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WHICH SCANDALS WILL BE INVESTIGATED?
Bush's Belated Accountability Moment
The investigations by John Conyers and Henry Waxman – both armed with subpoena powers – could connect the dots linking Cheney's Energy Task Force, oil companies, Halliburton, pre-war deceptions and poor post-invasion planning.After securing a second term in November 2004, George W. Bush was asked by the Washington Post why no one in his administration had been held accountable for the problems facing U.S. troops in Iraq. Bush replied dismissively, “We had an accountability moment, and that’s called the 2004 elections.”
The President echoed that sentiment two weeks before this year's Nov. 7 balloting, rejecting the notion that the midterm elections could serve as a check on his administration. Accountability, Bush said, is “what the 2004 campaign was about.”
Though handicapped in his earlier investigations, the Michigan Democrat unearthed and documented a staggering array of White House deceptions that led the United States into war, as well as evidence of other abuses such as torture, warrantless domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency, and erosion of civil liberties.
Constitution in CrisisConyers's 350-page report, “Constitution in Crisis,” deals with the so-called Downing Street Minutes, which revealed that the Bush administration was “fixing” the intelligence on weapons of mass destruction to justify a pre-ordained policy of war against Iraq.
The “single overriding characteristic running through all of the allegations of misconduct ... has been the unwillingness of the Bush Administration to allow its actions to be subject to any form of meaningful outside review,” the report said.
“Not only were 122 Members of Congress unable to obtain any response to their questions posed regarding the Downing Street Minutes,” the report goes on, “but neither the House nor the Senate has ever engaged in any serious review of the facts surrounding the NSA domestic spying programs.”
That dynamic could change with the new make-up of Congress. Not only will Conyers be chairing the Judiciary Committee, but Henry Waxman, D-California, will be taking over the House Committee on Government Reform.
Complementing Conyers’s investigations into pre-war manipulations of intelligence have been Waxman’s investigations into administration favoritism toward Halliburton, which was formerly run by Vice President Dick Cheney.
The Texas-based company has profited handsomely by securing no-bid contracts for everything from rebuilding in Iraq, to supplying U.S. troops with food, to repairing government facilities damaged by Hurricane Katrina, to building detention facilities in the U.S. [For more information on the latter, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Bush’s Mysterious ‘New Programs.’”]
According to an analysis by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-New Jersey, these no-bid contracts have contributed to the value of Cheney’s Halliburton stock options rising by more than 3,000 percent. In 2005, Cheney’s stock options increased in value from $241,498 to over $8 million.
“It is unseemly,” noted Lautenberg, “for the Vice President to continue to benefit from this company at the same time his administration funnels billions of dollars to it.”
Another issue that could be explored by Waxman’s committee is the content of the Energy Task Force meetings during the early days of the Bush administration. Though ordered by a federal judge to release the task force records completely, the administration heavily redacted the 13,500 pages of documents.
Before turning the records over to the Natural Resources Defense Council as ordered by the judge, the administration removed extensive portions of information. “Some pages were empty,” said the NRDC. “Whole strings of correspondence were stripped to just a few words.”
Nevertheless, the records revealed that energy industry lobbyists played a pivotal role in developing the administration’s national energy strategy, and actually wrote much of it themselves.
“The administration sought the advice of polluting corporations early and often and then incorporated their recommendations into its policy, sometimes verbatim,” according to the NRDC.
Oil FieldsThough most attention on the Energy Task Force has focused on the perceived impropriety of oil companies dictating national energy policy, another concern is that the energy companies may have influenced the administration’s decision to invade Iraq.
In 2004, reporter Jane Mayer disclosed a National Security Council document dated Feb. 3, 2001. It instructed NSC officials to cooperate with Cheney’s Energy Task Force, explaining that the task force was “melding” two previously unrelated areas of policy: “the review of operational policies towards rogue states” and “actions regarding the capture of new and existing oil and gas fields.”
Mayer’s discovery suggests that the Bush administration in its first days recognized the linkage between ousting the likes of Saddam Hussein and securing oil reserves for future U.S. consumption. In other words, the Cheney task force appears to have had a military component to “capture” oil fields in “rogue states.” [For details on Mayer’s document, see The New Yorker, Feb. 16, 2004.]
The NSC document reinforced allegations made by Bush’s first Treasury secretary, Paul O’Neill, who described a similar early linkage between invading Iraq and controlling its vast oil reserves.
In Ron Suskind’s The Price of Loyalty, O’Neill described the first NSC meeting at the White House only a few days into Bush’s presidency. An invasion of Iraq was already on the agenda, O’Neill said. There was even a map for a post-war occupation, marking out how Iraq’s oil fields would be carved up.
O’Neill said even at that early date, the goal of invading Iraq was clear. The message from Bush was “find a way to do this,” according to O’Neill, who was forced out of the administration in December 2002.
Combined with the Downing Street Minutes, O’Neill’s account provides substantial evidence that the Bush administration had decided early on to invade Iraq, and simply decided on weapons of mass destruction as the most convenient pretext for war.
Words of CautionAnother investigation-worthy topic about the run-up to war is how the Bush administration dismissed and rejected words of caution from knowledgeable sources inside and outside the U.S. government.
Although many Bush defenders now claim that no one could have foreseen what a disaster the war would turn out to be, there were those who urged caution before the invasion, including members of Bush’s own administration.
Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser under George H.W. Bush and chairman of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board under George W. Bush from 2001 to 2005, said a strike on Iraq “could unleash an Armageddon in the Middle East.”
Also, retired Gen. Anthony Zinni, who served as a Middle East envoy for George W. Bush, warned in October 2002 that by invading Iraq, “we are about to do something that will ignite a fuse in this region that we will rue the day we ever started.”
America’s closest ally in the invasion, the United Kingdom, also had strong reservations. Although publicly British officials supported Bush’s calls to forcibly “disarm” Iraq, behind the scenes, they worried that the war was poorly conceived, possibly illegal and potentially disastrous.
Internal government documents disclosed in 2005 by British journalist Michael Smith indicate that British officials foresaw a host of problems, including weak intelligence on Iraq, lack of public support for war and poor planning for the aftermath of military action.
The investigations by John Conyers and Henry Waxman – both armed with subpoena powers – could connect the dots linking Cheney's Energy Task Force, oil companies, Halliburton, pre-war deceptions and poor post-invasion planning.
The results of that investigation might shock the American people, adding to public pressure for impeachment.
Off the Table?Though incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has declared impeachment of Bush and Cheney “off the table,” it's unclear what would happen if the White House chooses to stonewall congressional oversight or if investigations turn up damaging evidence of grave abuses of power.
Already, there are those such as former Nixon administration counsel John W. Dean who argue that Bush-Cheney’s crimes are worse than Richard Nixon’s and are grounds for impeachment.
There is also a fledgling grassroots movement for impeachment that could gather force in the coming months, emboldened by the Democratic victory. In Philadelphia, activists, lawyers and a former member of Congress held a forum this weekend to launch a new movement for impeaching Bush and Cheney.
Pelosi’s own constituents in San Francisco voted decisively on Election Day to endorse Bush and Cheney’s removal from office. Proposition J, which called for impeachment, passed with the 59 percent of the vote.
In his presidential news conference the day after the election, Bush was asked if he was “prepared to deal with the level of oversight and investigation that is possibly going to come from one chamber or two in Congress?” Bush replied that the Democrats “are going to have to make up their mind about how they’re going to conduct their affairs.”
If it is left up to the likes of Conyers and Waxman, who seem to have already made up their minds, Bush might finally learn what an “accountability moment” really means.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.' This article is republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.
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This story was published on November 13, 2006.