Commentary Magazine


Topic: Niger

Morning Commentary

You can’t make this up: Charles Rangel is now being investigated for improperly using PAC money to fund his legal defense during his recent ethics violation case.

Cables show that cash is still flowing to terrorists from Arab states, indicating that U.S. efforts to halt terror funding since 9/11 have been woefully ineffective.

Cable Gate was a diplomatic disaster with dangerous consequences for our national security, but it’s undeniable that the leaked documents have also given the public a great deal of insight into the fascinating world of international diplomacy. The Atlantic has looked beyond the political ramifications of the leaked secrets and compiled an archive of the most captivating stories from the cables.

Muslims say that their relations with the FBI have been strained after a mosque informant filed a lawsuit against the bureau alleging that he was pressured to use unfair tactics to entrap Muslims.

While most Hollywood movies that are “based on real events” tend to stretch the truth, the film about Valerie Plame/Joe Wilson, Fair Game, starring Sean Penn, went too far, according to a scathing Washington Post editorial: “Mr. Wilson claimed that he had proved that Mr. [George W.] Bush deliberately twisted the truth about Iraq, and he was eagerly embraced by those who insist the former president lied the country into a war. Though it was long ago established that Mr. Wilson himself was not telling the truth — not about his mission to Niger and not about his wife — the myth endures. We’ll join the former president in hoping that future historians get it right.”

“Three meters between life and death” — the gripping story of a Yediot Aharonot photographer who found himself trapped in the Carmel inferno.

Is the Tea Party “wrecking” traditional GOP foreign policy and support for Israel? That’s what Barry Gewen argues in the New Republic. But the Tea Partiers hold such diverse views on foreign policy that it’s impossible to typecast them on this issue. While Ron Paul certainly has some influence over the movement, hawks like Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and Jim DeMint seem to have a far greater pull.

You can’t make this up: Charles Rangel is now being investigated for improperly using PAC money to fund his legal defense during his recent ethics violation case.

Cables show that cash is still flowing to terrorists from Arab states, indicating that U.S. efforts to halt terror funding since 9/11 have been woefully ineffective.

Cable Gate was a diplomatic disaster with dangerous consequences for our national security, but it’s undeniable that the leaked documents have also given the public a great deal of insight into the fascinating world of international diplomacy. The Atlantic has looked beyond the political ramifications of the leaked secrets and compiled an archive of the most captivating stories from the cables.

Muslims say that their relations with the FBI have been strained after a mosque informant filed a lawsuit against the bureau alleging that he was pressured to use unfair tactics to entrap Muslims.

While most Hollywood movies that are “based on real events” tend to stretch the truth, the film about Valerie Plame/Joe Wilson, Fair Game, starring Sean Penn, went too far, according to a scathing Washington Post editorial: “Mr. Wilson claimed that he had proved that Mr. [George W.] Bush deliberately twisted the truth about Iraq, and he was eagerly embraced by those who insist the former president lied the country into a war. Though it was long ago established that Mr. Wilson himself was not telling the truth — not about his mission to Niger and not about his wife — the myth endures. We’ll join the former president in hoping that future historians get it right.”

“Three meters between life and death” — the gripping story of a Yediot Aharonot photographer who found himself trapped in the Carmel inferno.

Is the Tea Party “wrecking” traditional GOP foreign policy and support for Israel? That’s what Barry Gewen argues in the New Republic. But the Tea Partiers hold such diverse views on foreign policy that it’s impossible to typecast them on this issue. While Ron Paul certainly has some influence over the movement, hawks like Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and Jim DeMint seem to have a far greater pull.

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Clinton, Dictators, and Doubletalk

There are many nauseating features of Hillary Clinton’s human-rights speech. There’s the hypocrisy of touting our forthrightness in dealing with China. (Does the Dalai Lama know? Why no freewheeling interchange in China between Obama and democracy activists? Why did she tell the Chinese leaders in February that human rights wouldn’t be allowed to get in the way of the important stuff?). There’s the loathsome confession that our legal and well-founded anti-terror policies are human-rights sins to be expiated. And then there’s her discussion of Iran.

