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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 9/3/13

Should We Fall Again for "Trust Me"?

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James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence.

In a dazzling display of chutzpah, the White House is demanding that Congress demonstrate blind trust in a U.S. intelligence establishment headed by James Clapper, a self-confessed perjurer.

That's a lot to ask in seeking approval for a military attack on Syria, a country posing no credible threat to the United States. But with the help of the same corporate media that cheer-led us into war with Iraq, the administration has already largely succeeded in turning public discussion into one that assumes the accuracy of both the intelligence on the apparent Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack in Syria and President Barack Obama's far-fetched claim that Syria is somehow a threat to the United States.

Here we go again with the old political gamesmanship over "facts" as a prelude to war, a replay of intelligence trickery from Vietnam's Gulf of Tonkin to Iraq's nonexistent WMD. Once more, White House officials are mounting a full-court press in Congress, hoping there will be enough ball turnovers to enable the administration to pull out a victory, with the corporate media acting as hometown referees

And in the weekend talk shows, Secretary of State John Kerry, team co-captain in this transparent effort to tilt the playing field, certainly had his game face on. Kerry left little doubt that he KNOWS that the Syrian government is guilty of launching a chemical weapons attack on suburbs of Damascus on Aug. 21. How do we know he knows? Simple: It's "Trust me" once again.

Did you not watch Kerry's bravura performance before the TV cameras on Friday when he hawked the dubious evidence against the Syrian government? Someone should tell Kerry that using the word "know" 35 times does not suffice to dispel well-founded doubts and continuing ambiguities about the "intelligence," such as it is. The administration's white paper, issued to support Kerry's "knowledge," didn't provide a single verifiable fact that established Syrian government guilt. [See Consortiumnews.com's "A Dodgy Dossier on Syrian War."]

But with his bravado, Kerry's ploy was obvious -- to sweep aside serious questions about the evidence and move the discussion simply to one of how much punishment should be inflicted on Syria. "So now that we know what we know, the question ... is: What will we do?" Kerry said Friday.

But, Mr. Kerry, please not so fast with your attempt to do an Iraq War number on us. Frankly, asking us to simply trust you (especially after your 2002 vote for President George W. Bush's Iraq War resolution) is too much to ask. Given the disease of prevarication circulating like a virus among top intelligence officials, one would have to have been "born yesterday" (to use one of Harry Truman's expressions) to take you at your word.

And, there are hopeful signs that Congress, which has been fooled more than once before, may see through this latest rush to judgment. "Yes, I saw the classified documents," Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, told The Hill newspaper. "They were pretty thin."

Some lawmakers are even stating another obvious point; i.e., that even with congressional approval, a military strike on Syria would be not only an international crime, but also unconstitutional because of the Constitution's supremacy clause making treaties the supreme law of the land.

Under the United Nations Treaty, signatories like the U.S. pledge not to use -- or even threaten to use -- military force against another nation without U.N. Security Council approval or unless already attacked or in imminent danger of attack. None of those conditions apply here.

So, even if the "intelligence" against Syria were air-tight (which it isn't) and if Congress approves a use-of-force resolution, the U.S. Constitution still requires that we abide by the U.N. Treaty and obtain Security Council approval. How can lawyers like Obama and Kerry ignore such basics?

There are also other options for punishing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad if there's real evidence that he was complicit in the Aug. 21 attack. Like other leaders accused of war crimes, he can be indicted by the International Criminal Court or subjected to a special war-crimes tribunal. Yet, instead of following those legal strategies, which are specifically designed for these sorts of situations, President Obama proposes punishing one alleged war crime by committing another.

Intelligence? A Sow's Ear

But there remains the key question of establishing the Assad government's guilt and whether the Obama administration's "high-confidence" assessment about that point is justified. It is a time-honored (or, better, time-dishonored) custom for White House officials bent on war to distort or even manufacture "intelligence" to justify their aims, especially after they've gone public with their "knowledge."

On this point, I can say -- "with high confidence" -- that the White House is at it again, perpetrating another fraud on Congress and the American people. And most of the U.S. mainstream press has elbowed past the many questions about the quality of the intelligence and has moved on to discussing whether President Obama will "win" or "lose" the congressional vote, whether partisanship will spill over into foreign policy hurting America's "credibility" to look tough.

Was it just a little over a decade ago that we watched President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney create out of whole cloth intelligence to "justify" war on Iraq while the U.S. press corps mostly acted as stenographers and cheerleaders? Mistakes are forgivable; fraud is not; neither is cowardice in the face of a misguided rush to war. And the fact that not a single senior Bush administration official was held accountable compounds the problem.

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Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was an Army infantry/intelligence officer and then a CIA analyst for 27 years, and is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). His (more...)
 
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