Monday, August 11, 2008

Ron Suskind on The Daily Show

[Transcript and embedded video below the fold]

Journalist Ron Suskind recently published corroborated and detailed reports regarding the lengths to which the Bush Administration went to, in the words of the Downing Street Memo, "fix the intelligence" around the policy of effecting regime change in Iraq by military force. Tonight, Suskind appeared as Jon Stewart's guest on Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to discuss his claims. Note that The American Conservative magazine — hardly a purveyor of "left-wing media bias" has confirmed the substance of Suskind's allegations, quibbling that it was not the CIA who was called upon to forge the document, but Douglas Feith's Office of Special Plans, at the behest of the Vice President, and other details but confirming that White House officials ordered the fabrication of false evidence to connect Saddam Hussein both to al Qaeda and the 9/11 terrorists and to an active nuclear weapons program. Dubya has so often paid lip service to the idea of accountability, but this is a charge over which heads might actually roll.

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Jon Stewart: Welcome back. My guest tonight, a Pultizer Prize-winning writer and best-selling author whose latest book is called The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism. Please welcome back to the show Ron Suskind! Nice to see ya; The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism — let's get right to the couple of bombshells, and then we'll move on from that. Bombshell #1: the Administration apparently forged a letter and planted it in Iraq, tying — and this was after the war had already started — tying Mohammad Atta, the 9/11 conspirator, to Iraq, and also tying uranium shipments to Iraq.

Ron Suskind: Right, right. What it shows is this relationship with the Iraq intelligence chief, which starts in early January 2003, before the war. You know, frankly, we made him our source.

Stewart: Habbush was his name.

Suskind: Habbush was the guy, and then we carried all the way through the year. He tells us there are no WMD, he tells us Saddam's mindset: he's afraid of the Iranians more than us, afraid to be shown to be a toothless tiger. And then, you know, that is something we ignore (surprise!) and then we end up paying him $5 million and hiding him, and we don't really know what to do with him — he's kind of "radioactive" as that summer unfolds, and it's clear there are no weapons to the whole world — and then we decide, "Here's something we might try!" And the White House orders the CIA to fabricate a letter from this guy Habbush which clears then of their ethical dilemma of going to war under false pretenses.

Stewart: And the letter says in it, literally, "Mohammad Atta did train in Iraq and the whole uranium thing; did anyone think it was weird that the letter combined the two things that were in question — in the letter itself, it said, "Oh, and he did buy uranium from Niger. Oh, and Joe Wilson is a prick. Oh, and, uh," — is it weird that those things were in there?

Suskind: Well, it's interesting, because it's sort of an "overreach" moment, because this letter popped up, Tom Brokaw — you know, he did it on Meet the Press, William Safire writes about it. A couple of days in, about a week in, people are like, "Jeez, this is an awful lot in one letter," and that overreach kind of revealed it to be fraudulent.

Stewart: Now, why didn't anyone pursue it at that time, the fraudulent nature of it; why did that sort of just fall away?

Suskind: Well, you know, it was hard to get at; you know, it's a very closely held thing, and this is an operation through the CIA; you know, you need someone who is going to stand up in daylight and say, "Hey, this is what happened."

Stewart: Now, your source in the CIA, this person in the CIA, [Rob] Richer?

Suskind: Yeah, he's one of the folks who talked about it.

Stewart: One of the folks; he now says, "Aaah, I never said that!" What's the situation with that?

Suskind: Well, you know, he's a good guy — all the people involved here, you know, are good guys, who've been walking around with this, you know, kind of a lump in their chest for a while, and ... You know what? I'm sympathetic to all the sources; they're under a lot of pressure. In this particular part of the book, there are lots of disclosures, but this one, the White House has been, obviously, intensely interested, because there may be illegality that has Constitutional consequences, so —

Stewart: That is maybe the nicest way of saying "impeachment" I think I've ever seen in my life. "A legality that has consequences..."

Suskind: Right.

Stewart: The other side of this —

Suskind: Just so you know, I posted the transcript of our conversation online, so people can see our conversation, where we're digging to the stuff that's in the book. The book is full of on-the-record comments from everyone.

