Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Monday, November 13, 2006

  What kinds of investigations will we get into the run-up to the Iraq war?

What committees will be investigating the run-up to the Iraq war; the misuse of intelligence; the collusion between the US and UK governments? What will their goals be? What writ will they have from the new leadership? The Democrats are slowly figuring this out.

It's pretty clear that Sen. Rockefeller will push to complete the "Phase Two" investigation in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. In the House, however, it remains unclear whether such hearings will proceed at all. For in the House, findings by a committee that the President and Vice President engaged in wrongdoing could well lead to articles of impeachment being introduced before the Judiciary Committee. If hearings are held, then, the way is open at least in theory to making a real show of holding these men accountable for their actions. And everybody knows that it would be difficult to hold hearings and avoid the conclusion that the administration deceived Congress and the nation (to say the least) in the run-up to war.

One of the big questions is whether Rep. Conyers will actually press for hearings in the House. For about a year, after the appearance of the Downing Street memo in May 2005, Conyers very publicly pushed for hearings. He held his own meeting in the Capitol in June 2005, and in December he produced a lengthy report on the matter. On his website, he said he'd welcome evidence that might show that the President had committed impeachable offenses.

But then, as the election approached, Democrats tried to downplay any suggestion that they were 'out to get' (i.e. hold accountable) Mr. Bush. Rep. Conyers followed suit, walking back from his earlier and clearer positions. In May, he penned this op-ed evidently to soothe concerns. And subsequently, he's become less aggressive, and more vague, on the issue.

On Thursday he issued a statement through a staffer saying that impeachment hearings are "off the table". The statement is not available at his website and Rep. Conyers didn't make himself available to reporters to discuss it. So it's far from clear what this means to the question of whether he will press for hearings.

But a report in the Sunday Independent quotes one of Conyers' senior staffers saying that a full inquiry is still needed. I find that intriguing, at least. Meanwhile, a report in the same paper suggests that Tony Blair's political position is deteriorating. Pressure is mounting on him from several fronts, including demands for answers about planning for the Iraq war. I thought I might treat these issues together, because they both affect the question of how thoroughly Congress and Parliament will investigate the background to the war, and how eager they will be to uncover new information.

The one thing we know about the situation in the US, is that nobody yet knows what will happen with any of this. I'm just assembling some evidence about where things stand on the question of whether and how to investigate. I'll sidestep the question of whether Bush and Cheney will or should be impeached as the result of such investigations.

In a May op-ed (WaPo), Rep. Conyers' position on holding hearings on the run-up to the Iraq war was as follows (see also this dKos post from August):

[Republicans alleged that] I, as the new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, would immediately begin impeachment proceedings against President Bush.

I will not do that....The allegations I have raised are grave, serious, well known, and based on reliable media reports and the accounts of former administration officials.

But none of these allegations can be proved or disproved until the administration answers questions. For example, to know whether intelligence was mistaken or manipulated in the run-up to the Iraq war, we need to know what information was made available to -- and actually read by -- decision makers and how views contradicting the case for war were treated. ...

The administration's stonewalling, and the lack of oversight by Congress, have left us to guess whether we are dealing with isolated wrongdoing, or mistakes, or something worse. In my view, the American people deserve answers, not guesses. I have proposed that we obtain these answers in a responsible and bipartisan manner.

...partisan vendettas ultimately provoke a public backlash and are never viewed as legitimate.

So, rather than seeking impeachment, I have chosen to propose comprehensive oversight of these alleged abuses. The oversight I have suggested would be performed by a select committee made up equally of Democrats and Republicans and chosen by the House speaker and the minority leader.

The committee's job would be to obtain answers -- finally. At the end of the process, if -- and only if -- the select committee, acting on a bipartisan basis, finds evidence of potentially impeachable offenses, it would forward that information to the Judiciary Committee.

I really do not know how to square his subsequent statement that impeachment is "off the table" with this op-ed. It does raise the question, though, what the goal of any House hearings into the background of the Iraq war might be. If hearings produce credible evidence of high crimes, then doesn't impeachment have to be (back) "on the table"?

Yesterday, the day after Rep. Conyers issued his press release, the Boston Globe had this story about Democratic plans for investigations:

Despite the conciliatory language this week between the White House and the new leaders of Congress, Democrats expect to launch probes into the administration's use of prewar intelligence on Iraq and its domestic wiretapping program and into Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force, current and former aides said. The goal, they said, will be to force changes by shedding light on problems with the existing policies....

James Manley, spokesman for Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada, said yesterday that the senator intended to "push to finalize" the investigation of whether the Pentagon under Donald H. Rumsfeld misused prewar intelligence about Iraq's arms programs....

Meanwhile, an aide to Representative John Conyers Jr., the Michigan Democrat slated to head the House Judiciary Committee, said the senator intends to hold hearings on the president's domestic wiretapping program, the subject of a bill Bush has yet to get passed. Conyers drew fire earlier this year from conservatives for issuing a report that concluded that Bush violated civil liberties and that could constitute an "impeachable offense."

But in a press release this week, he dismissed the idea that he would pursue impeachment, calling it a "right-wing effort to distort" his position. "The incoming speaker has said that impeachment is off the table," he said of Representative Nancy Pelosi of California . "I am in total agreement with her on this issue."

