Suskind DemNow - Bush be impeached NOW!
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AMY GOODMAN: The House Judiciary Committee has announced it will review reports that the White House in 2003 ordered the CIA to forge and disseminate false intelligence documents linking al-Qaeda and Iraq. The CIA forged a letter from the head of Iraqi intelligence to Saddam Hussein. It was backdated July 1, 2001 and stated 9/11 ringleader Mohamed Atta was trained for his mission in Iraq.
This is an allegation reported in an explosive new book, out last week, by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind. It is called The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism. The book alleges the Bush administration had learned months before the war from the former head of Iraqi intelligence that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, but he was paid $5 million, and the CIA forged a letter from him to convince Americans that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and was linked to al-Qaeda.
House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers said he was “troubled” by the claims in the book and that his staff would "conduct a careful review of Mr. Suskind’s allegations and the role played by senior administration officials in this matter.” The White House, former CIA director George Tenet, the former CIA officials who were Suskind’s sources have all flatly denied the claims in the book.
Ron Suskind, the author of The Way of the World, joins me here in our firehouse studio for the hour.
Welcome to Democracy Now! It’s not only the House Judiciary Committee, but also the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Select Committee on Intelligence is also saying they will investigate?
RON SUSKIND: Absolutely, yeah. It’s interesting, because there’s been a push and shove this week with actually sort of non-denial denials, if you look carefully at what the various folks involved have said. There’s a lot of pressure that’s being brought to bear on certainly all the participants. The book is full of on-the-record comments from actual participants. It’s essentially not my claim; it’s people involved talking about what they did and when, in terms of the letter. And that’s why some of them have felt real heat. Obviously, this could end with a constitutional crisis, and their testimony is central to that.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s step back for a minute. Why don’t you lay out your allegations?
RON SUSKIND: Yeah. Here’s what happened, this sort of tale of Habbush. He is the Iraqi intelligence chief currently for Saddam Hussein at the time we’re marching to war. What the book shows with great clarity, from many, many off-the-record sources, as well as those who were speaking on the record for attribution, is that coming through 2002, the case for war was a rickety structure, and I show exactly how that occurred. They knew a great deal, prior to the start of 2003, about how hollow the case for WMD was inside the administration. In January of 2003, the United States and the UK, Britain, set up a secret back channel with the current head of Iraqi intelligence, who slips out of Baghdad and starts meeting with us in Amman, Jordan. It’s an extraordinary, high-risk mission. The British intelligence official is the lead man. He’s meeting with Habbush—is the name of the Iraqi.
Tahir Jalil Habbush al-Tikriti -- Importance High - Affiliation - New Regional Command Role - Senior Member Affiliation New Baath PartyAffiliation Iraqi Mukhabarat -- Nationality Iraqi - Former Director of the Mukhabarat, the Iraqi intelligence service, and active in the insurgency - The Central Criminal Court of Iraq issued an arrest warrant for Habbush on May 4, 2005. A reward of up to $1 million is offered for information leading to his capture.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Richard Dearlove?
RON SUSKIND: No, this is a fellow named Michael Shipster, who’s head of the Mideast for British Intelligence. Of course, the reports float instantly up to the White House and to Downing Street, and right off the bat, Habbush says there are no WMD. He in fact has great credibility here. He, as the intelligence chief, runs the biological program. He talked about it being closed down. He went through letter and verse on all of the other various allegations of WMD.
And as well, Amy, he said something fascinating. He talked about the mind of Saddam Hussein—all of this, of course, would be shown to be true publicly, rather grandly, later—but that Saddam was fearful of the Iranians, he explained to us. You know, he doesn’t think the United States would ever want to invade a country like Iraq. You guys have already made that decision, and Islamic radicalism, the big threat, that’s not here. He was afraid of showing the Iranians, whose nascent nuclear program he knew was ramping up, that he had no weapons, that he was a toothless tiger, so-called. That was his fear, of course, all of which explains his behavior, all of which was briefed up the ranks through the White House starting in early January of 2003.
Interestingly, when the President first hears that Habbush, our secret source, is saying there are no WMD, he says, “Well, why don’t you tell him to give us something we can use to make our case?” That’s his first reaction. Of course, as the briefing moves forward, there’s great consternation, because the case for war now, well, that structure, that rickety structure, has essentially fallen over.
What do we do in February, when the final report is delivered? George Tenet briefs it to the President, the Vice President, Condi Rice. As he walks down, he says, “They’re not going to like this downtown,” he says to one of his aides. Of course, they don’t. At that point, though, we have a relationship—
AMY GOODMAN: George Tenet?
RON SUSKIND: George Tenet said—
AMY GOODMAN: Briefs it?
RON SUSKIND: Yeah, briefs it to the President. And at that point, interestingly, we have a relationship with this man, Habbush, who has been in on this high-risk mission, and we’ve agreed to resettle him. Alright, well, the fact is, we invade Baghdad, Baghdad falls, Habbush gets out to a safe house in Amman, Jordan, as according to plan.
And then, during that spring and summer of 2003, as it becomes clear to all the world what the White House was briefed earlier, that there are no weapons, of course, this Habbush character becomes, let’s just say, radioactive inside of the White House. What are we going to do with Habbush? And as one of the key CIA officials says—and, of course, the White House has denied none of this, and they certainly—you know, they can’t deny any of this—is that everyone was terrified that Habbush would pop up on the screen during that summer of Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame. At that point, we dotted the “I”s and crossed the “T”s on his deal and agreed to pay him $5 million.
AMY GOODMAN: Who agreed?
RON SUSKIND: The White House, the administration. It’s—the United States government pays him $5 million. At this point, even those inside of CIA say it can only be considered hush money, because we didn’t use him for anything. You know, the CIA was saying, “Look, he’s an expert on Iraq. Go talk to him.” But, of course, as the summer progressed, he’s the last person the White House wants to talk to.
But come fall of 2003, they come up with some way he might be useful, and that’s when the genesis of this letter clearly emerges. I have it dated around September, because people involved recall exactly where they were. And the White House orders the CIA to have a letter fabricated from Habbush to Saddam, as you said, backdated July 2001, which solves all of the White House’s political problems. As one person at the CIA said, it was a check-the-box for all of the White House’s yawning political nightmares at that period. At that point, of course, they’re being accused of going to war under false pretenses, an enormous historical charge.
The letter pops up just as planned. The mission is carried through, and everyone sees it, roiling the global news cycles. Tom Brokaw goes on and on on Meet the Press about it. William Safire writes about it in the New York Times. CNN—of course, O’Reilly flaunts it for four days straight.
That is illegal. It is illegal for the CIA to run disinformation campaigns on the United States. It is against CIA statutes and amendments. That’s why we have such a crisis right now—certainly the White House does—because this is the kind of illegality that, frankly, they’ve dodged up to now. At this point, the evidence is clear, and they can’t dodge it.
AMY GOODMAN: Ron Suskind, you describe the role of Con Coughlin, the reporter from the London Sunday Telegraph, who obtained the forged CIA letter. He was interviewed on NBC’s Meet the Press in December of 2003, shortly after he published an article based on the forged letter. Let me play an excerpt.
CON COUGHLIN: It’s an intelligence document written by the then-head of Iraqi intelligence, Habbush, to Saddam. It’s dated the 1st of July, 2001, and it is basically a memo saying that Mohamed Atta has successfully completed a training course at the house of Abu Nidal, the infamous Palestinian terrorist who, of course, was killed by Saddam a couple of months later. Now, this is the first really concrete proof that al-Qaeda was working with Saddam.
AMY GOODMAN: Who is Con Coughlin?
RON SUSKIND: He’s a foreign correspondent for the Daily Telegraph of London.
AMY GOODMAN: And his significance in being the one to put out this letter?
RON SUSKIND: He’s, let’s just say, someone friendly with the administration, a neocon favorite.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what happened next.
RON SUSKIND: Well, interestingly, what happens next in terms of the letter is it pops up again, just as intended. But interestingly, I think the thing that undermines the letter after a week or so is people say, “My goodness, that’s an awful lot in one letter, solving so many of the White House’s problems all at once.” And I think that’s ultimately what undermines the letter’s credibility going forward. People say it just doesn’t smell right. And Newsweek reporters started to dig in. And generally the sense, even though the letter popped up again later, generally the sense was that this doesn’t seem quite right, this is probably a forgery.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me go to some of the responses to your explosive allegations, like the former CIA director, George Tenet. He says, “The second nugget in the book involves a supposed order from the White House to me at the CIA to have my staff fabricate a letter connecting Iraq with Al Qa’ida and the attacks of 9/11. Suskind says that CIA was directed to get an Iraqi official to copy the bogus information in his own hand—and then cause it to be leaked to the media.
“There was no such order from the White House to me nor, to the best of my knowledge, was anyone from CIA ever involved in any such effort. […]
“The notion that I would suddenly reverse our stance and have created and planted false evidence that was contrary to our own beliefs is ridiculous.” Those, the words of George Tenet.
RON SUSKIND: The key line in there is the “to best of my recollection.” I mean, Tenet, of course, has had problems up to now. I dealt with him a great deal on my last book, The One Percent Doctrine. The reason reporters don’t call George up to now is because he says essentially he doesn’t remember “slam dunk,” he doesn’t remember briefing the President before 9/11. I’ve known George for a long time. What I did hear is, I talked to the direct participants who actually executed, were involved in, the step-by-step of the process, and they testify on the record in the book. And I think people in the know, certainly in Washington, understand why George is the last man you want to call on something like this.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to talk about Robert Richer and John Maguire—Robert Richer, former head of CIA’s Near East Division, former deputy chief of clandestine operations in the CIA, and John Maguire, the former CIA official. Talk first about their significance and them as sources for your book.
