be shoddily forged garbage, no one should calm down. When he uses that terror to make war on a nation that was no threat to America , no one should calm down. When over 200 American soldiers and thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians die because of this, no one should calm down. When that grisly body count rises every single day, no one should calm down.
The Niger nuclear forgery scandal is merely an accent in this criminal symphony. It has become all too clear that a small cadre of ultra-conservative hawks within the administration led us to where we are today with absolutely no oversight from the rest of the government. This group managed the run-up to war by creating demonstrably exaggerated interpretations of intelligence reports, and used 'insider data' from people with many good reasons to help lie America into this war.
The Office of Special Plans, or OSP, was created by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld specifically to second-guess and reinterpret intelligence data to justify war in Iraq . The OSP was staffed by rank amateurs, civilians whose ideological pedigree suited Rumsfeld and his cabal of hawks. Though this group was on no government payroll and endured no Congressional oversight, their information and interpretations managed to prevail over the data being provided by the State Department and CIA. This group was able to accomplish this incredible feat due to devoted patronage from high-ranking ultra-conservatives within the administration, including Vice-President Cheney.
The highest levels of the OSP were staffed by heavy-hitters like Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith, and William Luti, a former Navy officer who worked for Cheney before joining the Pentagon. These two men, along with their civilian advisors, worked according to a strategy that they hoped would recreate Iraq into an Israeli ally, destroy a potential threat to Persian Gulf oil trade, and wrap U.S. allies around Iran . The State Department and CIA saw this plan as being badly flawed and based upon profoundly questionable intelligence. The OSP responded to these criticisms by cutting State and CIA completely out of the loop. By the time the war came, nearly all the data used to justify the action to the American people was coming from the OSP. The American intelligence community had been totally usurped.
When the OSP wanted to change or exaggerate evidence of Iraqi weapons capabilities, they sent Vice President Cheney to CIA headquarters on unprecedented visits where he demanded "forward-leaning" interpretations of the evidence. When Cheney was unable to go to the CIA, his chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, went in his place.
On three occasions, former congressman Newt Gingrich visited CIA in his capacity as a "consultant" for ultra-conservative hawk Richard Perle and his Defense Policy Board. According to the accounts of these visits, Gingrich browbeat the analysts to toughen up their assessments of the dangers posed by Hussein. He was allowed access to the CIA and the analysts because he was a known emissary of the OSP.
The main OSP source of data on Iraqi weapons, and on the manner in which the Iraqi people would greet their 'liberators,' was Ahmad Chalabi. Chalabi was the head of the Iraqi National Congress, an exile group seeking since 1997 the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Chalabi had been hand-picked by Don Rumsfeld to be the leader of Iraq after the removal of Saddam Hussein, despite the fact that he had been convicted in 1992 of 32 counts of bank fraud by a Jordanian court and sentenced in absentia to 22 years in prison. It apparently never occurred to Rumsfeld and the OSP that Chalabi had a lot of reasons to lie. It seems they were too enamored of the data he was providing, because that data fully justified the course of action they had been set upon since September 11, 2001.
Chalabi was the main source behind claims that Iraq had connections to al Qaeda. Chalabi was the main source behind claims that Iraq was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. Chalabi was the main source behind claims that the Iraqi people would rise up and embrace their American invaders. Chalabi's claims on this last matter are the main reason post-war Iraq is in complete chaos, because Rumsfeld assumed the logistics for repairing Iraq would be simple - The joyful Iraqis would do it for him.
According to a story entitled "Planners Faulted in Iraq Chaos" by Knight-Ridder reporters Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel, published on July 13, Chalabi proved to be a dangerous wild card. Chalabi's association with and influence over the OSP, however, continued unabated:
"The Chalabi scheme was dealt another major blow in February, a month before the war started, when U.S. intelligence agencies monitored him conferring with hard-line Islamic leaders in Tehran , Iran , a State Department official said. About that time, an Iraqi Shiite militia that was based in Iran and known as the Badr Brigade began moving into northern Iraq , setting off alarm bells in Washington . Cheney, once a strong Chalabi backer, ordered the Pentagon to curb its support for the exiles, the official said. Yet Chalabi continued to receive Pentagon assistance, including backing for a 700-man paramilitary unit. The U.S. military flew Chalabi and his men at the height of the war from the safety of northern Iraq to an air base outside the southern city of Nasiriyah in expectation he would soon take power."
Chalabi never took power. Instead, Paul Bremer was installed as the American proconsul in Iraq , ostensibly with orders to bring stability and liberty to the country. This last aspect is the final lie, the most repugnant crime, perpetrated against the civilians of that ravaged nation.
I spoke last week with a woman named Jodie Evans, long-time peace activist and organizer of a group called the International Occupation Watch Center , or IOWC. The purpose of the IOWC is to stand as watchdogs in Iraq over the corporate contracts being doled out, and to view in person what is happening to the Iraqi people. "I think that if you were against the war, then you need to be there," said Evans, "because there is no one in Iraq who is for the Iraqi people, and the people know it. They know it."
Evans had just returned from Baghdad . Upon her arrival to the city, she saw the demonstrable chaos caused by the war, and by the abject failure to repair the country in the aftermath. "It was 120 degrees, it was dusty, the air had a haze that makes everything gray," said Evans. "The buildings you see on the road are bombed out. In some, you can see the fire coming up. In some, you only see the scaffolding of contorted metal. We got across our bridge and turned right onto the street we know so well, the one we've stayed on, and every building was either boarded up or bombed out, including the United Nations DP. It was all bombed in, the windows were black from the fire."