She does her best to conceal the unconcealable: that at a critical juncture, we refused to deny legitimacy to the Iranian regime and to support both rhetorically and financially the democracy advocates. So, as Hillary is wont to do, she shades and minces words — and downright lies:

We acknowledge that one size does not fit all. And when old approaches aren’t working, we won’t be afraid to attempt new ones, as we have this year by ending the stalemate of isolation and instead pursuing measured engagement with Burma. In Iran, we have offered to negotiate directly with the government on nuclear issues, but have at the same time expressed solidarity with those inside Iran struggling for democratic change. As President Obama said in his Nobel speech, “They have us on their side.”

And we will hold governments accountable for their actions, as we have just recently by terminating Millennium Challenge Corporation grants this year for Madagascar and Niger in the wake of government behavior. As the President said last week, “we must try as best we can to balance isolation and engagement; pressure and incentives, so that human rights and dignity are advanced over time.”

So the Obami were on the side of the protesters? Or, rather, did they cut the legs out from under them by plunging ahead with negotiations, bestowing complete legitimacy on a regime that had stolen an election and brutalized its people? And just how did we hold Tehran “accountable” for its actions? We haven’t. Not in the least. Read More

There are many nauseating features of Hillary Clinton’s human-rights speech. There’s the hypocrisy of touting our forthrightness in dealing with China. (Does the Dalai Lama know? Why no freewheeling interchange in China between Obama and democracy activists? Why did she tell the Chinese leaders in February that human rights wouldn’t be allowed to get in the way of the important stuff?). There’s the loathsome confession that our legal and well-founded anti-terror policies are human-rights sins to be expiated. And then there’s her discussion of Iran.

She does her best to conceal the unconcealable: that at a critical juncture, we refused to deny legitimacy to the Iranian regime and to support both rhetorically and financially the democracy advocates. So, as Hillary is wont to do, she shades and minces words — and downright lies:

We acknowledge that one size does not fit all. And when old approaches aren’t working, we won’t be afraid to attempt new ones, as we have this year by ending the stalemate of isolation and instead pursuing measured engagement with Burma. In Iran, we have offered to negotiate directly with the government on nuclear issues, but have at the same time expressed solidarity with those inside Iran struggling for democratic change. As President Obama said in his Nobel speech, “They have us on their side.”

And we will hold governments accountable for their actions, as we have just recently by terminating Millennium Challenge Corporation grants this year for Madagascar and Niger in the wake of government behavior. As the President said last week, “we must try as best we can to balance isolation and engagement; pressure and incentives, so that human rights and dignity are advanced over time.”

So the Obami were on the side of the protesters? Or, rather, did they cut the legs out from under them by plunging ahead with negotiations, bestowing complete legitimacy on a regime that had stolen an election and brutalized its people? And just how did we hold Tehran “accountable” for its actions? We haven’t. Not in the least.

But it’s in the Q&A that the full incoherence and abject hypocrisy of the Obami’s nonhuman-rights policy is revealed. When asked how we balance concerns about Iran’s nuclear program with human rights, Clinton gushed gibberish:

Right. Well, it is a balancing act. But the more important balancing act is to make sure that our very strong opposition to what is going on inside Iran doesn’t in any way undermine the legitimacy of the protest movement that has taken hold. Now, this is one of those very good examples of a hard call. After the election and the reaction that began almost immediately by people who felt that the election was invalid, put us in a position of seriously considering what is the best way we can support those who are putting their lives on the line by going into the streets. We wanted to convey clear support, but we didn’t want the attention shifted from the legitimate concerns to the United States, because we had nothing to do with the spontaneous reaction that grew up in response to the behavior of the Iranian Government.

So it’s been a delicate walk, but I think that the activists inside Iran know that we support them. We have certainly encouraged their continuing communication of what’s going on inside Iran. One of the calls that we made shortly after the election in the midst of the demonstrations is this unit of these very tech-savvy young people that we’ve created inside the State Department knew that there was a lot of communication going on about demonstrations and sharing information on Twitter, and that totally unconnected to what was going on in Iran, Twitter had planned some kind of lapse in service to do something on their system – you can tell I have no idea what they were doing. (Laughter.) I mean, you know, I don’t know Twitter from Tweeter, so – (laughter) – to be honest with you.

So these young tech people in the State Department called Twitter and said don’t take Twitter down right now. Whatever you’re going to do to reboot or whatever it is – (laughter) – don’t take Twitter down because people in Iran are dependent upon Twitter. So we have done that careful balancing.

Now, clearly, we think that pursuing an agenda of nonproliferation is a human rights issue. I mean, what would be worse than nuclear material or even a nuclear weapon being in the hands of either a state or a non-state actor that would be used to intimidate and threaten and even, in the worst-case scenario, destroy?

