Did the Bush White House, in a deliberate and organized manner, misrepresent the truth to Congress, the American people and the world in making its case for the military invasion of Iraq? This is a critical question that demands a clear answer. To this point, Congress has abdicated its responsibility to investigate all the facts. That must change.
Last week, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, was indicted in the ongoing investigation by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald into the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame. The alleged actions of Libby, and perhaps Bush senior adviser Karl Rove and others in the White House, to leak classified information in this case appear to have been aimed at discrediting, or threatening, Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson. By CIA request, Wilson had gone to Niger to examine the Bush administration's charge that Saddam Hussein had tried to acquire uranium for a nuclear weapon. Convinced this was not true, Wilson had written an Op-Ed in The New York Times debunking the claim.
Congress has a clear role to play in this issue, because Fitzgerald's investigation seeks only to punish criminal action and does not deal with the much broader issue of whether the White House deliberately misled the American people. Congress, both in its responsibility to exercise oversight of federal government action and because we received much of the potentially incorrect information being put out by the administration on Iraq, has the duty of ensuring open and honest communication between the White House and Congress.
And yet this Congress has not looked into the matter at all. The same Congress that launched investigations into the suicide of Clinton aide Vince Foster and the hiring actions of the Clinton White House with regard to their travel office, among countless other investigations, has sat silent on the critical issue of whether the White House deliberately put out false information in an effort to push our nation into war.
In an effort to get Congress to investigate this important issue, I have co-sponsored a resolution of inquiry calling for the White House to turn over to Congress all information involving the White House Iraq Group. The WHIG was comprised of key White House leaders including Libby, Rove and Condoleezza Rice. They were tasked to make the case for going to war in Iraq in an effort to convince Congress and the American public to support that policy.
White House assertions that aluminum tubes purchased by Iraq had to be part of a nuclear weapons program, that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger and that we could not afford to let "the smoking gun be a mushroom cloud" all appear to have come from the WHIG. We need to know how they got that information -- which we now know to be false -- and whether they deliberately misrepresented the facts. The administration and its supporters often have dismissed the need for an investigation by arguing that everybody thought Saddam had WMD. They seem to mistakenly believe that this assertion makes it irrelevant whether the administration lied.
A legitimate case existed for threatening force against Saddam if he did not allow international inspectors back into Iraq, perhaps even for the ultimate use of that force. Saddam had sought nuclear as well as chemical and biological weapons in the past. In fact, the world discovered after the first Gulf War that Iraq was much further along in the development of a nuclear weapon than we previously thought. Saddam had kicked international inspectors out in 1998, and had shown clear hostile intentions toward other nations in his region and to the United States. By late 2002, we did not know what WMD Iraq had or was trying to develop. Arguably, we could not afford not to know. The inspectors had to go back in and the only way to do that was to threaten military force.
But this is not the case the administration made. The holes that have appeared in the case they made have done deep and lasting damage to our standing in the world and have undermined the confidence the American people have in their government. Congress can begin to repair this damage by getting to the bottom of the administration's actions during the build up to the Iraq war. Anything less does not fulfill our responsibility to the American people.