The Senate's Democratic leader Harry Reid (D-NV) unexpectedly pulled the Senate into secret session Tuesday afternoon in order to have closed discussion of Iraq intelligence, RAW STORY has learned. Specifically, the senator sought to discuss a Senate Select Committee on Inteligence report on the failure of Iraqi WMD intelligence.
The maneuver immediately shuttered the doors of the Senate and cleared the Senate press galleries. It has been invoked just 53 previous times in the history of the body. It was last used during the Clinton impeachment hearings.
Closed sessions were also employed in 1997 for the Chemical Weapons Convention, and in 1992 during debate over China's "Most Favored Nation" trade status.
The Senate can vote to end closed session by a simple majority. It is unknown how long the Senate will remain closed, Reid's office told RAW STORY.
Reid's statement follows.
This past weekend, we witnessed the indictment of the I. Lewis Libby, the Vice President’s Chief of Staff and a senior Advisor to President Bush. Libby is the first sitting White House staffer to be indicted in 135 years. This indictment raises very serious charges. It asserts this Administration engaged in actions that both harmed our national security and are morally repugnant.
The decision to place U.S. soldiers in harm’s way is the most significant responsibility the Constitution invests in the Congress. The Libby indictment provides a window into what this is really about: how the Administration manufactured and manipulated intelligence in order to sell the war in Iraq and attempted to destroy those who dared to challenge its actions.
As a result of its improper conduct, a cloud now hangs over this Administration. This cloud is further darkened by the Administration’s mistakes in prisoner abuse scandal, Hurricane Katrina, and the cronyism and corruption in numerous agencies.
And, unfortunately, it must be said that a cloud also hangs over this Republican-controlled Congress for its unwillingness to hold this Republican Administration accountable for its misdeeds on all of these issues.
Let’s take a look back at how we got here with respect to Iraq Mr. President. The record will show that within hours of the terrorist attacks on 9/11, senior officials in this Administration recognized these attacks could be used as a pretext to invade Iraq.
The record will also show that in the months and years after 9/11, the Administration engaged in a pattern of manipulation of the facts and retribution against anyone who got in its way as it made the case for attacking Iraq.
There are numerous examples of how the Administration misstated and manipulated the facts as it made the case for war. Administration statements on Saddam’s alleged nuclear weapons capabilities and ties with Al Qaeda represent the best examples of how it consistently and repeatedly manipulated the facts.
The American people were warned time and again by the President, the Vice President, and the current Secretary of State about Saddam’s nuclear weapons capabilities. The Vice President said Iraq “has reconstituted its nuclear weapons.” Playing upon the fears of Americans after September 11, these officials and others raised the specter that, left unchecked, Saddam could soon attack America with nuclear weapons.
Obviously we know now their nuclear claims were wholly inaccurate. But more troubling is the fact that a lot of intelligence experts were telling the Administration then that its claims about Saddam’s nuclear capabilities were false.
The situation was very similar with respect to Saddam’s links to Al Qaeda. The Vice President told the American people, “We know he’s out trying once again to produce nuclear weapons and we know he has a longstanding relationship with various terrorist groups including the Al Qaeda organization.”
The Administration’s assertions on this score have been totally discredited. But again, the Administration went ahead with these assertions in spite of the fact that the government’s top experts did not agree with these claims.
What has been the response of this Republican-controlled Congress to the Administration’s manipulation of intelligence that led to this protracted war in Iraq? Basically nothing. Did the Republican-controlled Congress carry out its constitutional obligations to conduct oversight? No. Did it support our troops and their families by providing them the answers to many important questions? No. Did it even attempt to force this Administration to answer the most basic questions about its behavior? No.
Unfortunately the unwillingness of the Republican-controlled Congress to exercise its oversight responsibilities is not limited to just Iraq. We see it with respect to the prisoner abuse scandal. We see it with respect to Katrina. And we see it with respect to the cronyism and corruption that permeates this Administration.
Time and time again, this Republican-controlled Congress has consistently chosen to put its political interests ahead of our national security. They have repeatedly chosen to protect the Republican Administration rather than get to the bottom of what happened and why.
There is also another disturbing pattern here, namely about how the Administration responded to those who challenged its assertions. Time and again this Administration has actively sought to attack and undercut those who dared to raise questions about its preferred course.
For example, when General Shinseki indicated several hundred thousand troops would be needed in Iraq, his military career came to an end. When then OMB Director Larry Lindsay suggested the cost of this war would approach $200 billion, his career in the Administration came to an end. When U.N. Chief Weapons Inspector Hans Blix challenged conclusions about Saddam’s WMD capabilities, the Administration pulled out his inspectors. When Nobel Prize winner and IAEA head Mohammed el-Baridei raised questions about the Administration’s claims of Saddam’s nuclear capabilities, the Administration attempted to remove him from his post. When Joe Wilson stated that there was no attempt by Saddam to acquire uranium from Niger, the Administration launched a vicious and coordinated campaign to demean and discredit him, going so far as to expose the fact that his wife worked as a CIA agent.
Given this Administration’s pattern of squashing those who challenge its misstatements, what has been the response of this Republican-controlled Congress? Again, absolutely nothing. And with their inactions, they provide political cover for this Administration at the same time they keep the truth from our troops who continue to make large sacrifices in Iraq.
This behavior is unacceptable. The toll in Iraq is as staggering as it is solemn. More than 2,000 Americans have lost their lives. Over 90 Americans have paid the ultimate sacrifice this month alone – the fourth deadliest month since the war began. More than 15,000 have been wounded. More than 150,000 remain in harm’s way. Enormous sacrifices have been and continue to be made.
The troops and the American people have a right to expect answers and accountability worthy of that sacrifice. For example, 40 Senate Democrats wrote a substantive and detailed letter to the President asking four basic questions about the Administration’s Iraq policy and received a four sentence answer in response. These Senators and the American people deserve better.
They also deserve a searching and comprehensive investigation about how the Bush Administration brought this country to war. Key questions that need to be answered include:
o How did the Bush Administration assemble its case for war against Iraq?
o Who did Bush Administration officials listen to and who did they ignore?
o How did senior Administration officials manipulate or manufacture intelligence presented to the Congress and the American people?
o What was the role of the White House Iraq Group or WHIG, a group of senior White House officials tasked with marketing the war and taking down its critics?
o How did the Administration coordinate its efforts to attack individuals who dared to challenge the Administration’s assertions?
o Why has the Administration failed to provide Congress with the documents that will shed light on their misconduct and misstatements?
Unfortunately the Senate committee that should be taking the lead in providing these answers is not. Despite the fact that the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee publicly committed to examine many of these questions more than 1 and ½ years ago, he has chosen not to keep this commitment. Despite the fact that he restated that commitment earlier this year on national television, he has still done nothing.
At this point, we can only conclude he will continue to put politics ahead of our national security. If he does anything at this point, I suspect he will play political games by producing an analysis that fails to answer any of these important questions. Instead, if history is any guide, this analysis will attempt to disperse and deflect blame away from the Administration.
We demand that the Intelligence Committee and other committees in this body with jurisdiction over these matters carry out a full and complete investigation immediately as called for by Democrats in the committee’s annual intelligence authorization report. Our troops and the American people have sacrificed too much. It is time this Republican-controlled Congress put the interests of the American people ahead of their own political interests.