Q&A with former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV: Part 1
Before reading Amb. Joseph Wilson's responses in this Q&A, I would strongly urge readers to first read my introductory post: "Former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV: The significance of his July 2003 op-ed". That post provides much of the essential background needed to understand not just the "uranium from Africa" issue but also Wilson's responses to some of my questions.
As I was working through my series on the Senate (SSCI) Report on the topic of "uranium from Africa", I contacted former Amb. Joseph Wilson (husband of Valerie Plame and author of the book "The Politics of Truth") and asked him if he might be able to spare some time to answer some questions. Mr. Wilson kindly agreed and also accommodated my request to respond over email (to save me the trouble of transcribing a phone interview). Presented in this post are his responses to my first set of questions. I will publish the second part of this email interview/Q&A later this week.
The objectives of this interview (the first part of which is posted here) were three-fold:
- understand Wilson's responses to major critiques of his claims
- explore some aspects of the Niger story in greater detail (mostly covered in Part 2), and
- solicit Wilson's comments on one or two aspects of the Bush administration's reckless and unAmerican exposure of his wife's secret CIA identity
Mr. Wilson's responses are reproduced verbatim except for minor corrections of typos. Below most of Mr. Wilson's responses, I have added editorial commentary of my own (added after receiving Wilson's responses) to provide more clarity. My commentary is enclosed in [square brackets].
PART 1 OF THE INTERVIEWeriposte @ The Left Coaster (TLC), Question 1 (Q1): Prior to last week, were you aware that the information that led to your trip to Niger in early 2002 was based on contents from the same forged Niger documents that emerged in the hands of an Italian journalist in October 2002? Does this raise any new questions in your mind about what you have known regarding this whole issue?
Amb. Joseph Wilson: I deduced that the forged Niger documents were what the report that led to my trip to Niger was based on. At the time I was briefed on the case, the documents were apparently not in the hands of the US government. But the substance of the documents, when they were made public dovetailed with what I had been told. I never believed there were two sets of documents relating to Niger sales of uranium to Iraq.
[Eriposte comments: After the Bush SOTU claim in 2003, some of the top spokespersons of the Bush administration admitted that the forged Niger documents were the basis of the SOTU claim (in some cases, even before Wilson's op-ed). His op-ed related to Niger and it precipitated the retraction of the SOTU claim, with a firm acknowledgement that the SOTU claim was based on Niger and the forged Niger documents (even though the Bushies changed this story later). That alone should have provided sufficient circumstantial evidence to deduce what Wilson did. Independent of that, even a cursory review of the most important allegations in the forged documents (which were widely reported in the Press) shows how similar they are to the allegations that formed the basis of Wilson's trip to Niger. So, even if one had not known to a 100% certainty that the forged documents were indeed the basis of Wilson's trip to Niger, it was/is not at all unreasonable for someone to have derived the conclusion that Wilson did.]
TLC, Q2: There is a mass of evidence that proves without any doubt that the Bush 2003 State of the Union (SOTU) claim about Saddam Hussein's alleged attempt to seek uranium from Africa was based on Niger alone (especially the fake Niger documents) and not on intel from African countries other than Niger (e.g., the Congo or Somalia). Do you feel some vindication based on that?
Amb. Wilson: Vindication is not a term that comes immediately to mind when over 1800 Americans have been killed, over 10,000 wounded and thousands upon thousands of Iraqis killed, wounded or displaced because of a war entered into under false pretenses. My heart goes out to the families of all who have been directly impacted by this. I always knew that the “Africa” claim was based on Niger; after all the White House acknowledged the day after my article appeared that the sixteen words did not rise to the level of inclusion in the State of the Union address. The White House has never said otherwise since. All the talk about Somalia, Congo or elsewhere was clearly part of the effort to protect the coverup of the lies that underpinned the justification in the first place.
[Eriposte comments: Wilson's observation that "All the talk about Somalia, Congo or elsewhere was clearly part of the effort to protect the coverup of the lies that underpinned the justification in the first place" is spot on. I have been pointing this out since 2003 and more recently, in my Senate Report series at TLC focusing on the overall picture as well as the specific claims relating to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia. People who fell for the "other African countries" nonsense served as uncritical carriers of Bush administration propaganda, despite significant evidence to the contrary.]
TLC, Q3: In the letter you sent in response to the SSCI (Senate) Report, you mention that:
I never claimed to have "debunked” the allegation that Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa.
However, you have repeatedly labeled Bush’s SOTU statement to be false, even though Bush spoke only about “uranium from Africa”. Can you explain the apparent contradiction in your comments?
Amb. Wilson: I spoke always of the Niger claim being false. The administration has never offered any other country as the source of the claim. If it were to do so, then I would not have any information to contradict that claim. It has not been made however.
[Eriposte comments: As startling as Wilson's sentence in his letter may seem to a person unfamiliar with the real details on this issue, there was no self-contradiction.
