May 17, 2006
Courageous actions and boldly speaking
the truth-even by one person-can galvanize the feelings of millions.
This happened last year when Cindy Sheehan camped outside Bush's
ranch in Crawford, Texas and demanded he meet with her to explain
for what "noble cause" her son died in Iraq. And it
happened on May 4 in Atlanta when Ray McGovern, a 27-year CIA
veteran, a founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for
Sanity (VIPS), and a participant in the Bush Crimes Commission,
confronted Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld about his Iraq War
lies-and caught him red-handed-on national TV.
At the beginning of Rumsfeld's
televised speech, a woman shouted, "I cannot stay silent,
this man needs to be in prison for war crimes. Drive Out the
Bush Regime!" Two more protesters stood up and accused Rumsfeld
of war crimes and lying, and another man stood with his back
to Rumsfeld. Then during the question-and-answer period, McGovern
confronted Rumsfeld-with facts.
Ray McGovern (quoting from
a New York Times report): Atlanta. Sept. 27, 2002, Donald Rumsfeld
said (and this is in quotation marks), "There is bulletproof
evidence of links between al Qaeda and the government of Saddam
Was that a lie, Mr. Rumsfeld?
Why did you lie to get us into a war that was not necessary and
that has caused these kinds of casualties?
Rumsfeld: Well, first of all
I haven't lied. I didn't lie then. Colin Powell didn't lie...
It appears that there were not weapons of mass destruction there.
McGovern: You said you knew
where they were.
Rumsfeld: I did not. I said
I knew where suspect sites were, and we were-
McGovern: You said you knew
where they were: near Tikrit, near Baghdad, and north, east,
south, and west of there. Those are your words
Rumsfeld: My words-my words
[On March 30, 2003, Rumsfeld
told ABC's George Stephanopoulos: "We know where they (the
WMD) are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad, and
east, west, south, and north somewhat."]
The McGovern-Rumsfeld exchange
immediately flashed through the media and cyberspace. CNN, MSNBC
and other major media broadcast the back-and-forth, and compared
McGovern's words with Rumsfeld's March 30, 2003 statement, showing
that Rumsfeld was lying-yet again. It became grist for a
Jon Stewart segment lampooning Rumsfeld and sparked the
lead editorial in the New York Times on May 7.
I interviewed Ray McGovern
about the encounter.
Larry Everest: Why did you decide to focus on the
question of Rumsfeld's lies about the war?
Ray McGovern: That day I was surfing the web and
noticed that my former colleague, recently retired Paul Pillar,
had referred in an interview to the "campaign of manipulation
of intelligence" that tried to create out of whole cloth
ties between Iraq and al Qaeda. Until he retired late last year,
Pillar was the most senior analyst/manager for the Middle East;
now he is speaking out.
So that morning I was thinking
of that unconscionable manipulation of intelligence that was
used to trick Congress into voting for an unnecessary war, but
that had not been my first choice of a question to pose to Defense
Secretary Rumsfeld. Rather, I have been longing for someone to
ask him directly whether he had been personally involved in the
torture of detainees. Fresh in my mind was an official Army Inspector
General's report, released last month in response to a Freedom
of Information request, which includes sworn testimony by Army
Lt. Gen. Randall M. Schmidt who interviewed Rumsfeld twice in
early 2005. Schmidt testified that Rumsfeld was "personally
involved in the interrogation at Guantßnamo of high-value
al-Qaeda detainee Mohammed al-Kahtani in Dec. 2002." On
Dec. 2, 2002, Rumsfeld had approved 16 harsher interrogation
tactics for use against Kahtani.
Army investigators called "degrading
and abusive" the treatment of Kahtani by US soldiers implementing
measures the defense secretary had approved. Rumsfeld, in turn,
was "talking weekly" with the notorious Maj. Gen. Geoffrey
Miller with his campaign ribbons from Guantanamo and Abu Graib
(who has now taken the Army equivalent of the Fifth Amendment).
During the 18 to 20-hour per day interrogation of Kahtani for
48 days, he was forced to do "dog tricks" on a leash,
to stand naked in front of a female interrogator, and to wear
women's underwear. According to Lt. Gen. Schmidt, when he asked
Rumsfeld about this, he replied, "My God, you know, did
I authorize putting a bra and underwear on this guy's head?"
So I had been thinking of asking Rumsfeld the obvious question
that Pentagon-accredited pussycat press people never would; i.
e., "Well, did you...or did you not?"
But what Paul Pillar had said
the day before about the artificial creation of a relationship
between Iraq and al-Qaeda, seemed even better to raise, since
Rumsfeld's comment that evidence of such ties was "bulletproof"
was his own word and cut right to the key issue of the corruption
of intelligence. The success of that campaign can readily be
seen in the fact that for a long period of time, 69 percent of
the American people believed it at the time. It was, of course,
a bald-faced lie but one that was assiduously insinuated into
the discussion by the administration. And from the White House's
point of view, the campaign bore very good fruit.
That was a particularly sore
bone of contention with me because the CIA had been leaned on
very strongly by the likes of Rumsfeld and Cheney to come up
with evidence that there were meaningful ties between al Qaeda
and Saddam. The agency labored long and hard for years and finally
concluded there was no evidence of meaningful ties. Yet here
is Rumsfeld saying the evidence was "bulletproof."
