From David Kelly to Valerie Plame

Mohamed Sid-Ahmed
From David Kelly to Valerie Plame
Mon Nov 17 03:10:46 2003

From David Kelly to Valerie Plame
Already facing accusations that they overstated the case for war, Bush and Blair are now facing serious political challenges at home, says Mohamed Sid-Ahmed

Mohamed Sid-Ahmed With Bush and Blair gearing up for upcoming elections in their respective countries, Middle East watchers are giving serious consideration to the possibility that neither man will be reelected. In addition to the growing belief among their constituents that they overstated the immediacy of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein to justify their preemptive war on Iraq, both men are now embroiled in scandals. The Bush administration is accused of illegally leaking the name of an undercover CIA agent, while the Blair government is accused of hounding weapons expert David Kelly to death. It is of course too early to predict the results of the forthcoming elections, but opinion polls indicate a growing scepticism in both America and Britain about the justification for going to war, and that many believe their decision-makers involved them in an unnecessary war in search of weapons that did not exist.

As recently as last April, Bush seemed invincible. But his bid for a second term in office is already running into difficulties. The much-touted "leadership qualities" he was credited with showing in the wake of 9/11 are no longer sufficient to shield him from any criticism, and both his domestic and foreign policies are coming increasingly under attack. His handling of the economy, which is blamed for the high unemployment rate, has eroded confidence in his leadership abilities, as has his involvement in a war that has turned out to be costlier than Americans were led to believe. Bush's popularity rating, which stood at 70 per cent at the time the war against Iraq was launched, has slid down to 50 per cent.

National security is no longer a taboo subject. Democratic presidential candidates are now openly criticising Bush's foreign policy. His recent request for 87 billion dollars to finance military operations and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan prompted them to accuse the Republican administration of not having planning properly for the post-war situation. Two of these candidates have called for the resignation of Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld.

Traditionally, American voters are less interested in foreign policy issues than in domestic problems, particularly the economy. However, the Iraqi dossier could have an unexpected impact, at least as far as the president's integrity and ability to lead are concerned. These qualities are now being challenged by the Democrats, who accuse his administration of ethical misconduct in the Valerie Plame affair. Plame, the wife of former US Ambassador Joseph Wilson, has been named as an undercover CIA operative. Divulging such highly classified information is a federal crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison, and a wide majority of American take it as a very serious offence.

Prominent members of the Democratic Party have called for an independent inquiry into the exposure of Plame as a CIA operative. The source of the leak is said to be a top advisor to the president, in an apparent effort to punish Plame's husband for discrediting the administration's arguments for going to war against Iraq. According to well- informed media sources in Washington, the opponents of the American president believe this is a serious political indiscretion that could seriously tarnish the image of the White House. Howard Dean and Wolsey Clark, both Democratic candidates for the presidency, are demanding that a special prosecutor, and not the Justice Department, be placed in charge of the investigation into the news leak. The White House had no choice but to declare its readiness to cooperate in the inquiry and to release all the necessary documents. However, it has denied that any of Bush's aides are involved in the affair, and presidential Spokesman Scott McClellan told journalists that there are no plans to launch a separate inquiry and that the Justice Department is the proper body to deal with the issue.

The story begins with the decision by US intelligence to send Joseph Wilson to Africa in February 2002 to investigate whether Iraq sought to purchase uranium from Niger. Although Wilson reported back that there was no evidence to support the allegation, Bush cited the alleged Niger deal as justifying the war on Iraq in his State of the Union address last January. In an article in the New York Times, Wilson accused the White House of ignoring his report and asked it to recognise its mistake. Shortly after Wilson's article appeared, Robert Novak wrote an article in the Washington Post reporting that members of Bush's inner circle had disclosed Victoria Plame's CIA connection in order to discredit her husband's vocal criticism of the Iraq war.

Across the Atlantic, British Prime Minister Tony Blair is in an even tighter corner. After 22 days of hearings, the inquiry into David Kelly's tragic suicide has come to an end. Seventy-five witnesses were heard during the independent inquiry, which stretched over six weeks this summer. Although this extended exercise in transparency, which included many of Britain's most prominent political figures, including the prime minister himself, cast light on the more shadowy aspects of British political life, it is a tribute to British democracy. But it will have a lasting effect on the collective memory of the British people.

Over the last six months, Blair has invoked the English saying, "wait and see", in response to charges that his government doctored intelligence to win support for an unpopular war, charges that are gaining ground in the light of the failure to find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Blair's credibility has been dealt an even more severe blow with the recent publication of a book entitled "Point of Departure", based on the diaries of his former foreign secretary, Robin Cook.

One year ago, Blair based his case for war in the House of Commons on an intelligence report claiming that Saddam Hussein was continuing to produce chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction, and that these could be deployed within 45 minutes. He also declared that Saddam was furnishing all possible efforts to obtain nuclear weapons. According to Cook, the prime minister told him two weeks before combat began that Iraq did not have quickly deployable WMDs, and that he did not believe Saddam posed a "real and present danger" to Britain. Cook's account, excerpts of which were published in The Sunday Times, is sure to adversely affect Blair's popularity, which has already slumped to its lowest point since he took office in 1997. At any rate, Blair no longer claims that Saddam was capable of producing, let alone deploying, WMDs. He now justifies the war as necessary because Saddam violated UN resolutions! Despite the fact that no weapons of mass destruction have been discovered, Blair still believes that his intervention in Iraq was justified, at least from the viewpoint of international law.