RON SUSKIND: Well, you know, these people spend hours and days with me. I mean, it’s not a fleeting encounter. As you know from books, I have more than a hundred sources. I have—this is my third book in five years on the Bush administration. The first one, on Paul O’Neill, the main character, 19,000 documents. I’m an investigative reporter. These books are astonishingly thorough. And in these cases, hour after hour, we discussed exactly the particulars of these missions, especially the issue of Habbush. So there’s not a doubt as to exactly what they said to me.
What’s clear here, and the thing that people are—reporters are trying to dig out, is exactly what sort of pressure was put on certainly Rob Richer, who’s the actor in that particular statement I think you’re about to read.
AMY GOODMAN: Robert Richer’s response—again, former head of CIA’s Near East Division—says, “I never received direction from George Tenet or anyone else in my chain of command to fabricate a document from Habbush as outlined in Mr. Suskind’s book.”
RON SUSKIND: You know, that’s a very narrow legalistic response of—lawyers in Washington have called, saying that’s actually a non-denial denial, because, in terms of chain of command, Rob Richer is not actually on George’s chain of command, if you will. It goes around to Rob Richer. There are people between them.
AMY GOODMAN: You mean George Tenet.
RON SUSKIND: George—yeah, George Tenet. Rob Richer is not on George Tenet’s chain of command, specifically. You know, the fact is, is that this particular response is one that actually, after a day or two, as people looked at it and said, “I don’t think that’s particularly credible.” And what I did, ultimately, Amy, is I posted something—I have never done before as a journalist in twenty-five years, I don’t expect to have to do it again—I actually posted the transcript of a long conversation Rob Richer and I had digging into the particulars of this particular issue and exactly what he remembered, specifically from his own experience. I put it on my website, ronsuskind.com, and that, frankly, quelled some of the clouds that were kicked up by this.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to actually go to a bit of that transcript, but first we’re going to break, and then we’re going to get other comments on your book and have you respond. We’re talking to Ron Suskind. His explosive new book is called The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guest for the hour is Ron Suskind. The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism is his explosive new book. We’re talking about those who are refuting what you have to say, your sources—or kind of refuting. Now, as you said, Ron Suskind, you have posted transcripts—
RON SUSKIND: I think they’re under pressure and—they’re under pressure and ducking.
AMY GOODMAN: Who do you think Ron Richer [sic.] is under pressure from?
RON SUSKIND: Well, you know, Rob Richer is—
AMY GOODMAN: Rob Richer.
RON SUSKIND: I mean, you can name a list as long as your arm right now. The White House clearly saw that this one part of it could result in impeachment hearings, and it could be a problem, because they could happen rather quickly. The fact is, is that the evidence is all laid out, edge to edge, in the book. Again, I didn’t rely in this book on the off-the-record sources. I have many off-the-record sources, but what I got in this book, because I understood that we might have, let’s just say, dilemmas going forward, are people on the record talking at length about this particular Habbush mission.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, the partial transcript, that we’ll put up right now, you say to Richer, “Now this is from the Vice President’s Office is how you remembered it—not from the President?” you’re asking him, and you’re talking about the letter.
RON SUSKIND: He said before, when we talked about it—he says, “I’m sure it’s from the Vice President’s Office.” This is an effort, Amy, to drill down, almost like a deposition, to exactly what he remembers from his own experience.
AMY GOODMAN: So, he says, “No, no, no. What I remember is George saying, ‘we got this from’—basically, from what George said was ‘downtown,’” referring to a Tenet.
RON SUSKIND: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: “Which is the White House?” you ask.
He says, “Yes. But he did not—in my memory—never said president, vice president, or NSC. Okay? But now—he may have hinted—just by the way he said it, it would have—cause almost all that stuff came from one place only: Scooter Libby and the shop around the vice president.”
You say, “Right.”
Rob Richer says, “But he didn’t say that specifically. I would naturally—I would probably stand on my, basically, my reputation and say it came from the vice president.”
You say, “Right, I’m with you, I’m with you. But there wasn’t anything in the writing that you remember saying the vice president.”
He says, “Nope.”
You say, “It just had the White House stationery.”
And Rob Richer says, “Exactly right.”
RON SUSKIND: Yeah. We went through this over and over and over again. And Rob actually understood that this would be a very heated moment. This happens, Amy, sometimes with sources, especially these fellows here who I think are actually rather heroic. They said, “I’m going to trust truth at to the end of this era.” These guys have been walking around, in some cases, with this lump in their chest for a long time. But when they stand up, embrace truth, and they get hit by a wave—and it’s really a tidal wave—you know, the fact is, even the stoutest find their knees buckle.
AMY GOODMAN: John Maguire, the former CIA official, former deputy chief of Iraq Operations Group with the CIA—
RON SUSKIND: Yeah, he actually ran Iraq—he ran Iraq for CIA, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: He said, “I never received any instruction
from then Chief/NE Rob Richer or any other officer in my chain of
command instructing me to fabricate such a letter. Further, I have no knowledge to the origins of the letter and as to how it circulated in Iraq.”
RON SUSKIND: The book doesn’t allege anything that he’s stating there. The book shows clearly what happened. Maguire—as people read the book, they’re like, that statement doesn’t actually reflect what’s in the book. The book just shows him talking to Rob Richer—Maguire—about the letter, about its contents, about generally its origin. And at that point, Maguire was moving on to a new job, so I say in the book it’s passed to Maguire’s successor for execution. So there’s an example where Maguire, who had not read the book at that point, had it characterized wrongly by Richer, whomever Richer was working with, and then responded to something not in the book. You know, it’s interesting, because this is part of a kind of practice of careful sort of kick-up-the-dust deception, in terms of statements like this that experienced reporters have seen from time to time.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about what the American Conservative is saying, the newspaper.
RON SUSKIND: Yeah, that’s interesting.
AMY GOODMAN: They’re saying that the order actually went to the Office of Special Plans, headed by Douglas Feith, not the CIA.
RON SUSKIND: Well, what they’re saying, interestingly, Amy, is that they felt that that was the origin of the idea, was Doug Feith in the Office of Special Plans in the Department of Defense. Certainly, that may well have been a part of a conversation between the White House and Feith’s office. That—of course, those things happen three, four times an hour at certain times like this. And if Feith’s office came up with the concept, passed it to the White House, that’s—well, that’s the same thing. Ultimately, the order comes clearly, in the recollection of participants, from the White House to the CIA. If the White House talked to other people in coming up with this concept, well, that’s something for investigators to dig up.
AMY GOODMAN: Could some of the pressure on Rob Richer be coming from what he’s currently doing? He helped to co-found Total Intelligence Solutions. That’s the Blackwater intelligence spin-off with Cofer Black and others.
RON SUSKIND: Yeah. Well, you know, the fact is, you know—
AMY GOODMAN: This means big contracts.
RON SUSKIND: Yeah. Rob is a contractor and has been for a long time. At this point, much of his focus and, I think, his time is spent largely with King Abdullah of Jordan, who he helped push up into his current status as the King of Jordan. And so, you know, Rob is a contractor. He has a mixed profile. Right now he is with the King of Jordan.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain. Go back and explain how he helped to push him into office, as you allege.
RON SUSKIND: It’s quite a story. The book is full of stories. I mean, people say it’s like a movie. It’s very cinematic, because, essentially, it’s sort of like America, the movie, at this time of crisis.
You know, Richer, back in—well, in the ’90s, was a CIA operative, you know, in Jordan. In those days, King Hussein, then the King of Jordan, said, “I have this young son. He’s a guy. He’s a smart guy. He’s a little bit wayward. And maybe Rob, as a bit of an older guy, maybe you could spend some time with him.” Well, Rob Richer and Abdullah become fast friends, and Rob ends up being kind of a guy who helps shape Abdullah. At one point, you know, people inside of CIA are saying, you know, Rob is the man who makes Abdullah.
Well, Abdullah, of course, is a strong-willed guy himself, and he rises up the ranks so that he actually becomes the next king. He’s a dark horse candidate when King Hussein dies in 1999. And at that point, Richer is so close to Abdullah that essentially he is one of the most important men in the United States government. And that’s the way it moves going forward, and that’s why, Amy—because they have this honest broker, tell each other, friend-to-friend relationship—that’s why we’re able to set up Amman, Jordan as the safe house for Habbush to meet with the British intelligence chief. Rob Richer, of course, sets that up. That’s part of the US-British sort of joint effort here. All of it’s laid out, edge to edge, in the book, you know, spy thriller fashion.
AMY GOODMAN: OK, let’s go to Condoleezza Rice. Last week, Politico’s Mike Allen asked the Secretary of State about your book. This is an excerpt.
MIKE ALLEN: There’s a new book by Ron Suskind, which says the White House ordered the CIA to falsify intelligence about Iraq’s ties to al-Qaeda. Is it possible the US government forged a letter from Iraq’s intelligence chief to Saddam Hussein?
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: The United States government didn’t forge a letter, the White House in which I was working. And I think the people—
MIKE ALLEN: And they didn’t direct it?
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: And I think the people who he—as I understand it, the people that he quotes as being sources for that have denied it.
MIKE ALLEN: And so, you think it’s impossible that such a letter was created?
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: The United States—the White House was not going to ask somebody to forge a letter on something of this importance.
MIKE ALLEN: And so, you believe that did not occur?
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Did not occur. The intelligence might have been wrong. That’s now clear.
MIKE ALLEN: Right.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Not because people weren’t working very hard, but when you have an opaque regime like Saddam Hussein’s regime, that had used weapons of mass destruction before, that had them before, one can understand how the judgment may have been wrong. But the decision to go to war was based on the strategic threat of Saddam Hussein, the fact we’ve been to war against him before, the fact that he still threatened his neighbors, and the fact that we were told that he was reconstituting his weapons of mass destruction.
AMY GOODMAN: Condoleezza Rice, responding to your book. Ron Suskind, your response to her?
