'None Dare Call it Treason'
I've never had particularly warm feelings towards either President Bush or his Vice President Dick Cheney. Cheney spooked me early - as soon as I discovered that having been tasked to find a Vice Presidential running mate for George Bush, he selected himself.
Later, when his wife disclosed some of his personal predilections, he spooked me even more. It had been her husband's habit, Mrs Cheney said, to baby-sit his infant daughters by taking them with him to view Civil War battlefields.
To me, the story suggested a racist bitter-ender, obsessing about what might have been had Robert E Lee been more successful. Fanciful? Perhaps, but the behaviour of Cheney and the rest of the Bush administration since has given me no cause to revise my speculation. They have emphasised their racist agenda in many ways, from Affirmative Action to Katrina, from Haiti to Darfur - and of course, above all, in Iraq. And the main architect has been Mr Cheney.
So, although like every other Cassandra in the world I hate saying 'I told you so', it was not without some satisfaction that I watch the howling winds of Hurricane Patrick approaching Washington as I write, while the greedy and the powerful, the mighty and the unscrupulous, sit quivering and agonising about the wrath to come.
And although, as I write, Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald had not handed up an indictment for Dick Cheney, I have no doubt that one is in the offing. I believe that he is the main - if not 'onlie begetter' - of the devastation about to engulf the Bush Administration over the next few weeks and months.
Although Mr Cheney may have been mysteriously absent at crucial times in the history of this administration, his ever-present snarl, like the evanescent grin of the Cheshire Cat, has hovered over everything.
His secret task force on energy was, I postulate, the blueprint for the Iraq war. And that is the reason its deliberations are still secret. The war was not for ridding the world of Saddam except and inasmuch that his removal would have been expected to make the American take-over of Iraq's oilfields less expensive in terms of bodies destroyed, and more cost-effective in every other way.
The war was not for spreading democracy - a concept foreign to the imaginations of the administration; it was not for improving the conditions of the Iraqi people; it was not even for safeguarding Israel. It was all about oil. Everything else was secondary, including humanity, history and civilisation. And that is why it was so important that a credible case had to be made out that Saddam Hussein was seeking nuclear weapons.
Without that crucial piece of 'evidence' the United States was unlikely to recruit any UN allies in the run-up to its Iraq misadventure. It was important to scare the American people with the idea of a 'smoking gun' in the guise of a mushroom cloud, to terrify the British with the idea that Saddam had the capacity to obliterate the Royal Family and every fish and chips and curry take-out in Britain at 45 minutes' notice. The prospect made their flesh creep, in the words of one cabinet minister.
None dare call it Treason
In the sixteenth century Sir John Harrington wrote:
"Treason doth never prosper: what's the reason?Had the Iraq War been the 'slam dunk" its progenitors predicted, the minor matter of a forged bill of goods would probably not have come up for 50 years, when historians might have disinterred it. But it didn't happen that way.
For if it prosper, none dare call it treason."
Although the war had actually started when the fraud was exposed, the "Shock and Awe" son et lumiere production which had been meant to herald it had to be postponed for all kinds of pesky formalities, by which time the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had already discounted the documents as 'crude forgeries'.
Even the chosen messenger, an Italian journalist named Elisabetta Burba, had discounted the authenticity of the documents before she handed them over to the Italian authorities.
The visit of Ambassador Wilson to Niger was simply to confirm what the CIA had known, before it saw the documents, that the story was a fake. The CIA knew what Cheney, Libby, Bush and Rove did not know: that Niger cannot sell uranium to anyone since the sale of Niger uranium is controlled by three western companies under the strict supervision of the IAEA.
So, the frantic attempt to discredit Ambassador Wilson was crucial, because Mr Cheney had long before 'discredited' the CIA, and the White House was paying no attention to its main intelligence agency and hoping no one else was. The White House Iraq Group - WHIG - believed it had all the intelligence it needed. And with Tony Blair prepared to lie (as he still is) the way was clear.
