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By Bill Gallagher

DETROIT -- Vice President Dick Cheney has been looking awful these days, appearing more pained than usual, scowling like Jabba the Hutt getting a root canal. Beyond their physical resemblance, the big Dick and the galaxy's top criminal overlord do have much in common. The two power-wielding thugs share a single-minded ruthlessness used to keep their empires intact. For them, power must be unrestrained and absolute. Their only reality is what they choose to see. They are both prone to delusion and desperation.

When CNN's Wolf Blitzer suggested to Cheney that the Bush administration's credibility was on the line over the mess in Iraq, the vice president snarled, "Hogwash." Now if it's not the Bush administration's credibility at stake in Iraq, whose is it?

Cheney -- with his dauphin in the oval office -- was the secretive manipulator, crafting and peddling some of the most colossal lies in the buildup to the war, and now he's denying responsibility for the fiasco he created. Cheney, more than anyone else, propagated pure hoaxes used to sell the war with the help of the compliant corporate media, a rubber-stamp Congress and a sadly ignorant American public.

Cheney's fingerprints are all over the phony story that Iraq had mobile labs to produce deadly weapons (the source was a mentally ill Iraqi who sought asylum in Germany), the known falsehood that Saddam Hussein had specially produced aluminum tubes that could "only be used" to produce nuclear weapons, the myth that 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta had met with Iraqi intelligence agents in Prague (Cheney still keeps spewing that lie), and the bogus claim that Saddam hosted al-Qaeda training camps in Iraq. In fact, the camps were in Kurdish-controlled territory in northern Iraq.

All those lies deserve greater exposure and explanation, but another one is being put under scrutiny, and that's making Cheney twitch and jump out of bed in the middle of the night like he just got a blast of buckshot in the face.

The trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the vice president's former chief of staff, is providing a public autopsy of the lengths Cheney went to in order to protect one of his favorite and most effective lies -- that Saddam was shopping in Niger to buy uranium for nuclear enrichment.

Like the other "evidence" of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, this was not an "intelligence failure." It was a pure hoax that Cheney and President George W. Bush would use repeatedly to sell their claim that only an invasion of Iraq could spare the world from Saddam and his mad scientists.

The story was total hogwash, and Cheney knew it. An Italian scam artist fabricated the story years before and sold his forged documents to the French government. The story had been discredited, but Cheney was hell-bent to revive it and add the hoax to his arsenal of lies in the runup to the war.

Cheney's obsession to keep the lie alive is what led him to go after former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who went to Niger on a mission for the CIA to check out the yellowcake-uranium story. When Wilson returned, he reported his doubts to the CIA, but Bush kept using the lie to suit his purposes, even including it in a State of the Union address.

When Wilson wrote an op-ed piece in The New York Times debunking the Niger story, Cheney went ballistic. Don't make Jabba mad. Scooter Libby took on the task of carrying out his master's vengeance and the systematic plot to discredit Wilson. Cheney realized that if one piece of the puzzle of lies didn't fit, the rest might be re-examined. The Niger story had to be salvaged, and the only way to do that was to attack Wilson by any means necessary.

When Libby learned Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, was a covert CIA officer, he saw an opportunity. They could claim Wilson's assignment was tainted with nepotism, his wife using her influence to get him a free vacation in Africa.

Cheney and Libby colluded to spread that lie, outing Wilson's wife's job status in the process and effectively ending her CIA career. Never mind that people she had dealt with through the years might be placed in mortal danger -- Jabba wanted it done and Libby obliged.

When his name was tied to slipping the story to reporters, Libby lied to cover his tracks and protect Cheney. Now, Cheney will be asked to tell the truth under oath. His choices are as bleak as his damaged character.

Will Cheney admit he is a vile, vindictive son of a bitch or will he lie? Lying comes easier to him, and he can toss in a few national security dodges to protect his sorry ass.

Unlike the patsies at the Fox News Channel, Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald will press Cheney to tell the truth. The interrogation should show Cheney's determination to defame Wilson in his attempts to conceal a major lie used to sell the war.

When Cheney testifies, we can be assured the suffering he unleashed in Iraq will still be raging in spite of his macho claim that more troops there will "complete the task," that the escalation is a "good strategy" and "it will work."