But such legal arguments have not convinced the majority of the British people that his decision to go to war was sound. According to a poll published by the Guardian a few days ago, 53 per cent of Britons consider the war against Iraq unjustified, while only 38 per cent consider it justified. In another poll published by The Times, 61 per cent of the British electorate do not trust their prime minister.

Actually, Tony Blair stands to lose more than Bush. Unlike the American president, whose grand objective in going to war was to bring about "regime change" and "liberate the Iraqi people", the British prime minister has all along maintained that his only aim in going to war was to destroy Saddam's arsenal of banned weapons, not to topple his regime. At last month's Labour Party Conference in Bournmouth, Blair adopted a defensive posture, telling furious anti-war members of his party who objected to his decision to keep Iraq off the agenda of the conference, to "Imagine yourselves in the position of the prime minister. You get information, not only about Iraq but also about the illegal trade in weapons of mass destruction. What do you do? I get this information. Can I discard it on the grounds that it is false?"

Blair is implying that the mistake is not his, but that of some of his subordinates. According to Kelly's family lawyer, the government used him as a tool in its battle with the BBC. Kelly was interrogated twice and, until the end, was not told he would be considered responsible for informing the BBC that the danger that Saddam represented and his ability to rapidly deploy his alleged arsenal of WMD had been exaggerated. It could be argued that Blair dealt with Kelly in a more humane manner than others did. But, in the final analysis, the prime minister is politically responsible for the entire operation, including its more cloudy aspects.

Searched the web for IRAQ WMD "David Kelly" "JOSEPH WILSON" CIA LEAK.


Outing a CIA Operative
A Special Prosecutor is Required


Sorely missing in the myriad of public debate concerning the need for a special counsel to investigate the leaked name of a CIA operative is one simple fact: It's required by the law.

Although the independent counsel law expired in 1999, the Justice Department promulgated regulations that require the appointment of a special counsel under specified circumstances. Under the regulations, the attorney general is required to appoint a special counsel when:

(1) a "criminal investigation of a person or matter is warranted,"

(2) the investigation "would present a conflict of interest for the Department" and

(3) "it would be in the public interest to appoint an outside special counsel to assume responsibility."

All three factors are present here.

The Justice Department has already answered the first question for us -- they have opened a criminal investigation into charges of disclosing the name of a covert agent.

Second, there is a clear conflict of interest. The Justice Department investigation is focused largely on the White House, which has already been directed to preserve all relevant records. The trail may lead to Karl Rove, who is reported to be responsible for John Ashcroft's very appointment and was a consultant to his political campaigns. Or it may involve someone else on the White House staff.

Either way, it is inconceivable that such an investigation of the office that heads our entire government could not present a conflict for a subordinate agency.

Third, it is in the public interest to appoint a special counsel.

This investigation goes to the very integrity of our federal government. If it is true that the White House condoned the outing of a CIA operative -- the wife of Joseph Wilson, former acting ambassador to Iraq -- in order to embarrass Wilson, this would undermine the justification for the Iraq war and create a political firestorm.

Only an independent probe conducted by an individual of unimpeachable credentials can assure the public that the investigation is not biased. An administration that promised "to change the tone" in Washington should not be solely concerned with whether a crime has been committed but also about the unseemly appearance of White House attempts to smear truth-telling critics.

For those who argue the "career" people can conduct the investigation, I invite them to read the various safeguards built into the special counsel regulations.

They require that the prosecutor be an outside person with a "reputation for integrity"; can seek whatever resources are necessary to pursue the case; and is not subject to the day-to-day supervision of the Department of Justice. He or she can only be fired for misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity or other good cause. Moreover, when the prosecutor completes his investigation, the attorney general is required to provide a written explanation of why any action proposed by the special counsel was not pursued. None of these procedural safeguards are available to protect the career employees pursuing the CIA leak absent the appointment of a special counsel.

It is also asserted that cries for special prosecutors are mere politics. But it was none other than then-Sen. John Ashcroft who in 1997 declared, "A single allegation can be most worthy of a special prosecutor. If you're abusing government property, if you're abusing your status in office, it can be a single fact that makes the difference on that."

When it comes to ethics, this is an administration that has gone to extremes to avoid independent scrutiny. Whether it is investigating the president's good friend Ken Lay or former Army Secretary Thomas White in the Enron scandal, Vice President Dick Cheney in the Halliburton case or the involvement of top Republican legislators in trading campaign contributions for legislative favors on behalf of Westar, Attorney General Ashcroft has not seen fit to open a single independent investigation.

If the president is really serious about cracking down on leaks within the White House, I would urge him to personally ask the attorney general to appoint a special counsel. There is precedent for the president himself to take such action.

Indeed, when charges were made concerning President Bill Clinton's involvement in the Whitewater land deal in 1993, he asked Attorney General Janet Reno to appoint a special prosecutor, and she complied.

Here the charge -- outing a CIA operative -- is far more serious. The law mandates no less.

U.S. REP. JOHN CONYERS JR., D-Detroit, who represents the 14th District, is ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee. Write to him at 2426 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515.

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