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Bush commission to "investigate" Iraq war lies

February 20, 2004 | Page 5

GEORGE W. BUSH'S approval ratings have dropped to all-new lows for his presidency under the weight of a series of scandals. From the White House's manufactured claims about Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction" to the questions about Bush's National Guard service record during the Vietnam War, the scandals have been spreading all month--and show no signs of going away. Suddenly, Bush--who has been treated by the media as unbeatable for re-election since September 11--looks vulnerable. NICOLE COLSON looks at the White House's latest round of lies and spin.

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"I WANT the American people to know that I, too, want to know the facts." That was the best George W. Bush could come up with as the main justification for his war on Iraq--that the regime of Saddam Hussein possessed an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction--was being exposed as a lie.

Under growing pressure even from Republicans, Bush announced that he would establish a commission to investigate the so-called "intelligence failures" that produced the lies about Iraq's weapons. One look at the commission, though, shows just how much the White House "wants to know the facts." Not at all.

First, the nine-member panel won't report until at least March 2005--conveniently well after the presidential election is over and done with. Then there's the fact that Bush wants the panel to look into intelligence "mistakes" in Iraq, along with U.S. weapons intelligence in Libya, Iran and North Korea --but not whether the administration lied or manipulated intelligence in order to make its case for war.

Senators say that they will widen the scope of the inquiry to the White House's role in deliberately misleading the public. But Bush says that he won't testify, and the panel doesn't have the power to subpoena individuals or compel agencies or individuals to testify.

"If you look at the timing and terms of reference for the commission, it's very transparent what's happening here," former CIA analyst Ray McGovern recently told the American Prospect. Obviously, it's being created to avoid any damage before the election. The White House is attempting to broaden the panel's scope. So the upshot will be broadening out the issues, so that the Iraq issue will be obfuscated--lost in the weeds."

And just look who the administration picked to carry out its whitewash. The commission is packed with shady characters and fanatical hawks who have been demanding "regime change" in Iraq for years.

The worst of the bunch is one of the co-chairs--federal appeals court judge Laurence Silberman. Silberman is suspected of having helped engineer the infamous "October Surprise" in 1980--setting up meetings between officials from Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign and the Iranian government.

"The precise purpose of those meetings has never been resolved, but one school of thought, propounded most effectively in the early 1980s by Carter's top National Security Council adviser on Iran, was that the Republican campaign was trying to ensure that Tehran would not make a deal with Carter to release U.S. Embassy hostages who were being held in Iran until after the November elections," wrote journalist Jim Lobe. In fact, the U.S. hostages were released on the day of Reagan's inauguration.

Silberman was appointed as a federal judge by Reagan--and several years later, he cast the deciding vote in dismissing the criminal convictions of Admiral John Poindexter and Lt. Col. Oliver North for lying to Congress in connection with the Iran-contra scandal.

Don't count on the panel's Democrats to add a note of sanity to the proceedings. Former Sen. Charles Robb, the other co-chair, has been making the case for "regime change" in Iraq since before George W. Bush got to the White House. Robb is a stalwart of the conservative Democratic Leadership Council and backed the economic sanctions on Iraq that killed more than 1 million Iraqis in the decade following the 1991 Gulf War.

In 1998, Robb voted for Clinton's Iraq Liberation Act, which made regime change the aim of the U.S. government. That same year, when Scott Ritter, the former UNSCOM weapons inspector in Iraq, testified in front of Congress, Robb said that he personally "supported enthusiastically and wholeheartedly from the outset" the 1991 Gulf War.

He went on to criticize the United Nations Security Council for not threatening to use force to "disarm" Iraq--and suggested that the U.S. would be better off acting unilaterally against Saddam Hussein. "My problem is this," Robb said, "when we had a near-confrontation the last time, which was being provoked as it has been in the past by the lack of compliance by Saddam Hussein, we were clearly prepared to respond militarily if necessary, almost unilaterally in terms of the major force effort." In the end, whatever criticism that Robb makes of the Bush team will be over tactics--not any disagreement about the war itself.

Another panelist, former CIA Director Adm. William Studeman, is familiar with how intelligence "fails." In June 1993, when Bill Clinton bombed Iraq in retaliation for a supposed plot to assassinate George Bush Sr., then-CIA Deputy Director Studeman stood before the press and outlined the government's "compelling evidence" against Iraq. The fact that the evidence was all circumstantial--and that much of it later turned out to be flawed--didn't seem to matter.

As one CIA analyst explained the process to journalist Seymour Hersh, "Of course nobody wants to say, 'There's nothing to it, Mr. President,' especially when other guys are pushing it. The President asks the intelligence analysts for the bottom line: Is this for real or not? You can't really lose by saying yes."

The non-adventures of Flyboy Geroge

BOB MINTZ is absolutely certain that he didn't see George W. Bush. "There's no way we wouldn't have noticed a strange rooster in the hen house," said Mintz, a member of the Alabama Air National Guard unit that Bush supposedly served with during 1972.

In 1968, fresh off his time as a frat boy and C-student at Yale, Dubya used his family influence to jump ahead of thousands on the waiting list for the Texas National Guard. Bush leapfrogged over 500 flight training applicants to get a spot as a pilot in the Air National Guard--Houston's so-called "Champagne Unit," where the children of the Texas elite were sent to avoid the draft during Vietnam.

That was nothing unusual. The wealthy and well connected have a long history of avoiding military service during wartime. But Bush stands out from the brat pack for not even having finished out his cushy duty stateside--while working class Americans were used as cannon fodder in Vietnam.

In May 1972, Bush left Texas for Alabama, in order to work on the U.S. Senate campaign of family friend Winton "Red" Blount. Records indicate that he left Texas without formally requesting a transfer--and then never turned up for duty at Dannelly Air Base, in Montgomery, Ala. In August 1972, Bush was suspended from flight status for failing to take his annual flight physical. And in May 1973, Bush's two superior officers in Houston wrote that they couldn't perform his annual evaluation, because he had "not been observed at this unit" during the preceding 12 months.

The officers said they believed Bush was with the National Guard in Alabama at the time. But Bush's official record of service shows no attendance until late spring of 1973.

Last week, the White House suddenly "found" some of Bush's National Guard payment sheet summaries for the missing months--supposedly proving that he served in Alabama. But no one in the White House can explain why none of Bush's fellow or superior officers in Alabama remember him.

It's nice to see that Bush is finally taking some heat for his arrogance--especially after he was so quick to send U.S. soldiers to Iraq to die and be maimed in his war for oil and empire. But is Democratic presidential frontrunner Sen. John Kerry going after Bush for his hypocrisy? "I don't plan to do that, and I've asked [my supporters] not to," Kerry said last weekend.

Kerry is letting his supporters and fellow Democrats talk up his military record in Vietnam--and contrast it to Bush's shenanigans in Texas and Alabama. But don't trust Kerry--a political insider and the richest member of Congress--to really go after his fellow Yale alumnus.

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