Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee reminded everyone that rules barred personal attacks on George W. Bush during Friday’s hearing on his presidential abuses, but they didn’t feel obliged to forego the lashing of a favorite whipping boy, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson.

In a continuation of what has amounted to a five-year campaign to destroy Wilson’s reputation, Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, flourished two pieces of evidence that supposedly showed that Wilson was a perjurer and that President Bush was right all along when he accused Iraq of seeking yellowcake uranium from Niger.

King cited the CIA’s now-declassified report on its debriefing of Wilson after he returned from a fact-finding trip to Niger in early 2002 in which he checked out a bogus claim that Iraq had been trying to buy yellowcake uranium from the African nation.

King also noted recent press reports about the current Iraqi government selling 550 metric tons of leftover yellowcake uranium to Canada. The linkage presumably was to show that Bush had been vindicated about the yellowcake and that Wilson was a liar.

However, what King failed to note – and no Democrat on the committee bothered to challenge him on – was that neither piece of information was revelatory and neither supported King’s conclusions about Bush’s vindication or Wilson’s dishonesty.

If people had given this "evidence" even a cursory review, they would have realized that King was behaving like some dimwitted Inspector Clouseau, who adds two and two to get five.

Though King treated a section of the CIA debriefing report like some smoking gun – that former Nigerien Prime Minister Ibrahim Mayaki had suspected that an Iraqi commercial delegation to Niger in 1999 might have been interested in buying yellowcake – this inconsequential fact had long been known, indeed from Wilson’s own public accounts.

As it turned out, Mayaki’s suspicions about the Iraqi delegation’s intent were unfounded. The Iraqis never mentioned nor sought to purchase yellowcake uranium – and indeed no yellowcake uranium was sold to them – as Wilson also told the CIA back in 2002. [For details, see our book, Neck Deep.]

Regarding the yellowcake uranium that Iraq has just sold to Canada – a factlet that’s been bouncing around the right-wing media as supposed vindication of President Bush – Iraq’s possession of that ore dated back almost three decades, as was well-documented by the CIA’s post-invasion WMD report issued in September 2004.

“Between 1979 and 1982, Iraq bought large quantities of uranium in various forms including yellowcake and uranium dioxide from several countries,” according to the CIA’s so-called Duelfer Report, named after chief investigator Charles Duelfer.

Duelfer’s investigation concluded that the U.S. bombing campaign during Operation Desert Storm in 1990-91 destroyed Iraq’s ability to process uranium and that there was no evidence that Iraq subsequently sought to reconstitute its nuclear program or buy more yellowcake uranium ore.

The CIA investigators interviewed key figures in the Iraqi nuclear program, such as Ja’far Diya’ Ja’far, who said the Iraqis last acquired yellowcake uranium from Niger in 1981 and that the later commercial contacts with Niger had nothing to do with uranium.

“Ja’far acknowledged that Iraq’s Ambassador to the Holy See traveled to Niamey [the capital of Niger] to invite the President of Niger to visit Iraq,” the Duelfer report said. “He indicated that Baghdad hoped that the Nigerian President would agree to the visit as he had visited Libya despite sanctions being levied on Tripoli. Former Iraqi Ambassador to the Holy See Wissam Zahawie has publicly provided a similar account.

“Ja’far claims a second contact between Iraq and Niger occurred when a Nigerian minister visited Baghdad around 2001 to request assistance in obtaining petroleum products to alleviate Niger’s economic problems. During the negotiations for this contract, the Nigerians did not offer any kind of payment or other quid pro quo, including offering to provide Iraq with uranium ore, other than cash in exchange for petroleum.”

Smearing Wilson

So, although the evidence is clear that Wilson accurately recounted the facts from Niger in 2002 and that Iraq’s old stockpiles of yellowcake had nothing to do with Bush’s false claims about Iraq seeking new uranium supplies in the early part of this decade, Rep. King still denounced Wilson’s honesty.

