Our 27 months of hell
AFTER THE two-year smear campaign orchestrated by senior officials in the Bush White House against my wife and me, it is tempting to feel vindicated by Friday’s indictment of the vice president’s chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby.
Between us, Valerie and I have served the United States for nearly 43 years. I was President George H.W. Bush’s acting ambassador to Iraq in the run-up to the Persian Gulf War, and I served as ambassador to two African nations for him and President Clinton. Valerie worked undercover for the CIA in several overseas assignments and in areas related to terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.
But on July 14, 2003, our lives were irrevocably changed. That was the day columnist Robert Novak identified Valerie as an operative, divulging a secret that had been known only to me, her parents and her brother.
Valerie told me later that it was like being hit in the stomach. Twenty years of service had gone down the drain. She immediately started jotting down a checklist of things she needed to do to limit the damage to people she knew and to projects she was working on. She wondered how her friends would feel when they learned that what they thought they knew about her was a lie.
It was payback -- cheap political payback by the administration for an article I had written contradicting an assertion President Bush made in his 2003 State of the Union address. Payback not just to punish me but to intimidate other critics as well.
Why did I write the article? Because I believe that citizens in a democracy are responsible for what government does and says in their name. I knew that the statement in Bush’s speech -- that Iraq had attempted to purchase significant quantities of uranium in Africa -- was not true. I knew it was false from my own investigative trip to Africa (at the request of the CIA) and from two other similar intelligence reports. And I knew that the White House knew it.
Going public was what was required to make them come clean. The day after I shared my conclusions in a New York Times opinion piece, the White House finally acknowledged that the now-infamous 16 words “did not rise to the level of inclusion in the State of the Union address.”
That should have been the end. But instead, the president’s men -- allegedly including Libby and at least one other (known only as “Official A”) -- were determined to defame and discredit Valerie and me.
They used eager allies in Congress and the conservative media, beginning with Novak. Perhaps the most egregious of the attacks was New York GOP Rep. Peter King’s odious suggestion that Valerie “got what she deserved.”
Valerie was an innocent in this whole affair. Although there were suggestions that she was behind the decision to send me to Niger, the CIA told Newsday just a week after the Novak article appeared that “she did not recommend her husband to undertake the Niger assignment.” The CIA repeated the same statement to every reporter thereafter.
The grand jury has now concluded that at least one of the president’s men committed crimes. We are heartened that our system of justice is working and appreciative of the work done by our fellow citizens who devoted two years of their lives to grand jury duty.
The attacks on Valerie and me were upsetting, disruptive and vicious. They amounted to character assassination. Senior administration officials used the power of the White House to make our lives hell for the last 27 months.
But more important, they did it as part of a clear effort to cover up the lies and disinformation used to justify the invasion of Iraq. That is the ultimate crime.
The war in Iraq has claimed more than 17,000 dead and wounded American soldiers, many times more Iraqi casualties and close to $200 billion.
It has left our international reputation in tatters and our military broken. It has weakened the United States, increased hatred of us and made terrorist attacks against our interests more likely in the future.
It has been, as Gen. William Odom suggested, the greatest strategic blunder in the history of our country.
We anticipate no mea culpa from the president for what his senior aides have done to us. But he owes the nation both an explanation and an apology.