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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, January 16, 2007

Today

(updated below)

Today is book deadline day, which is what explains my absence for the last couple days. I've been blissfully unaware of basic news events over the past several days, though the mountains of e-mails issuing all sorts of assignments for me for posts that need to be written suggest that there has been the usual amount of lawless mischief during that time. Regular blogging will resume tomorrow or after some small brain recuperation period. Feel free to use the comment section to this post for whatever moves you.

In the meantime, Psychology Professor Bob Altemeyer -- on whose research John Dean heavily relied in writing about the authoritarian mindset for Conservatives without Conscience -- has placed a free copy of his new book, The Authoritarians, online (or at least Chapter 1). I haven't had a chance to look at any of it, but based on Altemeyer's work that I have read, I have no doubt that it is worth reading.

Also, in writing the book, I spent much time reading through the television and newspaper "debates" which our country had in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq. That is a very dark period in American political discourse, and reading through it requires a strong constitution in order to endure it. I offer here but a small sampling of what I found. A brief unedited excerpt from the manuscript, which I offer in order to expunge this from my system as much as for any other reason:
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In exactly the way that few people were as consistently wrong as Krauthammer, few people were as right about the Iraq war as Scott Ritter was. Back in September, 2002, Ritter was trying to tell anyone who would listen that Iraq had no WMD's. Ritter is a former U.S. Marine officer, was a top aide to Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf during the first Gulf War against Iraq, and built a reputation as a tenacious weapons inspector working inside Iraq for the U.N. It is difficult to imagine someone with greater credentials and credibility who ought to have been listened to on those issues.

As George Bush, Charles Krauthammer, and the national political establishment were assuring Americans that Saddam unquestionably had WMDs and that an invasion of Iraq was urgent, Ritter was desperately warning his fellow citizens of the dangers of Bush's war plans.

In the Fall of 2002, Ritter went to Iraq in an effort to forge an agreement that would save his country from making a horrendous mistake, and during his trip, he addressed the Iraqi Parliament and warned:

My country seems on the verge of making an historic mistake…. My government is making a case for war against Iraq that is built upon fear and ignorance, as opposed to the reality of truth and fact.

As someone who counts himself as a fervent patriot and a good citizen of the United States of America, I feel I cannot stand by idly, while my country behaves in such a fashion...

We, the people of the United States, are told repeatedly that we face a grave and imminent risk to our national security from a combination of past irresponsible behaviour on the part of Iraq and ongoing efforts by Iraq to re-acquire chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic weapons ... which have been banned since 1991 by a Security Council resolution.

The truth of the matter is that Iraq is not a sponsor of the kind of terror perpetrated against the United States on 11 September, and in fact is active in suppressing the sort of fundamentalist extremism that characterises those who attacked the United States on that horrible day.

This is the truth, and once the American people become familiar with and accept this truth, the politics of fear will be defeated and the prospect of war between our two countries greatly diminished...

The truth of the matter is that Iraq has not been shown to possess weapons of mass destruction, either in terms of having retained prohibited capability from the past, or by seeking to re-acquire such capability today...

Iraq must loudly reject any intention of possessing these weapons and then work within the framework of international law to demonstrate this a reality.

The only way that Iraq can achieve this is with the unconditional return of UN weapons inspectors, allowing such inspectors unfettered access to sites inside Iraq in order to complete the disarmament tasks as set forth in Security Council resolutions...

Ritter’s extremely prescient warnings were all but ignored in the mainstream American press, except when television panels were convened to smear his character and attack his credibility.

On January 26, 2003, Wolf Blitzer held a panel discussion on CNN to discuss Ritter’s war opposition. Ritter was not present, but Peter Beinert, the pro-war Editor of The New Republic, and Jonah Goldberg, the pro-war pundit from National Review, were invited to urge the invasion of Iraq, mock Ritter’s anti-war arguments, and smear him with a series of personal attacks.

Neither of these young, great “experts” who were urging the country to war had any experience with the weapons inspection process or with Iraq. Joining them was Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and Robert George of The New York Post, both of whom also supported the war and whose level of expertise on these matters was equal to Beinert’s and Goldberg’s.

Blitzer began the segment on Ritter by describing him as “an outspoken critic of a possible war against Iraq [who] was arrested in 2001 for allegedly communicating over the internet with an undercover police officer who was posing as a 16 year old girl.” Blitzer's question for the panel: “Is Scott Ritter's credibility now destroyed?” Brazille’s answer: “Absolutely. It shows that he has poor judgment.”

George went next and accused Ritter of having been paid “hundreds of thousands of dollars from Saddam Hussein's regime,” so everyone could safely ignore anything Ritter said because he was an agent of Saddam – “a pro-Saddam guy,” in George’s words. George was referring to a documentary produced by Ritter that was financed by an American citizen of Iraqi descent and which contended, correctly as it turns out, that the U.N. inspection process had “defanged” Iraq’s weapons program.

