William Greider reports on the coup…


Richard Moore



24/06/04        'Embedded Patriots' by William Greider

The most intriguing story in Washington these days is a
subterranean conflict that reporters cannot cover because some
of them are involved. A potent guerrilla insurgency has formed
in and around the Bush presidency-a revolt of old pros in
government who strike from the shadows with devastating
effect. They tell the truth. They explode big lies. They
provide documentary evidence that undermines popular
confidence in the Commander in Chief. They prod the media and
the political community to ask penetrating questions of the
Bush regime. Doubtless, these anonymous sources act from a
mixture of motives-some noble, some self-interested-but in
present circumstances one might think of them as "embedded

The business of leaks is an everyday thing in Washington and,
arguably, the government could not function without them. It
is a way to communicate official and unofficial information in
a tentative fashion-nudging events in one direction or another
without the need to take responsibility for what's
communicated. Reporters participate enthusiastically in the
traffic and call it "news." The process is sustained only
because everyone can rely on the journalists' mock-heroic code
of omertà: Never reveal the names of your secret
sources-never-even if the revealed "information" turns out to
be spurious.

But what has occurred during the past several months is not
the normal commerce. A series of explosive leaks-closely held
documents and well-informed tips-have altered the course of
politics and might very well influence the outcome of this
year's presidential election. Yet we don't know whom to thank.
Who gave the Justice Department's "torture" memorandum to the
Washington Post? Who provided the International Red Cross's
letter of complaints on prisoner abuses to the Wall Street
Journal? Who confirmed for the New York Times that Iyad
Allawi, the newly appointed Prime Minister of Iraq, had
supervised the CIA's terrorist bombing campaign in Baghdad a
decade ago? Who informed U.S. News & World Report that Defense
Secretary Rumsfeld had authorized the holding of a "ghost
prisoner" in violation of international law? Who-someone close
to the President?-leaked the "torture" memo written by White
House counsel Alberto Gonzales?

We don't need to know the identities to grasp that these and
other over-the-transom "communications" provided forceful and
well-timed contradictions to the White House line. It is also
obvious that these leaks could not have come from the lower
depths of the bureaucracy. The material is too sensitive for
wide distribution. Not to take anything away from aggressive
reporters, but the leakers clearly targeted the Post, Times
and Journal to achieve maximum impact on Washington. The
messages are not from some office crank at the Xerox machine
but had to originate among sophisticated and highly placed
officers of government.

My own surmise-corroborated in conversations with several
long-experienced Washington reporters-is that we are probably
talking about career military officers and senior civil
servants at the Pentagon, Justice Department lawyers and
professionals at the CIA or State Department. In practice,
sensitive documents are sometimes passed off laterally to
former colleagues no longer in government who provide them to
the chosen reporters. Some risk to one's career is required,
but these are smart people who know how to cover their tracks.
Oddly enough, the brutally buttoned-down Bush White House has
not invoked the usual official whine about irresponsible
leaks, perhaps because the evidence nailed them so forcefully
(and there's probably more to come). Or maybe the White House
is inhibited by the embarrassing fact that its staff faces a
grand jury investigation over leaking the identity of CIA
officer Valerie Plame (even the President has consulted his
own lawyer).

Cynical readers may resist this explanation, but the
motivations within the permanent government are most likely
grounded in principle and patriotism, not narrow partisanship.
Among bureaucrats, there is always a current of low-level
grumbling about the elected leadership, but career civil
servants and military rarely take such provocative
countermeasures. In this Administration, the level of disgust
and alarm is more palpable because Bush has been willing to
trash the accepted norms of behavior and to cross perilous
thresholds, unaware of the dangers despite many warnings from
the professionals. To people who will be in government long
after Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld have departed, the Bush crowd looks
like the worst possible combination of qualities-it is both
incompetent and ruthless.

"It's a wonderful country in a way," Walter Pincus, the Post's
veteran investigative reporter, observes. "People in the
government community are really concerned about what can
happen. They get upset with themselves when they see things
going wrong. So they are willing to raise questions. But I
also think for some the failure to stand up before the war
started is emboldening them now." The concerns of these
anonymous truth-tellers were confirmed in public by the
powerful statement issued recently by retired diplomats and
military leaders, virtually calling for Bush's defeat this
fall. "We need a change," they declared. The list of signers
was striking because it was top-heavy with Republican and
conservative professionals: Reagan's ambassador to Moscow and
his chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, George Bush Sr.'s
ambassador to Israel and many others.

Whatever their intentions, the leakers have now raised the
stakes for the country-posing grave implications that cannot
be easily brushed aside. While Bush tries to explain away
prisoner abuse in Iraq with the "few bad apples" argument, the
White House, Pentagon and Justice Department memos justifying
torture establish an official predicate for scandalous
government actions that are more than embarrassing.
Fundamentally, these are crimes-violations both of US law and
of the Geneva Conventions, according to many legal experts.
The President himself did not express alarm at these
revelations. He turned aside questions as casually as his
lieutenants dismissed the Constitution. Thus, an ominous
warning light is now flashing for the Republic: the potential
for criminal charges running far up the military chain of
command, and for the lodging of impeachment charges against
this President and for an international tribunal to examine
American war crimes. The connecting facts are not yet visible
to support these accusations, but a plausible outline for how
they may be connected is well exposed. These matters, in other
words, could lead to a constitutional crisis as momentous as
Watergate, maybe more serious because the offenses are far
more fundamental.

Did the President authorize illegal acts? Bad advice from his
lawyers is not a defense. Did his Cabinet officers construct
rationales to disobey long-settled law and common morality? We
will not learn the answers unless responsible, independent
investigations are initiated. Very few Americans may wish to
go down that road, but the consequences of ignoring the
warning light are far worse. The precedent of accepting
lawless government and a corrupted constitutional order will
lead inevitably to more of both.