Humbug Square - Rep. Lewis: Bush, Powell, Rice lied

Congressman says it's time to 'stop this madness'

Much attention is focused now on the Downing Street memo, the leaked British document that suggests President Bush and his administration tailored intelligence to support his decision to attack Iraq.

The memo - despite being ignored for nearly six weeks by much of the American media, which dealt instead with Duluth's runaway bride and Michael Jackson's acquittal - has bubbled up through the Internet and into Congress. It's helping Americans see how Bush and his administration fabricated the reasons they publicly gave for war against Saddam Hussein.

But 5th District Congressman John Lewis, D-Ga., didn't need the British memo. He began asking questions about the origins of the war during Bush's first term. In fact, he believes Bush decided to go to war with Iraq before he even moved into the White House.

A member of the new Out of Iraq Congressional Caucus, Lewis recently told a group of senior Democratic House leaders, "It was time for us to break our silence. We had been too silent."

In a telephone interview with CL last week, Lewis said, "We've been very frustrated with the administration not giving us a timetable about getting out, and we continue to lose so many of our young men and young women." At a Democratic House leadership luncheon in Washington last week, he said, "We need to organize and start speaking up and speaking out to stop this madness."

Lewis' doubts about the Iraq adventure go back to the beginning, when the administration was saying it had made no decision about going to war in Iraq.

Regarding a briefing with then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, now secretary of state, Lewis said, "I asked her point-blank in a Democratic caucus meeting whether the decision had been made to go to war - whether there had been a meeting with her, along with President Bush, [Defense] Secretary [Donald] Rumsfeld and others - and she denied it. But apparently, even before [Bush] took office, there was some conscious decision that they would have a war with Iraq and they would find the necessary means and message to justify it.

"I believe this, and I probably would never say it on the House floor, but it may come down to that, that this President and his Secretary of State Colin Powell, his National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Mr. Rumsfeld, his secretary of defense, they misled us. They deceived the American people. And they lied to us."

John Lewis is no ordinary politician. As a young man at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement, he withstood savage beatings. He was clubbed by Alabama state troopers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday. Forty years later, he stands unsullied as a man of courage, conscience and great moral authority. When Lewis says the president of the United States lied to start a war, using a national tragedy as a cover for a predetermined invasion, you know it is more than partisan sniping. When Lewis calls out Powell and Rice, two of the highest ranking African-Americans in the nation's history, for their roles in the Bush administration's dishonesty, you know we have turned a corner. This is serious business. Something terrible has happened to our country, and we need to talk about it in earnest."For us to lose all these young people, more than 1,700 killed, gone, another 12,000 wounded - you can't justify it," Lewis said.

The attacks of 9/11 gave the Bush administration the excuse they were looking for, Lewis claimed. But "Iraq and Saddam Hussein didn't have anything to do with 9/11 - nothing."

It's common knowledge now that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, contrary to the Bush administration's claims in its march toward war. And as for the prime suspect behind the terrorist attacks, Osama bin Laden, "we don't even talk about him anymore," Lewis said. "It's all Saddam and Iraq."

The type of opinions Lewis is voicing have long been dismissed by the media as fringe liberal beliefs. But they are now roaring up from the mainstream of American life. Calls and letters coming into Lewis' office reflect Bush's plummeting poll figures. Nearly six in 10 Americans - 59 percent - now oppose the war in Iraq, according to the CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released this week. Only 39 percent of those polled said they favored the war.

"People are sick and tired of the war," Lewis said. "And they don't see an end and they see all of this money. We are talking about maybe over $500 billion by this time next year."

I asked Lewis whether members of Congress are talking about trying to impeach Bush for telling lies that led to so many deaths.

"I don't think we're there yet," Lewis said. "I will say that people are getting restless here on Capitol Hill. One reason they're getting restless, they see the loss of lives of both Americans and the people of Iraq. And they don't see that things are getting better and see all of these resources have been spent. And the people back home [are] starting to make calls and write letters. And one thing about politicians - we can count."

As more and more Americans speak out against the war in Iraq, the right-wing lie machine will have to work overtime to vilify the critics. For one thing, the true believers with Fox News, talk radio, right-wing blogs and many mainstream newspapers are going to find they'll have to attack more and more Republicans, such as Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., who told U.S. News & World Report in this week's edition: "Things aren't getting better; they're getting worse. The White House is completely disconnected from reality. It's like they're just making it up as they go along. The reality is that we're losing in Iraq.""I feel confident that the opposition is going to build," Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, told the same magazine. He's one of two Republican sponsors of a resolution urging President Bush to come up with a plan by year's end to begin troop withdrawals. The other GOP sponsor is Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., the father of "freedom fries," who changed his mind about the war after forming a bond with the family of a young Marine killed in Iraq.

When I think of the vicious attacks that have been launched against Americans who've had the courage to speak up against the Bush propaganda machine, my thoughts turn to another Democratic member of Congress from Georgia, Rep. Cynthia McKinney, who was nearly destroyed politically after her comments about the 9/11 attacks were twisted into fiction by the media. What she said, on a Berkeley, Calif., radio station March 25, 2002, was that numerous warnings about 9/11 were ignored. She asked: "What did this administration know about it and when did it know it?" That question remains legitimate to this day.

McKinney also suggested that people close to the Bush administration were poised to cash in on the war.

I couldn't help but remember her comments last week when I read that a $30 million contract had been awarded to build a new permanent prison at Guantanamo Bay, where terrorism suspects are held. The money is going to - guess who? - a subsidiary of Vice President Dick Cheney's old company, Halliburton.

Senior Editor Doug Monroe wonders what the Bush administration will do next to try to counteract the sagging polls and get the flags waving again. You can contact him at doug.monroe@creativeloafing.com.