The Bush Administration lied to Judith Miller about what the National Intelligence Assessment said about Iraq's quest for nuclear weapons. In doing so, the Bush Administration lied to us, the American people -- again -- about the degree to which Saddam Hussein was a threat to the United States.
Recent disclosures that Bush authorized certain leaks bring the fact that this Administration lacks any type of moral compass right up to the surface.
Allegedly, “Scooter” Libby said that he was authorized to leak information contained within the National Intelligence Estimate regarding Iraq at the same time he disclosed the identity of undercover CIA operative Valerie Wilson (formerly known as Valerie Plame). This authorization, he said, came from President Bush through Cheney.
The President has the power to declassify information when he thinks it serves the national interest. In this case, he sought to counter claims that Valerie Wilson’s husband Joe Wilson was making regarding intelligence used to justify the war in Iraq.
Specifically, the Bush Administration was using reports that Iraq sought to purchase uranium from Niger as evidence that it was seeking to build nuclear weapons that could be used to threaten the United States. Wilson said that not only had this report been discredited, but the President either knew or should have known that it was discredited. Yet, these discredited claims had made it into the State of the Union address and had been used to order an attack.
In order to counter these claims, Bush authorized the release of information from the National Intelligence Estimate that said that the threat of Iraq’s purchase of nuclear material was indeed a real threat. Libby met with Judith Miller from the New York Times and gave this information.
Now, the first moral issue to raise is that Libby lied. Libby told Miller that “one key judgment of the NIE held that Iraq was vigorously trying to procure uranium.” The NIE contained no such judgment. In fact, the annex to the NIE reported that the view of the State Department was that "claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa are ... highly dubious."
In a question and answer session today, Bush said that, “I thought it was important to people to get a better sense for why I was saying what I was saying, and I felt that I could do so without jeopardizing ongoing intelligence matters. So I did.” He said, “I wanted people to see the truth, and I thought it made sense for people to see the truth. That is why I declassified the document.”
So, if we allow that Bush declassified the information and Libby got his instructions from Bush through Cheney, we are left with an additional question.
Who told Libby to lie?
Assume that the decision to reveal the truth came from Bush. What Libby told Miller was not the truth. It was a lie. Somewhere down the chain of command, through Cheney to Libby, somebody decided that, instead of revealing the contents of the document, Libby was going to lie. He was going to claim that the NIE said something that it did not say.
This leads to a follow-up question for President Bush.
“Mr. President. You say that you declassified the NIE so that we can learn the truth. What, then, was your reaction when you discovered that the information actually given to the press was a lie? Were you angry? Did you demand some sort of disciplinary action?”
Furthermore, we must admit that this was a highly unusual way to declassify a document. Only three people knew that the document was declassified – Bush, Chaney, and Libby. Not even the head of the CIA knew about this.
This makes me wonder about the nature of the conversation between Libby and Miller.
Did Libby tell Miller that, “According to the recently declassified NIE . . .”
If he had said this, then Miller should have answered, “Then show me. If this is declassified information, then you should be able to hand me a copy – at least of that part which is declassified.”
Or did Libby tell Miller that the information was still classified, yet something the President wanted to get into the press. This would prohibit Miller from asking for a copy. This would prevent her from verifying the story and uncovering the lie. However, if Libby had said that this now declassified document was classified, then that too would have been a lie. Libby would have been lying to conceal yet another lie.
Imagine yourself as a parent, walking into the kitchen, and seeing your 8-year-old child standing on the kitchen cabinet reaching up with his hand inside the cookie jar. When he sees you, he suddenly reaches for a vase and says, “I was just getting this vase.”
Imagine what you would think of the parent who actually fell for the “vase” story and let the child get away with it.
In this case, Bush’s claim that he declassified the information in order to get the truth out to the American people is like the child’s claim that he was reaching for a vase. What we have seen with our own eyes is a child reaching for the cookie jar – or, in this case, a President “leaking” lies to the press in order to convince us to support his call for war.
The good parent would be angry at the child. He would be angry at the child first for trying to steal some cookies. He would be even more angry at the child for lying about it. If the parent had any concern with teaching that child a moral lesson, that child would be punished twice. He would be punished first for trying to take the cookies. The parent will also make sure that the child knows that there was a second punishment for lying about what he was doing to start with.
It is difficult to punish a President of the United States for his actions. Yet, it is not impossible. The Constitution gives us some options, from censure to impeachment. The Senate and the House -- at least one that represented the People rather than serving as the lap dog to the President -- could come up with additional options.
Recall that in one of these crimes President Bush sought to manipulate us through terror by telling us stories of mushroom clouds on the horizon which were simply products of his own imagination.
What punishment is proporational for this crime?
There is another item that the parent would keep in mind as he was thinking about his lying, cookie-stealing kid. “If I let him get away with this now, he’ll just do it again in the future.” If President Bush gets away with this now, we are telling every future President that telling us lies about mushroom clouds in order to get us to fork over 2,500 lives and $300 billion in cash -- so far -- is perfectly acceptable Presidential behavior. If we want to turn our back on this situation, we should ask how many lives and billions of dollars future Presidents will be able to squeeze out of our children and grandchildren.
Or, we can tell this and all future Presidents, “Do NOT try to rule by frightening us with lies about mushroom clouds. We will not tolerate this from you or from any further President.”
Whatever choice we make today, we will be the role-model for future generations. What lessons do we think are worth teaching about war and deception?