The President echoed that sentiment two weeks
before this year's Nov. 7 balloting, rejecting the notion that the
midterm elections could serve as a check on his administration.
Accountability, Bush said, is “what the 2004 campaign was about.”
But it appears Bush may have spoken too soon. With
the Democratic sweep of Congress, the White House finds itself
confronting the likelihood of a more systematic and more rigorous form
of accountability from congressional Democrats newly armed with subpoena
Rep. John Conyers, who has been holding
investigative hearings into administration wrongdoing from the Capitol
basement because the Republican congressional leadership denied him a
committee room, now stands poised to become chairman of the House
Though handicapped in his earlier investigations,
the Michigan Democrat unearthed and documented a staggering array of
White House deceptions that led the United States into war, as well as
evidence of other abuses such as torture, warrantless domestic
surveillance by the National Security Agency, and erosion of civil
Constitution in Crisis
Conyers's 350-page report, “Constitution
in Crisis,” deals with the so-called
Downing Street Minutes, which revealed that the Bush administration
was “fixing” the intelligence on weapons of mass destruction to justify
a pre-ordained policy of war against Iraq.
The “single overriding characteristic running
through all of the allegations of misconduct … has been the
unwillingness of the Bush Administration to allow its actions to be
subject to any form of meaningful outside review,” the report said.
“Not only were 122 Members of Congress unable to
obtain any response to their questions posed regarding the Downing
Street Minutes,” the report goes on, “but neither the House nor the
Senate has ever engaged in any serious review of the facts surrounding
the NSA domestic spying programs.”
That dynamic could change with the new make-up of
Congress. Not only will Conyers be chairing the Judiciary Committee, but
Henry Waxman, D-California, will be taking over the House Committee on
Complementing Conyers’s investigations into pre-war
manipulations of intelligence have been Waxman’s investigations into
administration favoritism toward Halliburton, which was formerly run by
Vice President Dick Cheney.
The Texas-based company has profited handsomely by
securing no-bid contracts for everything from rebuilding in Iraq, to
supplying U.S. troops with food, to
repairing government facilities damaged by Hurricane Katrina, to
building detention facilities in the U.S. [For more information on the
latter, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Bush’s
Mysterious ‘New Programs.’”]
According to an analysis by Sen. Frank Lautenberg,
D-New Jersey, these no-bid contracts have contributed to the value of
Cheney’s Halliburton stock options
rising by more than 3,000 percent. In 2005, Cheney’s stock options
increased in value from $241,498 to over $8 million.
“It is unseemly,” noted Lautenberg, “for the Vice
President to continue to benefit from this company at the same time his
administration funnels billions of dollars to it.”
Another issue that could be explored by Waxman’s
committee is the content of the Energy Task Force meetings during the
early days of the Bush administration. Though ordered by a federal judge
to release the task force records completely, the administration heavily
redacted the 13,500 pages of documents.
Before turning the records over to the Natural
Resources Defense Council as ordered by the judge, the administration
removed extensive portions of information. “Some pages were empty,”
said the NRDC. “Whole strings of correspondence were stripped to
just a few words.”
Nevertheless, the records revealed that energy
industry lobbyists played a pivotal role in developing the
administration’s national energy strategy, and actually wrote much of it
“The administration sought the advice of polluting
corporations early and often and then incorporated their recommendations
into its policy, sometimes verbatim,” according to the NRDC.
Though most attention on the Energy Task Force has
focused on the perceived impropriety of oil companies dictating national
energy policy, another concern is that the energy companies may have
influenced the administration’s decision to invade Iraq.
In 2004, reporter Jane Mayer disclosed a National
Security Council document dated Feb. 3, 2001. It instructed NSC
officials to cooperate with Cheney’s Energy Task Force, explaining that
the task force was “melding” two previously unrelated areas of policy:
“the review of operational policies towards rogue states” and “actions
regarding the capture of new and existing oil and gas fields.”