But the fact that Ritter’s film was financed by an American business man of Iraqi origin – and, more to the point, that Ritter then became an outspoken opponent of the war -- was continuously used by war advocates to smear the former Marine as an agent of Saddam Hussien’s. Thus, with the smear on Ritter’s loyalty firmly in place, arguments by Ritter that there was no convincing evidence of Iraqi WMDs, and that Iraq could not pose a threat to the U.S., could be easily ignored.

Beinert followed George and immediately said:

Yes, I agree. I think that he didn't have any credibility to begin with. I mean, this is the guy who never really explained, as Jonah said, why he flipped 180 degrees and became a Saddam mouthpiece. So for me it's irrelevant. I never listened to what he had to say on Iraq to begin with.

Once the Great Iraqi expert, Peter Beinert, was done smearing Ritter’s credibility and making clear that he could be safely ignored on the issue of Iraqi WMDs, Goldberg uttered: “Yes, I agree with everybody,” and then added:

He's now just basically joined Pete Townsend on the Magic School Bus. . . . Pete Townsend of the WHO has also been implicated in child porn and things of that nature. But as everybody said, Ritter's credibility, just on the basics of Iraq, was completely shot and now there's even less reason to listen to him.

The brilliant work of this expert panel complete, Blitzer decreed: “Let's move on now.”

Ritter’s arguments were never engaged by this harmonious panel of war advocates. His arguments did not need to be engaged because these panelists -- intoxicated by war rhetoric and Manichean imperatives and the smug sense of their own Rightness -- had, in unison, pronounced the ex-Marine so lacking in credibility that he could merely be swatted away, ignored, just as Peter Beinert said he had been doing with Ritter for some time.

Literally in a matter of minutes on CNN, Ritter – one of the nation’s preeminent experts on the subject of the Iraqi weapons program and one of the most vocal and knowledgeable critics of Bush's war plans (who was aggressively questioning the WMD orthodoxy) -- was quickly transformed by a panel of know-nothing war cheerleaders posing as experts into a grotesque cartoon – a pro-Saddam propagandist, a liar, a child molester and an integrity-free subversive whose loyalty was very much in question.

Moments earlier, though, Beinert gave a stirring explanation of how the war on Iraq was not only necessary for our security but morally right as well, and we therefore must not wait for the inspection process to be complete before invading. Moments later, Goldberg urged that the “president needs to make a forceful case for a regime change in Paris,” and when Blitzer and the jovial, war-crazed panel laughed heartily and good-naturedly at Goldberg’s war-on-France joke, Goldberg struggled to assure them that he was serious.

That Ritter was right about everything he said, and Beinert, Goldberg and company profoundly wrong and misguided -- and that the latter helped lead the country into the worst strategic disaster in its history -- means nothing. To this day, it is almost impossible to avoid hearing from Peter Beinert and Jonah Goldberg in the nation’s most influential media outlets (Beinert was recently given a column in The Washington Post, and Goldberg went on to become a twice-weekly columnist for The Los Angeles Times). But if one wants to know what Ritter thinks about anything -- say, whether the nation should wage war on Iran, or about anything else -- one would have to search for obscure websites or alternative weekly newspapers.
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That was how our country debated whether to go to war against Iraq and how it was established that Saddam had WMDs (a belief which, even today, the establishment pundits and journalists attempting to excuse themselves for their war advocacy will insist was one which "everyone" accepted -- from Krauthammer in The Washington Post, June, 2003: "Everyone thought Hussein had weapons because we knew for sure he had them five years ago and there was no evidence that he had disposed of them."

And, as I have noted before, this is what Dean said following Secretary Powell's slide show to the U.N.: "Secretary Powell's recent presentation at the UN showed the extent to which we have Iraq under an audio and visual microscope. Given that, I was impressed not by the vastness of evidence presented by the Secretary, but rather by its sketchiness."

UPDATE: I realize that I've made a few references over the past couple months to the book I am writing without saying much about it (saying almost virtually nothing about it, in fact). That has apparently created some mild cognitive dissonance (several e-mails along the lines of "what book are you prattling on about?")

I haven't said much about the book due primarily to the fact that I was not entirely sure what it would actually end up being until I was done writing it, and because -- unlike my prior book, which was published by a small, independent publisher and could therefore be published almost immediately after being written (the manuscript for that book was finished in early April and the book was ready to be shipped from Amazon in mid-May) -- this book is being published by a large publisher (Random House's Crown), which means that there is a long pipeline through which the book has to travel before it will actually be available (June 12 is the release date).

In any event, for informational purposes only, the book is listed on Amazon here and provides a little information. I would request that you not pre-order now, because ordering it closer to publication will have a much greater impact in helping to generate visibility and attention for the book. Its broad theme is the exploitation of "Good v. Evil" concepts and rhetoric (and the corresponding and insatiable need for an "Enemy") in American political "debates" and policy, and how reliance on that framework has destroyed the Bush presidency and damaged the country. Various topics are examined under that rubric (Iraq, Iran, media narratives, domestic policy making, executive power abuses, etc.). I'll write more about the book at some point when it makes sense to do so.

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