US Civilization in Death Throes: Iraq Intel Committee to Avoid Blame

Probe of Iraq intelligence won't assign blame: Commission keeps focus on policy issues

Stewart M. Powell, Hearst Newspapers

Sunday, February 6, 2005

Coup 2004 continued, GOP sits on 4 reports til reelection is a done deal. then the machine takes care of repercussions.

In this version of the "October Surprise", Vice Chair Lee Hamilton ensured that Goerge Bush was washed clean of responsibility.
The focus of the commission will be on the future. We’re not interested in trying to assess blame, we do not consider that part of the commission’s responsibility.

"Everybody feels it will be better off if this hits the fan after the election,"

In other words, the coup takes advantage of the governmental structure itself, as well as the bureaucratic nature of modern governments. There is an established hierarchy, an accepted chain of command, and standard procedures that are followed when instructions come down this pipeline. So long as the instructions come from the appropriate source or level of authority, they will almost always be followed even if from a new, and illegitimate, holder of that authority.

Washington -- The White House-ordered inquiry into the intelligence failures about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction won't blame individual officials for the errors that contributed to President Bush's decision to start the war almost two years ago.

Instead, the nine-member commission will emphasize how the United States should deal with future threats, according to commission spokesman Laurence McQuillan.

Critics of the White House investigation say this approach is a prescription for a whitewash -- avoiding accountability by failing to delve into who was behind the wrong intelligence assessments that lie at the heart of the controversy over whether the invasion of Iraq was necessary to protect the United States and whether it was worth the lives of more than 1,400 GIs and the cost to taxpayers of more than $300 billion.

The commission, led by former Sen. Charles Robb, D-Va., and federal appeals court Judge Laurence Silberman, faces a March 31 deadline to complete its report to Bush. A version of the report is expected to be made public.

"The commission's job is to assess the massive effort to collect intelligence about weapons of mass destruction to make sure it is as reliable and efficient as possible," McQuillan said. "The commission wants to look into shortcomings, find specific reasons for any intelligence failures and provide recommendations on how to fix it. The commission's job is not to figure out who was to blame for Iraq intelligence."

The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction may identify some government positions by title but not individuals by name, McQuillan said.

The panel includes Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.; Yale President Richard Levin; former Massachusetts Institute of Technology President Charles Vest; former Pentagon officials Henry Rowen and Walter Slocombe; former Deputy CIA Director William Studeman; and former federal appeals court Judge Patricia Wald.

Joseph Cirincione, a weapons-proliferation expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who wrote "WMD in Iraq: Evidence and Implications," said the White House is focusing on institutional problems rather than individual culpability.

"The administration is protecting itself by narrowing the inquiry to avoid any investigation of any administration official when we need to understand the causes of one of the greatest intelligence failures in U.S. history," said Cirincione. "If you want to change the way a bureaucracy works, hold people accountable the way that the military and corporations do."

John Prados, author of "Hoodwinked: The Documents that Reveal How Bush Sold Us a War," said the focus on prospective threats rather than errant Iraq intelligence amounts to "a classic bait and switch."

"It is perfectly reasonable for a presidential commission to offer guidance on future collection of intelligence for counter-proliferation purposes, but to make that the main focus is to switch from the public's understanding of the purpose of the investigation," Prados said.

The WMD commission's report is expected to echo last summer's report by the five-member British government commission that exonerated British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

"No single individual was to blame," concluded Robin Butler, the retired senior British civil servant and Whitehall insider who served five British prime ministers. "There was no deliberate attempt on the part of the government to mislead. It was a weakness on the part of all those who were involved."

The Senate Intelligence Committee's unanimous, bipartisan assessment of prewar intelligence in Iraq last July also avoided naming names in favor of blaming "group think" for erroneous conclusions about Iraqi weapons.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the House and Senate might not have authorized going to war in Iraq had lawmakers known that crucial intelligence findings were so "flawed" and their assessments so "wrong."

Bush named the first members of the WMD panel last Feb. 6 amid a mounting election-year furor over the absence of suspected weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Bush announced the U.S. invasion on March 19, 2003, as an effort "to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger" posed by "weapons of mass murder."

Yet no chemical or biological weapons, or the active nuclear weapons development program, cited by Bush administration officials as justifications for the invasion, have been discovered.

"We are determined to figure out why," Bush said last February as he named the WMD inquiry after chief weapons inspector David Kay reported that no weapons had been found.

Critics claim Bush never wanted the commission to pinpoint individual blame because that could besmirch officials as high as Vice President Dick Cheney as well as trigger recriminations and bureaucratic retaliation.

The White House "clearly does not want to hold people accountable," Cirincione said, adding: "In order to protect the president, they protect everybody and nobody is at fault."

Prados said: "To point fingers at this point runs the risk of an outraged intelligence specialist leaking more evidence that they had been under White House pressure on Iraq."

Many of the officials who might have been blamed already have left the federal government. CIA Director George Tenet, who reportedly told Bush the case for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was "a slam dunk," resigned last July shortly before the Senate Intelligence Committee's scathing assessment.

Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin and a number of senior intelligence veterans in top posts also have stepped down.

The WMD commission's decision to avoid casting blame parallels the approach adopted by the independent inquiry into the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The 10-member, bipartisan National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States ended its 17-month inquiry last July with a riveting 585-page narrative of the attacks and extensive recommendations about how to improve intelligence for the future.

"Our aim has not been to assign individual blame," the report said. "Our aim has been to provide the fullest possible account of the events surrounding 9/11 and to identify lessons learned."

The approach contrasts sharply with military-style accountability meted out by U.S. authorities in response to the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

Within 10 days of the Japanese attack, Navy Secretary Frank Knox had relieved Navy Adm. Husband E. Kimmel and Army Lt. Gen. Walter C. Short of their respective commands in Pearl Harbor.

A five-member panel appointed by President Franklin Roosevelt and led by Supreme Court Justice Owen Roberts advised the White House seven weeks after the attack that the local commanders failed to take "appropriate measures of defense required by the imminence of hostilities," concluding, "These errors of judgment were the effective causes of the success of the attack."

David Flitner Jr., author of "The Politics of Presidential Commissions," says panels that avoid naming names and instead approach controversies more broadly have paved the way for changes ever since President George Washington dispatched a commission to look into the western Pennsylvania farmers' grievances about the federal excise tax on spirits that triggered the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794.

"History suggests we not count (commissions) out before they've even begun their unique journey across the American political landscape," Flitner contended.

Presidential scholar W. Craig Bledsoe, now provost at Lipscomb University in Nashville, said chief executives often are accused of appointing commissions to "avoid confronting an issue, to delay action or to divert public attention."

But Bledsoe says research into more than 200 presidential commissions shows that "most presidents heed and act favorably on the reports they receive from their commissions."

McQuillan, spokesman for the WMD commission, said commissioners hope their findings will help implement the most sweeping overhaul of the nation's intelligence apparatus since 1947 signed into law by Bush on Dec. 17.

"The law sets the stage for change," said McQuillan. "The hard part will be implementing the overhaul, and the commission report will offer information that could be useful."


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