Stewart: Theother thing, that hasn't gotten as much coverage, is, you're saying they knew there were no WMDs, that this guy Habbush told them — have they answered that charge? Have they said why they didn't go along with that?

Suskind: Not really. You know, the book lays out exactly the debate that raged when Habbush makes his appearance, in this secret back channel that we set up, he's slipping out of Baghdad to Amman, Jordan — in early January, there are weekly meetings, biweekly meetings —

Stewart: This is before the war?

Suskind: Yes! Three months before the war. Now, you know —

Stewart: And he says, "Ehh, you know — there's no weapons..."

Suskind: Bupkus, bupkus. It's nothing.

Stewart: He used Yiddish?

Suskind: I think — I have to check. It may be in the book; you might want to take a —

Stewart: So surprising for an Iraqi general to use Yiddish!

Suskind: He said, "[Yiddish], we have real problems here; I don't know, I can't say."

Stewart: The surprise on his plume... So —

Suskind: He was very [Yiddish]; that's all I know.

Stewart: Who did he tell? He told the CIA that there were no weapons?

Suskind: Yeah, it was a fascinating mission, Top Secret, it's been secret for five years. The British and the CIA guys got together, they had this meeting — it's extraordinary, the whole —

Stewart: MI6?

Suskind: MI6, right, and of course the stuff flows up into Downing Street and the White House, and, you know, it's interesting: there's a debate that rages — is it for real? Is it denial and deception? Is it the real McCoy? And ultimately the US says, "You knoooow, this does not fit in with what we're thinking, and let's sort of ignore this." Now, of course, when the summer comes, this guy's "radioactive." We made a deal that we're gonna resettle him, and ultimately, at that point we do, after the war, he gets out of Baghdad, he gets to Amman, Jordan, to the safe house, and during the summer, Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame, that terrible summer for the White House, well, we decide to dot the i and cross the t; then, when we pay him $5 million —

Stewart: For the letter?

Suskind: Uh, actually before the letter, we pay him $5 million and thenthe letter comes after that. That's sort of we decide what to do with him after —

Stewart: The interesting thing strikes me is that apparently all the WMD intelligence that we used in those briefings — like with Colin Powell and those — came from a single source, that gentleman al-Libi —

Suskind: Right.

Stewart: — who apparently they had tortured —

Suskind: That's right.

Stewart: — and who turned out to be "Curveball" and crazy — so they basically took Curveball, the one source, over Habbush, the one source — uh, quite a little circus we've got going here.

Suskind: Right, right. You can hear the music playing — [hums circus calliope music] — all under the tent.

Stewart: Why does no one — this has not seemed to have created the firestorm that you would think.

Suskind: Well, you know, it's sort of an interesting moment: it's all in the book, it's all on the record, people are sort of going, "Oh, God. You know, what do we do now?" And I think folks in Congress and others are saying, "Well, you know, what is our obligations here?" [sic] and I think it's in the book — I've done my part of this sort of thing. Now, when people —

Stewart: You know, you're not allowed to say, "It's in the book" one more time — I'll have to ask you to leave.

Suskind: I mean, look, the fact is, the whole book is about the fact that we've bled away our moral — [audience groans] —

Stewart: And by the way, if you grind the book up and smoke it —

Suskind: It's delicious; it's lovely.

Stewart: It will give you a hallucination about the Iraq war, you can't believe... Uh, well, The Way of the World is on the bookshelves now; I imagine someone will most likely read it and look into it, within the higher reaches of our government, but I can't be sure. [reference to remarks earlier in the program]

Suskind: We'll just have to see.

Stewart: Must be weird, to learn about this shit and then think, like, Ooh, 14 months from now, ooh, people are gonna go crazy, but then they don't.

Suskind: You know, actually, the disclosure sort of came fully at the very end of the project, which is, you know, the way that sort of worked, and, you know, what the book's all about: the way America's moral authority has bled away, and how we need to restore it to fight the battles we need to fight. You know, the way you do it is with Truth.

Stewart: "It's all in the book"; Ron Suskind!

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