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William Rivers Pitt - The Other Memo Scandal
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Saturday 15 November 2003
The wires were buzzing last week over a memo leaked to Sean Hannity at the Fox News Network. The memo came from the
offices of Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller, who is serving as the ranking minority member on the Senate Select
Committee on Intelligence. This is the committee, chaired by Senator Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas, that has been
tasked to investigate the dazzling lack of mass destruction weapons in Iraq.
The Rockefeller memo outlined a variety of strategies he believed were needed to counteract the partisan defensiveness
of Roberts and the majority on the Committee. Roberts has declared that all investigations surrounding the claims made
about Iraq's weapons capabilities will be focused only on the CIA and other intelligence agencies. Rockefeller is
adamant that the investigation should also include questions aimed at the White House, as well as Defense Secretary
Rumsfeld's special Defense Department organization called the Office of Special Plans.
Roberts is not allowing this aspect of the investigation to take place, stating that the probe is already "90 to 95"
finished. No questions about the dozens of public statements made by the Bush administration about Iraq's weapons
capabilities have been allowed. No questions about the Office of Special Plans, which was created out of whole cloth by
Rumsfeld for the specific purpose of re-interpreting CIA and State Department intelligence reports, have been allowed.
No questions about repeated visits to CIA headquarters by Dick Cheney, who went there to browbeat intelligence analysts
for more aggressive interpretations of the threat posed by Iraq, have been allowed. Roberts has already made it clear
that the CIA is to blame for the fact that there are no weapons in Iraq, and is blocking Rockefeller and the Democrats
from questioning this dubious premise.
The memo prepared by Rockefeller stated that the Democrats need to try to steer the inquiry towards these matters.
Failing that, the memo said, Democrats should try to launch a separate, independent investigation into these matters
because the Intelligence Committee chaired by Roberts was being used to defend the White House from taint. "We have an
important role to play," read the memo, "in revealing the misleading, if not flagrantly dishonest, methods and motives
of senior administration officials who made the case for unilateral pre-emptive war."
When this memo fell into the hands of Sean Hannity and Fox, a concerted attempt was made to turn the existence of the
memo into a major scandal. Hannity railed that this memo would cause several Senators to resign, that it was proof the
Democrats want to turn the investigation into nothing more than a political witch hunt. Various members of the
mainstream press jumped on this rhetorical bandwagon. The Los Angeles Times, in one example, described the revelation of
the memo in terms to warm Hannity's heart: "The tone of the memo could be embarrassing to Democrats and provides new
ammunition for Republican complaints that Democrats are seeking to use the inquiry for political gain."
Roberts demanded that Rockefeller denounce the memo, but Rockefeller refused to do so. Roberts used this as an excuse
to cancel further Intelligence Committee hearings on the matter, and froze completely the investigation. For all
practical purposes, the Congressional investigation into the rhetoric surrounding our rush to war in Iraq is over.
Little attention was given to the fact that Rockefeller is correct, that the White House and Rumsfeld deserve intense
scrutiny for their central role in pushing fictional reports of Iraqi weapons capabilities, and that avoiding such
questions amounts to nothing more than a purely partisan whitewash. Instead, Rockefeller's memo and legitimate questions
from the Democrats were described as "just politics."
Another memo surfaced recently. The Wednesday 12 November edition of the Boston Globe carried a story titled, "GOP Will
Trumpet Preemption Doctrine." The story centered around a memo recently prepared by Republican National Committee
chairman Ed Gillespie which was disbursed widely throughout the party apparatus. In the memo, the newest GOP strategy
was outlined, and talking points were provided. The Globe article states:
The strategy will involve the dismissal of Democrats as the party of "protests, pessimism and political hate speech,"
Ed Gillespie, Republican National Committee chairman, wrote in a recent memo to party officials -- a move designed to
shift attention toward Bush's broader foreign policy objectives rather than the accounts of bloodshed. Republicans hope
to convince voters that Democrats are too indecisive and faint-hearted -- and perhaps unpatriotic -- to protect US
interests, arguing that inaction during the Clinton years led to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
This memo received very little media attention. A Google News search using the words "Gillespie memo" yielded nine
articles, many from online-only publications. A search using the words "Rockefeller memo" yielded 207 articles, most of
which are highly critical of the "political nature" of the document.
The Rockefeller memo described a strategy to get to the bottom of what happened in the run-up to the war, a strategy
that is required because Senator Roberts and his fellow Republicans are using their majority position to protect the
White House from embarrassing questions. The Gillespie memo accused the Democrats of using "hate speech," blamed them
for the attacks of September 11, and further outlined a political attack strategy that laments the unpatriotic behavior
of the Democrats while painting a joyous picture of what is, in reality, a spectacularly failed Bush Administration
policy in Iraq.
For the record, no mass destruction weapons of any kind have been found in Iraq, despite months and months of dire
promises from the Bush White House and Don Rumsfeld that the stuff was there, and that it would be given to Osama bin
Laden for use on the American homeland. The CIA, scapegoated for telling the truth about this for months, has reported
that tens of thousands of Iraqis are swarming into the ranks of those who attack and kill American soldiers every day.
Paul Bremer, the American proconsul in Iraq, presides over an utterly failed occupation plan that will soon include
harsh crackdowns against the Iraqi people, something that will surely fuel the already-seething anger within that
populace. A few days ago, American warplanes began bombing Baghdad again.
The nature of these dueling memos exposes several deadly problems that face this nation today. One problem is a White
House that lied its populace into an unnecessary war, and used September 11 deliberately to make the American people
afraid. Another problem is a partisan Congress, exemplified by Senator Roberts, which shields the Bush administration
from being called to account for any of this. Another problem is a mainstream news media whose coverage of these issues
is wildly skewed in favor of the GOP.
The worst problem is the Democratic Party, that loyal opposition which is all too quick to be embarrassed by
revelations that they actually oppose the Bush administration. Senator Evan Bayh, Democratic Senator from Indiana and
member of the now-defunct Intelligence Committee investigations, stated publicly that Rockefeller should admit drafting
the memo was a mistake. "I think the tone of the memo was unfortunate," said Bayh.
How about this, Senator Bayh? "What is unfortunate is the fact that members of this committee who are committed to
finding the truth about the development of the Bush administration's argument for war have to go outside the normal
process, because the normal process has been corrupted by partisan Republicans who abuse their positions by blocking
legitimate areas of inquiry. We have pages and pages of statements by administration officials that have turned out to
be wildly false. There is plenty of evidence that the American people have been lied to in a process that has gotten a
lot of good people killed. Why is the White House hiding? Why is Senator Roberts whitewashing this investigation? We
apologize for nothing, and demand that this inquiry be widened to any and all areas that can bring us answers to these
That would be nice to hear. Instead, we hear hangdog apologies from shamefaced Democrats. We have partisan Republicans
shutting down vital inquiries for purely political reasons. We have a memo from the chairman of the Republican party
calling Democrats unpatriotic and blaming them for September 11, with no notice being given to this vicious political
attack whatsoever. We have a fraudulent war that grinds on and on, killing and maiming our soldiers every day. Where is
the real scandal here?
William Rivers Pitt
is the Managing Editor of truthout.org. He is a New York Times bestselling author of two books - - "War On Iraq" (with
Scott Ritter) available now from Context Books, and "The Greatest Sedition is Silence,"
now available at from Pluto Press and "Our Flag, Too: The Paradox of Patriotism
," available in August from Context Books.
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