On Bush's Iraq WMD commission and the need for eternal damnation

There are times when I wish that I believed in god and the afterlife. Not, like many people, for the chance of spending eternity in heaven or paradise or whatever else you want to call it. No, I would much rather have the comfort of knowing that there was a big, giant lake of fire and horned gentlemen with big pitchforks waiting for people like George W. Bush, president of the United States.

Sure, other figures in history, dictators and mass murderers, might deserve an eternal brimstone bath more than Bush does. But if hell did exist, it would certainly be a big-tent kind of organization. The architectonics of eternity ensure there would be more than enough space; thus, we need not limit consideration of would-be damned to the worst of the worst. Dante was not without reason when he invented a multi-level hell that also had enough space for liars, equivocators, frauds and scoundrels in general.

Which brings us back to Bush. Why do I wish to see Bush swimming around in a flaming cesspool for about the next billion years?

There are many reasons, but let us look at the most recent one for now: the new Bush commission set up to look into the egregious US failure to accurately estimate Iraq's WMD. As I previously guessed, this new panel can rightly be described as a real "sin of commission". If there were a god, looking down from on high on the affairs of humanity, he/she would surely be crying right now over the fact that one of his/her children could go so astray.

What are the faults of the commission (set up by this executive order) that should earn Bush a place among the flames after god stops crying and becomes vengeful?

- Membership: Largely a travesty. This is what happens when you let people who should be the focus of investigations set them up. The commission is led by extreme rightist judge Laurence Silberman, who played a role in overturning Oliver North's conviction, and former Virginia senator and governor Chuck Robb, who is apparently tight with the Bush family.

Commission member John McCain (R-Arizona) has a reputation for honesty and "plain dealing" - and, indeed, he has already dealt a hand that plainly doesn't include Bush at all (from the Globe article):
McCain has reached a conclusion on one point some Democrats might question. "The president of the United States, I believe, did not manipulate any kind of information for political gain or otherwise," the senator said.
Three other panel members - former Carter and Clinton counsel Lloyd Cutler, Yale President Richard Levin, and Judge Patricia Wald - look to be more neutral. They, however, apparently have no experience with intelligence issues.

The one member of the panel with unquestionable intelligence experience is Adm. William Studeman. Some details of his record, though, make one wonder:
A 78-page briefing document recently obtained by the media titled "Summer Study on Special Operations and Joint Forces in Support of Countering Terrorism" and produced by a 10-member panel of military experts [only AFIO member Admiral William O. Studeman, former DIRNSA, former Deputy DCI and former Acting DCI was identified as a member] under the auspices of the Defense Science Board advocates a greatly expanded and more assertive role for covert military actions, intelligence collection and operations to "stimulate reactions" among terrorists and states possessing weapons of mass destruction. In discussing the report, not yet forwarded to the President, the DSB chairman, William Schneider, Jr., rejected concerns that the proposal would usurp CIA's covert operations role, erode congressional oversight, or change long-standing policies such as prohibition of assassinations. Expansion of existing covert units and the addition of new covert units in all of the Services as well as the new expenditure of billions of dollars was called for. The panel recommended a number of new or morphed organizations in the design to bring together CIA and military covert action, information warfare, psychological warfare, intelligence, cover and deception.
- Remit: Here is where we really start getting into the problems. The commission's mandate is simultaneously too wide and not wide enough.

Mandate too wide: In addition to Iraq, the commission is also charged with looking at WMD issues relating to Libya and Afghanistan. Neither of these tasks make any sense unless, as the NYT argued, the point is to "deflect attention until after the election". Since UN inspectors are currently at work in Libya, and since the country has signaled a desire to eliminate whatever WMD stocks it has and come in from the cold, and especially since the US did not wage a war against Libya on grounds that have turned out to be false, there is no need for a presidential panel to examine the issue at present. Other channels (internal CIA and Congressional intelligence commottee reviews) should suffice at this point. As for Afghanistan, I am not aware of any serious reports that suggested that the Taliban had any kind of actual WMD, plans, or even "WMD-related program activities".

