Deceit and dirty tricks on Iraq

Accusations that the White House illegally leaked information to stifle dissent over its Iraq war policy are the latest in a series of charges that the administration used deceit and dirty tricks to sell the Iraq war. The charges fueled widening dissatisfaction over the cost of the occupation of Iraq – both in lives and dollars – and further battered President Bush’s sagging credibility.

It was revealed last week that the CIA filed a “crime report” with the Justice Department, asking for an investigation of whether Bush officials illegally leaked to reporters the fact that the wife of former ambassador Joseph Wilson is an undercover CIA operative. Wilson was sent by the CIA last year to investigate claims that Iraq had

tried to purchase uranium in Africa. Wilson reported that the claims were false. Recently, he has publicly denounced the administration for knowingly using the false information to justify the war, including in Bush’s State of the Union speech this January.

Wilson and others charge that the “outing” of his wife was done for revenge, and to warn others of the consequences of challenging the administration’s policies. Revealing the name of an undercover agent is a federal crime. The Justice Department and FBI have now been forced to launch an investigation of White House involvement. Leading Democrats have called for appointment of an independent prosecutor, saying the Ashcroft Justice Department is incapable of conducting an impartial investigation.

Earlier in the week, the Republican and Democratic heads of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence released findings that the administration launched the war even though it had no solid evidence that Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction or had ties with terrorists. In a Sept. 25 letter to CIA director George Tenet, the committee’s chair, Rep. Porter Goss (R-Fla.), a former CIA agent and a longtime supporter of Tenet, and the ranking Democrat, Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), charged that intelligence agencies’ conclusions about Iraq’s weapons programs were based largely on outdated, “circumstantial” and “fragmentary” information with “too many uncertainties.”

Administration officials have delayed indefinitely the publication of a report by a group they sent to Iraq to find weapons of mass destruction, after the group found no evidence that any such weapons exist, following a four-month search. The report by the “Iraq Survey Group,” consisting of 1,400 U.S. and British scientists, military and intelligence experts, may never be published, British government sources said.

Earlier last month, former UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix said he believes that Iraq destroyed most of its weapons of mass destruction 10 years ago.

“I’m certainly more and more to the conclusion that Iraq has, as they maintained, destroyed all, almost, of what they had in the summer of 1991,” Blix told an Australian radio station. “The more time that has passed, the more I think it’s unlikely that anything will be found.” His successor, Demetrius Perricos, told Reuters it was becoming “more and more difficult to believe stocks [of WMD] were there” in Iraq.

CNN’s top war correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, recently accused the Bush administration of conducting a campaign of “fear” and “disinformation at the highest levels” during the Iraq war. On a CNBC talk show last month, Amanpour said CNN and journalists in general were “intimidated” by the administration, which, with the help of Fox News, created “a climate of fear and self-censorship.”

On Sept. 30, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted 29-0 to approve President Bush’s $87 billion “supplemental” request to pay for the occupation of Iraq. Most Senate Democrats are not opposing the bulk of Bush’s request – $67 billion for military operations. They are focusing instead on the $20 billion requested for Iraq’s reconstruction. The fight is expected to continue on the Senate floor until mid-October.

During a nation-wide “call-in” organized by the Win Without War coalition and MoveOn.org, in five hours over 12,000 people called their senators to oppose giving Bush a blank check, saying Congress should require him to hand over control of Iraq to the United Nations, and fire those responsible for mismanaging Iraq, starting with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Bush’s $87 billion request, in the midst of record job losses and budget cuts for domestic needs, has sparked wide public discontent. But rather than challenging the occupation, pressing for transfer of control to the UN, or suggesting that Pentagon funds or war profits pay for repairing the damage caused by U.S. actions, many Democrats are limiting their objections to calls for shifting reconstruction costs to Iraq.

At the UN, the administration is continuing its efforts to push through a resolution that would give a cover for military and financial help from other countries, without ceding real control either to the UN or to Iraqis. Thus far the U.S. remains isolated. “They’re on their own,” a UN official said. “It’s just between them and the American taxpayer.”

The author can be reached at suewebb@pww.org