Monday, October 17, 2005

The WHIG Players

Update: Explanation:
"At a rodeo one afternoon, a man in jeans, a cowboy
hat and sunglasses approached me."

-- Judy Miller, Oct. 16, 2005
Most of the commentary about yesterday's New York Times' coverage of the 'Treasongate/Valerie Plame' affair has centered on the narrower issues of journalism ethics, the freedom of reporters to report (or not), and what happens when editorial judgment winds up suppressing the news rather than publishing it.

Certainly, that's what concerns Jay Rosen and Vanity Fair editor James Wolcott, among others. It's even where Billmon is concentrating most of his early attention.

These issues are "narrow" only when compared to even weightier subjects many believe the Fitzgerald grand jury is now investigating: Whether a neocon cabal inside the Bush administration conspired to 'fix' intelligence, manufacture propaganda, and trash the reputations of anyone who tried to expose them -- all in service of committing the nation to a war against Iraq they'd already decided to wage.

Today, Bloomberg News lends support to that very real possibility. In a dispatch filed by Washington D.C. reporter Richard Keil it is said:
One lawyer intimately involved in the case, who like the others demanded anonymity, said one reason Fitzgerald was willing to send Miller to jail to compel testimony was because he was pursuing evidence the vice president may have been aware of the specifics of the anti-Wilson strategy.

And both U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Hogan and an appellate-court panel -- including David Tatel, a First Amendment advocate -- said they ruled in Fitzgerald's favor because of the gravity of the case.
If you've just returned from Planet Tralfamadore and can't figure out what all the fuss is about, New York Times columnist Frank Rich yesterday supplied a useful overview of the connections between the Valerie Plame affair, Vice president Cheney, and the neocon plot to wage war:
Mr. Wilson and his wife were trashed to protect that larger plot. *** Deep in a Wall Street Journal account of Judy Miller's grand jury appearance was this crucial sentence: 'Lawyers familiar with the investigation believe that at least part of the outcome likely hangs on the inner workings of what has been dubbed the White House Iraq Group.'

Very little has been written about the White House Iraq Group, or WHIG. Its inception in August 2002, seven months before the invasion of Iraq, was never announced. Only much later would a newspaper article or two mention it in passing, reporting that it had been set up by Andrew Card, the White House chief of staff. Its eight members included Mr. Rove, Mr. Libby, Condoleezza Rice and the spinmeisters Karen Hughes and Mary Matalin. Its mission: to market a war in Iraq.

Of course, the official Bush history would have us believe that in August 2002 no decision had yet been made on that war. Dates bracketing the formation of WHIG tell us otherwise. On July 23, 2002 - a week or two before WHIG first convened in earnest - a British official told his peers, as recorded in the now famous Downing Street memo, that the Bush administration was ensuring that "the intelligence and facts" about Iraq's W.M.D.'s "were being fixed around the policy" of going to war. And on Sept. 6, 2002 - just a few weeks after WHIG first convened - Mr. Card alluded to his group's existence by telling Elisabeth Bumiller of The New York Times that there was a plan afoot to sell a war against Saddam Hussein: "From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August."
Throughout the Fall of 2002 and the early months of 2003, administration officials including Condoleeza Rice, Dick Cheney, and Colin Powell used "doomsday imagery" and "nuclear rhetoric" to scare the public into supporting the war.
Along with mushroom clouds, uranium was another favored image ... "because anyone could see its connection to an atomic bomb." It appeared in a Bush radio address the weekend after the Rice-Cheney Sunday show blitz and would reach its apotheosis with the infamously fictional 16 words about "uranium from Africa" in Mr. Bush's January 2003 State of the Union address on the eve of war.

Throughout those crucial seven months between the creation of WHIG and the start of the American invasion of Iraq, there were indications that evidence of a Saddam nuclear program was fraudulent or nonexistent. Joseph Wilson's C.I.A. mission to Niger, in which he failed to find any evidence to back up uranium claims, took place nearly a year before the president's 16 words. But the truth never mattered. The Bush-Cheney product rolled out by Card, Rove, Libby & Company had been bought by Congress, the press and the public.

* * *
It was not until the war was supposedly over - with "Mission Accomplished," in May 2003 - that Mr. Wilson started to add his voice to those who were disputing the administration's uranium hype. Members of WHIG had a compelling motive to shut him down. In contrast to other skeptics, like Mohamed ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency (this year's Nobel Peace Prize winner), Mr. Wilson was an American diplomat; he had reported his findings in Niger to our own government. He was a dagger aimed at the heart of WHIG and its disinformation campaign. Exactly who tried to silence him and how is what Mr. Fitzgerald presumably will tell us.
Frank Rich is not being overly optimistic. He knows Fitzgerald is a courageous and intrepid prosecutor. And he, as so many others today, recognizes that the Bush administration's Iraq war not only arguably was illegal, but it was decidedly not in our nation's short- or long-term interests.

Still, there's nothing in Fitzgerald's biography to suggest he's Quixotic. Frank Rich doesn't expect that the grand jury will indict any WHIG members for their greater crimes, the ones that have led to the loss of nearly 2,000 American service men and women, untold others with serious injuries, not to mention the largely unmentioned civilian death toll.

Nailing the neocons for conspiracy to wage the Iraq war would be the equivalent of tilting at windmills. It's far more likely, if Fitzgerald's grand jury returns any indictments at all, they will be for a smaller part of the WHIG cabal's misdeeds: crimes that enabled the group to "trash the reputations of anyone who tried to expose them." That could include perjury, obstruction of justice, and violations of federal laws protecting the agents and secrets of our clendestine intelligence services.

Plenty of mobsters, like Al Capone, have been convicted of lesser crimes such as tax evasion instead of the multiple murders they are known to have committed. Lots of political crooks like Spiro Agnew have taken a fall for lesser charges as well. It was enough then.

It would be enough for the WHIG's as well.

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