Mandate too narrow: This is the main problem with the commission's set-up: it will not be doing anything that actually relates to how intelligence was used. According to the terms of the executive order (condensed for readability),
The Commission is established for the purpose of advising the President .. The Commission shall assess whether the Intelligence Community is .. [able].. to identify and warn in a timely manner of.. Weapons of Mass Destruction.. In doing so, the Commission shall examine the capabilities and challenges of the Intelligence Community to collect, process, analyze, produce, and disseminate information concerning the capabilities, intentions, and activities of such foreign powers relating to the design, development, manufacture, acquisition, possession, proliferation, transfer, testing, potential or threatened use, or use of Weapons of Mass Destruction..

With respect to that portion of its examination.. that relates to Iraq, the Commission shall specifically examine the Intelligence Community's intelligence prior to the initiation of Operation Iraqi Freedom and compare it with the findings of the Iraq Survey Group and other relevant agencies or organizations concerning the capabilities, intentions, and activities of Iraq relating to the design, development, manufacture, acquisition, possession, proliferation, transfer, testing, potential or threatened use, or use of Weapons of Mass Destruction..
(emphasis added)
To sum up, the main tasks of the panel are to:

a) advise the president on defending the US;
b) assess the capabilities of the "intelligence community" (see below) with regards to foreign WMD;
c) compare US intelligence before the war with what the US has found out since it invaded.

A relevant question may be asked: what exactly is the point of having a presidential commission with this mandate? Sorry, but we already know that what Kay found does not match up with pre-war CIA or other intelligence estimates. There is little value in such an exercise of "we said x, we found y", which will not answer the important questions (among many others) of "how was intelligence received employed?" and "on what exact basis did the president take the United States to war?".

Now we come to the question of what the term "intelligence community" refers to. Josh Marshall speculates the executive order's brief effectively excludes scrutiny of the "Office of Special Plans", the Rumsfeld-Feith-Luti operation in the Pentagon.

On the face of it, this would seem to be incorrect. According to 50 USC 401a(4), the term "intelligence community" refers, in addition to the CIA, office of the DCI, the DIA, the NSA and other regular organizations, to "other offices within the Department of Defense for the collection of specialized national intelligence through reconnaissance programs". The OSP is certainly an office that is within the DoD and that was involved with the collection of "specialized national intelligence" (of a sort, at any rate).

However, as we have repeatedly seen, there is usually a very big gap between what should be the case and what is the case with the Bush administration. Whether or not the OSP and its "intelligence" output are investigated will come down to how the OSP is defined: does it even legally exist or, if so, could it be described as an office "for the collection of specialized national intelligence through reconnaisance programs"?

We get what could be a likely defense to shield the OSP from too much attention from this Forward article:
A senior Pentagon official told the Forward that the office is "a pure policy-planning shop" and was not engaged in reviewing ? much less distorting ? intelligence.

"The Office of Special Plans is a pure policy planning shop and it is not dealing with intelligence," the official told the Forward, stressing that the office was not pushing a hard line on Iran, nor was it conducting any covert operations.
Thus, if any curious members of the commission get to sniffing around the OSP and Dougie Feith, the OSP may be defined as a "policy planning", and not a "specialized national intelligence", office. This, of course, would eliminate scrutiny of perhaps the main source of "intelligence" that formed the Bush administration's case for war (and, incidentally, would also prevent potentially embarrassing details of the parallel operation in Ariel Sharon's office from coming to light).

- Powers of the Commission: Josh Marshall also points out that whether or not the documents requested by the commission are "relevant" may be decided by the heads of the various executive government agencies. In any event, it does seem to be the case that the commission will have no subpoena power - i.e., a means of effectively determining for itself what is "relevant" or not:
Sec. 7. Judicial Review. This order is intended only to improve the internal management of the executive branch, and is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity, against the United States, its departments, agencies, or other entities, its officers or employees, or any other person.
I'm not a lawyer, but my guess is that this provision shuts the door to the procedural benefit of subpoena power.

Based on these observations, I see real difficulties for the members of the panel who may be more independent in their appraisal of the data, Cutler, Wald and Levin. There may be such difficulties that a resignation down the line for one or both of these commission members is possible. In any event, it is difficult to expect any kind of real investigation or answers from this commission.

In the meantime, I will be hoping that there is a least a little puddle of hell somewhere for "the setters-up of false commissions".

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