What??!! Nuclear proliferation becomes a human-rights issue. And walking a fine line means doing nothing to fund or lend aid to the protesters. As of now, the Obami have failed on both counts. Iran’s thugocracy is fully established and its nuclear program is proceeding full steam ahead. But she sort of knows what Twitter is. (Her speech doesn’t end there, by the way, and should be savored complete and unedited.)

This is what passes for “smart” diplomacy. But it’s revealing. Never does it dawn on the Obami that human rights, support for democracy, and regime change might actually enhance our objectives and afford us a solution to the problem of an Islamic fundamentalist state’s acquisition of nuclear arms. She’s in the business of walking fine lines and delivering double talk, which speaks volumes about how fundamentally unserious this group is about human rights.

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Talk of the Town

Is Seymour Hersh credible? Is the New Yorker?

Haaretz has a story by Emmanuel Sivan today taking apart an article Hersh wrote for the New Yorker some months ago with a fantastical—and false—claim that the U.S. was funneling money to the government of Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, even though we allegedly knew some of it was going to the al-Qaeda affiliated Palestinian group Fatah al-Islam. The New Yorker article in question, Sivan notes, appeared two months before fighting erupted between Fatah al-Islam and the Lebanese army.

Lebanese reporters, tracking down Hersh’s source for this sensational finding, found it to be Robert Fisk, another journalist with a less than impeccable record, who in turn had heard it from yet another questionable source. “Thus are reports about the Middle East generated,” sardonically writes Sivan.

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Is Seymour Hersh credible? Is the New Yorker?

Haaretz has a story by Emmanuel Sivan today taking apart an article Hersh wrote for the New Yorker some months ago with a fantastical—and false—claim that the U.S. was funneling money to the government of Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, even though we allegedly knew some of it was going to the al-Qaeda affiliated Palestinian group Fatah al-Islam. The New Yorker article in question, Sivan notes, appeared two months before fighting erupted between Fatah al-Islam and the Lebanese army.

Lebanese reporters, tracking down Hersh’s source for this sensational finding, found it to be Robert Fisk, another journalist with a less than impeccable record, who in turn had heard it from yet another questionable source. “Thus are reports about the Middle East generated,” sardonically writes Sivan.

This episode brings to mind the New Yorker piece that Nicholas Lemann, Dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, wrote back in January in which he brazenly pawned off the falsehood that it was the White House that sent Ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger in February of 2002 to investigate claims that the country had shipped yellowcake uranium to Iraq. Of course, it was not the White House, but Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, a CIA officer in the agency’s counter-proliferation division, who suggested that her husband undertake the mission. The White House did not learn about Wilson’s mission to Niger until after his return.

Did the New Yorker publish a correction? Not yet. And I am not holding my breath.

Then, of course, there are other allegations leveled by the New Yorker’s national-security correspondent that have not checked out. As was first reported by the New York Observer, and as I noted in the December 2004 issue of COMMENTARY, Seymour Hersh, on the lecture circuit, has offered up gory details of U.S. atrocities in Iraq. Quoting one of his anonymous “sources,” a soldier in the field, Hersh informed one audience that

orders came down from the generals in Baghdad: we want to clear the village, like in Samarra. And, as [the soldier] told the story, another platoon from his company came and executed all the guards, as his people were screaming, “Stop!” And he said they just shot them one by one. He went nuts, and his soldiers went nuts. . . . And the company captain said, “No, you don’t understand. That’s a kill. We got 36 insurgents.”

Without a doubt, a massacre so reminiscent of My Lai was a sensational allegation. Without a doubt, it was almost certainly false, a fabrication cavalierly pawned off by Hersh as fact. An army of foreign journalists in Iraq, not exactly diffident when it comes to exposing American abuses, has thus far failed to unearth a single corroborating bit of evidence for this “atrocity,” and the U.S. military has no reports from the field attesting to an incident even faintly resembling it. Is this a journalist whose views, let alone whose facts, are to be trusted on anything?

The New Yorker’s fact-checking department is world renowned. The New Yorker’s fiction department is also world renowned. But one wonders, when it comes to stories bashing the Bush administration and/or the United States: have the two departments merged?

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Off With Libby’s Head?

