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A Case Against Cheney

By Richard Cohen
Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The resolution offered by the gentleman from Ohio reads sensibly. It alleges crimes high and low, misdemeanors galore -- all of them representing an effort to mislead the American people and take them into war. It is Dennis Kucinich's articles of impeachment directed at Dick Cheney. The vice president will, of course, deny being a liar. As long as Kucinich is at it, add that to the articles.

The congressman's case is persuasive, although his remedy may be too radical. He calls for Cheney to be impeached by the House and tried by the Senate, just as Bill Clinton was for what turned out to be neither a high crime nor much of a misdemeanor. What was it, anyway, compared with more than 3,300 American dead?

In his articles of impeachment, Kucinich details the many statements Cheney made that turned out to be factually wrong. For instance, he quotes Cheney as saying, "We know they [the Iraqis] have biological and chemical weapons," which of course, they didn't. Still, that was excusable, since it was early in the game and little contradictory evidence was being presented. As Condi Rice said Sunday, "When George [Tenet] said 'slam dunk,' everybody understood that he believed that the intelligence was strong. We all believed the intelligence was strong."

But in Cheney's case, the slam-dunking went on and on -- way past the point where it was possible anymore to believe him. He continued to insist that Saddam Hussein had high-level contacts with al-Qaeda -- " the evidence is overwhelming," he once said -- while others in the government not only knew that the evidence was not overwhelming but that it hardly existed. It was the same with Cheney's insistence-- not just wrong, but irrefutably so -- that Hussein "has weapons of mass destruction," and "[t]here is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies and against us." The percussive march of these statements is so forceful, one after another after another, that it suggests Cheney wanted war no matter what. If he was lying to himself as well as to the rest of us, that is only a mitigating circumstance -- sort of an insanity defense.

Kucinich also alleges that Cheney "purposely manipulated the intelligence process to deceive the citizens and Congress." That, as the expression goes, is the gravamen of the charge. Kucinich doesn't stand a ghost of a chance of making it stick because Congress is not about to vote impeachment. But no one who reads Kucinich's case against Cheney can fail to conclude that this is a rational, serious accusation. It's possible that each individual charge can be rebutted, but the essence of it is shockingly apparent: We were being manipulated.

It is something of a joke that Washington is now transfixed by l'affaire Wolfowitz. This is the contretemps at the World Bank in which an architect of this misbegotten war stands accused of favoring his girlfriend. Do not be concerned with the details -- this is a parody of a Washington scandal -- but concentrate instead on what else Wolfowitz has done in government and how, now, it is a salary increase awarded to a companion that might do him in. This is tantamount to getting Al Capone for tax evasion.

In the same vein, we tend to focus on single events or statements regarding Iraq (to slam dunk or not to slam dunk, that is the question) and how poor George Tenet, a self-deceived careerist, is misunderstood -- as if he had uttered a statement of principle dramatically resigning over the manipulation of intelligence and it is suspiciously missing from the record. In all this back-and-forth, what gets lost is the immensity of the outrage, the enormousness of the breach of trust, the naive faith some of us had that when it came to the making of war, we'd be told the truth. This was not the case. The harping on weapons of mass destruction was an attempt to scare the American people into supporting a war that need not have been fought.

Kucinich is an odd guy for whom the killer appellation "perennial presidential candidate" is lethally applied. But he is on to something here. It is easy enough to ad hominize him to the margins -- ya know, the skinny guy among the "real" presidential candidates -- but at a given moment, and this is one, he's the only one on that stage who articulates a genuine sense of betrayal. He is not out merely to win the nomination but to hold the Bush administration -- particularly Cheney -- accountable. In this he will fail. What Cheney has done is not impeachable. It is merely unforgivable.

cohenr@washpost.com

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