FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Forgery, Fakery and Fatigue (Scandal, That Is)

by DAVID REMINGTON

Okay, quick show of hands:  who was surprised by the recent “revelation” in Ron Suskind’s new book, The Way of the World:  A Story of Truth and Hope in an age of Extremism, that the Bush White House directed the C.I.A. to forge a letter from the Iraqi head of intelligence to Saddam Hussein designed to portray a false link between the September 11 attacks and Iraq?

That’s what I thought.  Unless you’ve been living under a rock or otherwise hopelessly deluded by the endless stream of neocon propaganda sludge, this latest from Suskind is just another tendril in the dark churning cloud of villainy the Bush Administration has left in its wake.

If I may steal from the Bard, there’s the rub.  Has the public grown so inured with reports of the lies, scandals, fabrications, and bizarre schemes that have dribbled almost daily from this White House, that this story be greeted with a large, collective yawn?   That may well be the case, but there are legal and logistical implications to this latest bit of Keystone Cop-style cloak and dagger plot that may give it legs.

According to Suskind, high-level Bush Administration officials ordered the C.I.A. to forge a hand-written letter purportedly from Tahir Jalil Habbush, Saddam’s intelligence chief, to Saddam, indicating, among other things, that Mohammed Atta, infamous September 11th hijacker, had been trained in Iraq.  The letter was dated July 1, 2001, but its “existence” reported in late 2003, at a time when the United States was still fumbling around searching for non-existent WMD’s.  This bogus letter came in handy to supply a much-desired justification for attacking Iraq, and naturally, influence U.S. public opinion.  The story of the letter was picked up and reported with orgasmic glee by such towering journalistic giants as the Fair and Balanced-Meister himself, Bill O’Reilly.

Now, even assuming a Congress that actually cared about the Constitution and the Rule of Law, and congressional leadership with the testicular fortitude to pursue the matter, the reign of mad King George will soon be ending, and there likely is not time to the realize the blessings of this revelation in the short time remaining in this presidential term.  Yet, this story could very well survive the end of the current administration and become a gift that keeps on giving.

Ron Suskind speculates that this flimsy scheme could very well violate a federal statute prohibiting the C.I.A. from pursing covert activities designed to influence public opinion or the media.  When directed by the White House, the deliberate violation of this law is a potentially impeachable offence.

The statute Suskind is referring to is 50 U.S.C § 413b Presidential approval and reporting of covert activities.  This section of law details the circumstances under which the president may approve covert activities of the C.I.A.  It also lists requirements for reporting to Congress and congressional oversight.  More specifically, 50 U.S.C. § 413b(f) reads, “No covert action may be conducted which is intended to influence United States political processes, public opinion, policies, or media.”

If this White House scam is proven, we can be certain that the Bush Administration, or its legal defenders, will attempt to scuttle any investigation or prosecution.  The road blocks thrown up will likely be variations of the following, all of which could easily fall against the hand of any reasonably diligent investigator or prosecutor:

Statutory Interpretation

One angle for Bush Administration defenders is to claim simply that the statute does not apply to the forged letter.  After all, the U.S. had already invaded Iraq, and besides, the forgery was developed to influence international, not domestic opinion.

Nice try, as they say, but this approach is transparently evasive, and well, let’s face it, lame.  There is no question that public opinion was turning by late 2003, and the Bush Administration certainly desired a little public relations pick-me-up.  It was also clear that the story would make into the U.S. media and be used by the war’s defenders.

Executive Privilege

Always a favorite of tyrannical executive branch leaders, the Bush Administration, or its legal successors are almost certain to trot out this old horse.  The problem is that Executive Privilege, when applied, is generally seen as a shield against those seeking to pierce the wall of confidence between the executive branch and its top advisors.  Without it, so the story goes, presidents would be constrained from seeking frank advice.  By the same token, those advisers would be loath to engage in frank discussions with the executive, fearful that their words could someday make it in to the public domain.

Again, in the forged letter scenario, the Executive Privilege argument falls flat.  Clearly the claim would not be used as a shield, but as a sword to justify actually directing a federal agency to engage in potentially illegal behavior.  Further, Section 413b Subsections b and c explicitly provide for reporting to Congress of presidential approvals of covert activities.

Executive Privilege has just left the building.

National Security

Another horse, older and more tired than Executive Privilege, would be almost sure to raise its wizened head in the event of an investigation or prosecution.  Bush Administration defenders would argue that such information cannot be discussed in public in the interest of national security.  Now, courts have been historically kind to presidents and stretched this concept about as thin as it can go without breaking.  However, the same weaknesses that apply to the Executive Privilege “defense” apply to the National Security argument.  One just cannot escape the fact that if the concocted forgery scam is true, it was carried out in direct violation of a specific federal statute created to curtail just such behavior.  And again, the provisions for congressional oversight belie any claim that activity of this nature could not be investigated.

