Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Illicit Justification for War

According to Chris Matthews -, the investigation into the Victoria Plame case may start to touch on some very significant questions.

Did the Vice-President of the United States orchestrate a campaign of deception against the American people in order to drum up support for an attack against Iraq?

Whether he did or not is a matter of speculation. I did not start this blog as a place for speculating on political fortunes, nor am I interested in the legal aspects of the case. This blog is concerned with ethics – as much with legal immoralities as those that are also illegal.

We do not need to have evidence of a crime to justify investigating a potential offense. One of the main powers of government is to investigate situations, not for the purpose of finding who is guilty or innocent, but to find out the truth of a situation and whether and how the law can be improved.

Morality justifies an investigation into the use of American intelligence before the war. Morality justifies asking the question of whether Americans think that being deceived into going to war is a trivial concern that can be shrugged off, or whether we think that deceiving the people into supporting a war is among the actions that we count as intolerably wrong.

Are we going to send a message to future political leaders, "Do not toy with we the people when it comes to war?"

A Matter of Trust

There is a complexity in this issue in that we cannot expect our political leaders to tell us everything they know relevant to a decision to go to war. They may have information they cannot reveal without threatening our security. For example, divulging such information may expose important spies or other intelligence-gathering operations.

Because of this, we have to trust the Administration to go to war for the right reasons -- reasons we would approve of if we knew about them. If they say that a country is seeking to build nuclear weapons, we cannot say, "Prove it!" We must trust that they know what they are talking about. We have to assume that they would not be saying these things without evidence – evidence that they have taken no less lightly or casually than we would demand of them.

The problem that exists when one group must trust another who is in a position of power and authority is that those with the power and authority may abuse that trust. In this case, they can lie and say that they have evidence of a threat to national security that does not exist in fact. They can lie and say that they have given this evidence the care that we would demand of them.

If they can lie about these things, they can steer this country into a war with any country that displeases them that is not sufficiently powerful to defend itself. So, we demand that they take no action towards war without a careful assessment of the evidence and the necessity of war.

Evidence of an Abuse of Trust

Before we started this war (and we were the ones to start it), there were signs that our political leaders had abused their trust. Joe Wilson’s remarks themselves told us that the government had given us reasons for going to war that everybody who had investigated those reasons had discredited.

Yet, even with these accusations being launched, there was a problem deciding what we could do about them. We cannot demand that the government laid its intelligence-gathering operations open for all to see. There are all sorts of politically-motivated reasons for making these types of accusations, even if they are not true. There would be no such thing as national security if the government had to reveal its secrets every time an accusation was made.

So, we still had to trust our political leaders. We must give them the benefit of the doubt. Correspondingly, they must have the moral character that makes them deserving of the benefit of this doubt.

Yet, we are getting more and more evidence that these people did abuse their authority and our trust.

We have the fact that the United States had inspectors in Iraq looking for weapons of mass destruction before the war started. Our government told us that they are not looking hard enough or in the right places – that we had evidence of weapons that they were not finding. The inspectors asked for the information, but the United States Government refused to make it available -- perhaps because there was none to make available.

The last inspectors' report to the United Nations said:

Governments had many sources of information that were not available to inspectors. Inspectors, for their part, must base their reports only on evidence, which they could, themselves, examine and present publicly. Without evidence, confidence could not arise.

We have Joe Wilson’s testimony that he and others checked out some of these reports – reports of attempts to purchase uranium in Niger. All of the sources we now know about came back saying that these reports were unfounded, that there was no evidence of such an attempt. Furthermore, they provided this information before the war started – before the decision was made to save us all from these weapons of mass destruction. The only examinations made to date of Wilson's contributions have been Republican-controlled investigations.

We now control Iraq and have determined that the reason the inspectors did not find weapons of mass destruction is because there was no such weapons to be found. The reason that rumors of purchasing uranium could not be substantiated is because they were false. The so-called intelligence stating that Iraq was a threat and that we needed to act to preserve our security seems all to have been wrong – if there was any such intelligence at all.

Perhaps Bush’s war was another faith-based initiative. Perhaps his administration’s belief that there were weapons in Iraq was not based on evidence but on faith. Perhaps they decided to gamble, hoping that the needed evidence would show up after the invasion, that their faith would be rewarded, and they would prove themselves to be heroes.

This illustrates one of the most significant problems when people base their actions on faith rather than evidence. Faith tends to be an unreliable indicator of truth, and those who depend on it too strongly run the risk of crashing head-first into reality.


We have enough ‘probable cause’ to launch an investigation. Americans who believe that we ought not to tolerate politicians who lie their way into war have reason to demand that we find out whether this happened.

Political party should not matter. An investigation should be welcomed both by those who have faith that the Bush Administration is innocent, and those who have just as much faith that they are guilty.

Personally, I belong to the tradition of “presumed innocent until proven guilty.” However, this presumption of innocence never takes the form of presuming that the innocence is so obvious that no hearing on the matter can ever be justified.

I want to add emphasis here. I am only arguing that there are enough questions to warrant an investigation. I do not approve of presumed guilt. Nor do I approve of cheering evidence of wrongdoing or that a crime had taken place. I simply want to know what happened and, only if what happened violated moral standards, then decide what action to take.

To the rest of the world, we have an important question to answer considering our moral character as a nation. We have to answer whether we believe that lying one’s way into war is a trivial offense, or an intolerable wrong. The only way to show that we know the right answer to this question is to make sure that, given the evidence suggesting the possibility of deceit in this case, we demand assurances that our political leaders did not commit an intolerable wrong.

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