When he is sentenced this coming Tuesday, Scooter Libby may be sent directly to jail. If so, this would be grossly unfair since he stands an excellent chance of having the verdict against him overturned on appeal. But it would also be the moment for President Bush to pardon him immediately.

Back in March, when he was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice by a jury in federal court in Washington D.C., I explained why I thought the case “represents a terrible injustice.” The federal prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, had insisted to both the public and the jury that the disclosure of the identity of the CIA operative Valerie Plame—which was the underlying action he had been appointed to investigate—was in fact a crime. But this was a point that had never been established or even formally alleged. Fitzgerald’s overreaching on this colored the jury’s thinking about the gravity of the issues at stake, suggested a motive for Libby to lie that did not reside in proved facts, and conflicted with the judge’s ruling that the case would not hinge on Plame’s status.

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When he is sentenced this coming Tuesday, Scooter Libby may be sent directly to jail. If so, this would be grossly unfair since he stands an excellent chance of having the verdict against him overturned on appeal. But it would also be the moment for President Bush to pardon him immediately.

Back in March, when he was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice by a jury in federal court in Washington D.C., I explained why I thought the case “represents a terrible injustice.” The federal prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, had insisted to both the public and the jury that the disclosure of the identity of the CIA operative Valerie Plame—which was the underlying action he had been appointed to investigate—was in fact a crime. But this was a point that had never been established or even formally alleged. Fitzgerald’s overreaching on this colored the jury’s thinking about the gravity of the issues at stake, suggested a motive for Libby to lie that did not reside in proved facts, and conflicted with the judge’s ruling that the case would not hinge on Plame’s status.

Now Fitzgerald has been back in court, arguing that when Libby is sentenced on Tuesday, the judge should throw the book at him precisely on the grounds that he committed the underlying crime-that-was-not-a-crime. Fitzgerald approvingly cites Judge David S. Tatel’s ruling in the Judith Miller case that “because the charges contemplated here relate to false denials of responsibility for Plame’s exposure, prosecuting perjury or false statements would be tantamount to punishing the leak.”

But this a vicious circle. Convicted on the basis of something that was never proved or even formally alleged, is Libby now to be punished on the same basis? With Fitzgerald continuing to overreach, the case for a presidential pardon is growing stronger by the day. If Libby is imprisoned, will Bush do the right thing?

Meanwhile, in closely related news, Senator Kit Bond of Missouri, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, wants Valerie Plame to be re-interviewed. Back in March, in a dispatch entitled Lying Liars and Their Lies, I asked whether Plame was under oath when she testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and declared that she played no role in sending her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson, on a fact-finding trip to Niger. “I did not recommend him. I did not suggest him. There was no nepotism involved. I did not have the authority,” she said.

Plame was under oath, and Senator Bond has pointed out that she has put out three separate versions of the circumstances under which her husband was sent to Niger. According to USA Today‘s summary, they are:

*She told the CIA’s inspector general in 2003 or 2004 that she had suggested Wilson.

*Plame told Senate Intelligence Committee staffers in 2004 that she couldn’t remember whether she had suggested Wilson.

*She told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in March that an unidentified person in Vice President Cheney’s office asked a CIA colleague about the African uranium report in February 2002. A third officer, overhearing Plame and the colleague discussing this, suggested, “Well, why don’t we send Joe?” Plame told the committee.

Which of these is the real story? Is Plame telling three versions of the truth, or is she a lying liar, or even worse, a perjuring perjurer? Bond would like to find out.

But the Intelligence Committee is now under the control of the Democrats who have no interest in calling attention to the antics of the Plame-Wilson provocateurs. Stay tuned, in other words, for the cover-up of the cover-up.  

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Lying Liars and Their Lies

Was Valerie Plame under oath today when she testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and declared that she played no role in sending her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson, on a fact-finding trip to Niger? “I did not recommend him. I did not suggest him. There was no nepotism involved. I did not have the authority,” she said.

Does this contradict an exhaustive Senate Intelligence Committee report on pre-war intelligence about Iraq, which looked closely at the genesis of the Wilson visit?

The report, issued in 2004, notes that some officials at the Counterproliferation Division (CPD) of the CIA “could not recall how the office decided to contact the former ambassador [Wilson].” But it states unequivocally that “interviews and documents provided to the committee indicate that his wife, a CPD employee, suggested his name for the trip.” In particular, the CPD reports-officer told the Senate committee “that the former ambassador’s wife ‘offered up his name.’”