As the days of the Bush Administration come to a close, it will be interesting to see where this story goes.  Congress has the tools to flesh out the facts, and the legal footing to push back against the standard administration stonewalling.  Whether Congress will do its job remains to be seen.

In the weeks and months to come more information will likely emerge about the forged letter scam.  As more facts come to light, it seems more and more possible that Ron Suskind’s revelation is true (see Joe Conason’s piece in Salon, New Evidence Suggest Ron Suskind is Right).

In the meantime maybe we can dream that finally this is the one.

David W. Remington, J.D., a former law professor, works as legal counsel in private industry in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. He can be reached at: drem1960@yahoo.com
 

Your Ad Here
 

 

 

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

March 30, 2017
William R. Polk
What Must be Done in the Time of Trump
Howard Lisnoff
Enough of Russia! There’s an Epidemic of Despair in the US
Ralph Nader
Crash of Trumpcare Opens Door to Full Medicare for All
Carol Polsgrove
Gorsuch and the Power of the Executive: Behind the Congressional Stage, a Legal Drama Unfolds
Michael J. Sainato
Fox News Should Finally Dump Bill O’Reilly
Kenneth Surin
Former NC Governor Pat McCory’s Job Search Not Going Well
Binoy Kampmark
The Price of Liberation: Slaughtering Civilians in Mosul
Bruce Lesnick
Good Morning America!
William Binney and Ray McGovern
The Surveillance State Behind Russia-gate: Will Trump Take on the Spooks?
Jill Richardson
Gutting Climate Protections Won’t Bring Back Coal Jobs
Robert Pillsbury
Maybe It’s Time for Russia to Send Us a Wake-Up Call
Prudence Crowther
Swamp Rats Sue Trump
March 29, 2017
Jeffrey Sommers
Donald Trump and Steve Bannon: Real Threats More Serious Than Fake News Trafficked by Media
David Kowalski
Does Washington Want to Start a New War in the Balkans?
Patrick Cockburn
Bloodbath in West Mosul: Civilians Being Shot by Both ISIS and Iraqi Troops
Ron Forthofer
War and Propaganda
Matthew Stevenson
Letter From Phnom Penh
James Bovard
Peanuts Prove Congress is Incorrigible
Thomas Knapp
Presidential Golf Breaks: Good For America
Binoy Kampmark
Disaster as Joy: Cyclone Debbie Strikes
Peter Tatchell
Human Rights are Animal Rights!
George Wuerthner
Livestock Grazing vs. the Sage Grouse
Jesse Jackson
Trump Should Form a Bipartisan Coalition to Get Real Reforms
Thomas Mountain
Rwanda Indicts French Generals for 1994 Genocide
Clancy Sigal
President of Pain
Andrew Stewart
President Gina Raimondo?
Lawrence Wittner
Can Our Social Institutions Catch Up with Advances in Science and Technology?
March 28, 2017
Mike Whitney
Ending Syria’s Nightmare will Take Pressure From Below 
Mark Kernan
Memory Against Forgetting: the Resonance of Bloody Sunday
John McMurtry
Fake News: the Unravelling of US Empire From Within
Ron Jacobs
Mad Dog, Meet Eris, Queen of Strife
Michael J. Sainato
State Dept. Condemns Attacks on Russian Peaceful Protests, Ignores Those in America
Ted Rall
Five Things the Democrats Could Do to Save Their Party (But Probably Won’t)
Linn Washington Jr.
Judge Neil Gorsuch’s Hiring Practices: Privilege or Prejudice?
Philippe Marlière
Benoît Hamon, the Socialist Presidential Hopeful, is Good News for the French Left
Norman Pollack
Political Cannibalism: Eating America’s Vitals
Bruce Mastron
Obamacare? Trumpcare? Why Not Cubacare?
David Macaray
Hollywood Screen and TV Writers Call for Strike Vote
Christian Sorensen
We’ve Let Capitalism Kill the Planet
Rodolfo Acuna
What We Don’t Want to Know
Binoy Kampmark
The Futility of the Electronics Ban
Andrew Moss
Why ICE Raids Imperil Us All
March 27, 2017
Robert Hunziker
A Record-Setting Climate Going Bonkers
Frank Stricker
Why $15 an Hour Should be the Absolute Minimum Minimum Wage
Melvin Goodman
The Disappearance of Bipartisanship on the Intelligence Committees
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail