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Monday, May 07, 2007

Oath upheld, but at what cost?

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Whatever your politics or your views on the Iraq war, the admission by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) that as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee he knew that America was duped into a war, but remained silent because he was sworn to secrecy, was a stunner.

"At the time of this debate," he recently said on the Senate floor, "I was a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. And I would read the headlines in the paper in the morning and watch the television newscasts and shake my head. ...

"The information we had in the Intelligence Committee was not the same information being given to the American people. I couldn't believe it. ... So in my frustration, I sat on the floor of the Senate and listened to this heated debate about invading Iraq thinking the American people are being misled, they are not being told the truth."

As many in his home state know, the idea that Durbin could keep his mouth shut about anything is a stunner in itself. He has been known to shoot it off frequently and disastrously. Witness the time he made the inflammatory and false comparison of the U.S. military's treatment of Guantanamo Bay detainees to the millions murdered by the Nazis, Soviet Gulags and Cambodia's Pol Pot.

So, what are we to think now? That Durbin willingly let thousands of Americans and uncounted thousands of Iraqis die when he knew the truth? Is he bringing it up now because he is seeking absolution? Was it just bravado, a childlike "I know what you don't know" moment? Was it a slip of the tongue; did he misspeak? Was it just a routine attempt to again make Bush administration officials look like liars, but he failed to think through the implications and consequences of what he was saying? Did it even occur to him that he was implicating every member of the Intelligence Committee for hiding the truth from the public?

Was Durbin's statement a fabrication? The assumption seems to be that this is a story that concerns only the right wing, because Durbin's statement received prominent play from the conservative Washington Times -- described (by liberals) as an "ultraconservative" publication -- from where it was picked up by conservative bloggers. Durbin's office played on a nasty right-winger theme; the first words of its written response were: "Right-wing publications of dubious integrity -- conservative blogs such as Power Line and the ultraconservative Washington Times ... " In other words, who is saying it is more important than what is being said.

Maybe Durbin's office should have looked harder because some liberal bloggers are even more upset with the idea that Durbin let President Bush get away with what they believe is an unconscionable lie. Was Durbin a part of the cabal? Do he and Vice President Dick Cheney have a secret handshake? They both have the same first names, have you noticed?

Actually, Durbin has stumbled onto a serious and difficult question: What was more important, his oath of silence or stopping a nation from going to a wrong, possibly, immoral war?

The question cannot be easily brushed aside. It is the kind of ethical question that comes up more frequently than we'd like, in both the public and private sectors. Durbin has inadvertently illustrated that such important questions are not always as black and white as antagonists would like to have them. We're all guilty of it, but few of us get to be guilty on such a monumental scale.

What if Durbin had stood up in 2003, before the war, and said: "As a member of the Intelligence Committee, I have access to secret intelligence reports. What you are being told by Bush, the British and most Western intelligence agencies are lies. If you don't believe me, here are the documents. Yes, they're classified, but in a democracy, truth is more important than is whatever justifies keeping these documents secret."

An illegal act? Probably yes. A patriotic act? You might say. Yes, Durbin voiced his concern about the quality of intelligence and going to war, before the war started, as his office reminds us. Yes, he voted against going to war. But could he have changed the course of history? I don't know what Durbin should have done. An oath isn't to be taken lightly; President Bill Clinton found that out when he was impeached, accused of lying under oath. But if the Bush administration's lies were as apparent and real as Durbin now says they were, and so much death and suffering were the knowable outcome of the bad intelligence, doing nothing is not something I'd want on my conscience.


Timothy said...

While I agree with the theme of your article (Durbin should have spoken up) and that, most likely, Durbin simply failed to think through the implications of his statements, the article presupposes that the Bush administration knowingly took the country to war under false pretenses. So, what's worse: telling lies or not exposing the lies?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the information. Durbin just dropped out of my "good guy" column.
"There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to portest." Elie Wiesel.
Durbin should know that.

Jacquie Brave

Anonymous said...

The answer may be much more simple.

Durbin is just not the sharpest tool in the shed.

Bill Baar said...

