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Shades of Iran/Contra
It’s down to the finish line this week for special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald’s probe into just who in the Bush regime outed CIA agent Valerie Plame in a lame attempt to counteract her husband Ambassador Joe Wilson’s refutation of Bush’s famed "sixteen words" which led us into war.
The words, which Wilson rightly called a "lie" were uttered at the January 28, 2003 State of the Union Address and were a major part of the justification for the invasion of Iraq. They are: "The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
The other major lie that got us in the war was the conflation of Saddam and Osama bin Laden. Time and again, Vice-president Dick Cheney and others touted this supposed connection and the presence of the Niger uranium as proof of the danger posed by Saddam’s Iraq.
The "embedded" media, led by the New York Times, bought it all. Anyone who disputed the false rationales was smeared and the "opposition" Democrats rolled over.
We all know this by now, though polls show that some 40% of dumbed-down Americans still think that Saddam and Osama are the same guy! Such is the power of the Big Lie.
Patrick Fitzgerald has the opportunity to counteract the lies. But the question is: will he go for the heart of it or will he simply indict the underlings who merely leaked Plame’s name? History augers the latter.
Déjà vu Iran/Contra
Back in the Reagan administration, a scheme was hatched to illegally sell weapons to Iran, which was in a long bloody war with none other than Iraq. Proceeds from the sales of weapons were then diverted to the Contras, the US-backed gang of thugs who were fighting to topple the democratically-elected Sandinista government of Nicaragua.
Independent Prosecutor Lawrence Walsh indicted several administration officials. Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Elliott Abrams pleaded guilty to withholding information from Congress. He was pardoned by President George H. W. Bush in 1992 and has now been appointed by President George W. Bush to the National Security Council.
CIA Central American Task Force chief Alan D. Fiers, Jr. pleaded guilty to withholding information from Congress, and was pardoned by former boss Bush I.
CIA Covert Operations head Clair E. George was convicted of perjury before Congress, but pardoned by Bush I before sentencing.
National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane pleaded guilty to withholding information from Congress, and was also among those pardoned by Bush I in 1992.
The National Security Council’s Oliver North was convicted of accepting an illegal gratuity, aiding and abetting in the obstruction of a congressional inquiry and destruction of documents. He escaped when the conviction was overturned on a technicality.
Major General Richard V. Secord of the National Security Council pleaded guilty to perjury.
But the whole ball game rested on the conviction of National Security Advisor John M. Poindexter, which also was overturned on a serious breach of rights whereby his own sworn testimony was used against him. Poindexter was convicted of conspiracy and obstruction of Congress and two counts of making false statements. Poindexter later surfaced under Bush II as the official in charge of the Defense Department’s fascist Total Information Awareness scheme.
Though Walsh found that it was likely that President Ronald Reagan, Vice-President George H.W. Bush and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger knew entirely what was going on. Bush I’s lame-duck, pre-emptive pardon of Weinberger’s perjury charge before he ever was tried, prevented the entire story from coming out.
The story of the overthrow of an elected government and any attempt to mete out justice for the Nicaraguans was shunted aside. And, the probe never got higher than the operatives convicted and pardoned.
Similarly, in the Plame case, the real story is not who revealed a covert CIA operative’s name (indeed, an heroic act in some circles), but who provided the fake Niger documents that Bush II cited to justify those famous "sixteen words." Tellingly, Poindexter’s Iran/Contra conspiracy conviction was based on his efforts to falsify documents.
In December 2001, Cheney and Bush II senior advisor Karl Rove-connected neocons Michael Ledeen and Harold Rhodes, accompanied by now-in-custody Israeli spy Larry Franklin, met in Rome with Italy’s intelligence agency SISMI chief Niccolo Pollari and Italian defense minister Antonio Martino.
Shortly thereafter, a break-in occurred at the Niger Embassy in Rome. The sole things taken were letterhead paper and official seals. Then, forged papers bearing the letterhead and seal of Niger were leaked to a magazine owned by Italy’s rightist Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. The journal promptly turned the papers over to the CIA, not the "British Government" as Bush lied when he used the forgeries as the basis for his State of the Union Address.
Even before Joe Wilson called out this fraud, Rove et al. panicked. Embedded reporter Judith Miller’s New York Times notes show that the disclosure of Plame’s CIA employment status started weeks before Wilson’s famous expose was published . Stupidly, Rove thought that threatening Plame would get Wilson to back off; as such heavy and under-handed tactics had worked so well at cowing the Democrats and the press. Just eight days after Wilson’s NYT’s op-ed was published, administration mouthpiece Robert Novak wrote the piece that first publicly revealed Plame’s name and occupation.
How worried are the Bushites? Already, the administration’s echo chamber at Fox News howls repeatedly of "prosecutorial overzealousness." With talk of some 22 indictments about to be handed down, this telling, takes-one-to-know-one quote appeared in the Oct. 24th NY Daily New : "He’s a vile, detestable, moralistic person with no heart and no conscience who believes he’s been tapped by God to do very important things," one White House ally said, referring to special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald.
Still, the real question remains; will Fitzgerald get to the heart of it and charge all of those, even up to Bush II himself, who engaged in the entire series of lies and forgeries that led us into war? Or, like during Iran/Contra, will we see some underlings such as Cheney chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby indicted for his leaks to Miller and other reporters? And, will we see hush pardons all around?
The Truth is out here. The path to finding it begins in Rome.
MICHAEL DONNELLY writes from Salem, OR. He rarely roots for a prosecutor, but in this case, he makes an exception.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org