“Joe Wilson,” King began, his voice dripping in disgust, “whose integrity … was the least impressive of any that I have seen before this committee in six years … testified before this committee and before the world that he had been debriefed within two hours of his return from two weeks in Niger by two CIA agents. …

“That report, I think he thought would remain secret in perpetuity, but that report is now a public document.”

King’s gotcha moment, however, merely corroborated what Wilson had long ago revealed in his book, The Politics of Truth, and what had been reported by many journalists.

For instance, in Neck Deep, a 2007 book which I co-authored with two of my sons, we write:

“In his oral report to the CIA, Wilson said he found no evidence that Iraq had sought yellowcake and – considering the international controls governing shipments of uranium – most of his sources doubted that a sale would even be possible.

“Wilson did add a caveat, that one senior Nigerien, former Prime Minister Ibrahim Mayaki, said he had suspected that an Iraqi commercial delegation to Niger in 1999 might have been interested in buying yellowcake, but the uranium topic never came up at the meeting and nothing was sold to Iraq.”

By now, however, the Republican bashing of former Ambassador Wilson has become so routine – almost ritualized – that it doesn’t even draw a reaction from Democrats, as it didn’t during the Judiciary Committee’s review of Bush’s abuses of power.

Yet, if one were to step back and look at the ugly Republican treatment of Wilson and his wife, former CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson, it would be a case study of how the Bush administration has abused its power by targeting American citizens who criticized Bush’s invasion of Iraq under false pretenses.

Since spring 2003, when Wilson began challenging Bush’s use of the Niger-yellowcake claims as a justification for invading Iraq, the Bush administration and its many allies have disparaged Wilson’s credibility and – in doing so – destroyed his wife’s career by exposing her work as a covert CIA officer investigating the spread of dangerous weapons.

Besides blowing Plame's cover, Bush’s supporters – both in Republican circles and within the Washington press corps – have spread so much false propaganda about the Wilsons that many Americans now must assume that the lies are true.

From right-wing blogs to the Washington Post’s neoconservative editorial pages, Wilson is regularly dismissed as a liar and his wife’s covert status is denied, even though the evidence is that Wilson told the truth, that Plame indeed was a covert officer, and that there thus was an “underlying crime” in the administration’s willful exposure of Plame’s identity.

The false “conventional wisdom” about Bush’s innocence in the “Plame-gate” scandal seems almost like a throwback to the days when any questioning of the President’s honesty was met with fierce resistance. [For details on the anti-Wilson lies, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Time to Apologize to Plame/Wilson.”]

No Good Deed…

Yet what is most remarkable about the abusive treatment of Wilson is that he performed honorably on behalf of the U.S. government and its people, both as a diplomat who served in Iraq and Africa and as a citizen.

In February 2002, at the CIA’s request, he undertook a difficult assignment for no pay – traveling to Niger to check out the erroneous yellowcake reports.

Upon returning, he gave an accurate and nuanced account of his trip to the CIA. Though he concluded that the yellowcake allegations were almost surely false, he didn’t shy away from mentioning Mayaki’s suspicions, even though they turned out to be baseless.

When Bush nevertheless used the false yellowcake information in his 2003 State of the Union Address – declaring “the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa” – Wilson performed another patriotic duty, informing the American people that they had been misled.

Wilson’s whistle-blowing then prompted a coordinated effort by the White House to destroy his reputation, an operation that exposed his wife’s CIA identity and endangered her international spy network.

Even after that damage had been done, instead of apologizing and trying to lessen the harm on these two Americans and their children, the White House continued its ugly campaign, aided and abetted by much of the pro-war Washington press corps.

Now, with these latest smears from Rep. King, it has become clear that Republican leaders of this generation are heirs to Joe McCarthy’s tradition of using the government’s power to destroy American citizens who get in the way.

As Joseph Welch, the Army’s chief legal counsel, said in 1954 when Sen. McCarthy attacked the patriotism of a young Boston lawyer who had worked for Welch:

“Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

From the insiders around George W. Bush to the likes of Rep. King, it is increasingly obvious that the answer is no.

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there. Or go to Amazon.com.

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