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Was Valerie Plame under oath today when she testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and declared that she played no role in sending her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson, on a fact-finding trip to Niger? “I did not recommend him. I did not suggest him. There was no nepotism involved. I did not have the authority,” she said.

Does this contradict an exhaustive Senate Intelligence Committee report on pre-war intelligence about Iraq, which looked closely at the genesis of the Wilson visit?

The report, issued in 2004, notes that some officials at the Counterproliferation Division (CPD) of the CIA “could not recall how the office decided to contact the former ambassador [Wilson].” But it states unequivocally that “interviews and documents provided to the committee indicate that his wife, a CPD employee, suggested his name for the trip.” In particular, the CPD reports-officer told the Senate committee “that the former ambassador’s wife ‘offered up his name.’”

What’s more, the Senate committee obtained a memorandum addressed to the deputy chief of the CPD from Plame herself, in which she wrote: “my husband has good relations with both the PM [prime minister] and the former Minister of Mines (not to mention lots of French contacts), both of whom could possibly shed light” on Iraqi uranium purchases. The Senate report goes on to say that Plame also approached her husband “on behalf of the CIA and told him ‘there’s this crazy report’ on a purported deal for Niger to sell uranium to Iraq.”

An additional sidelight: the Senate committee also notes that Wilson had previously traveled to Niger on a CIA mission in 1999. He had been selected for that trip “after his wife mentioned to her supervisors that her husband was planning a business trip to Niger in the near future.”

Did Plame lie to the House committee today, or does that question hinge on the meaning of the word “recommend,” or the meaning of the word “suggest,” or the meaning of the words “did not”?

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Beam Me Up, Scooter

Former presidential press secretary Ari Fleischer was on the witness stand in the Scooter Libby trial today and gave testimony that the New York Times says “could prove very damaging” to the former vice-presidential aide. Testifying under a grant of immunity, Fleischer told the court that Libby was the first person to tell him that Ambassador Joseph Wilson had been sent on a mission to Niger by the CIA at the suggestion of Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, who was herself, Libby disclosed to him, an employee of the CIA’s counterproliferation division.

Libby is contending that the false statements he gave to the FBI and to a grand jury–about how he learned the identity of Wilson’s wife, and to whom he passed on this knowledge–were the product of a faulty memory and do not amount to the perjury or obstruction of justice with which he has been charged. But according to Stacy Schiff, a guest op-ed columnist at the Times, Libby is reputed to have a prodigious memory and “remembers all 79 Star Trek episodes. And their titles, too.” His memory lapses, she says, amount to what is technically known as the “‘Honey, I was too busy preparing the family tax return to think clearly when you asked about the lap-dancers’ defense.”

For their part, Libby’s attorneys had hoped U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton would allow them to call an expert on human memory, who would help them make their case that “memory does not function like a tape recorder” and “a person is less likely to remember information if he is paying attention to several things at once.” For this purpose, the defense team had hired Daniel L. Schacter, professor of psychology at Harvard and the author of The Seven Sins of Memory and  Searching for Memory: The Brain, the Mind and the Past.  But Walton has ruled against them. No memory expert will appear in court.

Still, will a jury vote to convict? Even if a convincing case is made that Libby lied to investigators, it will be exceptionally difficult for prosecutors to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that he was prevaricating rather than merely confused. One does not need an expert in memory to persuade a jury that as events recede into the past they become more difficult to remember, or that what appears salient in retrospect might have been quite unremarkable at the time it originally occurred. 

As far as Star Trek is concerned, even if Libby does know all 79 episodes by heart–and this has not yet been demonstrated–it would not logically follow that he would remember every word of every conversation he held in a busy White House in the middle of a war. Like many Trekkies, he more likely viewed each of the episodes multiple times and talked about them at length with others who shared his particular passion, generating a much more firmly imprinted memory than one left by what was said in an offhand way over lunch with a colleague. 

Still, if Libby takes the witness stand in his own defense, as he is expected to do, he is going to have to walk a very fine line between remembering too little, thus sounding evasive, and remembering too much, thus undermining the core of his own defense.
 
For a full listing of the special counsel’s exhibits in the case, click here.

For a full listing of all 79 Star Trek episodes, click here.

