This is the introduction to "George W. Bush Versus the U.S. Constitution: The Downing Street Memos and Deception, Manipulation, Torture, Retribution, And Coverups in the Iraq War and Illegal Domestic Spying"
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by Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson
George W. Bush Versus the U.S. Constitution is an important study of the abuse of Executive power by the Bush Administration. The abuse has been abetted by a Republican majority in Congress which has, time and time again, put its loyalty to party above its constitutional responsibility to oversee the actions of the Executive branch of our government.
This study would have been even more authoritative had it been bipartisan, as it should have been, and had the House Judiciary Committee been permitted to hold hearings, compel testimony under oath and subpoena documents. That the committee was unable to do so in no way detracts from the seriousness of the enterprise or of the conclusions. Rather, its publication is a testament to the commitment of its authors to their constitutional responsibilities and to the need to remain vigilant defenders of our democracy. It is shameful that the Republicans shirked this vital task.
My own experience with the Administration's manipulation of intelligence for the purpose of supporting a political decision already taken -- in this case to go to war -- is well known. What is less well understood is that the compromise of Valerie Plame Wilson's identity in an act of retribution marked the most obvious example of an administration prepared to use privileged information for political purposes. As we listen to the Administration tell us that our private data is safe and that it mines data on Americans, only to find terrorists, Valerie Wilson's case is proof that the opposite is true. This Administration took privileged information-her employment status-and leaked it to the press for its own political reasons. Americans should be very wary about supporting the expansive data-mining being undertaken by this Administration without appropriate safeguards being in place.
In February, 2002, Vice President Dick Cheney asked the CIA to check out a report that Iraq and Niger had entered into an agreement for the purchase of several hundred tons of uranium yellowcake from Niger. The report that had come to the attention of the Vice President was based on documents that had either been seen by the report's author or on a detailed briefing provided by a foreign intelligence service. The documents themselves were not, as far as I knew, in the hands of the U.S. Government at that time.
The CIA asked me to meet with experts within the intelligence community in order to help fashion the best response to the important question posed by the Vice President. Uranium yellowcake purchased by Saddam Hussein could be for only one reason: to restart a nuclear weapons development program. Not to check out the allegation would have been derelict, given our concerns about Saddam's intentions. I was asked to attend the meeting because I had close ties with many senior officials in Niger who would have known about any such transaction. I had served in Niger early in my career, and during the mid-1990s had dealt with Niger on a regular basis as the Senior Director for African Affairs at the National Security Council, and later as a private citizen. During the 1990s, Niger had gone through two military coups d'etat and the assassination of a President. I had worked closely with the Prime Minister and his government to move the soldiers back to the barracks and restore democratic rule to that impoverished West African nation. As a consequence, I was a trusted interlocutor to those who had been in power when the alleged sales agreement had been negotiated.
During the meeting with the intelligence experts, I was asked if I would be willing to travel to Niamey, the capital city, to make inquiries about the alleged sale. I described whom I would contact, and the participants in the meeting discussed what questions needed to be answered. I made it clear in the meeting that any trip by me could not be clandestine -- I have a high profile in West Africa -- and that I would have to clear any trip with the American Ambassador in Niamey, since I was a former senior official with responsibilities for Africa. A few days later I was asked to make the trip.
I spent eight days in Niamey at the end of February, 2002, making the requested inquiries. My first stop was at the American Embassy, where the Ambassador informed me that she thought she had already "debunked" the sales claim, as had a four-star Marine Corps general whose command was responsible for Africa. I came to the same conclusion after meeting with many of my contacts.
Before I departed Niamey, I shared with the Ambassador and a member of her staff my conclusions, which mirrored her own. Upon my return, two CIA officers came to my home and I told them the same thing. That was my last official contact with the CIA on the matter. I also briefly shared my conclusions with an official in the State Department Bureau of African Affairs.
On January 28, 2003, President Bush uttered the now infamous sixteen words claiming that according to British intelligence Saddam had sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Insofar as Niger is one of four countries in Africa that at the time produced uranium in commercial quantities, I assumed that the President was referring to another African nation, an assumption that was shared by the State Department Bureau of African Affairs. In March, 2003, however, the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Dr. Mohamed El Baradei, made clear to the United Nations that the country to which the President had been referring was Niger and that the documents that had formed the basis for the allegation were "not authentic." The U.S. Department of State spokesman at that point asserted that the Administration had fallen for the false documents.
