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Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Case for Iraq

Colin Powell has just published a new memoir.  There’s a lot of new information in here, but of particular interest is that Powell sheds new light on the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq.

Powell’s presentation to the United Nations has remained a sore spot for many years.  Powell made the case to the entire world that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and that attacking Hussein was necessary to resolve that threat.  The presentation included visual aids, satellite photos and diagrams of purported weapons manufacturing sites.

The only problem is that much of it turned out to be false.  After the invasion, U.S. and coalition forces were unable to find evidence of WMD in Iraq.  They could not find any because there weren’t any.

Now comes word from Powell that the infamous speech wasn’t even drafted by the NSC with direct assistance from the intelligence agencies.  Rather, the speech was first drafted by Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney’s chief of staff.  The alleged rationale for this unconventional choice was that Cheney convinced Bush that the speech should be written as a legal brief, making the “case” for the necessity of an American-led invasion, and Scooter Libby was a lawyer.  

Powell's concern in retrospect is that the claims in the speech did not come directly from the intelligence agencies.  That being said, I have an additional reaction related to the legal advice.  Even if the speech was meant to present a legal "case," the State Department has lawyers too, the last time I checked, and in fact they are quite accomplished.  To have a State Department presentation to the UN drafted by anyone other than the Legal Adviser to the Secretary of State (a post currently occupied by Harold Koh in the Obama administration), strikes me as ill advised.

Although Libby was indeed a lawyer, having graduated from Columbia Law School, I was not aware that Libby had special training in international law and jus ad bellum issues, though I could be wrong.  In fact, his positions in Cheney’s office, including chief of staff, weren’t even formally attorney positions.

Incidentally, Libby is no longer an attorney, as far as I know.  His license to practice law was suspended and he was eventually disbarred in DC after his federal conviction for perjury and obstruction of justice in the wake of the unauthorized disclosure of Valerie Plame’s covert status at the CIA.  President Bush commuted Libby’s prison sentence but left his felony convictions intact.


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