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“Cheney, Bush and Habbush”

ColumnAugust 21, 2008

    By Amy Goodman

    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is on a book tour in which she is being hounded by activists and questioned about her declaration that “impeachment is off the table.” She responded on the TV talk show “The View,” “If somebody had a crime that the president had committed, that would be a different story.”

    Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind may have provided the evidence she doesn’t want to see. Suskind has just published a book called “The Way of the World.” He makes an explosive charge: that the Bush administration instructed the CIA to forge a letter that would support its claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and was linked to al-Qaida. He also charged that the person whose name is on the forged letter, the former head of Iraqi intelligence, the man who was the jack of diamonds in the U.S. military’s “most wanted” deck of cards, Tahir Jalil Habbush, was given $5 million in hush money.

    Suskind has recorded interviews with key U.S. and British intelligence agents who told him that secret meetings were held with Habbush, who insisted that Iraq had no WMDs, and that Saddam Hussein’s evasiveness on WMDs was more to protect Iraq from its neighbors, principally Iran. Suskind interviewed Rob Richer, a career CIA operative (who resigned to take a top job with the military contractor Blackwater, to head up its new private spy operations). Richer told Suskind how George Tenet, then director of Central Intelligence, handed him the assignment to deal with the fabricated letter:

    Richer: What I remember is George saying, “We got this from”—basically, from what George said was “downtown.”

    Suskind: Which is the White House?

    Richer: Yes. … I would probably stand on my, basically, my reputation and say it came from the vice president.

    Suskind: It just had the White House stationery.

    Richer: Exactly right.

    After Suskind’s book came out earlier this month, Richer issued a carefully phrased “non-denial denial,” which Suskind says reflects the enormous pressure Richer and people like him are under to keep important truths quiet. The key points stand: Habbush, in January of 2003, assured British and U.S. intelligence that there were no WMDs. This would have been in time to prevent the invasion. Richard Dearlove, then head of British intelligence (MI6), flew to Washington to deliver this damning report. Rather than calling off the invasion, the U.S. secretly relocated Habbush to Jordan and paid him $5 million. When no WMDs were found, according to Suskind, Habbush became “radioactive inside of the White House … everyone was terrified that Habbush would pop up on the screen during that summer of Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame”—that is, Habbush could exacerbate the political problems the White House was facing over its justification for the war.

    By September 2003, with Habbush silenced, the scheme was hatched to provide the letter that would solve all the White House’s problems: a letter, backdated to July 2001, written in Habbush’s hand, explaining that 9/11 ringleader Mohamed Atta had indeed received training in Iraq for the hijacking, and that al-Qaida had also been helping Iraq obtain uranium from Niger. The letter was faked and leaked in Baghdad, after which a conservative British pundit, Con Coughlin, broke the story that supported the Bush administration. It raged through the international press like wildfire.

    Since Suskind’s book has come out, Congressman John Conyers, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, has begun an investigation. I asked Conyers if there is talk of a bipartisan commission to investigate the charges. The chairman replied, “There are four committees, and how they relate to each other will come forward very shortly.” Suskind has been told that Sen. Jay Rockefeller’s powerful Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is also investigating.

    Congress should find out: Who authorized the $5-million payout to Habbush? Where is Habbush, and will he be brought to Congress to testify? Who authorized the fabrication of the letter? What possible reason other than politics can there be for not declassifying the Dearlove report that there were no WMDs in Iraq?

    The upcoming presidential conventions will be filled with vague promises of change. Congress should prove it and fully investigate Cheney, Bush and Habbush.

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