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Dead Man Walking

Thanks to the work of Washington Post reporter Dana Priest and federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, we now have a pretty pair of bookends for the war in Iraq. The Post has revealed just exactly what happens to the young, wounded and maimed soldiers after they come back from Iraq. They wind up in the rat-infested Walter Reed roach motel, abandoned to the care of a privatized staff of former DMV clerks. And the successful work of prosecutor Fitzgerald, winning four out of five felony counts of perjury and obstruction of justice against vice presidential chief of staff I. Lewis Libby, forces us to revisit the fraudulent origins of this war.

It might be Scooter who will soon be headed for a year or two in the federal cooler, but the underlying political indictment coming out of his trial focuses on his boss, Dick Cheney, and on the deceptions, dualities and outright lies that got us into Iraq in the first place.

Now long buried under multiple levels of White House revisionist history, we invaded Iraq four years ago because we were told that Saddam Hussein represented a nuclear threat to the United States. No wonder that what Fitzgerald called a “hullabaloo” erupted in the White House when former ambassador Joe Wilson came back from Niger a few months later and wrote in The New York Times that the evidence that Iraq was buying yellowcake uranium from Africa was false.

Wilson’s revelations, made on a trip sponsored by the CIA, poured cold water directly on the administration’s main justification for the adventure in Iraq. And the panicked reaction from the White House was swift, angry and agitated. The top tier of the Bush PR machine tilted into full spin mode, with Karl Rove, Dick Cheney and Cheney’s No. 1 minion taking the lead in trying to discredit Wilson. The beltway phone lines buzzed and smoked as the official word went out: Critics of the war were unstable and reckless. Wilson was an egotistical publicity seeker. He was an unreliable closet Democrat. It wasn’t really the CIA who sent him to Niger. The mastermind of his junket was, instead, his wife, Valerie Plame. And, oh yes, by the way, she’s a covert agent now acting as a rogue.

After years of investigation, five weeks of trial and 10 days of jury deliberation, we can now file all the above as just one more skip load of administration bull. Libby turns out not to be the chief leaker of Plame’s secret identity, but was nevertheless a pivotal piece in the larger White House propaganda strategy to besmirch any and all critics of the Iraq war policy.

Libby, always the fiercely loyal ideological soldier, took it right in the shorts for his bosses, and without as much as a whimper. His highly skilled defense lawyers pleaded that Libby — who has remained mum throughout his ordeal — was but an innocent scapegoat caught up in the machinations of those above his pay grade. And, to a great degree, they are right. Libby sat in court and stoically grinned, and then as the verdict was read aloud, he methodically and silently fell on his sword for Rove and Cheney. As juror Dennis Collins told the press immediately after the trial, “We had a lot of sympathy for Libby... and we kept asking ourselves, ‘Where’s Cheney? Where’s Rove?’”

Which, by the why, are two excellent questions. As we have learned, it was Cheney who on a daily basis directed and micromanaged Libby in his anti-Wilson spin sessions with selected journalists. This was established beyond any doubt during the trial. And thanks only to Libby’s refusal to testify was the V.P. saved further embarrassment.

In his post-trial news conference Tuesday, prosecutor Fitzgerald reminded us all that “a cloud” still hangs over the V.P.’s office. A touching bit of irony here as this entire sordid episode began with the White House warning us of impending mushroom clouds. What now hangs over Cheney’s door might not be exactly radioactive, but it is most certainly toxic.

The Libby verdict unearths only the newest, most superficial level of administration mendacity. There are still several layers to go to get to the rotted-out bottom of this seemingly endless war that has bankrupted us both morally and financially. The week began with the news that Cheney’s health might be threatened by a new blood clot found in his leg. But it ends with a much more dire diagnosis: He’s got Scooter Libby wrapped round his neck.


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