Former presidential press secretary Ari Fleischer was on the witness stand in the Scooter Libby trial today and gave testimony that the New York Times says “could prove very damaging” to the former vice-presidential aide. Testifying under a grant of immunity, Fleischer told the court that Libby was the first person to tell him that Ambassador Joseph Wilson had been sent on a mission to Niger by the CIA at the suggestion of Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, who was herself, Libby disclosed to him, an employee of the CIA’s counterproliferation division.

Libby is contending that the false statements he gave to the FBI and to a grand jury–about how he learned the identity of Wilson’s wife, and to whom he passed on this knowledge–were the product of a faulty memory and do not amount to the perjury or obstruction of justice with which he has been charged. But according to Stacy Schiff, a guest op-ed columnist at the Times, Libby is reputed to have a prodigious memory and “remembers all 79 Star Trek episodes. And their titles, too.” His memory lapses, she says, amount to what is technically known as the “‘Honey, I was too busy preparing the family tax return to think clearly when you asked about the lap-dancers’ defense.”

For their part, Libby’s attorneys had hoped U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton would allow them to call an expert on human memory, who would help them make their case that “memory does not function like a tape recorder” and “a person is less likely to remember information if he is paying attention to several things at once.” For this purpose, the defense team had hired Daniel L. Schacter, professor of psychology at Harvard and the author of The Seven Sins of Memory and  Searching for Memory: The Brain, the Mind and the Past.  But Walton has ruled against them. No memory expert will appear in court.

Still, will a jury vote to convict? Even if a convincing case is made that Libby lied to investigators, it will be exceptionally difficult for prosecutors to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that he was prevaricating rather than merely confused. One does not need an expert in memory to persuade a jury that as events recede into the past they become more difficult to remember, or that what appears salient in retrospect might have been quite unremarkable at the time it originally occurred. 

As far as Star Trek is concerned, even if Libby does know all 79 episodes by heart–and this has not yet been demonstrated–it would not logically follow that he would remember every word of every conversation he held in a busy White House in the middle of a war. Like many Trekkies, he more likely viewed each of the episodes multiple times and talked about them at length with others who shared his particular passion, generating a much more firmly imprinted memory than one left by what was said in an offhand way over lunch with a colleague. 

Still, if Libby takes the witness stand in his own defense, as he is expected to do, he is going to have to walk a very fine line between remembering too little, thus sounding evasive, and remembering too much, thus undermining the core of his own defense.
 
For a full listing of the special counsel’s exhibits in the case, click here.

For a full listing of all 79 Star Trek episodes, click here.

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It’s a Lemann

The Scooter Libby case is very complicated. Nicholas Lemann, the dean of the Columbia University School of Journalism, has now offered a brief account of its origins in the New Yorker that makes it even more so.

Lemann explains that during the run-up to the second Gulf war, the White House, in the grip of an “obsession with finding hard evidence for what it already believes,” came up dry in its search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and thereafter “the search had to be conducted with a little more creativity.” Toward that end, writes Lemann,

the White House dispatched former Ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger, in February of 2002, to find proof that the country had shipped yellowcake uranium to Iraq. Wilson not only came up empty-handed; he said so publicly, in a Times op-ed piece that he published five months later. The administration then went on another search for evidence—the kind that could be used to discredit Wilson—and began disseminating it, off the record, to a few trusted reporters.

The origins of Wilson’s trips to Niger were examined exhaustively in 2004 by the Senate Intelligence Committee in its report on the “U.S. Intelligence Community’s Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq.” Although parts of the report remain classified, the unclassified sections are quite plain. They state that interviews and documents provided to the Committee by officials of the CIA’s Counterproliferation Division (CPD)

indicate that [Wilson’s] wife, a CPD employee, suggested his name for the trip. The CPD reports officer told Committee staff that the former ambassador’s wife “offered up his name” and a memorandum to the Deputy Chief of the CPD on February 12, 2002, from the former ambassador’s wife says, “my husband has good relations with both the PM [prime minister] and the former Minister of Mines (not to mention lots of French contacts), both of whom could possibly shed light on this sort of activity.” This was just one day before CPD sent a cable [DELETED] requesting concurrence with CPD’s idea to send the former ambassador to Niger. . .The former ambassador’s wife told Committee staff that when CPD decided it would like to send the former ambassador to Niger, she approached her husband on behalf of the CIA.”

The report goes on to make clear that the White House was completely in the dark about the CIA plan. At no point did it intervene to send Wilson anywhere or even have knowledge that a mission to Niger by the former ambassador was under way. Even Patrick Fitzgerald’s indictment of Libby confirms this, stating unequivocally that “the CIA decided on its own initiative to send Wilson to the country of Niger to investigate allegations involving Iraqi efforts to acquire uranium yellowcake.”

