Criminal Negligence

Would it be newsworthy if a document surfaced that proved our government had lied to us? What if this lie resulted in thousands of deaths and an expense to American taxpayers of billions of dollars? And what if this document recorded our leaders talking openly about the need to lie to get us to do what they wanted? Would that be newsworthy? You may think so, but the American media establishment does not.

Many Americans have long suspected that the only way for Bush to dupe us into invading Iraq was to cook the intelligence. But this never rose above the level of opinion—until just a few short weeks ago. On May 1, The London Times published the complete minutes of a meeting Tony Blair held with his cabinet in July of 2002. This extraordinarily damning glimpse into the pro-war clan’s decision-making process created quite a stir in England, where many voters were upset by what the document revealed about their government’s naked intent to manipulate public opinion. The disclosure came at a particularly bad time for Blair and other Labour MPs, as it forced him to publicly address the issue in the last days of his campaign for re-election.

But in America, news of the leak fell to earth with a thud. The story’s only immediate coverage was one article in the supposedly liberal New York Times, which downplayed the scandalous document as nothing more than a fly in the ointment for a foreign political party. Is that all this story amounts to?

Not at all. The men who lied their way into an unprovoked invasion of Iraq two years ago have finally been caught red-handed, but nobody seems to care. The memo records the Bush administration’s open acknowledgement that, according to British intelligence chief Richard Dearlove, “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”

The preferable model for deciding matters of life and death is to look at the facts first, and decide what to do second. In this way, our unprovoked war might have legitimately been considered “preemptive,” because it would have been based on actual analysis of threats to American safety. More importantly, basing policy on the facts (rather than vice-versa) would have had the beneficial side-effect of avoiding thousands of unnecessary deaths.

Why would the think-then-decide model have prevented war? Well, as foreign secretary Jack Straw put it, “…the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbors, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran.” Nevertheless, Straw reports “that Bush had made up his mind to take military action.” Months later Bush was still publicly pretending that he hoped war would be unnecessary, and constantly implying he had secret intelligence to the effect that Saddam and bin Laden were working hand-in-glove.

More than a week has gone by since the appearance of this finally conclusive proof that our two governments ginned-up the war—or as Dearlove puts it, that they fixed facts to suit policy. In addition to the above, this memo contains such gems as “there was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action,” and “the most likely timing in US minds for military action to begin was January, with the timeline beginning 30 days before the US Congressional elections.” But the coverage it has received consists only of inaudible whisperings around the margins of the media establishment: one article in the International section of The New York Times, some rustlings on the internet, and a sea of dumb silence surrounding it all.

Nothing could have exploded the Republican lie of a “liberal media” more thoroughly than the baffling silence with which our once-free press has muffled this potentially explosive story. If Joseph Pulitzer was right that “our Republic and its press will rise or fall together,” then the end may already have come.

Thomas Odell ’05 is a near eastern languages and civilizations concentrator in Winthrop House.