Homage to the Discredited
Some of my readers have chastised me for being too hard on Mrs Judith Miller, that soon-to-be ex-employee of the New York Times newsroom. I really, really, really, do hate to say 'I told you so', but everything that has happened since my column appeared has proven me correct. Mrs Miller was stooging for Mr Libby and Mr Cheney. In the process she revealed that she had earlier been co-opted by the Pentagon and allowed to see top secret documents under a special, personal clearance. None of this was communicated to her editor.
It is my contention that since the editor normally is the person designated to go to jail in any cataclysmic conflict between a newspaper and the law, no reporter can take it upon himself to compromise the editor and the newspaper by attempting to guarantee the 'confidentiality' of any source.
The public has a right to know the source of the news. Confidential sources may be used if no other source is available AND if the story is of such transcendental importance that the public interest would be harmed by not publishing. Whatever the reason, the editor must be certain that the source is reliable and trustworthy. It would be a dereliction of duty for an editor to allow someone like Mrs Miller to vouch for the bona fides of any source, particularly when her sources had already proved to be spectacularly wrong, spectacularly prejudiced and spectacularly unreliable.
NYT publisher Sulzberger and editor Keller sat by and allowed Mrs Miller to hijack the New York Times' reputation, credibility and honour, and they too deserve to be fired. As Maureen Dowd has said, Mrs Miller's time in jail may have been an attempt at career rehabilitation. It had nothing whatever to do with defending the freedom of the press.
And it may be useful to remember in all of this that freedom of the press is a public right. It does not belong to the press. It is meant to guarantee that the public gets all the information they need to make up their minds - the Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth. They need to be able to rationally decide, for instance, whether they wish to have their children face death in a war to defend the remainder of their freedoms.
In this case, the press surrendered its responsibilities to people like Dick Cheney and Karl Rove and lent them the confidence that they could walk on water and defy common sense, common decency, public opinion and the law. What they were walking on was the turf on the grave of democracy.
They very nearly succeeded in making the United States into a one-party state. If you don't believe me, consider the curious case of the Harriet Miers' nomination to the Supreme Court.
Ms Miers was spectacularly unqualified, a fact which was obvious even in such dark corners of the world as Jamaica. She may be a very nice lady and a good lawyer in her own specialities, but she was not known to be a constitutional scholar or to be interested in such matters.
Her nomination seemed to be proceeding along a rocky but well trodden path until, horror of horrors, it became known that she had been an advocate of sexual and ethnic affirmative action. Nobody now mentions this disaster, but Ms Miers nomination was holed below the waterline by that disclosure.
With everything the press knows about Ms Miers, there was hardly any reasoned criticism of a woman who, had her nomination been confirmed, would have been making constitutional law for perhaps decades to come, deciding matters of life and death, of security and happiness of people not only in the United States but all over the world - in Haiti, Guantanamo Bay and Iraq, for instance.
The press was unperturbed that the president and the Republican Party saw the nomination as an opportunity to put the stamp of the American Taliban- the right-wing fundamentalist - creationists upon the Supreme Court of the United States. They have not been concerned when it is clear that the Republicans are anxious to deform the law and pervert the constitution to suit their prejudices.
They are not concerned that radical extremists are not satisfied that all but two of the judges on the Supreme Court were appointed by Republican presidents. Like the Judas Goat, they are prepared to lead the US down a path charted by people like Dick Cheney, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.
In the words of Hilaire Belloc:
"...the stocks were sold; the press was squared,Unfortunately, after 2,000 of their children have been slaughtered and another 15,000 maimed, the American people have terminally lost confidence in Mr Bush, none more so than the black minority, whose support of the Republicans and Mr Bush is said to be two - within the statistical margin of error. That is to say - apart from Condoleezza Rice, Clarence Thomas and Gerard La Tortue - there may be no black American citizen now prepared to believe anything Mr Bush says.
The middle class was quite prepared."
And the population as a whole? If an election were to be held today, more than half (55 per cent) are now prepared to vote for any Democratic candidate in preference to Mr Bush. The tragedy is two-fold: Mr Bush is the same person he was in November last year and the press knew then exactly who he was.
They just didn't bother to inform the people who pay their salaries.
Freedom of the press they preach; freedom of the press they do not practise.