The security clearance defense was completely false. The whole reason Senators get the classified briefing is exactly so they can make decisions based on the same info the admin is seeing. If Durbin thought he was being lied too, he was obligated to say so. It in now way would have comprised his clearance. He was obligated to say so and failed.

Having met the man at O'Hare at the time, there was absolutely no hint of him not treating this a grave decision.. open to differences but a case where there were lies by the administration.

I fear he's lying to us now through his teeth.

Anonymous said...

Durbin must've felt shamed when he voted for the Iraq War resolution.... Oh wait, he voted against it.

Dennis, you say that we were misled into the Iraq War, that it is immoral, and that Durbin bears some responsibility for that. If that's true, then how much responsibility does President Bush bear for misleading us into an immoral war? Is it that he shouldn't be held responsible because he couldn't help himself, or because President Bush is a Republican, and Durbin is a Democrat?

This is quite a leap, to blame Durbin, because he didn't single-handedly save you from your own party's leader....

Anonymous said...

You mention "...Durbin voiced his concern about the quality of intelligence and going to war, before the war started..." and "Yes, he voted against going to war." -- That's a lot more than most Senators or Congressmen did. And it's more than your editorial staff of the Chicago Tribune did. Does that bother your conscience at all? You had access to at least as much information as I did. And as a civilian citizen I could see that the war build-up smelled fishy.

I am not an anti-war activist. But it was clear to me and to many thousands of other Americans before the invasion that it was a rigged deal. That's why thousands of us filled Daley Plaza before the vote on the war. "The Plan for the New American Century" signed by Cheney, Libby, Wolfowitz, Podhoretz et al was no secret, it was available to the public, and it made it clear that key people within the Bush administration wanted a reason to conquer Iraq. Also, simply by reading various news sources it was clear that Hussein and Bin Laden were enemies.

To single out Durbin and remain silent about the other members of the Senate Intelligence Committee -- especially those who voted to proceed with our "preemptive" invasion makes me question your journalistic objectivity. -- I look forward to your future columns when you pillory those members of Congress who bear a great deal more responsibility for the horrible outcomes of this low point in our history.
Nels Howard

Craig said...

Two questions and one hypothesis:
1. When did he make this claim?
2. Was it covered in the Tribune?

The senate intelligence committee has repeatedly reviewed intelligence related to Iraq, WMD, and Islamist terrorism -- dating back to Clinton days -- and has repeatedly concluded that the intelligence assessment process was honest. In short: no lies by Clinton or Bush when they claimed Iraq had WMD.

So is the committee continuing to lie? Or, and this is my hypothesis, is Durbin is not telling the truth right now.

My Insignificant Life said...

The hypocrisy of Dick Durbin is disturbing. Clearly he toes the liberal/ line like a good foot-soldier. Now he "claims" to have heard lies when in secret session. He was one of a handful of Senators who heard the evidence and the question of war or not to war should have been brought to the open. We heard hours and hours of public speak by the President & his administration. I'm sure what was send in public was part of what was said in private.

As a supporter of President Bush, I would have taken pause if Durban spoke up in 2003. However, no good citizen wants war, period. A better citizen would have spoken up to prevent war. Durbin is not a good citizen.

That being said, I am calling for the resignation of Dick Durbin from the Senate.

He claims he knew that "The information we had in the Intelligence Committee was not the same information being given to the American people. I couldn't believe it. ... So in my frustration, I sat on the floor of the Senate and listened to this heated debate about invading Iraq thinking the American people are being misled, they are not being told the truth."

Senator Durbin had the opportunity to prevent war or at a minimum allow for additional intelligence to be gathered and he failed to act. He is guilty of malfeasance and for the good of the state and country needs to resign.

Michele said...

