Unjust war is the only issue Iraq changes everything.
Unjust war is the only issue Iraq changes everything.
Wed Jan 21 13:26:02 2004

Unjust war is the only issue Iraq changes everything.

Without it, we'd be having an interesting discussion about George W. Bush's tax cuts and whether his deficit spending threatens the nation's economic well-being.

We'd be arguing over his environmental and energy policies.

We'd be debating his court appointments, his immigration policies, the future of Social Security, the state of public schools, health insurance coverage and whether the federal government should influence personal choices like abortion, marriage and the right to die.

In other words, we'd be thrashing out the important topics of a typical presidential campaign, to discern which candidate has the best ideas for America.

But a deafening roar is drowning out the customary din of political conversation.

High stakes

America under Bush started a war, killed thousands of people, sacrificed hundreds of her own valiant soldiers and conquered a soveriegn nation, using the justification that this foreign government participated in a heinous terrorist attack and posed an immediate and serious danger to America.

Which wasn't true.

And now I'm having a dreadful time paying attention to any of the other relevant issues of this campaign. What can compare to the single-handed destruction of the legacy America spent 227 hard years crafting -- a commitment to justice, principle and the rule of law?

Not much makes me weep. I wept on Sept. 11, 2001, crumpled in a heap before a television. But I also wept on March 19, 2003, the day Bush invaded Iraq, transforming America into the Roman Empire under Caesar.

Principle guides opinion

I've wondered lately why I wasn't caught up in the American bloodlust to strike at someone, anyone, to avenge Sept. 11; why I recoil so reflexively when I hear war defenders suggest that America is entitled to do whatever it wants to further its own interests, principle be damned. The explanation, I've decided, is personal.

A belief in principle sustained at least five generations of my family as they trod a torturous path from slavery to -- well, to me. Despite pressures to lose faith, my forebears persevered, believing that one day, their descendants would know liberty, dignity and opportunity regardless of race. And they believed it would happen in America.

I am a member of the generation for whom they sacrificed. For me, ''principle'' is not a word. It's life, blood, mother's milk -- it's why I had a chance to be.

There is a time for war, but for America -- because we are America -- there must be principle behind the decision to engage in one. For months I listened carefully to the Bush administration's arguments -- but heard no logical justification for attacking Iraq.

I hoped I was wrong, that we would discover Bush indeed had secret knowledge that would validate this horrific action. I fretted the possibility I'd have to write a humble pie column, in which I would have to concede my alarm had been unwarranted.

Instead, the opposite has occurred. With each passing week, it becomes increasingly clear no case for war ever existed.

Yet many Americans seem unfazed by this. Half of us still believe he's doing a good job, as if lying about war is pardonable.

I'm bewildered by the ends-justify-the-means rationalizing I hear -- ''At least we got rid of Saddam.'' ''At least we're giving the Iraqis a chance at democracy.'' ``At least now we can put pressure on Iran and Syria.''

These effects of projected force were never seriously in doubt, just as there was no doubt Caesar would plunder the riches of Cleopatra's Egypt once he overran it. Inventorying the spoils of victory has nothing to do with assessing the propriety of initiating war in the first place.

Being the bully

My America, which once strove to lead, now bullies instead. It's fun to be the bully -- for a while. Others cower in fear and awe -- for a while. Your domination reaps adulation and fealty -- for a while. And your fans, drunk with the afterglow of triumph, are more than willing to overlook your unseemly tactics.

Maybe this is why Bush's poll figures remain strong.

But bullies never prevail because force has weaknesses, and the bullied search relentlessly to find them. Leadership based on principle, by contrast, inspires lasting unity and strength.

America beat up Iraq for no good reason, destroying our honor in the process.

For me, this reason, all other issues pale in comparison.

CIA admits lack of specifics on Iraqi weapons before invasion

LEAK-GATE: The White House Scandal Page 1

LEAK-GATE: The White House Scandal Page 2


Mark Follman

A CIA veteran says a growing faction of the U.S. intelligence community is furious over the way the administration corrupted the system -- and that the nation's security is at grave risk.