- When Wilson originally criticized Bush's SOTU claim on "uranium from Africa" as being false, it was very clear that he was talking only about Niger. It was also clear that he was focusing on Niger because the Bush administration themselves admitted on multiple occasions that the SOTU claim related to Niger and not some other list of favorite African countries of the GOP. In other words, the SOTU claim used the word Africa as a proxy for Niger (and the Senate Report confirmed this time and again) - so Wilson did the same. The fact is, even after the Bush administration introduced the talking point about "other countries" in Africa as having been the basis of the claim, that talking point fell apart thanks to some of the Bush administration's own spokespersons. Then the Bushies introduced the talking point about how the British were confident about this, and that Bush was only referring to the British claim. Unfortunately for them, that claim (which had its supposed validity also built around Niger) fell apart under moderate scrutiny.
- When Wilson wrote his response to the Senate Report, he was merely pointing out that he never claimed to have debunked intel relating to other countries in Africa (than Niger). So, here, the term Africa was not being used solely as a proxy for Niger but as a proxy for a list of African countries including Niger, because that was the context in the Report that he was responding to. This is therefore accurate. Moreover, this does not in any way lessen the importance of his op-ed considering that the "other countries" spin was a hoax. The fact that it was a hoax, becomes even more evident if you read the Senate Report and the CIA's repeated admissions - prior to Wilson's op-ed - that the SOTU claim was not based on any country other than Niger. This obviously raises serious questions as to how and why, then-DCI and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient George Tenet allowed senior Bush administration officials to push the "other countries" hoax after the Wilson op-ed, knowing fully well that this was a hoax before Wilson's op-ed. Could it have something to do with the fact that Karl Rove and Lewis Libby were stage managing Tenet's response to Wilson, behind the scenes? I wonder.]
TLC, Q4: The Senate report said:
[Wilson] also said he may have become confused about his own recollection after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported in March 2003 that the names and dates on the documents were not correct and may have thought he had seen the names himself.
Do you have any comments on this claim in the report?
Amb. Wilson: That question was related to the Nick Kristof article in the NY Times that suggested that his source had claimed the documents were forgeries. The question was asked over a year after I had first seen Kristof’s article and I was not given an opportunity to review exactly what had been written. My answer was meant to be generic: that at the age of 55, I can become confused from time to time. But when I did take another look at the article, I immediately recognized that what the question suggested was that I had been the source of the statement related to the forgeries in the Kristof article. I confirmed with him in an exchange of emails that our recollection was the same and that I had never claimed to have seen the documents. His email is reprinted in full in the prologue to the paperback edition of my book.
In fact, the details on the forgeries were made public by Dr. ElBaradei, the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency in March, 2003, two full months before the Kristof article. All information on the forgeries came from ElBaradei, not me. I have only seen the forgeries once and did not have my glasses on so could not read them. My investigation was designed to look at the industry and government practices in Niger related to the production and sale of uranium.There was also the allegation that perhaps I had been the source for a Washington Post article written by Dana Priest that indicated that the forgeries originated in Italy. I was not a source for that article, though again, Seymour Hersh had broken that story a couple of months prior to the Post article.
TLC, Q5: Regarding the controversy about whether or not your wife Valerie Plame (Wilson) was involved in the decision to send you to Niger, the Senate Report makes it clear that she neither authorized the trip nor was she involved in the decision to send you. The remaining matter was whether she "suggested" or "recommended" that you be sent on the trip. You (and one or more CIA officials) have said she did not. The RNC/GOP have made claims that she did. This seems to have become a he-said she-said and is clearly an irrelevant matter considering that the decision to send you was made by the CIA, and your wife had nothing to do with that. However, just to address one of the points raised by critics, you said in your book (according to the Washington Post), that:
"Valerie had nothing to do with the matter," Wilson wrote in a memoir published this year. "She definitely had not proposed that I make the trip."
Critics say that Valerie did have something to do with your trip. What is your response to that?
Amb. Wilson: I wrote in my book that other than serve as a conduit between the CIA and me, Valerie had nothing to do with the trip. In fact, a colleague of hers, who was misquoted in the SSCI report reminded her after the appearance of the report that he is the one who raised it and that she was reluctant. The CIA has repeatedly said she was not involved. The SSCI did not bother to question her supervisor, and made no reference to the official CIA statement, made months before I even acknowledged that she worked for the CIA.
I don’t know how may ways to say she was not in the decision loop. She was asked to invite me to a meeting which she did not attend other than to escort me into the meeting room. It was at that meeting that the possibility of a trip was first raised with me. This has always been a red herring to divert attention from the real issue: the sixteen words in the State of the Union that should never have been there.
[Eriposte comments: See former CIA operative Larry Johnson's post on this for additional context on Valerie Plame's role. Johnson says:
What the Senate Republicans conveniently left out of the report is the simple fact that Val's boss had first asked her to write the memo. Senior managers in CPD suggested the mission and authorized it. Plame's only role was to respond to a supervisor's request for information.
Let me add another point. Bloggers often chide others for missing the context behind politicians' comments. So, why hold Wilson to a different standard? Even if Wilson had said "Valerie had nothing to do with this", the context of such a comment - and what Wilson intended it to mean - is important. "This" could easily mean "the decision to send Wilson to Niger " or "organizing, arranging, approving or recommending the trip" or ... In the end, this is also a ridiculously irrelevant matter that has no bearing on the whole uranium issue, or on Wilson's findings in Niger, especially considering that the CIA rated his report "good".]