Mayer’s discovery suggests that the Bush
administration in its first days recognized the linkage between ousting
the likes of Saddam Hussein and securing oil reserves for future U.S.
consumption. In other words, the Cheney task force appears to have had a
military component to “capture” oil fields in “rogue states.” [For
details on Mayer’s document, see
The New Yorker, Feb. 16, 2004.]
The NSC document reinforced allegations made by
Bush’s first Treasury secretary, Paul O’Neill, who described a similar
early linkage between invading Iraq and controlling its vast oil
In Ron Suskind’s The Price of Loyalty,
O’Neill described the first NSC meeting at the White House only a few
days into Bush’s presidency. An invasion of Iraq was already on the
agenda, O’Neill said. There was even a map for a post-war occupation,
marking out how Iraq’s oil fields would be carved up.
O’Neill said even at that early date, the goal of
invading Iraq was clear. The message from Bush was “find a way to do
this,” according to O’Neill, who was forced out of the administration in
Combined with the Downing Street Minutes, O’Neill’s
account provides substantial evidence that the Bush administration had
decided early on to invade Iraq, and simply decided on weapons of mass
destruction as the most convenient pretext for war.
Words of Caution
Another investigation-worthy topic about the run-up
to war is how the Bush administration dismissed and rejected words of
caution from knowledgeable sources inside and outside the U.S.
Although many Bush defenders now claim that no one
could have foreseen what a disaster the war would turn out to be, there
were those who urged caution before the invasion, including members of
Bush’s own administration.
Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser under
George H.W. Bush and chairman of the Foreign
Intelligence Advisory Board under George W. Bush from 2001 to 2005,
said a strike on Iraq “could unleash an Armageddon in the Middle East.”
Also, retired Gen. Anthony Zinni, who served as a
Middle East envoy for George W. Bush, warned in October 2002 that by
invading Iraq, “we are about to do something that will ignite a fuse in
this region that we will rue the day we ever started.”
America’s closest ally in the invasion, the United
Kingdom, also had strong reservations. Although publicly British
officials supported Bush’s calls to forcibly “disarm” Iraq, behind the
scenes, they worried that the war was poorly conceived, possibly illegal
and potentially disastrous.
Internal government documents
disclosed in 2005 by British journalist Michael Smith indicate that
British officials foresaw a host of problems, including weak
intelligence on Iraq, lack of public support for war and poor planning
for the aftermath of military action.
The investigations by John Conyers and Henry Waxman
– both armed with subpoena powers – could connect the dots linking
Cheney's Energy Task Force, oil companies, Halliburton, pre-war
deceptions and poor post-invasion planning.
The results of that investigation might shock the
American people, adding to public pressure for impeachment.
Off the Table?
Though incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has declared impeachment
of Bush and Cheney “off the table,” it's unclear what would happen if
the White House chooses to stonewall congressional oversight or if
investigations turn up damaging evidence of grave abuses of power.
Already, there are those such as former Nixon administration counsel
John W. Dean who
argue that Bush-Cheney’s crimes are worse than Richard Nixon’s and
are grounds for impeachment.
There is also a fledgling grassroots movement for impeachment that
could gather force in the coming months, emboldened by the Democratic
victory. In Philadelphia, activists, lawyers and a former member of
Congress held a
forum this weekend to launch a new movement for impeaching Bush and
Pelosi’s own constituents in San Francisco voted decisively on
Election Day to endorse Bush and Cheney’s removal from office.
Proposition J, which called for impeachment, passed with the 59 percent
of the vote.
In his presidential news conference the day after
the election, Bush was asked if he was “prepared to deal with the level
of oversight and investigation that is possibly going to come from one
chamber or two in Congress?”
replied that the Democrats “are going to have to make up their mind
about how they’re going to conduct their affairs.”
If it is left up to the likes of Conyers and
Waxman, who seem to have already made up their minds, Bush might finally
learn what an “accountability moment” really means.