I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

William Bennett's hysterical rant against Jay Rockefeller

William J. Bennett, writing in National Review, works himself into a truly bizarre fit of pious rage, distorting a plainly innocuous quote from Sen. Jay Rockefeller into something sinister, and then -- based upon a meaning completely invented by Bennett -- all but demands that Rockefeller be booted from the Senate Intelligence Committee, investigated, and charged with treason.

Here's the Rockefeller quote out of which Bennett squeezed a whole column of petulant outrage:

WALLACE: Now, the President never said that Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat. As you saw, you did say that. If anyone hyped the intelligence, isn't it Jay Rockefeller?

SEN. ROCKEFELLER: No. The — I mean, this question is asked a thousand times and I'll be happy to answer it a thousand times. I took a trip by myself in January of 2002 to Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria, and I told each of the heads of state that it was my view that George Bush had already made up his mind to go to war against Iraq — that that was a predetermined set course which had taken shape shortly after 9/11.

Bennett's entire column is based upon the facially ludicrous notion that this Rockefeller quote constitutes a confession that Rockefeller disclosed top-secret information about U.S. plans to invade Iraq to those Middle Eastern countries. Amazingly, Bennett accuses Rockefeller -- all based upon this single quote -- of "tipping off sometimes friends and definitive enemies about war plans that not even the president has yet made as policy."

Bennett then darkly speculates:

If Syria — or elements in Saudi Arabia — began acting on this information before we even went to war in Iraq (more than a year later), then Senator Rockefeller may have seriously harmed, impeded, and hindered our war efforts, our troops, and the entire operation in the Middle East. This should be investigated immediately; and perhaps Senator Rockefeller should step down from the Intelligence Committee until an investigation is complete.

It's hard to believe that Bennett wrote this column with a straight face. The meaning of Rockefeller's statement could not have been clearer: Rockefeller believed that George Bush was hell-bent on invading Iraq no matter what and shared his opinion of what was likely to occur with foreign leaders. Rockefeller: "I told each of the heads of state that it was my view that George Bush had already made up his mind to go to war against Iraq."

Quite obviously, Rockefeller didn't have any classified information in January, 2002 that Bush had already decided to invade Iraq. If he did have any such information, that would be the real scandal -- a Republican scandal -- because George Bush was still claiming even as late as January, 2003 (a year later) that he had not yet decided yet to invade, and even then Bush was still peddling the ruse that he was hoping oh-so-very-much that inspections would work and war could be averted.

If, as Bennett stupidly implies, Rockefeller was privy to some sort of secret classified information in January, 2002, that the invasion of Iraq was a fait accompli, then it would mean that Bush officials lied -- repeatedly and unequivocally -- to the Congress, the U.N. and the American people, all of whom they were telling in no uncertain terms that war was "an option of last resort" which they had not yet concluded was necessary.

Bennett took a quote from Jay Rockefeller, blatantly distorted its meaning, and then wrote a whole column ranting against the meaning he invented, going so far as to call for investigations and implying that Rockefeller committed treason by helping Syria stay a step ahead of U.S. war plans. Are Republicans really this desperate now? And what happened to Bill Bennett? Is this the sort of crazed, dishonest shrillness to which he's descended?


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