TLC, Q6: You have referred to the Senate Report as a partisan product and some critics question that viewpoint based on the fact that Senate Democrats signed off on the body of the report. What are your comments on that? Do you feel that the Senate (SSCI) Report gave you a fair hearing and made an effort to ascertain all the relevant facts on this matter?
Amb. Wilson: I have referred to the Additional views appended by Senators Roberts, Hatch and Bond as a partisan smear, and addressed a lengthy rebuttal to their charges which I attach here. [link here]
[Eriposte comments: I highly recommend that readers read this entire post by The Poorman, in response to this type of criticism of Joseph Wilson (by Bob Somerby). It shows clearly why Wilson's claim was accurate.]
TLC, Q7: In one of your recent interviews with Air America Radio, you expressed consternation at the fact that New York Times (NYT) reporter Judith Miller appears to be languishing in jail because of the act of senior Bush administration officials. More recent developments indicate that there is a possibility that Miller's actions may be motivated by something other than just protecting her source. For instance, her NYT lawyer has even refused to say what she told her source (which is obviously not privileged information) without revealing the source's identity. The lawyer was particularly evasive when asked about Miller's statements to her source and the NYT management doesn't seem to want to comment on this either. At the Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington has raised the question as to whether Miller may be refusing to testify to the grand jury because she was more than just a spectator in the revelation of your wife's identity. Huffington has also raised the question, based on comments from her own anonymous sources(!), as to whether Miller may have taken it upon herself to find out who was involved in your trip and perhaps leaked your wife's identity because your op-ed/actions were directly challenging much of her own stenography in the NYT for the Bush administration. Do you have any thoughts on this? For example, would you support a campaign to push Judith Miller to keep the identity of her source(s) secret, but reveal what she communicated to her source(s) in connection with you or your wife?
Amb. Wilson: I try not to conflate Miller’s reporting on WMD before and after the war and the predicament she finds herself in. If you accept that the real reason for the attacks on me were to preserve the cover up of the web of lies that underpinned the decision to go to war in the first place, then you see how Valerie and her twenty year career, Matt Cooper and Judith Miller are collateral damage. The real victims are the constitution of our nation, and most poignantly those Americans and Iraqis who have been killed, wounded or displaced because of a war undertaken on false pretenses.
[Eriposte comments: On the issue of Judith Miller, I recommend Murray Waas' latest, breaking story that Lewis Libby is the source that Judith Miller does not want to talk about.]
TLC, Q8: Considering how journalists have been blanketed with reams of misleading or false talking points from the GOP, are you finding many journalists in the mainstream media who are willing to delve deeper into this issue and address aspects such as the fact that Bush's SOTU claim was in fact reliant on the fake Niger documents (alone) (and not some other countries in Africa) and that the forged documents were behind the intel that sent you to Niger?
Amb. Wilson: The mainstream media has failed miserably in critical coverage of the administration’s blatant falsehoods and misleading of the American people. It has been thanks to the diligence of the bloggers and a few Congresspeople that the truth is only now beginning to emerge. When the history of this time is written, the Press will not fare well.
[Eriposte comments: Let me remind everyone that the mainstream media in this country tilts far more conservative than liberal.]
TLC, Q9: Considering your previous, long-time ties to the Republican Party and the commendations that the current President's father sent your way for your service to the U.S., especially against Saddam Hussein (not to mention his positive feedback to your articles advising restraint prior to the Iraq invasion by his son), have you privately (or publicly) gotten sympathies from any Republicans after your wife's identity was exposed? Have any of them called or written to offer their regrets or apologies? Are there any Republicans (in the current administration, Congress or national/state leadership) that you are aware of who actually expressed outrage about the expose of your wife's secret identity by senior-most officials in the Bush administration?
Amb. Wilson: In 1999, former President George H.W. Bush called those who would expose sources the most insidious of traitors. Now, a mere six years later, with Karl Rove and Scooter Libby exposed as sources of the leak of a covert operative, not a single Republican of national stature has even said that what they did was wrong. On the contrary, they have tried to turn this into a partisan issue and tied the RNC to the leak in a way that may well not benefit Republicans if indictments result.
[Eriposte comments: Nothing reveals more directly and overtly what today's Republican Party stands for, than Wilson's observation and the GOP's fake talking points to defend Karl Rove (and Lewis Libby). The leaders of today's GOP never hesitate to put their Party before the country. Patriotism and protecting America's national security are forgotten in their actions, although they figure prominently in their words.]
TLC, Q10: A lot of attention has been focused on the impact that this whole issue has had on your life and particularly on that of your wife. How have your children taken it? Are they aware of what has been happening? Has their daily life been affected?
Amb. Wilson: It has been a tough couple of years but we are doing our best to insulate our children from any stress we might be feeling. The idea that the republican party believes it appropriate to go after two career public servants because of lies told by republicans to justify a war is beyond the pale and I think the American people are beginning to realize that.
[Eriposte comments: I would hope the American public wakes up.]
To be continued in Part 2...