By Crispin Sartwell
investigation into the Valerie Plame case is winding down, and he will perhaps
indict a few people for the crime of revealing the identity of a CIA agent. I
would like, however, to issue a broader indictment.
It is obvious that the Bush
administration, and specifically Dick Cheney, was intent on invading Iraq under
almost any conditions. They did not, probably, simply manufacture intelligence
to justify the invasion; rather, they purported to take seriously any flimsy
rumor or doctored document that lent support to the case for war, while
attempting to discredit all information that tended to undermine that case.
A key aspect of this disinformation campaign was the
manipulation of press coverage of Saddam Hussein's weapons programs. Among the
reporters who were turned was Judith Miller of the New York Times. Like many
reporters and new organizations, Miller had been essentially annexed by power:
whatever she may have thought she was doing, she traded independence for
Before the war, Miller's articles uncritically
reflected the administration's claims. After the war, Cheney's office tried to
annex her in the task of discrediting Joseph Wilson, who was in a position to
show how flimsy the case was, and how irresponsible or rather mendacious the
administration was in making it.
Miller is an extremely poor First Amendment
heroine, because her refusal to name her sources was in effect just a way of
continuing to participate in the administration's campaign to manipulate public
opinion. There have been comparisons to Deep Throat and Watergate. The
Plamethrower scandal is more like this: imagine that Deep Throat was Ron
Ziegler, Richard Nixon's press secretary. Then imagine that Woodward and
Bernstein's revelations consisted entirely of Nixon administration press
releases and that the scandal came to nothing.
Plamethrower ought immediately to make you
think: alright: who other than Joseph Wilson had information damaging to the
administration? And what became of these people and that information? Rove and
Libby were essentially willing to commit felonies to discredit substantive
criticisms. Who else - besides thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of
Iraqis - were their victims?
The chief UN weapons inspector, Hans Blix,
accused the Bush administration of "leaning on" his inspectors to
produce more damning reports in the run-up to war: essentially insisting that
they falsify their results. When he refused, he told the Guardian in June 2003,
the administration engaged in a wholesale smear campaign against him, up to and
including planting the claim that Blix - by all accounts a happily married man
- was a homosexual.
The former weapons inspector Scott Ritter, who
insisted - accurately - that inspections had shown Saddam had disarmed in the
nineties, was caught up in a scandal about cybersex, news of which was leaked
to the press a week before the State of the Union Address wherein President
Bush made his trumped-up case for war.
Mohamed ElBaradei has just
been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the International Atomic
Energy Agency. In 2002 and '03, he had been critical of the administration's
fictional construction of Iraq's nuclear program. For his trouble, he was
subjected to a campaign to discredit him and remove him from office spearheaded
by current UN Ambassador John Bolton. This campaign included tapping
Meanwhile those who
helped create evidence and suppress dissent have been rewarded handsomely. For
his loyal failure to say the truth, CIA Director George Tenet was given the
Medal of Freedom. Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi "dissident" and Shia
warlord whose disinformation succeeded in luring the US into war, is now Deputy
Prime Minister of the New Iraq.
The truly disturbing cases
in this schedule of rewards and punishments are likely to be those about whom
we know nothing. We need not more Judith Millers but reporters with more
critical intelligence and less "access."
Plamethrower is in a way
not such a big deal: neither Valerie Plame nor the nation were greatly harmed
by Plame being named as an agent. But the administration's viciousness, its
pettiness, and its dishonesty in the service of death are, though neither unique
nor particularly surprising, nevertheless terrifying.
The connivance of the American
press in the process - up to and including the idea that it is their solemn
First Amendment right to protect the administration in its manipulation of the
American people - is just sad.