RON SUSKIND: Well, Condoleezza Rice really ought to look hard and deep into exactly who was behind the letter that George Tenet receives that’s passed down the ranks. Again, there is not a shadow of a doubt in the reporting. It is exhaustive, it is thorough, and it is in the book on the record.
At this point, though, the question is, will the White House engage in a kind of block, push back, executive privilege role as the investigations move forward, or will they say, “Well, maybe we’ll throw someone over the side, maybe we’ll open up”? Frankly, I think it’s probably the former.
Interestingly, here, what you’ve got is a situation where Rice is laid out in the book in a couple instances, including the fact that she’s asked by Tim Russert, in a key moment in the book, during Meet the Press in 2006, when another Iraqi—you know, the foreign minister, that report comes out that the former minister had talked to the United States and said there were no WMD. He’s a much smaller character than Habbush, the intelligence chief. And she says to Tim, “No, no, Tim. That was just one source who said that.” That’s a lie. It’s just a lie. She knew all about the Habbush mission. Everyone in the White House knew about the Habbush mission at the very top.
Obviously, she doesn’t want to respond to that. And at this point, as you could see, as she sort of says, “No, no, that couldn’t have happened,” you know, that is, again, what we learned during the Nixon years is what’s called a non-denial denial. “I have no knowledge, not that I want to have knowledge, not that I dug to find knowledge. I have no knowledge.” And right now, what we’re dealing with is a prickly situation that’s both contentious, controversial and tendentious politically.
AMY GOODMAN: What could the Senate Intelligence Committee, what could the House Judiciary Committee find out?
RON SUSKIND: Well, they’ll find that everything in the book is true, is what they’ll find out. I mean, that’ll—it actually won’t be very difficult if they simply get people in under oath. You know, they’ll have to duck, or they’ll have to risk perjury.
AMY GOODMAN: Ron Suskind, there are so many issues around the world that this book touches on and gives details about.
RON SUSKIND: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: For example, well, right now, we had Iran in the headlines again today. You talk about the US snubbing of Iran. Talk about what happened.
RON SUSKIND: Well, again, everything in the book is specific. It is from comments of participants. Here, we have an extraordinary moment in 2003. You know, you talk about why did we go into Iraq. Clearly, when you talk to neocons, what they do come up with is that it was a great experiment in behaviorism. The view was Saddam Hussein was actually an easy mark, that he was captive and toothless. That was the view. And we’ll make an example of him to show other rogue dictators not to express similar temerity in challenging America. That was the concept, especially in terms of the fact that WMD are now carried on civil technology. You can’t stop these dictators from getting weapons of mass destruction. There wasn’t a way essentially to stop that from happening, so the word in the White House documents is, how do we dissuade them, other people? Saddam would have been—that’s the idea—the example.
Now, interestingly, what happens at this point is, you know, as we are moving to war in this period, this snubbing of Saddam Hussein, rather, this making an example of Saddam, actually has a yield, Amy. The Iranians, once we have 150,000 troops in Iraq, are like, my goodness, well, their behavior is actually getting shaped. They say to the British, who they still have relationships with, they say, “You know, maybe it’s time for us to meet with the Americans.” And they all but crawl across broken glass to say, “Can we help, at this point? You know, we get it, alright?” Interestingly, they were ready to help with al-Qaeda, which had a group inside of Iran under house arrest. The Shura Council at that point was talking to a group of al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia about buying Russian suitcase nukes. All of that, of course, got people very agitated. Iran also said, “We can help with Iraq. We can help with Afghanistan. We know these countries.”
What happened is, at this point, a CIA chief flies over there. He’s not used to doing these sorts of missions. He’s late in the flight. He gets the wrong hotel.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Jim Pavitt?
RON SUSKIND: Jim Pavitt, that’s right. He leaves the Iranians in the hotel for hours. They’re calling up the Brits livid. The Brits are calling us, saying, “Where the hell is Pavitt?” They’re calling us. Ultimately, we end up snubbing the Iranians and all but creating—at this moment, remember, this is the “real men go to Tehran” moment for the administration. We’ve snubbed the Iranians and all but create the oppositional Iran that has caused such havoc in the years since.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s move from Iran to Pakistan. Right now, there’s a big move to impeach the president of Pakistan. Talk about your findings in relation to Pervez Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto.
RON SUSKIND: Just briefly, one of the big themes of the book is the enormous gap between word and deed, between official spoken morality and sweeping statements and the dark practices of the United States, all of which are coming out. You know, the fact is, that doesn’t work in a hearts and minds era of increasing transparency. It just doesn’t. And ultimately, it bleeds away the most precious fluid, our moral authority, which is the source of true power in the world. The book says it again and again.
Now, here’s an example, with Benazir Bhutto, who I spend the last six months of her life with. I’m seeing her all the time, talking to her sometimes every other night.
AMY GOODMAN: Why?
RON SUSKIND: Well, you know, the fact is, she ends up becoming, in a way, an agent of US values, a vessel of them. You know, and Bhutto, of course, is corrupt right down to her socks, has been for years. She is a South Asian political boss. That’s the way it works there.
But what happens as it goes through these last six months of her life, she sort of inadvertently, as she says to me in her last days—we’re in Quetta together, just before she dies. We’re getting chased around town by suicide bombers. We end up in the house of a warlord, which is the only safe place in town. And, you know, after all of our discussions, she’s like, “You know, Ron? You know, I’ve been talking about these democratic values my whole life, but finally, just in the last month, I’m really starting to understand their power.”
Part of it is Musharraf’s missteps, putting her under house arrest, the terrible explosion in Karachi that killed 500 people, many of them her supporters. You know, she’s seeing bigger crowds. She’s becoming again a kind of hero martyr in the country, something she never expected. Musharraf’s numbers are plummeting, Bhutto’s are rising. She says to me, “Frankly, my success and his failure are now the same things. There’s not going to be coexistence. It’s putting the United States in a choice position. They’ve got to choose. And clearly, they’ve chosen Musharraf over me.”
AMY GOODMAN: But hadn’t they brought her back? Actually, the US pushed her back to shore up Musharraf.
RON SUSKIND: That’s right, absolutely, but, you know, the fact is, what becomes clear is that democracy—not our kind, but maybe their kind in Pakistan—really took hold in Pakistan because of the missteps of force, both, you know, encouraged by the United States and carried forward by Musharraf, and Bhutto suddenly actually is becoming the thing she imagined, maybe even hoped for: a real vessel of democratic ideals, which might have, frankly, turned the tide in that whole region.
You know, interestingly, at this moment, Bhutto says, you know, “Look at my situation. I’m now going to wash away the entire Musharraf power structure, because the fact is, is I’m rising, and he’s plummeting. That’s one opponent. Also, the jihadists are realizing that I might create a counterpoint in this whole region to bin Laden. So now I’ve got two enemies, of course, who have been in an unholy alliance—dictatorial power, messianic radicalism—for many years, and I have no protection. Why? Because Dick Cheney won’t make the phone call.” We go on and on about this. She says, “Why? Explain it to me, the idea that they assured me Cheney would make the call to Musharraf simply to say, ‘You’re the dictator, make sure she is protected. She has to make it to election day. If she doesn’t, we’re going to hold you responsible.’”
Bhutto, at this point, realizes she’s essentially been abandoned because the US has chosen illegitimate power over spoken principle. It’s an extraordinary finish to her life of real clarity and also clarity about, oddly, the power, truly, of democratic ideals, if you actually believe in them. You know, it’s an extraordinary story.
AMY GOODMAN: And what does President Musharraf say? What does the general say?
RON SUSKIND: Well, there’s an amazing moment where Musharraf—I have this, you know, from our variety of sources, obviously, is that Musharraf says to Bhutto at a key moment, when she says, “Am I going to be protected?” he says to her, “Your safety is based on the state of our relationship. Make no mistake.” I mean, it’s all but a—like a Mafia threat. And this is something that the United States, frankly, deep down understands, too. They let this process unfold. And ultimately, folks around Bhutto now are saying that she was abandoned by America, and they’re using Musharraf’s comment, again, on the record in the book—I’ve talked to Bhutto about it many times before she died—as a cause to help impeach Musharraf now in Pakistan and maybe even take it further than that.
AMY GOODMAN: Where were you when she was assassinated?
RON SUSKIND: I had just gotten back. You know, it’s—you know, I went to Afghanistan after I saw Bhutto. I saw her ten days before she died, and then I was just here in America. And it was quite harrowing.
AMY GOODMAN: When we come back from break, we’ll switch gears. I want to find out about this cell under the White House where one young man was interrogated. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. If you’d like a copy of our show, you can go to our website at democracynow.org. Our guest is Ron Suskind, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. His book is The Way of the World. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: President Bush maintained there was a strong Iraq-al-Qaeda connection until August 2006. Here are just excerpts of his statements about the connection over the years, from 2002 to 2004 to 2006.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun, that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.
Well, the reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and al-Qaeda: because there was a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda.
And nobody has ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack. Iraq was a—Iraq—the—the lesson of September the 11th is take threats before they fully materialize, Ken. Nobody has ever suggested that the attacks of September the 11th were ordered by Iraq. I have suggested, however, that resentment and the lack of hope create the breeding grounds for terrorists who are willing to use suiciders to kill to achieve an objective. I have made that case.
AMY GOODMAN: Some of President Bush’s assertions over the years. Our guest is Ron Suskind. His explosive new book is called The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism. Tell us about your assistant.
RON SUSKIND: His name is Greg Jackson. He’s a great kid. He went to Harvard, and he’s been out a couple of years. And he was up in New York the day that I was with Bhutto in Washington, the day Musharraf said that about our relationship and your safety. And I sent Greg up to New York to do some sort of color reporting about demonstrations and, you know, security precautions, because Bush and Ahmadinejad that day were both speaking at the UN at the same time.