Lemann concludes that the “problem with the Bush administration is not that it is uninterested in hard facts” but resides rather in “the way in which the administration goes about marshalling those facts.”

But what exactly are the facts and with what kind of care, to turn things around, has Lemann himself marshaled them? It will be a most interesting twist if Lemann, or the New Yorker’s highly vaunted fact checkers, have information contradicting the Senate report and Fitzgerald’s indictment on this central point. My bet is that they do not. Rather, in striving to demonstrate that the Bush administration was in the grip of an “obsession” about weapons of mass destruction, they appear to be in the grip of an obsession of their own. Pursuing it evidently demands a bit of “creativity.”

To contribute to the considerable costs of defending Scooter Libby, send a check to:

Libby Legal Defense Trust
2100 M Street, NW Suite 170-362
Washington, DC 20037-1233 

To contribute to the even more considerable costs of running the Columbia University School of Journalism, send a check to:

The Columbia University School of Journalism
2950 Broadway
New York, NY 10027 

 

The Scooter Libby case is very complicated. Nicholas Lemann, the dean of the Columbia University School of Journalism, has now offered a brief account of its origins in the New Yorker that makes it even more so.

Lemann explains that during the run-up to the second Gulf war, the White House, in the grip of an “obsession with finding hard evidence for what it already believes,” came up dry in its search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and thereafter “the search had to be conducted with a little more creativity.” Toward that end, writes Lemann,

the White House dispatched former Ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger, in February of 2002, to find proof that the country had shipped yellowcake uranium to Iraq. Wilson not only came up empty-handed; he said so publicly, in a Times op-ed piece that he published five months later. The administration then went on another search for evidence—the kind that could be used to discredit Wilson—and began disseminating it, off the record, to a few trusted reporters.

The origins of Wilson’s trips to Niger were examined exhaustively in 2004 by the Senate Intelligence Committee in its report on the “U.S. Intelligence Community’s Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq.” Although parts of the report remain classified, the unclassified sections are quite plain. They state that interviews and documents provided to the Committee by officials of the CIA’s Counterproliferation Division (CPD)

indicate that [Wilson’s] wife, a CPD employee, suggested his name for the trip. The CPD reports officer told Committee staff that the former ambassador’s wife “offered up his name” and a memorandum to the Deputy Chief of the CPD on February 12, 2002, from the former ambassador’s wife says, “my husband has good relations with both the PM [prime minister] and the former Minister of Mines (not to mention lots of French contacts), both of whom could possibly shed light on this sort of activity.” This was just one day before CPD sent a cable [DELETED] requesting concurrence with CPD’s idea to send the former ambassador to Niger. . .The former ambassador’s wife told Committee staff that when CPD decided it would like to send the former ambassador to Niger, she approached her husband on behalf of the CIA.”

The report goes on to make clear that the White House was completely in the dark about the CIA plan. At no point did it intervene to send Wilson anywhere or even have knowledge that a mission to Niger by the former ambassador was under way. Even Patrick Fitzgerald’s indictment of Libby confirms this, stating unequivocally that “the CIA decided on its own initiative to send Wilson to the country of Niger to investigate allegations involving Iraqi efforts to acquire uranium yellowcake.”

Lemann concludes that the “problem with the Bush administration is not that it is uninterested in hard facts” but resides rather in “the way in which the administration goes about marshalling those facts.”

But what exactly are the facts and with what kind of care, to turn things around, has Lemann himself marshaled them? It will be a most interesting twist if Lemann, or the New Yorker’s highly vaunted fact checkers, have information contradicting the Senate report and Fitzgerald’s indictment on this central point. My bet is that they do not. Rather, in striving to demonstrate that the Bush administration was in the grip of an “obsession” about weapons of mass destruction, they appear to be in the grip of an obsession of their own. Pursuing it evidently demands a bit of “creativity.”

To contribute to the considerable costs of defending Scooter Libby, send a check to:

Libby Legal Defense Trust
2100 M Street, NW Suite 170-362
Washington, DC 20037-1233 

To contribute to the even more considerable costs of running the Columbia University School of Journalism, send a check to:

The Columbia University School of Journalism
2950 Broadway
New York, NY 10027 

 

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