Former Vice President Dick Cheney’s reemergence on the political stage after his ignominious departure on Inauguration Day, eschewing the traditional handshake with his successor and the new president, is nothing if not ironic. The most secretive individual in American politics is now calling for the selective release of documents that remain classified in one of his own files marked “Detainees.” We have also learned that a principal reason for having tortured senior al Qaeda detainees was not, in fact, to defend the Homeland, but rather to build the case for war with Iraq based on alleged ties between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. Despite literally hundreds of waterboarding sessions, there was no evidence developed that such a link existed. But that did not stop Cheney. He and others in the Bush administration simply asserted a link even though they knew one did not exist.
The disinformation campaign to manipulate public opinion in favor of the [Iraq] invasion, the torture program, and the illegal exposure of a clandestine CIA agent—my wife, Valerie Plame Wilson—were linked events.
I know something about Cheney’s disinformation. When I, and a number of others, including a four-star Marine Corps general, Carleton Fulford, and the then-U.S. Ambassador to the West African nation of Niger, reported to the CIA that there was no evidence to support the assertion that Iraq had entered into a contract to purchase 500 tons of uranium yellowcake, our conclusions were ignored by the Bush administration. Instead, the president, in his State of the Union address in 2003, proclaimed a falsehood: “Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” Then National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was trotted out to assert that we could not afford to “wait for the smoking gun to come in the form of a mushroom cloud,” and Cheney himself asserted that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear-weapons program.
There is no longer any question that we were misled by an administration that had already made the decision to invade, conquer, and occupy Iraq, and did everything it could to force the facts to justify their action. Cheney, the architect of the Bush administration’s disastrous national security and foreign policies, now wants to declassify certain classified documents that he believes will vindicate his advocacy of a war of choice in the Middle East and his support of torture. Cheney asserts that the ends justify the means whatever the insult to international law, the conscience of the world, and damage to the long-term U.S. national-security interests.
Cheney’s request for the declassification of material is a welcome development, but it should not be limited to his narrow request. Our country’s understanding of what was done in our name by the Bush administration depends on the release, not just of the documents Cheney has designated, but of all documents related to the efforts of the Bush administration and Cheney himself to defend the indefensible—the decision to invade Iraq despite the knowledge at the time that Iraq did not have a nuclear program, had no ties to al Qaeda, and posed no existential threat to the United States or to its friends and allies in the region.
The disinformation campaign to manipulate public opinion in favor of the invasion, the torture program, and the illegal exposure of a clandestine CIA agent—my wife, Valerie Plame Wilson—were linked events. In their desperate effort to gather material to whip up public support, Cheney and others resorted to torture, well known in the intelligence craft to elicit inherently unreliable information. Cheney & Co. then pressured the CIA to put its stamp of approval on a series of falsehoods—26 of which were inserted into Secretary of State Colin Powell’s speech before the United Nations Security Council. At the same time, Cheney was furiously attempting to suppress the true information that Saddam Hussein was not seeking yellowcake uranium in Niger. After I published the facts in an article in The New York Times in July 2003, Cheney tried to punish me and discredit the truth by directing the outing of a CIA operative who happened to be my wife.
Among other documents Cheney should release is his testimony to Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald about the role he played in the treasonous leak of the identity of a covert CIA officer. His chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, was convicted of obstruction of justice and perjury for his efforts to ensure that the “cloud over the vice president,” as Fitzgerald noted, was not penetrated.
As a witness in the Libby case, Cheney has the legal grounds to release his own testimony. If he feels more comfortable, he can ask permission, though he does not need it, from former President George W. Bush—and ask that Bush release his testimony as well. Because Cheney has called for transparency, why should he or Bush object? Then Pat Fitzgerald can make public the transcripts. It’s time for this coverup to end.
The American people deserve to know the truth at last, not to depend on Cheney’s selective and biased versions. Let us take the former vice president up on his demand for documents and declassify them all. Then, and only then, will we fully understand what he and his henchmen did in the name of the United States.
UPDATE: This article originally stated Wilson's New York Times op-ed ran in 2002. It has been revised to reflect that it ran in 2003.
Joseph C. Wilson IV served as ambassador to two African nations in the administration of George H.W. Bush, and as senior director for African Affairs for President Bill Clinton. He was in charge of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad during the first Gulf War and was the last American diplomat to confront Saddam Hussein before Desert Storm. He is the author of the bestseller The Politics of Truth. He is married to former CIA officer, Valerie Plame Wilson, whose identity was betrayed by senior officials in the George W. Bush administration.