So I was thinking of what Pillar
said-and one other thing that had just happened. When Rumsfeld
was several minutes into his Atlanta speech, he was interrupted
by two women who accused him of lies. Rumsfeld paused, and after
the women were ejected, he chose to address the charge as though
they had accused the president rather than Rumsfeld. He proceeded
to wring his hands and solemnly intoned:
"You know, that charge
is frequently leveled against the president for one reason or
another, and it is so wrong, and so unfair, and so destructive
of a free system where people need to trust each other and the
government. And the idea that people in government are lying
about something is fundamentally destructive of that trust and,
at bedrock, untrue."
That was almost too much to
take-the feigned abhorrence of lies and how destructive they
are. Lucrative material for Jon Stewart or Saturday Night Live,
but nonetheless outrageous.
That got my Irish up. So I
decided when the question period came up I would try to ask Rumsfeld
about that-about lies. There was certainly no lack of material.
Everest: How did he react to you?
McGovern: He seemed surprised. When I pointed
out I was a 27-year veteran of the CIA he sort of smiled as if
to say, "This fellow will do no harm." When I pointed
out that I was a member of VIPS (Veteran Intelligence Professionals
for Sanity), his demeanor changed a bit. I led off by complimenting
Rumsfeld on his observation that lies are fundamentally destructive
of the trust that government needs to govern. Then I went on
to ask him why he talked about "bulletproof" evidence
when virtually all the intelligence analysts said there wasn't
any at all.
Everest: What kind of response have you gotten
McGovern: The media response has been interesting.
No sooner was I out the door, when I got a call from CNN. They
asked for my sources so I gave them chapter and verse. Ten minutes
later, I was booked for several shows on CNN that evening. Clearly,
CNN had checked the facts, verified what I had said and thought
the encounter with Rumsfeld might make a good story. I'm not
sure that just a year ago this would have happened.
That evening CNN and MSNBC's
Keith Olbermann took the trouble to display Rumsfeld's earlier
statements and compare them with what he said last week in Atlanta.
CBS and Fox simply provided the familiar "he-said-but-he-said-and-I-guess-we'll-have-to-leave-it-at-that"
treatment. No apparent fact checking; no pursuit of truth there.
Everest: You've made an important comparison
between the US today and Germany in the 1930s. What changes do
you see in the US that makes you feel that way, that concerns
you so much?
McGovern: First and foremost people need to
reassert the primacy of the rule of law. The familiar administration
line is that after 9/11 everything changed and that we now have
a new "paradigm." Well I hope we haven't decided to
substitute that "paradigm" for the Constitution. If
we still give primacy to the Constitution, lawmakers and other
leaders need to confront the clear illegalities that have been
taking place. It's actually hard to keep track, given what I
call "outrage fatigue." It seems there is a fresh outrage
every week, and it becomes very hard to prioritize them and decide
which to focus on.
But if we don't focus on these
violations of law then fascism will take hold. Indeed, we are
already well down that road-for example, when we see what the
National Security Agency has been doing at the President's direction;
when we see a U.S. Air Force officer, Michael Hayden, unable
to stand on the principle of law and instead allow himself to
be corrupted by nearness to power, we're in a dangerous situation.
Like me and all other officers, Hayden swore an oath to defend
the Constitution; we were also taught that no military officer
is obligated or permitted to obey an illegal order.
There was no one in the USA
who knew more about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act
(FISA) of 1978 than Hayden did. He knew it was illegal to spy
on Americans without a court order, but he saluted and did it
anyway. It is not for some idle or capricious reason that warrantless
eavesdropping is illegal. It's illegal because of what was done
before 1975 when the Church Committee exposed the outrageous
abuses of Fourth Amendment protections that President Richard
Nixon, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, and others had been committing
with such surveillance, like wiretapping and trying to blackmail
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for example.
So you have to observe the
law. If you have some reason that law is outdated, then you ask
Congress to change it. You don't just ignore it. If you start
ignoring laws then our democracy is lost. The bottom line is
Congress makes laws and the executive branch is supposed to implement
and observe them. No president is empowered to say, "We'll
simply ignore the law because after 9/11 everything has changed."
If he is allowed to do this, we endanger all laws-like the President
is already doing with "signing statements." It's incredibly
corrosive of the democratic process and constitutional protections,
and it can lead to the end of the Republic.
Adding insult to injury, many
of these law-skirting actions are being kept secret. Knowledge
is the oxygen of democracy and we are slowly suffocating. Down
with the new "paradigm"!
Watch the MSNBC
broadcast on McGovern's confrontation with Rumsfeld and the
protests against Rumsfeld by World Can't Wait and others.
Larry Everest is the author of Oil,
Power & Empire: Iraq and the U.S. Global Agenda, an organizer
of the International Commission of Inquiry on Crimes Against
Humanity by the Bush Administration, and a contributor to a new
book: Impeach the
President: the Case Against Bush and Cheney, forthcoming
from Seven Stories Press. This interview originally appeared
in Revolution. He can be reached through his website.