Greg went up there and was just doing what a reporter does, you know, sort of taking notes, looking around, and he is detained by officials up there, including a State Department intelligence official, various folks in law enforcement, taken aside and essentially grilled for an hour and a half. They put him off in a kind of an area where they can sort of go at him. And they, of course, are very intent to know who he is.
He says, at one point, “I’m Ron Suskind’s assistant in the next book.” They say, “Oh, really. What’s the next book about?” And then they say, “Who are his sources for the book?” They end up taking his notes and also, in a way, kind of threatening him, saying, “Look, we know who you are.” They run his name through every computer in the planet, his mother, other people he knows, certainly me, as well. And at the end of the day, they said, “If anything happens up here in the next week, we know where to find you.” This is a violation of Greg’s First and Fourth Amendments.
At the time, lawyers who work with me said, “Let’s do something.” I said, “No, I’ve got a book to finish.” But, you know, it’s the kind of intimidation that the White House has really made its signature over this time period, chasing sources for people like me or Jim Risen at the New York Times, Dana Priest at the Washington Post, threatening them, saying, “My goodness, if we get you, it’s going to be curtains.” And the fact is, is that in some ways Greg is a kindred of the opening character in the book, who’s detained under the White House.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s talk about that: detained under the White House. This is a kid who has just graduated from Connecticut College.
RON SUSKIND: Yeah, he’s a great kid. His name is Usman Khosa. He’s really kind of the pride of Pakistan, one of the best students in Lahore. He comes to America. He’s a great student here. And he’s an economic consultant in Washington, walking to work. His office is just a block from the White House. He keeps his suits at the office, so he’s in his gym shorts. He’s got his iPod on. He’s walking in front of the White House. He looks wrong. He’s fussing with his iPod. Someone at Secret Service sees him. They take him down. They drag him into an interrogation room under the White House—there actually is one.
AMY GOODMAN: But first, they, say, ripped his backpack off.
RON SUSKIND: They rip his backpack off. People are running. They think a bomb is about to go off. Usman is pleading with them, saying, “No, please!” He says, “I went to Dartmouth for a summer program.” He’s trying to throw out every credential he can. Ultimately, none of that works. He’s dragged into this interrogation room. He spends a day literally in hell.
AMY GOODMAN: Under the White House?
RON SUSKIND: Under the White House, if you go in the west gate down through a hall. And it’s the classic—with the camera and the light bulb and the cement walls. Usman really is sitting here—again, he’s a brilliant kid—and he’s saying, one wrong answer to these questions—it’s like the flipping a coin—is the difference between here and me in Guantanamo Bay. In some ways, he’s a kindred of many other characters whose fortunes have been much darker. And Usman, at the time this is happening, of course, I have George Bush just above him running through his day, full of official pronouncements about America’s virtue, while Usman, of course, is beneath the ground, feeling the voyage of the damned.
AMY GOODMAN: Even though he’s terribly afraid, he says—at least you quote him in the book saying—he couldn’t get out of his mind that, oh, my god, there’s a cell in the basement of the White House, this place that he passed all the time.
RON SUSKIND: Yeah, and he loved—as a lot of immigrants do, he loved looking at the White House. You know, in a way, the challenge for Usman and the challenge for much of the book is, I follow him over the two years after this moment as he struggles to re-imagine America and re-imagine his place in America and whether there is one. You know, in some ways, that’s the real challenge we’re facing now as we try to repair America’s place in the world, its moral energy, is whether these values still are going to have resonance. And Usman’s experiment—his life is, in a way, an experiment about that.
AMY GOODMAN: You talk about his father, and you talk about September 11th, his father a top security official from Pakistan.
RON SUSKIND: Yeah. Yeah, he’s here—it’s interesting, because he’s here doing a seminar down south when the 9/11 attacks occur, and he comes up to Connecticut College to see Usman just a few days after. And he gives a tutorial in the dorms about what’s really happening in Pakistan. And ultimately, he says to Usman, “Usman, hold onto your dreams. Don’t let those be troubled or darkened by what’s happening now.”
And interestingly, Usman, as other characters in the book, are really, in a way, testing American values at a time of peril and trying to get past so many of the perfidies, so many of the awful, harrowing disclosures of what the government has done, not only from other reporters, but certainly in this book, to say: where we go from here, in terms of America and its role in the world and American ideals? That’s, in a way, why the word “hope” is in the book, because you see people trying get their legs back and trying to restore their own moral compass. Interestingly, for either an individual or for a nation, you know, following one’s moral compass, it’s not that different. You know, ultimately, it takes basic things like truth, humility, compassion, honesty, saying “I’m ready to move forward, based on what I will say clearly I have learned.”
AMY GOODMAN: Georgia has been in the news a lot. Russia has been in the news. You talk about uranium stings. You talk about the Armageddon Test. You talk about the threat of nuclear Armageddon.
RON SUSKIND: This is the big threat we’re really facing right now, and all the folks involved are wild-eyed with fear. Why? Because America’s diminished status in the world has meant we don’t have the moral authority to lead the real battle of this era: keeping uranium out of the hands of terrorists. The world is awash in uranium at this point. The terror networks are out there along with states, rogue states, just wanting their own little bomb. They want to buy the stuff. You buy thirty-five pounds, you’ve got yourself a bomb like Hiroshima.
And the key, in terms of the challenge we face now, is that unless America figures out a way to restore its moral authority in the world by essentially believing in American oaths and sticking with it, rather than, you know, a back-door, secret foreign policy that ruins our relationships with friends and undermines our credibility and our status, unless we do that, we are going to probably have a real problem.
And the Armageddon Test, just so you know, is one of the main characters—it’s a weave of them—who’s the guy in the government who’s responsible essentially for getting to the uranium before the terrorists do. What he wants to do, out of desperation, frankly, is send teams out just to find out how easy it is to buy this stuff on the world black market right now, to buy it, have these teams, sent out by the US government, buy it and bring it back into the United States to show our vulnerability as well, to shock the beast, the United States government and the world community, to show exactly the nature of the threat, especially the nature of the threat with America’s moral standing now in the basement.
AMY GOODMAN: What happens?
RON SUSKIND: Well, ultimately, he gets thwarted. In twists and turns, he tries mightily, but the bureaucratic energies of the United States to stand in his way and, importantly, the fact that the United States simply can’t embrace a level of truth, the government, like that, and that ultimately is what undermines him. And interestingly, Amy, at the end of the process, this fellow Rolf Mowatt-Larssen says one of the real problems is secrecy. The fact is, it’s destructive. Let’s get everything out in daylight. This hyper-secrecy culture that the government has slipped into and, frankly, carried forward is what ultimately will kill us.
AMY GOODMAN: He meets with Stephen Hadley.
RON SUSKIND: Oh, sure.
AMY GOODMAN: He meets with Mike McConnell. He meets with Michael Hayden, the top intelligence people.
RON SUSKIND: He has briefed the President for years. He’s a top guy, yeah. He’s a top guy. He’s—
AMY GOODMAN: But he gets nowhere.
RON SUSKIND: Essentially, no. And even though they admit to him, “We have no plan. We have no plan on this score,” the most important ostensible issue of this period, the United States at this point is lessened. And the fact is, the world, much less American people, can’t afford for us to be in this reduced status, because, frankly, you can’t herd cats when you’re the United States at this moment.
AMY GOODMAN: Speaking of uranium, did your investigations lead you to who was really behind the Niger yellowcake uranium theory that Saddam Hussein was buying from Africa?
RON SUSKIND: Well, you know, it seems like it was an echo chamber of those Italian forged documents, and, you know—and frankly, what’s interesting is that you put that on one side, really a false claim, and then there’s another disclosure in the book right on the point of the real uranium threat, is that I show that, in terms of Georgia and Russia, which is now blowing up, is that there’s a huge crisis in 2003 then, when there’s a smuggling route from Russia through Georgia with highly enriched uranium, the real good stuff, the stuff that is used in bombs. We challenged the Russians at that point. Again, the United States is—you know, the status is such the Russians just almost ignore us. But they said, “Look, we’re on the case.” And they say, “We’ve got it handled.”
Ultimately, in 2006, there’s a second incident. It’s the same network. The Russians won’t tell us that. What it shows is that, ultimately, uranium might have been smuggled across three years there. This is exactly the nature of the crisis. The United States, being the black hat in much of the world rather than the white hat, cannot lead on this most crucial issue. And as you can see from this current situation with Georgia, you know, Bush says this or that, Putin all but laughs at him, like, “And you’re telling me what? Considering what you’ve done? Ultimately, you’re down in the mud with us now. Get used to it.”
And really, the challenge in this election season is how do we go about the difficult process, when there’s so much collected economic and military power in one place in America, to restore moral energy? I frankly tell people you should go read stuff from Martin Luther King or Gandhi. They’ll help you. They’ll help you figure out the way it is actually done. And it takes values that frankly the United States government is anathema to embrace.
AMY GOODMAN: Speaking of young people, you go to Guantanamo. At least, you talk about what’s going on there—
RON SUSKIND: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —and particularly focus on one young man.
RON SUSKIND: There’s an extraordinary story. The man who is really the unknown character that creates that Supreme Court case, Boumediene, that restores habeas rights to Guantanamo detainees—
AMY GOODMAN: The most recent case.
RON SUSKIND: Just most recent case, just ruled. I actually get in the case of that man. He’s a guy, a baker from Afghanistan, who was swept up as they dropped, you know, the bounty literature—you know, feed your village, give us someone from the Taliban. He is innocent. What I did here, Amy, is I used my sources to get actually into the classified so-called information on this man. It is utterly absent. It is nonexistent.