"Immediately after we arrived," said Evans, "we hear that it is not only worse than before the war. It is worse than during the war. People are upset, people are angry. There were lots of stories about how the Americans are doing this on purpose. A month after the '91 war, which was much worse than this one, everything was back and working. Now, the people live in this chaos they can't even imagine. People can't go outside. Women haven't left their homes. Lots of people haven't come back from Syria or Kuwait or wherever they fled to get away from the bombing, because life in Iraq is unlivable. There is 65% unemployment, and even the doctors and nurses and teachers who are going to work don't get paid, so there's no money."
Evans met a number of Americans in Iraq who are part of the 'rebuilding process.' One such person was in the Compound, a guarded palace that is now home to Bremer's office and staff along with a number of other groups. The overall organization is called the Iraqi Assistance Center , or IAC. The man Evans met was a professor of religion and political theory at a religious college in America . He explained that his job was to collect intelligence for Bremer.
"That professor I spoke to, the one doing intelligence for Bremer, I told him that I had spoken to countless Iraqis and all of them felt this chaos was happening on purpose," said Evans. "He basically said this was true, that chaos was good, and out of chaos comes order. So what the Iraqis were saying - that this madness was all on purpose - this intelligence guy didn't discredit. He said, 'If you keep them hungry, they'll do anything for us.'"
"I met the man who was hired to create a new civil government in Baghdad , to bring Baghdad back to order," said Evans. "His name was Gerald Lawson. I asked him what his background was that allowed him to get this job. He said he was in the Atlanta Police for 30 years. I asked how this gave him the ability to create a stable, civil government. He said he was a manager. I asked him what he knew about Iraqis. He knew nothing, and didn't care to know anything. He didn't know their history, their government, didn't speak a word of Arabic and didn't care to learn. This guy doesn't work for the American government, doesn't work for the State Department, and doesn't work for the CPA. He works for a corporation created by ex-Generals. Their job is to create the new Iraqi government structure."
"We met the man whose job is to make sure the hospitals have what they need," said Evans. "He is a veterinarian. We met a British guy who showed up at the Compound gates one day and said he was a volunteer who wanted to help. The next day he was named the head of rubbish control in Baghdad , which is a huge problem there because there is garbage all over the street. I asked him what he had been doing with his time. He said he'd been hanging out at Odai's palace playing with the lions and the cheetahs. I met the guy in charge of designing the airport, where major jumbo jets are supposed to land. He had never designed an airport before."
"Another man I spoke to associated with this process is named Don Munson," said Evans. "His job is civilian affairs policy. He said to me, 'We are replacing one dictatorship with another.' He's there for two years, and he works in the palace on the first floor."
"Remember," said Evans, "that the first thing America did was to fire 80,000 police officers. These guys weren't associated with the Hussein regime. That's like connecting a cop in LA to the Bush administration. All the people I've talked to over there, the ambassadors and others, said they warned Bremer not to do that. The cops knew who the criminals were, and 80,000 cops are gone. So now there are these little mafias that run neighborhoods. With no other work and no way to survive, people are going to become criminals. The borders are wide open - we didn't even get stopped when we came in - so everything is just flowing into Iraq ."
"A friend of mine's husband is an ambassador," said Evans. "I asked him if this was normal operating procedure. He said that, basically, no one will work on this Iraq project who has any respect for their work or career, because it is so clearly a farce. He said that later we will go in after these guys have blown it, but right now with Bremer there it is a farce. Even the press is over there are just shaking their heads and asking, can anyone fail so badly? Can anybody make so many mistakes? You can't imagine they can be so dumb."
"One Iraqi woman I spoke to," said Evans, "said she feels like Iraq is a wounded animal, and everyone is coming in to take their piece of flesh."
The cover-up is one thing, the crime is another. The Bush administration, mainly in the form of Rumsfeld's Office of Special Plans, disregarded any and all intelligence which said Iraq was no threat. They supplanted reliable data with a slew of lies and exaggerations that were fed daily to the American people and Congress, and got their war. In the aftermath, nothing is being done for the millions of Iraqi civilians who suffer daily under their newfound 'liberty.'
American soldiers continue to die. Two more, men from the 101st Airborne, were killed early Sunday when their convoy was attacked with rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire. "You have these young American soldiers sitting in turrets," said Jodie Evans, "just sitting ducks for the rage and frustration and vengeance that is coming out."
This is a crime without peer in the annals of American history. The cover-up currently underway must not be allowed to succeed.
When the American government gets hijacked by extremists like the men staffing the Office of Special Plans, when intelligence data stating flatly that Iraq presents no threat to America is disregarded or exaggerated because the truth does not fit ideological desires, when Congress is lied to, when the American people are lied to, when innocent civilians at the sharp end of these lies are left to rot in the dust and the bomb craters on purpose, when American soldiers are shot down in the street because of these lies, no kind of cover-up can be allowed to succeed.
The time has indeed come for a reckoning. Let it begin, and let it begin soon.
Author's Note: The data surrounding this developing story is voluminous, and seems to change every time an administration representative opens his or her mouth. I have collected below the last few stories I have written on this subject in chronological order. Please utilize this data to further your understanding of this matter.
We Used To Impeach Liars (6/3/03)
The Dog Ate My WMDs (6/13/03)
Interview with 27-Year CIA Veteran Ray McGovern (6/26/03)
The Insiders Are Coming Out (7/8/03)
Mr. Bush, You Are A Liar (7/11/03)
The Dubious Suicide of George Tenet (7/14/03)
- - - - -
William Rivers Pitt is the Managing Editor of truthout.org. He is a New York Times best-selling author of two books - "War On Iraq" available now from Context Books, and "The Greatest Sedition is Silence," now available from Pluto Press here.