By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Illustration by Winston Smith
Patriotism is typically defined as love of country. And love, it is said, is blind. No wonder then that those who dare to address or seek out inconvenient and uncomfortable truths about the government often go unrecognized as true patriots or, worse, are denounced by others who would (if they could) turn the flag into camouflage for official malfeasance.
Several courageous citizens have recently tried to keep the U.S. government honest and have been slammed and slimed for their efforts. Here are some of the folks who should be revered across the land as American heroes, but red-white-and-blue conservatives have made them figures of controversy and targets for scorn or revenge:
Kristin Breitweiser, Patty Casazza, Mindy Kleinberg and Lorie Van Auken, a group of 9/11 widows in New Jersey, have pushed the government to tell the full story of the horrific attacks that killed their husbands. It is due to their relentless endeavors — and those of other 9/11 relatives — that George W. Bush, after a year of resistance, caved and established the commission to investigate the September 11 attacks.
And since the 9/11 inquiry began in early 2003, Breitweiser and her colleagues have been stalwart watchdogs, pressing the commission to hold open hearings and to get the job done right. When the commission, earlier this year, announced it needed a few extra months to finish its work, Bush and House Speaker Denny Hastert said no. The widows went ballistic and forced these powerful men to retreat. And it was the outcry of the 9/11 widows that forced National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to testify publicly before the commission after the administration first refused to let her do so.
For their noble efforts, Breitweiser and the other widows have been hammered by the twin towers of the right: Rush Limbaugh and The Wall Street Journal editorial page. On March 9, Limbaugh blasted the widows as shills for the “Democratic Party machine” and called them “Democratic campaign consultants, not grieving family members” who were “poisoned by their hate.” In an open letter to Limbaugh, Breitweiser, whose husband, Ron, worked on the 94th floor of the South Tower, noted that she is not a Democrat, that she was not, as Limbaugh had claimed, “schooled” in what to say by the Democratic Party, and that she and her husband both voted for Bush in 2000.
A few weeks later, Dorothy Rabinowitz, a member of The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, published a rather long op-ed that took another shot at Breitweiser and her comrades. Breitweiser’s chief offense, in the eyes of the rabid Rabinowitz, was suggesting that “President Bush and his workers . . . were the individuals that failed my husband and the 3,000 people that day.” Given that the preliminary reports of the 9/11 commission and the report of the congressional intelligence committees have detailed numerous U.S. government screwups that made it much easier for the plotters to succeed, Breitweiser had a point. Yet Rabinowitz mocked the widows as lost-in-grief purveyors of “false and irrelevant” opinions about 9/11.
When Breitweiser and her three associates tried to get the Journalto publish a piece they had written, Rabinowitz mistakenly sent Breitweiser an e-mail in which she called her and the widows “women clearly in the grip of the delusion that they know something.”
While attending a 9/11 commission meeting in May, Breitweiser remarked, “What bothers me is, if you disagree with someone like Dorothy Rabinowitz or Rush Limbaugh, you are attacked as being political. We live in a democracy and should be able to have healthy, respectful debate.” She noted that she had asked Limbaugh to debate the issues with her on air. Her offer was rejected.
Our second winner, on this July Fourth, of the truth-seeking-is-for-suckers award goes to former Ambassador Joseph Wilson. Last summer, you will recall, the president was in trouble for having made what seemed to be a false charge in his January 2003 State of the Union address: that Iraq had been shopping for uranium in Africa. With that allegation, Bush was suggesting that Saddam Hussein was close to acquiring a nuclear weapon. Months later, as critics accused Bush of hyping an untrue allegation, the White House sought to defend its use of this charge. To set the record straight, Wilson revealed that a year before Bush’s speech, he had been sent by the CIA to Niger to investigate this charge and had reported back (as had other U.S. government emissaries) that it was highly improbable.
After Wilson’s disclosure, the Bush White House gave up and admitted the allegation should not have been in Bush’s speech. But days later, two administration sources told conservative columnist Robert Novak that Wilson’s wife, Valerie, was a CIA operative working on weapons of mass destruction. Novak published this factoid, and the undercover career of Valerie Wilson (a.k.a. Valerie Plame) was ruined. Moreover, national security was harmed, and possibly federal law prohibiting government officials from identifying covert U.S. officials was broken. (The Justice Department is still investigating the leak, and Bush was recently questioned by the prosecutors in charge of the case.)
One element of this tale is not so well-known. Before the Iraq war, Wilson was a fierce opponent of last year’s U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. As the last acting ambassador in Iraq before the first Persian Gulf war, he had taken a confrontational stance against Hussein and had supported the 1991 war. This made him a particularly credible voice of opposition this time around; he was one of the few establishment-type figures in Washington who passionately decried Bush’s rush to war. Throughout the protracted run-up to the war, Wilson knew that Bush had misled the country in his State of the Union speech. But he did not put this information to any advantage. Instead, he privately sent a message to the White House: You ought to correct the record on this.