What happened here is that by virtue of this one innocent man’s status, various twists and turns unfolded that finally causes a self-correction, a modest but important one, where the United States again is forced by the Supreme Court to embrace the great writ of habeas corpus. The book, in this way, shows what single individuals can do, not just this man, Ghizzawi, the baker, but his lawyer, Candace Gorman, an extraordinary advocate, who really keeps him alive. Right now, just so you know, I talked to Candace, Ghizzawi, the man who created such change, is dying in Guantanamo, and she is fighting desperately to keep him alive, against the resistance, frankly, of much of those in the US government.
AMY GOODMAN: And the Holocaust survivor’s son, the military tribunal judge?
RON SUSKIND: That’s quite a story. He is the military tribunal judge who looks over the Ghizzawi case when it comes in front of the tribunal. He’s kind of a ringer, because he’s actually a former intelligence guy, among mostly lawyers in this process. And he looks at the evidence and said there isn’t any here on this guy. He rules he’s not an enemy combatant. That fellow, Stephen Abraham, again, another basic heroic traditional American character trying to restore America to its proper place, says, “I’m not going to back off. This man is innocent.” One innocent man is all it takes to stop a system in America, the way it’s supposed to work. He’s the guy who basically pushes back. Abraham is a Holocaust survivor’s son, as you say, and he says it’s about justice.
He all but gets fired from Guantanamo. But ultimately, years later, he files a deposition, saying, “I’m a credible witness. I was actually a judge.” That causes the Supreme Court to flip, grant certiorari to the case, Boumediene. And that ultimately is sort of the heartening part of the book. Americans are taking hold of this issue across the country to say this government doesn’t really represent me, and I’m going to do something about it with my own actions.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, the UN refugee commissioner that you profile.
RON SUSKIND: Yeah, she’s an amazing character, too, Wendy Chamberlin. She was the former Pakistani ambassador under Bush, but she moved away from all of that, becomes the refugee commissioner. And Wendy says something extraordinary. She says, “You know, at day’s end, if we’re true to our oath, we don’t really have enemies, certainly no enemies that can’t be easily defeated. If we want to be secure, America has to start embracing a kind of authenticity, to say we’re not going to do back-door, ugly things that end up ruining our status in the world. The oaths, the values are strong enough. If you believe in them, the world will bend toward you, even on the most specific issue of information that will help us be secure.”
Look, ultimately, it may be too much to ask the world to want us to succeed. We have so much wealth, so much power. But they can’t want us to fail. They can’t want us to have our comeuppance by virtue of the actions of the government, or we will get our comeuppance. That’s part of the theme of the book. It’s a bit of a kind of clarion call as to where America might yet go.
AMY GOODMAN: What is the way of the world?
RON SUSKIND: The way of the world is something Benazir Bhutto says to me just ten days before she dies. You know, she talks about her life, and she talks about this sort of interesting fact of her being a Muslim woman who has led men. And she says, “Well, you know, I let them think they’re saving me, but, of course, I’m saving them.” She says, “But oddly, that’s where the problem starts, because then I say, ‘I saved you, and now here’s what I want,’ and make it transactional. See, that’s a lie.”
She says, ‘The way of the world, when it really works, is such that we save each other. Everyone rises together. That’s always been the tradition of humanity.” And she gets this at the end of her life. She sees it. And she also sees that maybe she won’t get to that up ahead, that land that she sees so close. And that’s really, again, a reestablishing of things people know as American tradition.
AMY GOODMAN: Ron Suskind, I want to thank you very much for joining us. His book is The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism.
======= part 2 == 14. August 2008 ==========
JUAN GONZALEZ: Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind joins us again today to discuss his explosive new book, The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism.
Suskind reports that in 2003 the White House ordered the CIA to forge and disseminate false intelligence documents linking al-Qaeda and Iraq. The CIA allegedly forged a letter from the head of Iraqi intelligence to Saddam Hussein. It was backdated July 1, 2001 and stated 9/11 ringleader Mohamed Atta was trained for his mission in Iraq.
While much of the attention on the book has focused on the forged letter, Suskind also reveals that the Bush administration and the British government knew prior to the war that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction.
AMY GOODMAN: Ron Suskind interviewed Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6, Britain’s secret intelligence service. Dearlove said Britain received intelligence in the beginning of 2003 about Iraq’s lack of WMDs, but the Bush administration buried the information. Dearlove told Suskind, “The problem was the Cheney crowd was in too much of a hurry, really. Bush never resisted them quite strongly enough.”
Ron Suskind joins us again here in our firehouse studio. We’re also joined on the phone by Congress member John Conyers, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee. Congressman Conyers has said his committee will review some of the explosive findings in Suskind’s new book, The Way of the World.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! For those listeners and viewers who didn’t get a chance to hear you lay out the allegations, Ron—well, first, many people wrote in through the day, and we’re going to be reading some of their questions to you. But why don’t you lay out the kernel of the key allegation you have made about this letter?
RON SUSKIND: The Iraq intelligence chief is a one-year saga that started in January of 2003. The United States and Britain get together. They open a secret back channel to this man. He slips out of Baghdad, meets with a British intelligence official in Amman, Jordan. The information flows up through the White House. They’re the real customer here. And he says, from the start, there are no WMD. He of course has real credibility here as the Iraq intelligence chief, the number one man. He oversees the biological program himself, and he said it’s over.
He also said the mind of Saddam Hussein is something you all don’t understand. He’s really afraid of the Iranians and their nascent nuclear program. He doesn’t want them and others in the region to see that he’s a toothless tiger, that he has no weapons. He doesn’t even believe the United States would ever want Iraq.
All of this ends up being made very public later. It’s all briefed right up to the White House to the President starting in January of 2003. The final report’s delivered in February. At that point, we cut off the channel to Habbush. But, of course, we already have an arrangement with him, the United States. We resettle him in Amman, Jordan. As the summer unfolds, it becomes clear to the world, the things that Habbush told us ahead of time. We pay him $5 million, the United States. We hide him.
And then the letter. In the fall of 2003, when the White House is facing the most serious charge of the Bush presidency, that we went to war under false pretenses, they come up with a plan of how they might use Habbush, the White House. They order the CIA to have a fabricated letter created ostensibly in Habbush’s hand, backdated July 2001, solving all the White House’s political problems. As one of the key on-the-record sources says, it was a check-the-box for all of the problems politically the White House was facing in the United States.
That, of course, is illegal. You cannot have the CIA run disinformation campaigns on the American public. Just imagine the havoc that would ensue if that were not a law. That’s why right now Congress is investigating.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And the information, though, that he provided initially, obviously British intelligence, as you say, was involved, so this would have an impact on the knowledge that Tony Blair and the British government, as well, had about the reality of whether Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.
RON SUSKIND: Absolutely. You know, it’s interesting, because in the extensive interviews with both Richard Dearlove, who was the head of British intelligence in this period, now he’s at Cambridge University, and Nigel Inkster, who was the number two British intelligence chief, they talk about the fact that this was, in a way, sort of a last chance for the British. They didn’t want to go to war with the ardor that the Americans did, as Dearlove’s comment reveals. And they said, “Let’s exercise real intelligence.” As Dearlove says, “We’re better at this than you people. We have relationships where you often have none. Let’s try to exercise the known and the knowable here, so that we can bring at least some clarity to this debate,” which, of course, the British understood was gusty, full of assumption, without real evidence. That’s why the meeting with Habbush was set up.
AMY GOODMAN: Our first question from a listener and viewer that has been emailed into us was: Have you actually seen this letter? And you have said $5 million was the money that the US government paid to Habbush as hush money. How exactly do you know this?
RON SUSKIND: There are extensive conversations with people inside of CIA, again, many of them on the record in the book, not just about the $5 million, but about when the payment was made, about how the figure was arrived at, discussions, again, with senior officials on the record, and sort of saying $5 million figures, where, in the broad context—after all, we paid the guy who turned in Khalid Sheikh Mohammed $25 million. And so, they discussed with some openness how we arrived at the $5 million figure. It was not and is not in dispute.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, we also have Congressman John Conyers, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, with us. Congressman Conyers, you have been looking at a lot of issues dealing with the Bush administration. To what degree do these revelations, if they prove to be true, affect the—will affect the outcome of your investigations?
REP. JOHN CONYERS: Well, that’s what we’re investigating now. Top of the morning to three excellent investigative reporters.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Good morning to you, sir.
REP. JOHN CONYERS: It’s going to have a great effect. That’s why I’m investigating.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk, Ron Suskind, about what it would mean for Congress to investigate? We now know the House Judiciary Committee Chairman Conyers is talking about investigating, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. What were you able to gather? What could they gather?
RON SUSKIND: The fact is, the book, as readers now around the country know, lays this out, letter and verse, with great clarity, again, with on-the-record sources, and a great number of off-the-record sources, as well, were helpful in the overall project.
What you can see now, I think, is Congress having an opportunity to exercise some of its constitutional mandates, which has been very difficult during the history of this administration, as Chairman Conyers and certainly even more people on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence know. They have not been briefed on key issues, as well as key issues in and around this matter of Habbush. You know, the fact is, is that the administration has consistently, consistently undercut Congress’s role of oversight, which of course is statutory in its clarity and its legal strength, to oversee what the administration does, especially in matters of secrecy. This was all set up very, very carefully so Congress will be briefed so they’ll know what’s happening so we don’t have essentially a secret foreign policy carried forward by any president. This is an opportunity for them to finally exercise, essentially, their obligations in Congress.
For instance, there are many things laid out in the book that the administration has not in any way either commented on or denied. They’re focusing on this specific letter because it means illegality, which could, you know, go right up to impeachment hearings, ostensibly, in the next couple of months. However, this Habbush matter, from beginning to end, is an extraordinary array. For instance, Congress simply now should be saying, tell us exactly why the entire Habbush report, from British intelligence to the CIA and briefed to the President—what is the justification for that being secret at this juncture?
