Wednesday, November 2nd, 2005
Democrats forced the Republican-controlled Senate into an unusual closed session Tuesday to question intelligence used by the Bush administration to justify the Iraq invasion. We speak with investigative journalist Robert Parry and Scott Armstrong of the Information Trust about how the CIA leak case indictment has highlighted questions about pre-war intelligence. [includes rush
The issue of pre-war intelligence remains in the spotlight with last week’s indictment of Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby over the CIA leak case. Shortly before forcing the closed session, Democratic Senate Minority leader Harry Reid said, "The Libby indictment provides a window into what this is really all about, how this administration manufactured and manipulated intelligence in order to sell the war in Iraq and attempted to destroy those who dared to challenge its actions." He then invoked a little-used Rule 21 to request the closed session.
Sen. Harry Reid, “Mr. President, enough time has gone by. I demand on behalf of the American people that we understand why these investigations are not being conducted, and in accordance with Rule 21, I now move the Senate go into closed session.”
The Senate stopped work on legislation. The public was forced to leave the chamber, the doors were closed and the lights were dimmed. C-Span coverage was also turned off for the session which lasted over two-hours. It marked the first time in 25 years one party has closed the Senate to the public without consulting the other party. Republicans dismissed the move as a political stunt. It provoked a sharp public confrontation between the leadership of both parties.
Sen. Bill Frist, “Democrats used scare tactics. They have no convictions, they have no principles, they have no ideas. This is the ultimate. Since I have been majority leader, I’ll have to say not with the previous Democratic leader or the current Democratic leader, have I ever been slapped in the face with such an affront to the leadership of the grand institution.”
Frist went on to say, "For the next year and a half, I can’t trust Senator Reid." Reid later responded to Frist’s comments.
Sen. Harry Reid, “It’s a slap in the face to the American people that this has been – this investigation has been stymied, stopped, obstructions thrown up every step of the way. That’s the real slap in the face. That’s the slap in the face, and today, the mesh people are going to see a little bit of light.”
In the end, lawmakers agreed to name three members from each party to assess the state of the Intelligence Committee’s inquiry into prewar intelligence and report back by November 14th. Back in June 2003, Republicans on the Intelligence committee resisted calls to investigate the administration’s WMD claims. Finally in February 2004, they agreed to a two-step investigation.
In July 2004, the committee issued the first phase of its bipartisan report, which found the U.S. intelligence community had assembled a deeply flawed and exaggerated assessment of Saddam Hussein’s weapons capabilities. The second phase was to focus on the administration’s deliberations over the intelligence or how it was used. Democrats say there has been little examination of these topics to date.
Scott Armstrong, is executive director of the Information Trust. A former reporter for The Washington Post, he founded the National Security Archive and was a senior investigator for the Senate Watergate Committee.
Robert Parry, veteran investigative journalist and author of the book "Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq." For years he worked as an investigative reporter for both the Associated Press and Newsweek magazine. His reporting led to the exposure of what is now known as the "Iran-Contra" scandal.
AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Scott Armstrong, Executive Director of the Information Trust; Bob Parry, investigative reporter, used to be with A.P. and Newsweek, has written the book, Secrecy and Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq; and in our New York studio, Gilbert Achcar, who joins us from France, has written the book, The Clash of Barbarism: September 11 and the Making of the New World Disorder, among other books, just flew into New York. Scott Armstrong, New York Times reporter, Judith Miller, defended her decision to go to jail “to protect a source,” she said. She told the journalism conference in Las Vegas that reporters need a federal shield law so that others won't face the same sanctions. She was jailed for 85 days. Your response?
SCOTT ARMSTRONG: Well, the problem with the shield law as it's proposed now is it has an exception for national security reporting. So the very area in which you would want people to have their sources protected so that they can have a candid conversation -- I mean, you really can’t talk with government officials about national security issues without them -- technically unless they're totally authorized; if they're really giving you a candid view, they're violating the law. So the difficulty of being forced to identify your sources through a grand jury isn't really going to be alleviated by this shield law.
They did put in some good language about there needing to be imminent damage to the national security before they can call you, but Prosecutor Fitzgerald has already said, as some other people in the Justice Department, that Judy Miller would have been called before the grand jury under this new law anyway. So the question is: Are they going to try and get something? Are they going to toughen up other sanctions in return for a shield law that isn’t meaningful to the national security reporting? It’s only meaningful to gossip about inter-agency contacts over some domestic issue in which the fact of the matter that somebody is off the record isn’t particularly critical. The ones that are most critical would be the ones who would be called, so-called, before a grand jury.
AMY GOODMAN: Bob Parry, your response?
ROBERT PARRY: Well, it's a very difficult area. Because there are times you do have to go off the record with sources to get them to discuss what's really going on. The problem with the Judy Miller case, and frankly, a number of cases you see in Washington, is that these are not examples of whistleblowers divulging information that's really important for the American people to know. Often these are government officials using anonymity and often wanting to be treated anonymously to give more credibility to their attacks on people or attacks on political opponents. And so, it's more of a game.
When I was at Newsweek, we would often run into cases where sources would want to be treated this way, not because the information was that sensitive, but because they felt it had more sex appeal if it was being done sort of on an off-the-record sources basis. But that doesn't mean there aren’t plenty of cases where you really have a scared person in the bureaucracy who needs to tell or wants to tell the American people something and uses the press to do that. In those cases, reporters really probably do have to be willing to take whatever heat they get, but it's not something that can be easily legislated. It's a grey area, and those are always hard to make law about.
AMY GOODMAN: Scott Armstrong, as Executive Director of the Information Trust, you are mediating an off-the-record conversation between people in intelligence and journalists. You can explain what you are doing?
SCOTT ARMSTRONG: Well, I wouldn't say “mediating,” as much as “facilitating.” What we're trying to do is make sure that the public can get its information, continue to get information that comes often from what they call unauthorized disclosures from leaks of national security information, but at the same time that we don't blunder into something where, as a result of an indiscrete reference, we end up doing something that really does damage the national security, really does allow a terrorist to do something. It's a delicate area, but it's rich in the sense that there are an awful lot of people in the government that would like you to have more information, and for a variety of reasons -- Bob mentioned one of them -- that puts a premium to hold things secretly. You can leak them selectively, but for a lot of other reasons, too, they feel unable to have these discussions, and so to some extent, we're trying to create mechanisms and feedback loops that allow there to be discussion between journalists and the national security community that's more candid