I'd seen few signs, recently, that the House still was planning to hold its own hearings into the run-up to the war. That's why I was particularly interested in this article in the Independent

Tony Blair, who narrowly defeated a recent parliamentary attempt to call an inquiry into the Iraq war, is facing a new threat from Washington, where victorious Democrats are expected to call British witnesses as they launch congressional investigations into the war.

"Now we are the majority party and we can hold hearings," said a senior member of the staff of John Conyers, who in January will become chair of the House Judiciary Committee. "We can hold any number of hearings."

Democratic Senators are also expected to seek hearings aimed at throwing light on how Downing Street and the White House co-ordinated efforts to claim that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. All the claims that led to war, from allegations that Saddam was reconstituting a nuclear weapons programme to his alleged links with al-Qa'ida, could come under examination. Unlike their counterparts in Britain, congressional committees have the crucial power to subpoena witnesses and documents.

...the Congressman's aide said full details about the decision to go to war had still not emerged. He added: "We are not in a position to say we know what happened or what came to be. We know what some whistle-blowers said, and some people who left the government, but there has never been a [full inquiry]."

No there hasn't, and one lively question is whether there will be one in the House of Representatives next year.

Another question, which I discussed recently here and here, is whether the British House of Commons is getting more aggressive (again, or perhaps finally) about conducting an honest and thorough investigation of the issue. The nearly two-year old Butler Inquiry, the closest thing to a full investigation, has never looked shabbier. It's increasingly clear that Butler ignored, falsified, or downplayed crucial evidence he was given of the Blair government's wrongdoing.

At this stage the British people really want some answers, as the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan get ever worse. The Commons may finally be getting serious, too. As tomorrow's Independent reports:

Pressure for an inquiry in the UK will be renewed this week when MPs launch a fresh attempt to make the Government reveal its exit plan from Iraq. Leading backbenchers from all sides are preparing to table an amendment to the Queen's speech, a device that, if successful, would require ministers to explain in public what they are telling the US administration in private.

Kenneth Clarke, the former chancellor and leading Conservative war critic, and John McDonnell, the left-wing Labour MP challenging for the party's leadership, are among those backing the move.

During the second half of the 20th century, the Conservatives tabled only a single amendment to a Queen's speech (the annual address to the Commons summarizing the government's plans for the following year). So the very fact that Clarke is putting his name behind the proposal is a significant sign that war critics intend to step up their demands for answers.

Blair has shrugged off such demands for years, just as he's escaped more or less intact from many political scrapes that ought to have ended his career. I've lost count of the number of times I thought he was nearly finished. Blair is like a vampire; many in Labour are afraid to take him on, so they shelter him and let him go to ground when things get unpleasant.

So take any notion of Blair's imminent demise with a grain of salt. Still, I'm cautiously optimistic that Blair's political standing is beginning to deteriorate. A long-running scandal is beginning to ripen. Labour accepted large loans in 2004 from a few wealthy donors, and shortly thereafter Blair granted these men peerages. Nobody has quite pinned a charge of corruption on him, though, until now.

It turns out that Labour submitted false balance sheets for 2004 that neglected to mention the loans. That could be too bad for Blair, really really too bad, because his allies may now be ready to leave him in the lurch as his career is already winding down. From the Independent:

The widening of the investigation to look at accounting irregularities will significantly increase the pressure on Mr Blair, who is now considered by the police as the pivotal figure in the inquiry....

Senior Labour Party figures have told The Independent on Sunday that the party did not inform its own auditors that it had received the loans until the spring of 2006 - a year after the money arrived in the party's coffers....

The Scotland Yard team, led by Assistant Commissioner John Yates, is expected to interview Mr Blair in the next few weeks, with questions about the accounts....

They are considering whether there was a breach of the terms of the Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act 2000, which includes an offence of concealment or disguise...

Meanwhile, cabinet ministers have turned up the heat on Mr Blair by telling detectives they cannot explain why he nominated secret donors for peerages. They believe "the net is closing in" on Mr Blair after Mr Yates wrote to every member of the Cabinet last week....

One minister described Mr Yates's letter as a "fishing expedition", but also said that it was clear evidence that the net was now closing in on the PM.

It's my hope that the rats are beginning to desert Mr. Blair, as this corruption scandal finally begins to entrap him. And perhaps, with fewer Labour MPs shielding him, the Commons can force a serious inquiry into the biggest scandal of all, how Tony Blair conspired with George Bush to gin up the war against Iraq.

I won't express any confidence about progress this time. But the truth has to come out some day. Why not now? You get the sense that war critics in Britain were emboldened by the Democrats' victory last week. Maybe, just maybe, we'll begin to get some answers from Britain that Democrats in the Senate--or even in the House--can put to good use.


  • Nearly a week after Conyers' press release announcing that impeachment is "off the table", which he didn't post on line and did not speak to reporters about, he has posted an evasive statement at his blog. It does not really explain Conyers' reversal, but insinuates that he is doing it for partisan advantage in 2008. He also suggests that voters resolved the matter in the 2006 election, because he (heroically and, evidently, almost single-handedly) brought these matters to their attention.

    Not surprisingly, he is getting lambasted on his own blog by former supporters who had trusted in his integrity.

    I wish I could say that I'm surprised by his about-face, but I have not been napping during the last 18 months. it was all too predictable.

    The question ahead is whether other Democrats in the House will want to roll over and play dead on these issues as well.

    By Blogger : smintheus ::, at 8:48 PM  

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