You know, time and again, the administration basically says everything that’s classified is classified, and frankly, we have to give you no reason why. Those even involved inside of the administration say that process of classification is woefully broken. The fact is, is that for all this period of classification, from the concept starting, the line between national security, which is what it’s supposed to be about, and national embarrassment has been one that people in administrations have tried to draw, because they said if it’s not justifiably national security, someone should really be looking at that, and if it is a matter of national embarrassment, it should be revealed. This is clearly in the category of national embarrassment and not national security, the entire Habbush mission, now that it’s public.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you go through your conversations with Dearlove, the head of MI6, telling him that you—well, you didn’t have this letter, but you knew of this letter.
RON SUSKIND: Well, when I get to Richard Dearlove, as I point out in the book, I first, just simply knowing about Habbush—Habbush, our secret source, has been kept quiet for five years as essentially, you know, the most portentous secret that the United States is holding—when I first see Richard Dearlove, I know about the mission with the Iraq intelligence chief, and he’s shocked that I know.
AMY GOODMAN: He’s in the playing cards—wasn’t he?—that they gave out to soldiers in Iraq.
RON SUSKIND: Yeah, he’s the jack of diamonds, I guess, which would befit his financial arrangement, as opposed to hearts or clubs. But, you know, Habbush also is somebody that the United States claims publicly to be someone they’re seeking. There’s a million-dollar reward out for his capture.
AMY GOODMAN: That the US government is giving?
RON SUSKIND: Well, it’s on—yeah, it’s on—
AMY GOODMAN: But they’ve given him $5 million.
RON SUSKIND: Right. So I guess the $4 million would be the net there, but, you know—but ostensibly, this is a matter of a vast disinformation campaign about the Iraq intelligence chief. The United States should have known about this in present tense, frankly. You know, imagine just if the President, for his sixteen words at the State of the Union address, did not say, “We have recently learned about British intelligence finding Niger documents on uranium.” Imagine if he had said, “We now know that there may be no WMD in Iraq.” Imagine the debate that would have gone forward from that point. An actual debate, as I think is constitutionally mandated when it comes to an act of war, would have actually occurred at that time with Congress and the American public. I submit that virtually every president of the twentieth century would have said we have to have a real debate, as something as portentous as going to war.
Dearlove is startled that I know anything about the back-channel mission with the Iraq intelligence chief. He says, “Well, only a few people know about this. I don’t understand how you know. Clearly, you do. Do you want me to talk about it, confirm it?” I said, “Well, I don’t really need it confirmed.” But we chat, and he lays it out, letter and verse, what the thinking was, what the British thinking was, what Tony Blair’s thinking was, and ultimately the reaction, when the Americans said, “Thank you very much, but no thank you.”
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, “Thank you very much”?
RON SUSKIND: Well, we—the report goes in. Dearlove said, “We did our best.” Obviously there were doubts. It was never, you know, to use that overused phrase, a slam dunk. You know, the fact is, should we believe this guy? Should we not? How can we check what he says? All of those were things that were roiling through both Britain and America at that point. I think, as Rob Richer says clearly, or even better, Buzzy—
AMY GOODMAN: Top CIA.
RON SUSKIND: Top CIA guy—or the number three guy at CIA, Buzzy Krongard, he says, “Look, 25 percent of us thought it was denial and deception. 25 percent said he’s the real McCoy. Others said, ‘Ooh, I don’t know how to touch this,’” because ultimately this is a hot potato inside of the government. Ultimately, what’s clear is the United States government didn’t want to know, frankly, almost anything that it didn’t have to know at this moment. It was moving forward, as Dearlove says and as Nigel Inkster says, his deputy—he says the United States, at this moment, was like a runaway train.
AMY GOODMAN: Juan, let’s get to your next question after break. We’re talking to Ron Suskind. And we also have on the line with us the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, John Conyers. Ron Suskind’s explosive book is The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism. We are talking about where the findings in Suskind’s book go from here. Ron Suskind is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guests are the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind—his new book is out, it’s called The Way of the World—we’re also joined by the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, John Conyers. He says he’s looking into investigating the findings of Ron Suskind’s book. Juan?
JUAN GONZALEZ: Congressman Conyers, I’d like to ask you, would you consider trying to get the former Israeli intelligence chief—I’m sorry, Iraqi intelligence chief to come and testify before Congress and get to the bottom of—because, obviously, he would have quite a bit of information on the allegations in Ron Suskind’s book?
REP. JOHN CONYERS: Well, he does, and so do a lot of other people. But, dear friends, I’m in the third day of an—I’m not considering an investigation. I’m investigating.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean?
REP. JOHN CONYERS: What do I mean, I am investigating?
AMY GOODMAN: Yes, what does it mean to be in the third day of that investigation? How do you begin?
REP. JOHN CONYERS: What do you think that means? You’re an investigative reporter. What do I mean, I’m investigating? You know what? You’re asking me to tell you what I’m investigating. I didn’t ask Ron Suskind when he was taking months to put the book together, I didn’t start investigating him. How can I tell you three days into an investigation? And you say, what do I mean?
RON SUSKIND: I’m sympathetic to you, Chairman Conyers. You know, people maybe shouldn’t see how the sausage is made, really just how it tastes and how you get to the finish.
I mean, one of the things, though, that I think we’re talking about here, which is interesting, is what powers Congress has to get many of these documents declassified. You know, the fact is, throughout this Habbush mission, from beginning to end, especially this year from January 2003 until December, when the letter comes out, there are, I’m certain, a pile of documents that are stamped “classified” inside of the government that I can’t imagine have any actual justification at this point for remaining classified. And I guess one of the questions is, what powers Judiciary or other committees in Congress, both House and Senate, might have to get these documents immediately declassified. Obviously, no one in the government, frankly—and I’ve said this before—there’s virtually no one inside of the executive branch that pushes for the declassification of documents. It’s certainly Congress’s role, though, to say this must be made public. And throughout the chain here on Habbush, there are many such documents. What powers do you think Congress will have to get these brought into daylight?
REP. JOHN CONYERS: Well, you’re talking to maybe the most frustrated person attempting to exercise the oversight responsibilities that I have on Judiciary. There’s nobody who’s been trying harder than me to get to access all of the things in the Department of Justice, the executive branch, the FBI, the CIA. No one has been more zealous in that than I.
RON SUSKIND: Chairman, I—
REP. JOHN CONYERS: But for me to get engage in a discussion this morning, the third day into the most critical investigation of the entire Bush administration, is a little bit much, I think.
RON SUSKIND: I’m just trying to get a sense—I think the viewers here are sort of trying to get a sense of the barriers. I know you’ve been the most ardent of anybody. But what sort of barriers do they throw up, in terms of saying, well, either “No, we can’t” or “It’s difficult to declassify documents” or “Well, we’ll look for that one, and we’ll get back to you.” I know they’ve offered you virtually every dodge and fake and excuse. I think it’s something I understand, but I think viewers may not understand how difficult it is to get them to cough this stuff up.
REP. JOHN CONYERS: Well, Ron, look, let’s—the past is already history. The present is going on right now.
RON SUSKIND: I hear you.
REP. JOHN CONYERS: I’m not here to tell you my troubles with the administration or—I’m happy to be on the program, because I’ve already read 96 percent of the book, and we’re investigating, but for me to start telling you what might be available and what the problems are and what the challenges are going to be, I think, is very unprofessional in an investigation of this seriousness.
RON SUSKIND: I agree.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Congressman, I’d like to ask you, as a veteran member of the Congress, you recall another investigation that occurred decades ago in the waning days of another administration: the Iran-Contra scandal. And when quite a bit of information was dug up about what President Reagan and the administration knew or didn’t know about the lies to the American people around Iran-Contra, and the general thrust of a lot of the people those days was, “Hey, these are the last days of this administration. It’s over. Forget it. What’s the use of continuing the investigation?” The lessons you learned from that investigation and how it might affect the way you proceed in these waning months here?
REP. JOHN CONYERS: I don’t want to make that comparison. I was there, and you were on the case, as usual. And this is not—this is not a retrospective. The 110th Congress isn’t over. We’re starting our work, and then we’re doing it in a period where the Congress is in recess. I’m calling everybody back. We’ve got a huge amount of work to engage in. And because I don’t have the appropriate radio to hear the program at 8:00 in the morning, I am happy to be invited on, because I don’t have to wait ’til this evening until the releases come out at 11:30 to read what all of you said. So this is a wonderful service to me, and I’m grateful to you for it. But I am not here to tell you what was—it was like with Iran-Contra, as I know you know it well. But this isn’t a history lesson we’re in.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let me put this question to Ron Suskind. Yesterday, we went through the responses of everyone from Condoleezza Rice to George Tenet to Rob Richer. And I want to know what he would have to say if he was put under oath. Now, he responded to your book—he was one of the people you interviewed—by saying—he’s former head of CIA’s Near East Division—“I never received direction from George Tenet or anyone else in my chain of command to fabricate a document from Habbush as outlined in Mr. Suskind’s book.” So, tell us about what he actually said to you.
RON SUSKIND: Richer went through letter and verse on the Habbush mission, the reaction of people inside of CIA, his recollection specifically of Tenet getting the assignment, turning to him. He talks about “Hey, Marine, you’re not going to like this.” Tenet clearly is sort of holding it out like a fish that’s rotting. He passes it to Richer. He knows that this is something that down the ranks they’re not going to be too pleased with. Tenet is following orders. That’s certainly the take that Richer has at this point.
AMY GOODMAN: He says he remembers a cream-colored letter, like stationery from the White House?
RON SUSKIND: Absolutely. I said, “Talk about what exactly you remember.” And I put that on the transcript, which I put up on the internet, so people can see. As I’m pressing him, not for what he thinks or not over what he supposes, but exactly what he remembers, he says he’s sure it’s from the Vice President’s Office. I said, “Why?” He says, “I’d bet my career on it. Everything was coming from those guys at this point. ‘Go check this. Go do this.’ Some of it fanciful.” I said, “Well, certainly, in terms of specifically disinformation, a lie, they hadn’t done the deception.” He says, “No, that’s what made this different.” I said, “But do you know specifically it was from the Vice President?” He says, “No, what I know is it was from the White House.”