July 18, 2003 | Late last week the White House sought to close the books on the Iraq-Niger-uranium debacle, with President Bush officially pronouncing CIA director George Tenet responsible for the intelligence blunder. At the same time, the president reaffirmed his "absolute confidence" in Tenet and the rest of the agency.

But according to a former CIA officer, the politicization of U.S. intelligence has devastated many in the field -- and dangerously weakened our country's security.

"We're hearing from dozens of [intelligence] people. A lot of them are very demoralized," says Ray McGovern, a 27-year CIA veteran who worked as an agency analyst under seven presidents, from Kennedy to the first President Bush. "The cardinal sin in this business is to cook intelligence to the recipe of high policy," he says.

McGovern is a member of the "steering group" of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, a group of retired spooks, some highly decorated, which has been speaking out for several months about a dangerous fundamental breakdown in the U.S. intelligence system -- a system, McGovern asserts, that must remain free of White House meddling if it is to play its vital role in protecting the nation's security. VIPS has published a series of articles and open letters to the White House; its latest letter to President Bush on Monday denounced the administration's "campaign of deceit" in driving the nation to war, and demanded Vice President Dick Cheney's immediate resignation in light of his central role -- particularly Cheney's allegedly deliberate use of the fraudulent Niger-uranium report to sell Congress on the war. The letter also called on Bush to appoint an independent committee to investigate the intelligence breakdown, and to allow U.N. weapons inspectors back into Iraq posthaste, for the sake of U.S. credibility.

The White House has scrambled to lay the blame on the CIA's doorstep, but McGovern, though he has no love for Tenet, says Tenet is only one part of a much larger problem -- one that ultimately extends into the upper reaches of the Pentagon and the White House. Although Tenet formally took responsibility for including the faulty Niger-uranium data in a crucial National Intelligence Estimate report in September 2002, McGovern says it's Condoleezza Rice who is ultimately responsible for the intelligence information that makes it into the president's State of the Union address. Nor does the buck stop with Rice: The pressure to cook the books came from the top and pervaded the administration. McGovern believes that only the White House and the vice president's office could exert the kind of intense pressure necessary to cement bogus intelligence information into the ultimately authoritative NIE report -- and keep it there through the string of drafts leading up to a prime-time presidential speech.

By distorting the truth and corrupting America's intel system, says McGovern, spineless agency leaders and a White House with its finger on the scales have not just demoralized the CIA and other agencies, they have thrown the nation into considerable danger. Without an intelligence community that's consistently motivated to serve up objective information, "the president has nowhere to turn to find out real answers," he says.

Tenet himself began fighting back on Wednesday, during a closed hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, where he told a senator that a White House official pressured him to include the specious Niger-uranium report against his better judgment. On Thursday MSNBC quoted an anonymous source saying that Tenet "reluctantly" fingered National Security Council member Robert Joseph during the hearing.

VIPS, which includes roughly 30 members from across the civilian and military intelligence spectrum, from the FBI and the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, to the CIA and Department of Defense, has been warning that America's intelligence system was in trouble for months. In a February 2003 article, McGovern wrote of the grave dangers of a politicized intelligence community: "The integrity of the intelligence process is one casualty. But the real losers are the young men and women we send into battle, and whose names we later chisel into a wall."

The group claims no ideology or partisan agenda, only the desire to uphold the raison d'Ítre of the CIA and its peer agencies: providing essential, objective information to policymakers in its mission to prevent enemy attacks on the United States. According to McGovern, the group feels an affinity with the organization Veterans for Common Sense, where VIPS currently publishes its reports. VIPS steering group members, however, have made their voice heard through mainstream media outlets as well: The former director of the CIA's Office of Regional and Political Analysis, William Christison, spoke out in the Washington Post in April 2002; and Patrick Eddington, a military imagery analyst at the CIA's National Photographic Interpretation Center for almost nine years, has contributed Op-Ed pieces to numerous publications including the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Times, and is a regular television news commentator.

McGovern himself is currently a full-time co-director of the Servant Leadership School, a faith-based community outreach program in Washington, D.C. Salon spoke with him from Washington on Wednesday, as the White House continued to try to brush aside the Niger-uranium report scandal.