Cheney made those crazy claims to Blitzer. Maybe Cheney had "a beer at lunch," as he did before shooting his hunting companion, or he's come upon a stash of LSD not found since the 1970s. Whatever substance or psychosis fuels Cheney, his assertions are flat-out nuts. Here's the man who brought us the worst foreign-policy disaster in American history, a war that cannot be won, and gave terrorists their recruitment posters now claiming the latest chapter in his long book of failures "will work."

Cheney is also beating the drums for war with Iran and he's crazy enough to order Bush to do that. William Rivers Pitt, author of "War in Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know," wrote a chilling piece on Cheney on the Smirking Chimp Web site (smirkingchimp.com).

Pitt argues in "A Cornered Animal" that Cheney is increasingly dangerous, with the Iraq war a disaster, the Libby trial ongoing and his sights on Iran reaching a critical mass of folly: "The combination of Iranian influence over Iraqi politics, bombast from the Bush administration, their execrable decision-making to date, and the fact that a second U.S. carrier battle group has steamed into the Persian Gulf is disquieting in and of itself. If you add to this already-volatile mix the perjury trial of Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, the potential for an explosion increases by orders of magnitude."

The infallible Cheney sees no errors in judgment or strategy in the war of choice he orchestrated in Iraq; the only flaw he sees are in the weak-kneed and impatient American people, sick of the deceptions and tired and angry over a conflict that has now lasted longer than World War II. Cheney says his plans are working "But we have to have the stomach to finish the job." What a jerk!

He certainly didn't have the stomach to fight in Vietnam, saying he had "other priorities" and getting five deferments to duck the draft. We are grateful to Ed Naha for the timeline of Cheney's deferments, including his final one when his wife, Lynne, became pregnant.

On Oct. 26, 1965, the Selective Service announced that -- as part of President Lyndon Johnson's plan to double draft calls -- "married men without children, who were previously exempted from the draft, will now be called up. Married men with children remain exempt."

Lynne Cheney's swelling belly kept Dick from having to test his stomach for war. Their daughter Elizabeth was born nine months and two days after the draft exemption was announced.

Elizabeth Cheney is now spewing the same kind of crap her daddy uses. In an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, she argued that those who want to end the war in Iraq are coddling al-Qaeda and "quitting helps the terrorists."

Until she left on pregnancy leave, Cheney was the deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, a job she had no credential to handle and that was given to her only because of her name. She is a cheap political hack who knows as much about the Middle East as her daddy does about honesty and humility.

Cheney's other daughter, Mary, is also pregnant and plans to raise the child with her female partner. When Blitzer asked the vice president about his daughter's decision, he scolded the reporter, "I think you're out of line with that question."

Wait a minute. It might have been out of line had Blitzer asked if singer David Crosby was the father, a task he did perform for singer Melissa Etheridge. But the issue of gays and lesbians having and raising children is a sore spot for the right-wing religious and family-values groups that are the base of Cheney and Bush's political support.

What made Cheney react was his predictable sanctimony when someone exposes his hypocrisy and duplicity. Jabba hates to be reminded of his flaws and failures, and we must fear more are on the way.

Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va. -- who did have the stomach to serve in Vietnam and whose son is now serving in Iraq-- lashed out at the war policies of "I'm the decision-maker" Bush and Cheney, who tells him what the decisions are. Delivering the Democratic response to the State of the Union address, Webb was spot on: "We are now as a nation held hostage to the predictable -- and predicted -- disarray that has followed the invasion of Iraq."

And then the former secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration spoke the plain truth: "The majority of the nation no loner supports the way this war is being fought; nor does the majority of the military. We need an immediate shift toward strong, regionally based diplomacy, a policy that takes our soldiers off the streets of Iraq's cities, and a formula that will in short order allow our combat forces to leave Iraq."

"Diplomacy," "soldiers off the streets": Those are fighting words in Cheney's world and Jabba's galaxy. They prefer flaming finales.

Bill Gallagher, a Peabody Award winner, is a former Niagara Falls city councilman who now covers Detroit for Fox2 News. His e-mail address is gallaghernewsman@sbcglobal.net.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com January 30 2007