AMY GOODMAN: George Tenet, the CIA director.
RON SUSKIND: George Tenet. Richer saw the stationery. You know, and the fact is, is that Richer then talked to others inside of CIA about this specific mission, including one of the deputies who ran the Iraq Division, who—John Maguire, who of course is in the book, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: Who gives the same kind of comment—
RON SUSKIND: Of course.
AMY GOODMAN: —“Not within my chain of command was I told to fabricate…”
RON SUSKIND: Right. But the fact is, is that it’s never within Maguire’s chain of command, so he’s answering something that’s not being alleged. When it comes to Richer, there’s fuzzy words about who fabricates. Well, the fabrication happens way down the ranks. That’s actually a specific act. The chain of command issues are very legally narrow. Ostensibly, this is the kind of thing written very, very carefully, with a lawyer involved, which doesn’t really answer, well, the many, many things that are in the book. As to the specifics of what is not alleged, the evidence is in the book.
And the fact is, is it’s not a matter of a passing conversation. We had many conversations on this specific issue, on the Habbush matter, with all of the key sources. There was never any mystery about what it was, what the Habbush letter was, what the Habbush mission entailed, in terms of the setup with the Iraq intelligence chief. I mean, exhaustive, hour after hour. And the way I do it as an investigative reporter, is you go back again and again and again.
AMY GOODMAN: Did they get Habbush to sign it?
RON SUSKIND: No. Interestingly, Maguire talks about this. He’s really the expert on Iraq. He’s a real American hero guy. He’s been to Iraq many times, and he’s—
AMY GOODMAN: He’s in Iraq now?
RON SUSKIND: Well, he’s not in America right now. But, you know—but the fact is, is that he talks about the fact that in his discussion with Richer, he’s like, “It’s ridiculous. Habbush isn’t going to want to sign this thing. He’s too smart for that. You know, he’s the intelligence chief of Iraq. He’s a guy like us.” He knows if he were to sign a letter that was truly authentic, alright, in his own hand, if you will, that his family could face real trouble. You know, he has relatives, extended family, still back in Iraq. If he’s seen as actively supporting the United States—at this point he’s seen as missing—you know, his family could be in trouble. You know, and he wouldn’t do anything, you know, that disastrous for him, even though we paid him the $5 million.
The sense from Maguire—again, he’s not handling it, he’s just discussing it with Rob when he first hears about it. And then Maguire is going off to a new assignment. It’s passed down to his successor, who runs Iraq for CIA. Maguire says—
AMY GOODMAN: Richer’s new assignment, of course, is vice president of Blackwater.
RON SUSKIND: Well, he’s actually now working mostly with King Abdullah of Jordan as his main job. But, you know, he’s a guy with connections all through the government and has briefed Congress many times. He’s a credible guy. He has been around. He was also a character, a minor one, in my last book, The One Percent Doctrine. I’ve known him for many years.
But interestingly, Maguire says, “We’re probably just going to have to fabricate it ourselves, get someone to write it and then just deliver it.” And John Maguire and I talked at length about that. Now, Maguire is not involved in the actual fabrication and execution of this, but Maguire is a pro, you know, very good at this. And he looked at the optics of it, so to speak, right at the start, and said, “Well, we’ll probably just”—you know, to Richer—“We’re probably just going to have to, you know, have somebody do it.” And Maguire, of course, is delighted he’s not going to be the one who has to do this ugly work.
JUAN GONZALEZ: But what does that say about—even about the quality of the work that was done, that they produce a letter that the principal has not signed and that other reporters then—they leak it to reporters, who then—
RON SUSKIND: Well, of course, the principal—they’ll have someone sign it as Habbush. You know, it’s someone else will do the handwriting. You know, but the—
AMY GOODMAN: And Habbush is paid $5 million to be silent, not to comment on this.
RON SUSKIND: Of course not, of course not. And that’s the sense. Habbush will stay silent. He’s not going to give us any trouble.
But mind you, what’s interesting is that, you know, Maguire’s view—and we talked at length about this—is that, you know, this was amateur hour, you know, an order from the White House. And he says, Tenet should have pushed back. Tenet, remember, George Tenet, is not an intelligence man; he was a staff man in the Senate. He’s really sort of a staffer politician sort of guy. And inside of CIA, even though he became the director of CIA, there’s a separation between people who really have done CIA operations for decades and Tenet, who really doesn’t have real acuity for that. So Maguire talks, in the book—and there’s a quote, people who read it—he’s, “I wish George had more experience in actual operations, like some CIA directors, because he could have told his bosses in the White House, ‘This is a bad idea. Habbush is never going to sign it. We don’t think this is such a good plan.’” But Tenet doesn’t push back. And as he said, “That’s one thing,” Maguire says, “we blame George about.” Other directors might have pushed back. George didn’t. Instead, he took the assignment, passed it down the ranks, and CIA executed.
AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, George Tenet denies this and has responded to your book, saying that it is not true. But—
RON SUSKIND: Well, he says, “to the best of my recollection,” and that’s something reporters in Washington know is a classic George move.
AMY GOODMAN: And now say what exactly the letter says.
RON SUSKIND: The letter says that—it’s a letter, sort of a personal letter from Habbush to Saddam, again, dated July 1, 2001, and it talks about the fact that Mohamed Atta has been in Iraq training for the upcoming mission, which is not named, but sort of suggested—obviously it’s 9/11 that they’re suggesting—and he has trained, you know, in and around Abu Nidal, who of course is ostensibly hiding in Iraq at this point. There’s some talk, sort of flowery language, about the great mission ahead, you know, and its righteousness. That’s one major part of the letter. And again, it’s only altogether really in, you know, just a very short space of a few paragraphs. And then, there’s talk about Saddam buying yellowcake uranium from Niger with the help from a small team from the al-Qaeda organization, which they throw in ostensibly for good measure.
What’s interesting is that what really undid them here was the overreach of the assignment from the White House. Again, as Maguire says—and others in CIA, I’m sure, agree—it was amateur hour. You know, CIA wouldn’t have come up with an operation like this. It was clearly something they were ordered to do from the White House, which had a kind of ham-handedness to it. That overreach, the desire of the White House to solve all of its problems, really doesn’t fit with how actual deceptions are run. CIA actually does this sort of thing. You know, we would never put all of that in one letter. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t pass the smell test, which it doesn’t after a week in the global news cycles, where people are writing about it and reporting about it and going, “Jeez, this is an awful lot in one letter.”
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, not only that, but it sounds like the talking points for Dick Cheney on all the Sunday shows. These were the main things that he was constantly raising.
RON SUSKIND: Precisely. Look—and again, Maguire and I talked a lot about this. I said, “How does this fit in what CIA generally does?” He says, “Well, actually, you know, this is not the kind of thing that we would do on our own.” If you really want to do a deception, he explained to me, what you do is you get something a little off. You put in things that are clearly true, and then there’s one part that you’re interested in, and you twist it just a teeny bit. Then maybe there’s one other thing that’s brand new, again, so it has plausibility, instead of this, which is really, as he said, a check-the-box for all of the major political issues that the administration is facing at this moment about the march to war and false pretenses being under our Iraq case.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, the head of MI6, Richard Dearlove—
RON SUSKIND: Yes, that’s right.
AMY GOODMAN: What exactly does he say about the letter? First, you say, he’s startled that you even know about it.
RON SUSKIND: Well, he and I are not discussing the letter. He’s discussing the front end of it. He’s discussing the Habbush mission and all of the British engagement, their hopes, in some cases their fears, and their reaction, when the United States, after—he says, this very dangerous mission—he says this is a high-risk mission here, and there’s fear at the start that maybe it’s a trap. Maybe the British intelligence manager or an extraordinary agent, Michael Dearlove, who runs the Mid-East for the British, that, you know, he might die.
And one of the reasons it’s in Jordan is that we have leverage in Jordan, again, through Rob Richer, the CIA intelligence official, because he is so close to the Jordanians. He is a very close associate of King Abdullah’s and others in Jordan intelligence. That’s why it’s set up in Jordan. That’s why everybody is on tinder hooks, as it unfolds.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And presumably Saddam Hussein was aware that all this was going on.
RON SUSKIND: It’s a debate inside of the government, you know, and there’s back-and-forth on that. Again, in the exhaustive reporting on this—and it was exhaustive—I talked to many officials. Does Saddam know, or does he not? All the way from the British to the Americans, there’s debate. It’s not clear Saddam knows. There’s a sense he does. And, you know, and the fact is, is that at the end of the day, what everybody says is that it’s clear, no matter if Saddam knew or not, that much of the intelligence provided by Habbush, especially about the mind of Saddam Hussein, is something he never ever would have authorized being revealed, because it shows Saddam is addled, isolated, his fears, and ultimately, that Saddam is not really exactly who we think he is at this point. All of that, as Richer says, is the most valuable intelligence we get from the Habbush mission. It really gets us into the mind of Saddam Hussein.
Also, fascinating, the operators inside of CIA were delighted that a window had been opened to Saddam Hussein. All the folks in the Iraq Operations Group, which is a vast group of operatives who are actually working Iraq—of which many of them had worked operations in Iraq for years, they’re saying, “This is a golden opportunity. We have a window right into Saddam’s inner circle through the intelligence chief, Habbush. We can put anything through that window. We can put misinformation through that window. We can turn Saddam in various directions. We even can send Habbush in with a team to take Saddam out.” As Maguire says, I think with great clarity, “Imagine, then we could walk to Baghdad instead of fight our way to Baghdad, something that could save many American lives.”