The VIPS letter to President Bush on July 14 charges that Vice President Cheney's office led a "campaign of deceit" that drove the nation to war, and calls for Cheney's immediate resignation. What ultimately makes the case against Cheney?

The most egregious crime committed here was the use of evidence known to be fraudulent, which purported that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger for its nuclear program. This is different from having a body of evidence that's susceptible to varying interpretation. A forgery is a forgery.

The vice president's office had commissioned Ambassador Joseph Wilson [in February 2002] to go to Niger and look into the matter, and he came back and told them the information was no good. So if this trip was taken at the behest of the vice president's office, it strains credulity beyond the breaking point to think that when the ambassador got back to report his findings, the vice president's office said, 'Actually, we're not interested in that any longer, so don't tell us what you found out.'

Then there's the fact that Cheney launched the [pro-war] campaign on Aug. 26, 2002, with a strong speech that went far beyond what the evidence allowed, in saying that the Iraqis had restarted their nuclear program. Cheney was way out in front of everybody else, particularly Colin Powell. On March 16, 2003, as a sort of coda to this, he alleged that Iraq had in fact reconstituted its nuclear program, and that the CIA and others agreed with him on this. False. They hadn't.

Why is it imperative that Cheney resign immediately?

I can't think of anywhere in government where honesty is more important than the intelligence business. Intelligence analysts need to operate on the working assumption that they're seeking truth. When they find it, they analyze it the way they think the truth leads, and then they serve it up to policymakers in that form.

It's up to policymakers what they do with the fruits of these efforts. When analysts see it being distorted, it's incredibly demoralizing. It leads to the conclusion, "Maybe I better not serve up the truth anymore, maybe I should serve up what I know they want to hear." When that becomes the case, the country is in considerable danger. If intelligence analysis is prostituted like that and is no longer objective, the president has nowhere to turn to find out the real answers to his questions.

Have you gotten any response from the White House to the letter?

No, we haven't. We'd like to have one, but we're not surprised: After all, Rep. Waxman of California wrote a letter to the president back on March 17 -- he has a lot more status than VIPS -- and he's still received no response from the White House. His letter was a very bitter one, saying, "Look, Mr. President, in September and early October your people lied to me about this nuclear threat, and on the strength of that lie, I voted for war. I want you to tell me how that could've happened."

Aside from the "steering group," who are the people behind VIPS? How many are there, and is it just CIA?

We're a movement that's growing; the current count is 30. The open letter to Bush on Monday has sparked an amazing amount of interest, which is really encouraging, and affirming. We're not just CIA; we have intelligence veterans from across the spectrum: FBI, DIA [the Defense Intelligence Agency, part of the Pentagon], Army Intelligence and INR [Bureau of Intelligence and Research, from the State Department]. Yesterday I had a National Security Agency person call me and say, "Hey, I noticed you don't have anybody from NSA, count me in."

Having left the CIA a decade ago, how are you able to speak for the current sentiment inside the agency, or inside the greater U.S. intelligence community, about all this? Who are you talking with, and hearing from?

We're hearing from dozens of people. The sad part is that we're hearing from midlevel analysts and even lower-level journeymen who are slogging away in the intelligence trenches trying to find the truth and tell it. Unfortunately, in the decades since William Casey and Bobby Gates were the CIA's directors, there've been more careerists -- malleable folks who sniff the wind to find out which direction it's blowing, and trim their sails accordingly. So now you have some people at relatively senior levels who've bubbled to the top by knowing the "correct" answers to the questions they know are on policymakers' minds. Whereas these people were a complete exception in our time, the proportion has grown.

When we retired from the agency, and by that I mean the VIPS steering group, people knew who we were and what we stood for, and the levels at which we operated -- basically the most senior levels of both the military and civilian intelligence communities. We enjoy a certain reputation for integrity, and that's the premier value in intelligence work. So when people see that value being played with fast and loose, they need somewhere to turn. They need people who know the business, who know how much of a sin this is.

So how widespread is this current rancor inside the intelligence community?

A lot of people are very demoralized. And those who aren't, frankly, are ipso facto suspect. The cardinal sin in this business is to cook intelligence to the recipe of high policy; the

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