Getting to the bottom of government lies

By Adam Kotlarczyk

Right before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, a friend and I argued the merits of preemptive war. While I felt more work should be done by inspectors to find out if Iraq was lying about having weapons of mass destruction, he thought the “probable cause” we had was good enough.

But he, like a lot of Americans, put a caveat on his endorsement.

If we go in, he said, and find no WMDs, then this war – and this President, whom he voted for  – will lose support


Although it may not seem like it, that was almost three years ago. But even now, WMD questions continue to linger, seeming to shadow every move the Bush administration makes.

Consider Tuesday’s surprise move by Senate Democrats to invoke Rule 21.

I know, it sounds like an evil law that keeps underclassmen out of bars, but actually the rarely-invoked rule allows for a closed-door, secret meeting of the Senate. It was an unnecessarily dramatic maneuver, to be sure. But Democrats weren’t the only ones being dramatic.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn) compared the tactic to being “slapped in the face.” Apparently, there’s more face-smacking going on in our legislative branch these days than at a Three Stooges convention. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev), in commenting on the stalled inquiry into the administration’s handling of pre-war intelligence that spurred the secret session, said “It’s a slap in the face to the American people that this investigation has been stymied.”

Despite the melodrama, Reid raised a good point: Why is the report taking so long?

Partly, it’s the Democrats’ fault – they agreed to a deal allowing the Intelligence Committee to hold its results until after the 2004 election. But now Americans deserve to finally know whether the administration was fooled by bad intelligence, or if it knowingly purveyed bad intelligence to us to sell the war.

This bad intelligence is what led to the indictment of Vice President Cheney’s top aide, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, last month. Despite the charges, this case isn’t about perjury or obstruction of justice. It’s about finding out whether the administration knowingly lied about intelligence, and then sought to punish people who could expose the lie.

The short version goes like this: Before the war, a U.S. diplomat goes to Africa to investigate evidence Iraq is trying to acquire materials needed to make nuclear weapons. He learns Iraq is not trying to acquire the materials, and the evidence is forged. He reports back. Yet somehow the administration – including President Bush – continues to use this “evidence” to build a case for invading Iraq.

The diplomat, feeling his efforts have been misrepresented, publishes an opinion piece in the New York Times stating his case. The administration retaliates by leaking to the media his wife is a CIA operative.

No doubt, the missing WMDs play a major part in the plummeting approval ratings of Bush and company.

In a recent Washington Post-ABC News survey, 46 percent of Americans felt the level of honesty and ethics in government has declined on Bush’s watch; 55 percent believe Libby’s indictment indicates wider ethical problems at the White House.

That’s why it’s in everyone’s best interest to get to the bottom of pre-war Iraq intelligence – even Republicans, who need to cull from their baskets the bad apples souring the opinions of the same nation that voted them into sweeping victory last fall.

It’s in the best interest of every American to learn from our mistakes and find out why bad intelligence put our troops in Iraq.

A helicopter crash Tuesday marked the 2,031st American casualty of the Iraq war. Whether it takes more indictments or more Rule 21 sessions, we must get to the bottom of the pre-war intelligence flop. There are now well over 2,000 reasons why.

Columns reflect the opinion of the author and not necessarily that of the Northern Star staff.