On Chalabi, Congress, and Getting Back to Work

Ahmed Chalabi came to Washington this week. Among his scheduled stops was a closed-door meeting with House members this Wednesday. When I learned of the briefing, I wrote Rep. Chris Shays, the subcommittee chairman who was organizing the briefing, to say that instead of treating Mr. Chalabi to a private session with members of Congress, Congress should require him to testify under oath so that we might ask him about his role in providing false intelligence to the United States government in the lead up to the Iraq war.

Unfortunately, the Republican leadership did not take this opportunity to investigate Mr. Chalabi’s role in inciting the Iraq war.

Ahmed Chalabi was instrumental in providing false intelligence in the lead up to the Iraq war. He met with Pentagon officials in the days after September 11 and began working to achieve the long-held goal of removing of Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. While on the U.S. government payroll, Mr. Chalabi wove a web of misinformation about Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction and ties to Al Qaeda. He issued terrifying public statements like that United States had a choice to make, between “using military force to liberate Iraq” and “having your own civilians killed in their thousands.”

Now four years later, Mr. Chalabi has stated that his objective in Iraq “has been achieved.” Now installed as Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq, Mr. Chalabi says that “what was said before,” his half-truths and false statements, “is not important.”

Congress should not let the matter rest there.

There are many unanswered questions about why the Bush Administration led the nation into war in Iraq. Why did the President and his top advisors make literally hundreds of misleading statements about the threat posed by Iraq? Were these honest mistakes, as the President insists, or was the intelligence deliberately twisted, as mounting evidence would indicate? Mr. Chalabi may have answers to some of these questions.

It has been two years since President Bush landed on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln and declared “Mission Accomplished.” Yet the United States Congress has not held a single hearing on the misuse of intelligence by White House officials in the weeks and months before war in Iraq. There has been no evaluation of the public statements by the President and his staff that contradicted intelligence files that sat on their desks. And there has been no examination of how contrived U.N. presentations and glib answers on Sunday morning talk shows contributed to the rush to war.

The response of Porter Goss, former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and now the Director of the CIA, is telling: “Somebody sends me a blue dress and some DNA, [and] I’ll have an investigation.”

When President Clinton was in office, House Republicans issued more than 1,000 subpoenas to Clinton Administration officials. In total, the congressional investigations and the investigations by independent counsel cost over $150 million. But now that President Bush is in the White House, even the most serious allegations are ignored.

Yesterday was Veterans Day. On my mind are the more than 2,000 men and women of the United States military who have died fighting this war in Iraq. And the more than 15,000 who have been wounded or disfigured, many with injuries that they will carry for life. Some of them are recuperating just up the road a few miles from the Capitol at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. They have sacrificed so much for this country and so much for this war.

They have done their duty, and now it is time for Congress to its constitutional duty to provide a check on the abuses of the Executive Branch.