That debate is going on in January between the operators who are saying, “Golden opportunity, this channel has been opened,” in January of 2003 and folks who are very anxious about the case for war, most of them from the White House—two teams fighting. When it’s clear that the evidence from Habbush is that there are no WMD, the White House gets spooked, and the White House cuts off the channel. Operators inside of CIA are livid. They’re saying, “My goodness, American lives are at stake here! You’re cutting off the channel because you don’t want to know more? And we have to now go forward without the advantages and opportunities that Habbush might have provided?”
Meanwhile, of course, we had made our arrangement, and we resettled Habbush. But nonetheless, operationally, when it comes to Iraq, this is kind of an abomination, to be frank.
AMY GOODMAN: And who does Dearlove say, head of MI6—
RON SUSKIND: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: —British intelligence, who does he believe in the White House wants this to go forward? Does he feel that Bush wanted it from January and before that? Was it Bush?
RON SUSKIND: From the beginning—I have reported in a previous book, The Price of Loyalty, that it was from the first National Security Council meeting of this presidency. The President said, “How are we going to do this?” Not “whether” or “why” but “how.” The fact is, inside of CIA, many people now echo that. They talk about that in the book. It was from the first Bush—it was—
AMY GOODMAN: This was about Paul O’Neill, the Treasury secretary, that you write the book.
RON SUSKIND: Right, but throughout CIA, people involved in this say the same thing. It was about the very first meeting that the President wants to get Saddam Hussein.
Now, mind you, Dearlove says, I think with real interesting clarity here—he talks about the fact that Cheney was pushing so ardently, so fiercely for war that Bush ultimately almost hands over the basic responsibilities of the presidency. He says—Dearlove says, in a sort of a grave finish to this interview, where he says it wasn’t too late for Cheney—it was too late for Cheney when the intelligence comes, because he was going, no matter what. But it was not too late for Bush to say, “Now, hold on a minute”—hold on, the American public, wait, in terms of the whole world, that is now behind us on this case for war. And I think that is where historical judgment may be harshest.
AMY GOODMAN: This is a lot to take in, Chairman John Conyers, a lot of big scope for your committee, for the House Judiciary Committee. Is there a chance that you would join together with the Senate? Is there a way the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence—maybe actually, Ron Suskind, you could tell us—Jay Rockefeller is the head of that—what exactly are their intentions? There are joint House-Senate committees.
RON SUSKIND: Generally—and I’m sure Chairman Conyers would echo this—generally, the way it has worked before is that there are joint engagements between the House Intelligence Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee, because, remember, they’re very carefully constructed, where they have staff and of course congressmen, congresspersons, who have security clearance opportunities. They get to see things that the American public doesn’t get to see. Sometimes there are small groups who get to see the most precious stuff, because the administration, any administration, is afraid of leaks. But generally, a joint effort between those two intelligence committees is the way it has worked in the past.
AMY GOODMAN: And what would that mean? What could Senate intelligence do? Jay Rockefeller?
RON SUSKIND: Senate Intelligence can move forward in ways that, frankly, even Congressman Conyers, with his greatest ardor, would have trouble doing, again because they can go into the shadows. They can talk directly to CIA and say, “We understand this is classified, but we have people here who are charged to look at classified information in a kind of lockbox.” CIA—you know, traditionally, CIA says, “Well, let’s look for what you need.” They tend to drag their feet. Sometimes they say it is problematic to even get this information to some people in Congress, because they’re ongoing operations. There are all manner of ways the CIA over these past few years has basically said, “We’ll give it to you when we’re good and ready.”
This is not an instance, I don’t think, of that, though, because if you have a violation of law, things do change. And if there is a stated violation of law—and the book seems it does indicate in its evidence that they’re in that realm here—then Congress has more powers to say, “Your executive privilege claims,” which the White House often makes, “they don’t hold water in courts when there is the issue of wrongdoing.”
JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to—I mean, you’ve written now several books, as you say, on this administration. And I’d like to ask you, for those who, looking at American history, say this is not the first time that presidents have fabricated reasons to go to war—John Quincy Adams accusing President Polk of fabricating reasons to go to war with Mexico, obviously the Gulf of Tonkin—what, in your view, makes this administration unique or distinct compared to the other lies that have been foisted on the American people in the past?
RON SUSKIND: You know what? The fact is that we are ever in a pull and tug, an ebb and flow, when it comes to these issues, in terms of what the public says. We have a right to know in a democracy, especially on issues of greatest import, where young and women may die in battle. And what an administration often will say, a president will say, “This is my business. You’re on a need-to-know basis. I’ll tell you what I believe you’re supposed to know.” This back-and-forth has gone on for many years.
I think it’s clear in these past few years that we’ve had a kind of hammerlock here between the cult of message, where, frankly, people are not having discussions that are real ones, certainly not in the Fourth Estate, as we might have in previous decades, with senior officials, even with a president, where they’re giving the good enough reasons that underlie action A and B.
Combine that with an extraordinary spread of secrecy. You know, they are classifying everything down to the most minor documents. And I’ve looked at documents that are classified, and you say, “That is impossible that you would think that is an issue of national security.” That is a core problem of this period. You know, and frankly, some people inside of the administration, you know, and some wise heads who have served other presidents say what we need, we need a 9/11 Commission-style group, bipartisan, elder statesmen, who say these things should be made public, because right now everything gets classified. And there is nobody, nobody of consequence, inside of this government—and it may be true going forward—who says this must be made public, even if it’s going to hurt like hell. And that’s really an issue now for the democracy.
AMY GOODMAN: In your coverage of movements, do you think people demanding this will make the biggest difference?
RON SUSKIND: Absolutely. It’s the only thing that makes a difference in a democracy. I mean, the fact is, a lot of people have been sitting here for years, going, “Oh, what can I do? Well, you know, where do I engage? You know, they’re the pros, and I’m just going about my life.” Well, it’s not the way it actually works, because at this point, at this late period in this administration, before they leave the stage, many people are saying, “Now, wait a second. I kind of own this government. The way this works is I’m the sovereign, the people. They’re servants, public servants.” It’s an interesting sort of phrase with tension in the words. They have awesome powers, but they actually serve the public. And the notion of rule of law being supreme to any individual is the core of what the founders understood, in terms of the tyranny of power.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Congressman Conyers, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, do you think there is any chance of a bipartisan commission like this being set up?
REP. JOHN CONYERS: It has been suggested. It’s under investigation and consideration right now. But the importance of this discussion today is critical not only to the committees—there are four committees, and how they relate to each other will come forward very shortly—but there is also the question of the media, the Fourth Estate, the press. This is now public information that, it seems to me, shouldn’t be great breaking news over a progressive news program, but this has to be investigated by the rest of the media, unless they consider this to be irrelevant or too late, or whatever reasons are, that they’re coerced or afraid themselves, too timid. But what you’re doing is a great service. And I consider the relationship of the committees on the subject matter, the responsibility of the media, and the American people being brought into this discussion as the citizens, that in a representative democracy, that’s what all of us are supposed to be working on. And so, you have my congratulations for allowing me to be here and with you and with all of the large number of people that are also taking part in this by listening to it.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you for being with us, Chairman John Conyers of the House Judiciary Committee. We have to break. We have a very late break. I want to apologize to our radio and television stations for that. When I come back, I do want to ask—I want to ask Ron Suskind about the media, because we do have listeners and viewers who have asked questions about them picking up this story. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. We’ll be back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guest is the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind, here for the second day. We have been overwhelmed with questions and comments from our audience all over the world. His book is called The Way of the World. One of the listeners or viewers who wrote in said, “I have seen no coverage of Ron’s allegations in the New York Times. I think such is important to legitimize the issues he raises. Has Ron been contacted by the Times, why does he think there has been no coverage?” Ron Suskind?
RON SUSKIND: There have been a variety of reporters who are working on this story from the major media. The fact—and the major newspapers. The fact is, it’s gotten enormous publicity, God knows. It’s been everywhere, and it’s been—you know, I was on The Today Show for two days. It’s been on the network news programs. It’s certainly been on the cable news programs. And the blogosphere is all but burning up with it.
I think for the newspapers, they are actively trying to advance the story. That’s sort of the way they do it at a newspaper. I was at the Wall Street Journal for ten years, and I write for the New York Times Magazine periodically. You know, I think what reporters are saying—and we have some of the best reporters in the world, make no mistake—is, “How can I advance the story? How can I find, essentially, my own fresh added corroboration, added evidence, essentially, to what is clearly laid out in the book?”
I think what’s interesting is that it’s been a difficult period for reporters. Everyone understands that. But I think right now they’re trying to get their bearings back. I’ve been writing for years my books, disclosures in them dovetailing with, you know, great reporters, like Dana Priest of the Washington Post, Jim Risen of the New York Times, you know, Jane Mayer of The New Yorker, whose book Dark Side is out now, too. We’re all trying to do essentially the same thing, which is to pull loose this crucial information for the American public to know, so they can judge their government fairly and then know how to act. At this point, there is a body of evidence. Thank goodness it’s out. But on this one, reporters around the world are out hunting right now to nail down other parts of the story, and I think we’ll probably see yield from that in the next few days or certainly weeks.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, we have about thirty seconds, but there was one other question that was forwarded to us: How culpable was the media in persuading the American public to digest the talking points of the White House? And has there been any radical shift in the war coverage since the beginning of the war?
RON SUSKIND: Yeah, absolutely. The media has gone through a real therapy session on this, because, you know, on balance, everybody understands that the White House used a new method of sort of fear, anti-patriotic—you’re not patriotic for doing your job—intimidation on the media. It worked. Power works in this way, and the media is now trying to recover, step by step. But the fact is, the White House operations for these sorts of things, as we see just in the last week, are still intact and operating to try to terrorize, to try to bring fear to sources. They’ve been hunting for sources for many reporters for years. It chills sources. It makes them fear for their families, for their future. And this is still going on.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you for being with us, Ron Suskind, author of The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism.