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Words of Power #18: Forty-Eight Hours -- What Happens When Military and Intel Officers Must Challenge Political Leaders to Uphold the Rule of Law
As Alexis de Tocqueville once said: "America is great because she is good. If America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great." In January 2001, with the inauguration of George W. Bush as president, America set on a path to cease being good; America became a revolutionary nation, a radical republic. If our country continues on this path, it will cease to be great - as happened to all great powers before it, without exception.
Lt. Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, Retired, US Army, Baltimore Sun, 4-23-06
In a democratic society, high-ranking military officers, senior intelligence officials and decorated war heroes should not have to protect the rule of law, whether domestic (e.g., the Bill of Rights) or international (e.g., the Geneva Accords), against the nation’s own political leadership. Typically, most people would assume, it is the other way around. Nor should those military officers, intelligence officials and war heroes have to sound the alarm publicly when an administration fails its primary national security responsibilities. The task of sounding the alarm is supposed to be shared, in free societies, by a partisan opposition and a unbiased news media. But these are extraordinary times in the USA, and many of those who have taken an oath to defend the US Constitution against any foe “foreign or domestic” find themselves in remarkable circumstances.
For years, most congressional leaders (on both sides of the aisle) and almost all US mainstream news directors have helped hide the truth and ducked its consequences. Fortunately, the traditions and institutions of US government service have produced more than a few military and intelligence professionals true to their oaths, and they have forced the truth upon the American public again and again since 2003, and yes from 9/11 as well. Hopefully, it is unavoidable now.
Consider the relevant news items of the 48 hours from Sunday, April 23 until Tuesday, April 25, 2006:
On Monday, General Paul Van Riper, Retired, US Marine Corp, joined Generals Swanneck, Newbold, Eaton, Zinni, Batiste, Riggs and Clark, and became the eighth general to call for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Van Riper told Fox News, “If this leader is not capable of doing it, now going in excess of five years, has not demonstrated he is, then perhaps it is time to find a new one. If I was the president, I would have relieved him three years ago.”
Think Progress, 4-24-06
On Sunday morning, in a CBS Face The Nation interview with Bob Schieffer, Major General John Batiste, Retired, US Army did not equivocate in his responses:
SCHIEFFER: What did Secretary Rumsfeld do wrong in your view that causes you to say he--he must be replaced?
Maj. Gen. BATISTE: Bob, I think it--it's all a matter of treating the military with contemptuous attitudes, dismissive behavior and arrogance. We made a series of strategic decisions that were flawed with respect to the size of the force that we took into Iraq, the war plan that we executed, setting the conditions for Abu Ghraib. That should've been no surprise to any of us, and we stood down the [Iraqi] military at a point in time when that was the last thing that we wanted--or should have done....
CBS Face The Nation, 4-23-06
Meanwhile, Osama Bin Laden, the leader of those who attacked the USA on 9/11/01 issued an audio message exhorting his followers to “prepare for a drawn-out conflict with the Western world” and “blaming what he called 'a Crusader-Zionist war’ for a long list of attacks on Islam in places from Darfur to Denmark…”
Washington Post, 4-24-06
Appearing on ABC’s Sunday morning Week in Review, US Senator John Kerry (D-MA) eluded to the new Bin Laden tape, and reiterated his long-standing call for Rumsfeld’s resignation: “Bin Laden slipped past US troops from his hideout in the Tora Bora area of Afghanistan in late 2001 because Rumsfeld had not committed enough troops to finding him, Kerry, the Democratic Party candidate in the 2004 presidential election, told ABC television. The failure to catch the al-Qaeda head on that occasion was one of the biggest catastrophes in the war against terrorism, Kerry added….”
Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 4-23-06
On Sunday morning’s Op-Ed pages, Lt. Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, Retired, US Army, formerly chief aide to US Secretary of State Colin Powell, continued the brave advance of the patriots:
From the Kyoto accords to the International Criminal Court, from torture and cruel and unusual treatment of prisoners to rendition of innocent civilians, from illegal domestic surveillance to lies about leaking, from energy ineptitude to denial of global warming, from cherry-picking intelligence to appointing a martinet and a tyrant to run the Defense Department, the Bush administration, in the name of fighting terrorism, has put America on the radical path to ruin.
Unprecedented interpretations of the Constitution that holds the president as commander in chief to be all-powerful and without checks and balances marks the hubris and unparalleled radicalism of this administration. Moreover, fiscal profligacy of an order never seen before has brought America trade deficits that boggle the mind and a federal deficit that, when stripped of the gimmickry used to make it appear more tolerable, will leave every child and grandchild in this nation a debt that will weigh upon their generations like a ball and chain around every neck.
Baltimore Sun, 4-23-06
But the responsibility to resist and reveal was not shouldered by retired military officers and decorated war heroes alone, the weight of it was also taken up, as it has been even since 9/11, by former intelligence officials:
On Sunday evening, in CBS 60 Minutes report, Tyler Drumheller, the former head of CIA covert operations in Europe, spoke out in an interview with Ed Bradley. He said what many of us have insisted all along. It was not an “intelligence failure” that led to the Bush administration’s false claims about Iraqi possession of WMD, “a policy failure” in the White House. CBS reports that “the Bush administration, time and again, welcomed intelligence that fit the president's determination to go to war and turned a blind eye to intelligence that did not.” According to Drumheller, the prevailing consensus in the CIA, “from the beginning,” was that the Niger yellow cake uranium story was a canard. He also revealed that Naji Sabri, Iraq’s foreign minister, had “made a deal to reveal Iraq’s military secrets.” And guess what? He told them there were no WMD. But the Bush, Cheney, Powell, Rumsfeld and Rice went ahead anyway, beating the drums of war and proffering false information to lend credence to their war-mongering.
CBS Sixty Minutes, 4-23-06
But perhaps the most damning bit of evidence flowing from Drumheller’s 60 Minutes appearance was revealed afterward, in an interview with blogger Josh Micah Marshall of Talking Points Memo:
Did the Robb-Silbermann Commission not hear about what Drumheller had to say? What about the Roberts Committee?...He was interviewed by the Robb-Silbermann Commission. Three times apparently. Did he tell them everything he revealed on tonight's 60 Minutes segment. Absolutely. Drumheller was also interviewed twice by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (the Roberts Committee) but apparently only after they released their summer 2004 report….The fact that none of Drumheller's story managed to find its way into those reports, I think, speaks volumes about the agenda that the writers of those reports were pursuing. "I was stunned," Drumheller told me, when so little of the stuff he had told the commission's and the committee's investigators ended up in their reports. His colleagues, he said, were equally "in shock" that so little of what they related ended up in the reports either. What Drumheller has to say adds quite a lot to our knowledge of what happened in the lead up to war. But what it shows even more clearly is that none of this stuff has yet been investigated by anyone whose principal goal is not covering for the White House.
Talking Points Memo, 4-23-06
Then, on Monday morning, in Newsweek, a senior CIA official fired last Friday spoke out through another colleague who had resigned, as a matter of principle, in the ramp up to the tragic war in Iraq.
A former CIA officer who was sacked last week after allegedly confessing to leaking secrets has denied she was the source of a controversial Washington Post story about alleged CIA secret detention operations in Eastern Europe, a friend of the operative told NEWSWEEK. The fired official, Mary O. McCarthy, "categorically denies being the source of the leak," one of McCarthy's friends and former colleagues, [former National Security Council official] Rand Beers, said Monday after speaking to McCarthy….[Larry Johnson, a former CIA analyst] maintains the Bush White House is "really damaging the intelligence community" by sending a message to career officials that "unless you are a partisan of the party in power, you cannot be trusted." This message, Johnson says, is destroying the intelligence community's "professional ethos." A serving CIA official said that the day that McCarthy was escorted out of the CIA's Langley, Va., headquarters, some former colleagues of McCarthy defended her, even while acknowledging they were not familiar with the details of the case.
Mark Hosenball and Michael Isikoff, Secrets of the CIA, Newsweek 4-24-06
What will happen now? What will you do? Where are the American people? Will these brave professionals stand alone? Or will a grateful citizenry, a repentant news media and a chastened political leadership rise up to stand beside them, instead of shirking the task at hand? Or wiil it all end here? Will this nation go the way of the Caligulas and the Neros? How far are we from death squads and detention camps? Probably about as far as we were back in January 2005 from where we are today, i.e. much closer than you think.
Bush’s latest CNN approval poll rating is at 32%
Perhaps the urgency is best captured in Batiste’s poignant reaction to Shieffer’s question on the looming confrontation with Iraq:
SCHIEFFER: We're told that the Iranians are developing a nuclear weapon. Let's suppose they--they do that. Can the United States tolerate that, and can we take military action against Iran if we're still involved in Iraq?
Maj. Gen. BATISTE: This is exactly my point, Bob. We need to hold the current secretary of defense accountable for some very bad strategic decisions. Just around the corner there are some huge decisions that this country will have to make. And we need senior leadership at the Department of Defense whose instinct and judgment we trust.
Most of us, including Gen. Batiste, know, of course, that it is not just Rumsfeld who has been exposed as horrifically inept and inexcusably cavalier in the exercise of national security responsibilities, but also President George W. Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condi Rice.
What will the next seventy-two hours bring? Or the next six months? Or the next two years?
Richard Power is the founder of GS(3) Intelligence and http://www.wordsofpower.net. His work focuses on the inter-related issues of security, sustainability and spirit, and how to overcome the challenges of terrorism, cyber crime, global warming, health emergencies, natural disasters, etc. You can reach him via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, go to http://www.wordsofpower.net/