Senator Durbin is not the only person on the Intelligence Committee; why is he the only one singled out in this comment, because he admitted to what he had been told? If he had stated before the Iraq war that the intelligence was faulty, you and other conservatives would probably have been first to decry his violation of his oath of secrecy as an Intelligence Committee member.
Why don't you mention how Colin Powell also knew the intelligence was a lie and still claimed it was true in front of the United Nations? He could have resigned in protest. No, Powell decided to keep quiet, resign at the end of
Bush's first term, and collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees.
What Durbin's admission shows is that Intelligence Committee members should be allowed to tell the nation the truth when they know citizens are being lied to and that secrecy is unwarranted. The secrecy demands now in place do not serve the American people well.

Bill Baar said...

I meant,,,

...but a not case where there were lies by the administration.

gk said...

Is it just possible that Sen. Durbin is talking out of his ass again as he is want to do? Its strange that not one intelligence service in the world (Including the Israeli Mossad) didn't think Saddam had WMD before the invasion but now everyone knows its a lie???

Anonymous said...

Let see we have durbin, ONeil, Clarke, Tennent,Drumholder and lots of others that say bush is a liar. I noticed Mr. Byrne also ommitted himself abd the Tribune from having any part in enabling liar bush perpetrate the big lie to the country. I could fill pages with bush's lies I think my recent favorite is when he accused Co0ngress of micro managing the war. This from the guy who releived the commanders on the ground in Iraq back in January and thought he knew more then the joint chiefs all of whom oppsede the surge.
Yeah byrnese out rage is pretty selective.

Anonymous said...

I recall the coverage of the hearings, and I recall Durbin coming out of these meetings and saying something to the effect that "I just don't see the evidence justifying the war".

He voted against Bush's War, and I assume his comments on the floor spoke against intervening then too.

Those of you who call for his resignation over Dennis Byrne's article display the same lemming mentality that keeps us there indefinitely.

Byrne has his moments on the local scene, but on national issues, he's quite the shill for a losing cause.


Anonymous said...

gk: you still actually believe the Bush administration took America to "War" because they legitimately thought there were WMDs in Iraq?

Why couldn't they simply have ignored Joe Wilson, in that case?

They publicly named his wife as a CIA NOC agent - ruining her career, destroying all of the valuable counter-proliferation work she'd done, the several years she'd spent developing Brewster-Jennings, the networks she'd cultivated, etc.

All of it gone.

That same illegal act (which Libby stopped the investigation of, and was convicted for) put at risk the lives of possibly thousands of innocent people - those who had had legitimate dealings with Brewster-Jennings, along with their families.

They hyped the notion of WMDs because, as Wolfowitz admitted in Vanity Fair (I believe), they settled on WMDs as a justifier because it's an easy argument to understand.

You simply can't go wrong with "WMDs" as an argument for "War".

Anonymous said...

I waited a day to see the reaction to your piece on Durbin in yesterday's Tribune. Nothing! No letters to the editor, no follow-up reporting or interviews with Durbin. Where is the outrage, either from the American public or the other members of the Senate Committee? I can't believe he can pull this off unscathed!

Bill Baar said...

There is a huge difference between saying this...

"I just don't see the evidence justifying the war".

...and saying I've been lied too to boot.

Bush said there was no imminent threat either; just that it was unwise to let Saddam become an imminent threat.

Those are real differences that were debated. If Durbin really thought lies were part of that mix, he was duty bound to say so and it's huge moral failure on his part.

His only salvation is I think he was true then, and only lying now.

Joseph T Gill said...

Dear Mr. Byrne:
Your columns are my most favorite parts of the Monday
Tribune. I always read them with full attention for
their special insights.
The May 7 column, by reference to your own (which I do
not doubt) seems to assume that Sen. Dick Durbin has a
conscience. While this may be so in certain areas, it
is certainly not in evidence where abortion is
concerned. If he has a conscience in this matter, he
is a master in suppressing it. Such is proven by his
continued reception at Mass of The Body Of Christ in
Holy Communion while at the same time being a rabid
supporter of the killing of unborn babies.
In fact he is a chief proponent in Congress of this
dreadful practice. The idea of a pro-abortion
Catholic is the very definition of the term oxymoron.
He may like to imagine that he is jousting with only
humans in which combat he has some chance of winning.
Instead his fight is with Almighty God and that in the
end is a losing proposition.
Joseph T Gill