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Could Dick Cheney Go to Prison?

Cheney seems to fear that if our system of justice works, he could be in for some serious, uncommuted jail time.

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In his memoir, the pitiable former CIA Director George Tenet complains that Cheney's assertion that Iraq would acquire nuclear weapons "fairly soon" did not square with the intelligence community's assessment.

Tenet adds, "I was surprised when I read about Cheney's assertion that, ‘Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.' "

Tenet whines that the vice president did not send him a copy of the speech for clearance. But the malleable CIA director quickly got over it, and told CIA analysts to compose the kind of National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that would provide ex post facto support for Cheney's bogus assertions. Just what Cheney (and Bush) ordered.

Tenet explains lamely, "I should have told the vice president privately that, in my view, his speech had gone too far ... and not let [my] silence imply agreement."

Yes, George; and you should have resisted White House pressure for a dishonest NIE to grease the skids to unnecessary war.

In fact Cheney, as well as Tenet, knew very well that Cheney's assertions were lies.

How? Saddam's son-in-law, Hussein Kamel, whom Saddam had put in charge of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, as well as missile development, told the United States when he defected in mid-1995 that all (that's right, all) such weapons had been destroyed at his order by the summer of 1991.

In mid-2002, the Iraqi foreign minister, whom CIA operatives had recruited and persuaded to remain in place, was telling us the same thing.

Unwelcome Intelligence

When they briefed the president and his senior advisers on this, CIA operations officers were astonished to learn firsthand that this intelligence was unwelcome.

These officers, who had used every trick in the book to "turn" the foreign minister and get him working for us, were told that further reporting from this source was not needed: "This isn't about intel anymore. This is about regime change," they were told.

Tenet was hardly astonished at reports of the nonexistence of WMD. From documentary evidence in the "Downing Street Minutes" we know that Tenet, on July 20, 2002, told the chief of British intelligence that the intelligence was being "fixed" around the policy.

And former U.N. inspectors, like Scott Ritter, could verify that 90 percent of the WMD Iraq earlier possessed had been destroyed -- some during the Gulf War in 1991, but most as a result of the inspections conducted by the United Nations.

The reporting from Kamel and the Iraqi foreign minister, sources with excellent access, was suppressed in favor of "evidence" -- from forgeries, for example, like the infamous Iraq-Niger yellowcake report.

When finally U.S. officials were forced to concede that the Iraq-Niger information was based on a forgery, lawmakers such as Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., protested loudly -- but too late.

Three days before Bush let slip the dogs of war, NBC's Tim Russert braced Cheney with the assertion by the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency that Saddam did not have a nuclear program.

Cheney strongly disagreed and cited support for his view from the CIA and other parts of the intelligence community. He even ratcheted up his bogus assessment of Iraq's nuclear capability: "We believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons."

We? Maybe his wife, Lynne, and Liz were on board for that judgment; few others believed it.

Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, retired CENTCOM commander but still enjoying access to the most sensitive information on Iraq, was sitting in the audience on Aug. 26, 2002, and later described himself as astonished at the Iraqi threat as described by Cheney.