Friday, March 02, 2007

A Call to Investigate All of the President's Men

As Tom Engelhardt at TomDispatch tells it:
On taking office, Dick Cheney promptly began to set up a vice-presidential office that essentially mimicked, and then to some extent replaced, the National Security Council (NSC). Just as promptly, his office plunged itself into utter, blinding secrecy -- as journalist Robert Dreyfuss discovered when he simply tried to chart out who was working in this new center of power. No information, it turned out, could be revealed to a curious reporter, not even the names and positions of those who worked for the Vice President, those who, theoretically, were working for us. Cheney's office would not even publicly acknowledge its own employees, no less let them be interviewed.

From that office (and allied posts elsewhere in the executive branch and the federal bureaucracy), the Vice President and his various right-hand men like I Lewis "Scooter" Libby and present Chief of Staff David Addington, both fierce believers in the so-called unitary executive theory of government (in which a "wartime" commander-in-chief president is said to have unfettered power to command just about anything), elbowed the State Department, the NSC, and the Intelligence Community. With the President's ear, and in league with Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon (among others), they spearheaded a series of mis- and disinformation operations that led to Iraq and beyond. (Reporter Jim Lobe wrote about this at Tomdispatch in August 2005, "Dating Cheney's Nuclear Drumbeat.")

Now shorn of Rumsfeld, Cheney and his men, increasingly beleaguered, are nonetheless pushing on as the Vice President secretively travels the world, warning and scheming. Only this week, in "The Redirection," a New Yorker piece as chilling as any you might ever want to read, our premier journalist of this era (as well as the Vietnam one), Seymour Hersh reports that, two years ago, old hands from the Iran-Contra fiasco of the Reagan era, well-seeded into the Bush administration, had an informal meeting led by Deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams. Their conclusions: "As to what the experience taught them, in terms of future covert operations, the participants found: ‘One, you can't trust our friends. Two, the C.I.A. has got to be totally out of it. Three, you can't trust the uniformed military, and four, it's got to be run out of the Vice-President's office."

That's what passes for learning from experience in the Bush/Cheney White House. Indeed, the same folks are now evidently running an updated version of Iran-Contra (without the CIA) out of the Vice President's office. At the same time, according to Hersh, Cheney, in his urge to roll back Iranian regional power as well as undermine Hezbollah, Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia in Iraq, and the Syrians, has set the Saudis loose to fund Sunni jihadis -- just as they did in Afghanistan at American behest in the 1980s. The result then was, among other things, al-Qaeda and the Taliban. So imagine: Cheney's office is now working hard to combine the worst of the Reagan-era Iran-Contra scandal with the worst of the Afghan disaster. I wonder what the results could possibly be?

The history of this sudden explosion of ultra-secretive vice-presidential power remains to be written, based on documents that have not yet seen the light of day. The Libby trial has recently offered us a glimpse into the most secretive and powerful office in the land and its interplay with the White House, State Department, and CIA. As former federal prosecutor Elizabeth de la Vega points out below, that glimpse should be enough to trigger a Congressional investigation into the Plame case. It's time, she tells us, for Congress to investigate all the President's and Vice President's men and women.

De la Vega has written a remarkable, must-read book about how we were defrauded into war in Iraq, United States v. George W. Bush et al. Every day since it first appeared, our country has come to look ever more like a United States v. Bush/Cheney world. De la Vega is a woman who should be heeded.
Public Misconduct
A Call to Investigate All of the President's Men
By Elizabeth de la Vega

Last week, apparently belatedly realizing the obvious -- that the attack on former Ambassador Joseph Wilson and his wife Valerie Plame was a White House family affair -- New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof called for the administration to come clean. Bush and Cheney owe "the American people a candid explanation" of their conduct with regard to the leaking of Plame's identity as a CIA agent, Kristof insisted.

If, after observing this administration for over six years, Nicholas Kristof thinks that the President and Vice President are going to suddenly be overcome by conscience and tell all because he has put his foot down, then Nicholas Kristof is downright adorable.

The trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby was merely a snapshot view of this administration in daily action; but incomplete as it was, it nevertheless starkly revealed what many had known all along: that the most powerful officials in the United States government -- including, but not limited to, the Vice President, the Vice President's Chief of Staff, the Deputy Secretary of State, the President's Press Secretary, the President's Chief of Staff, and, yes, the President himself -- had responded to the barrage of criticism being aimed at their fictitious case for war in the spring and summer of 2003 by focusing their sights on a man and woman who had devoted their lives to public service.

Such people -- those who will use the highest offices of the United States government to protect themselves and their prospects for reelection by whatever means they deem necessary, regardless of the damage they leave in their wake -- are not going to confess to anything…ever.


No criminal investigation, and certainly no criminal trial, is ever going to illuminate these White House machinations. In addition, as significant as the criminal issues that arise from the circumstances of the CIA leak may be -- and they are significant -- whether any members of the administration violated any federal statutes in conducting their attack on Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame has never been the most important issue raised by this whole tawdry affair.

The paramount issue is one of abuse of power by our highest executive branch officials and their stable of White House staffers, lobbyists, Republican operatives and other surrogates. The criminal justice system was never intended by the framers of the Constitution to be the sole, or even primary, means of investigating and redressing what the late Congresswoman from Texas Barbara Jordan described during the Watergate investigations as "the misconduct of public men." On the contrary, it is Congress that is both entitled and obligated to oversee the conduct of the Executive Branch.

So yes, the trial of Scooter Libby has raised as many questions as it has answered, but we need not wait for the President and Vice President to answer them; nor should we wait for the outcome of any further criminal investigation. What is needed is a full-scale congressional hearing by the House Oversight Committee on Government Reform. Representative Henry Waxman (D. Ca.), the chair of the committee, has subpoena power and can subpoena telephone records, meeting notes, daily calendars, memos, and a host of key players whose testimony was not legally relevant in the Libby trial, but who obviously have intimate knowledge of the entire CIA leak case and cover-up. These figures would include Karl Rove, Richard Armitage, lobbyist Ken Duberstein, Colin Powell and Stephen Hadley among others. Finally, unlike the prosecutor in a grand jury investigation, Waxman can hold hearings that are public -- in Room 2154 Rayburn Office Building, Washington, D.C. So the misconduct of these public men and women, our highest elected and appointed officials in the Executive Branch, can finally be judged by a much larger jury of their peers, the people of the United States.


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