At that point I recognized that the Bush Administration had misled the Congress and the American public. My own duty as a citizen was clear. In our democracy, it is the responsibility of each and every one of us to hold our government to account for what it says and does in the name of the people. Our institutions were created for that purpose; the First Amendment to the Constitution confers that responsibility as well to the Press and to the individual citizen. We are only as strong as a nation as our people participate in overseeing what our elected officials do in our name. The answer is never to lower the standard of behavior demanded from our elected officials, but rather to hold them to the standards set forth in the Constitution and in the body of law that makes up our social contract.
It was in that spirit that I spent the next three-and-a-half months, until July 6, 2003, speaking to senior officials at the State Department; to former senior officials with close ties to the White House; to the staffs of the House and Senate intelligence committees and to select members of the press on background. It is now apparent from Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald's court filings and from reporting, that my efforts caught the attention of the Office of the Vice President early on. Yet, rather than focusing on correcting the record on the false statement in the State of the Union address, the Administration chose to focus on what it perceived to be the "Wilson problem" and developed a campaign that Mr. Fitzgerald has asserted involved several senior White House officials with the goal of discrediting, punishing and seeking revenge on me. When my article appeared in the New York Times on July 6, 2003, they were ready to react and their chosen vehicle was to attack me through the compromise of my wife's identity as a covert officer in the CIA.
There were a number of actions that an Administration with integrity might have taken.
The National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, could have taken the offending sixteen words out of the speech before it was given, as she had removed it from a speech delivered a few months earlier.
When Dr. El Baradei, the Director General of the IAEA, informed the world that the charge in the State of the Union address was baseless, and documents that underpinned it were forgeries, the Administration could have been forthright in addressing the issue and admitting its mistake. Instead, Condoleezza Rice asserted as late as June, 2003, on Meet the Press ,that perhaps somebody in the bowels of the CIA knew something about the matter, but nobody in her circle did. Two weeks later, her Deputy, Stephen Hadley, offered his resignation, because in a check of the office files they discovered two faxes and a memorandum of a phone conversation with a senior intelligence official, each saying that the President should not use the Africa uranium claim.
The day after my article appeared in the New York Times on July 6, 2003, the Administration acknowledged to the Washington Post that the sixteen words did not rise to the level of inclusion in the State of the Union speech, thereby accepting the premise in my argument. Several days later the Director of Central Intelligence, the Deputy National Security Adviser and the National Security Adviser herself, all accepted responsibility for the false statement. The Administration should have stopped right there. Instead, several senior White House officials embarked on a concerted campaign of character assassination, employing, as Karl Rove has testified, the Republican National Committee and right-wing media outlets. The campaign would have succeeded were it not for the fact that compromising the identity of a covert CIA officer is illegal.
Therein lies the real rub. Had it not been for Valerie's status, the campaign to destroy the messenger bearing the bad news would have succeeded and the Administration would have crushed another attempt to impose accountability. When a citizen participating in an important debate can be driven from the public square, not because of the merit of his facts or ideas, but by personal assault, then the essence of our democracy is subverted. And that is what this Administration has done, time and time again. It is a serious abuse of power that undermines the historic traditions of this great country. George W. Bush Versus the U.S. Constitution is an important contribution to our national understanding of the extent to which this Administration and the Republican Congress have consistently operated outside the parameters of our national social contract enshrined in the Constitution and its Amendments. That Valerie and I have found ourselves in the Administration's crosshairs for the past three years has been disconcerting, to say the least. But the pain and suffering to which we have been subjected pales by comparison to that suffered by our troops, their families, and Iraqis killed and injured in a war justified by lies and falsehoods. The greatest insult, however, has been to our great democracy. This study begins the process of repairing the damage done, and finding the appropriate remedy for the insult.
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Joseph Wilson, a political centrist, was a career United States diplomat from 1976 to 1998. During Democratic and Republican administrations he served in various diplomatic posts throughout Africa and eventually as ambassador to Gabon. He was the acting ambassador to Baghdad when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. In February 2002, he investigated reports of Iraq’s attempt to buy uranium from Niger. In October 2003, Wilson received the Ron Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling from the Fertel Foundation and the Nation Institute. He lives in Washington, D.C. He is the author of "The Politics of Truth: A Diplomat's Memoir: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife's CIA Identity."