Faulty Intelligence

Nat Parry

The com­mis­sion appoint­ed by Pres­i­dent George W. Bush to look into WMD-relat­ed intel­li­gence fail­ures” can be con­sid­ered inde­pen­dent” only if the word now means sub­or­di­nat­ed and allied.” The mem­bers lack the exper­tise required to uncov­er what real­ly went wrong, and their lim­it­ed man­date side­steps the cen­tral ques­tion: Did the admin­is­tra­tion hype intel­li­gence reports to march the Unit­ed States into war?

Rather than allow­ing Con­gress to name the mem­bers and deter­mine the scope of their inves­ti­ga­tion, the intel­li­gence com­mis­sion was estab­lished by exec­u­tive fiat and is a mix­ture of cen­trists and right-wing ide­o­logues — sug­gest­ing that Bush is less con­cerned with unrav­el­ing the Iraq fias­co than deflect­ing crit­i­cism until after the Novem­ber elections.

Co-chair­men are Lau­rence Sil­ber­man, a retired appeals court judge appoint­ed to the bench by Ronald Rea­gan, and Charles Robb, the mod­er­ate for­mer gov­er­nor and sen­a­tor from Vir­ginia. Oth­er mem­bers are: John McCain, who called for the commission’s for­ma­tion but advo­cat­ed that it report back after Novem­ber; Lloyd Cut­ler, legal coun­sel for two Demo­c­ra­t­ic admin­is­tra­tions; Richard Levin, pres­i­dent of Yale Uni­ver­si­ty, alma mater of the Bush clan; Patri­cia Wald, for­mer chief judge of the D.C. Court of Appeals; and Adm. William Stude­man, for­mer deputy direc­tor of Cen­tral Intel­li­gence and the only appointee with a sol­id knowl­edge of intel­li­gence matters.

The cos­met­ic appear­ance of bipar­tian­ship doesn’t mask the pol­i­tick­ing at the commission’s root.

Sil­ber­man has proved him­self a val­ued ide­o­log­i­cal right-wing oper­a­tive. After serv­ing as deputy attor­ney gen­er­al in the Nixon and Ford admin­is­tra­tions, he rep­re­sent­ed the Rea­gan-Bush pres­i­den­tial cam­paign team in 1980 as its unof­fi­cial ambas­sador to Iran, secret­ly meet­ing with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Aya­tol­lah Khomeini.

As a reward for his ser­vice, Rea­gan appoint­ed him to the Court of Appeals for Wash­ing­ton D.C., the most pow­er­ful cir­cuit court in the coun­try. In this capac­i­ty, he is best known for vot­ing in 1990 to over­turn the con­vic­tions of Lt. Col. Oliv­er North and Adm. John Poindex­ter, con­vict­ed of felonies relat­ing to the Iran-con­tra scandal.

Silberman’s inter­ven­tion played a key role in sab­o­tag­ing the inves­ti­ga­tion of spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor Lawrence Walsh, who lat­er described the GOP major­i­ty on the U.S. Appeals Court as a pow­er­ful band of Repub­li­can appointees [who] wait­ed like the strate­gic reserves of an embat­tled army, … a force cloaked in the black robes of those ded­i­cat­ed to defin­ing and pre­serv­ing the rule of law.”

In addi­tion to revers­ing the Iran-Con­tra con­vic­tions, Sil­ber­man tried over­turn­ing the inde­pen­dent coun­sel statute, a deci­sion nul­li­fied by the Supreme Court on an 8 – 1 vote. A decade lat­er, the judge helped right-wing activists pur­su­ing alle­ga­tions of sex­u­al mis­con­duct by Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton and was a strong defend­er of Inde­pen­dent Coun­sel Ken­neth Starr. When Clin­ton attempt­ed to pre­vent Secret Ser­vice agents from being forced to tes­ti­fy before Starr’s grand jury in 1998, Sil­ber­man wrote in a legal opin­ion, Can it be said that the pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States has declared war on the Unit­ed States?”

Even the seat­ing of McCain, wide­ly regard­ed as an out­spo­ken mav­er­ick Repub­li­can, does lit­tle to estab­lish the cred­i­bil­i­ty of the pan­el. Although McCain was an ear­ly advo­cate of a pres­i­den­tial com­mis­sion to pre­vent the Unit­ed States from ever being mis­in­formed again,” he declined to sup­port Sen­ate bill 1946, intro­duced last Novem­ber to estab­lish a con­gres­sion­al­ly man­dat­ed inde­pen­dent com­mis­sion. He also allayed Bush admin­is­tra­tion con­cerns that the com­mis­sion would influ­ence the Novem­ber elec­tions by stat­ing that it will take the pan­el more than a year to com­plete its work.

McCain is one of the most vir­u­lent hawks on Capi­tol Hill and has not devi­at­ed from the neo-con­ser­v­a­tive line regard­ing Iraq and weapons of mass destruc­tion. Lead­ing up to the war, McCain par­rot­ed admin­is­tra­tion claims on WMDs. On the eve of the U.S. inva­sion in March 2003, Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly asked McCain, If you were pres­i­dent, what would you have done dif­fer­ent­ly in the run-up to this war?” The sen­a­tor answered, Noth­ing.”

McCain also sug­gest­ed that the commission’s find­ings already are writ­ten when he told reporters: The pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States, I believe, did not manip­u­late any kind of infor­ma­tion for polit­i­cal gain or otherwise.”

White House press sec­re­tary Scott McClel­lan empha­sized that com­mis­sion mem­bers’ inde­pen­dence will be spelled out in the exec­u­tive order that the pres­i­dent will sign.” But the exec­u­tive order Bush signed on Feb­ru­ary 6 pro­vid­ed that the pan­el is sub­ject to the author­i­ty of the President.”

Nat Par­ry is a writer and activist based in Arling­ton, Virginia.
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