Why Didn’t the General Testify Under Oath? Did Petraeus Betray Us?

September 12th, 2007 - by admin

Ray McGovern / Truthout.org & MoveOn.org – 2007-09-12 01:26:07


“Swear Him In”
Ray McGovern / t r u t h o u t | Perspective

WASHINGTON (September 10, 2007) — That’s all I said in the unusual silence on Monday afternoon as first aid was being administered to Gen. David Petraeus’s microphone before he spoke before the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committees.

It had dawned on me when House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Missouri) invited Gen. Petraeus to make his presentation, Skelton forgot to ask him to take the customary oath to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I had no idea my suggestion would be enough to get me thrown out of he hearing.

I had experienced a flashback to a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in early 2006, when Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) reminded chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania) that Specter had forgotten to swear in the witness, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; and how Specter insisted that would not be necessary.

Now that may, or may not, be an invidious comparison. But Petraeus and Gonzales work for the same boss, who has a rather unusual relationship with the truth. How many of his senior staff could readily be convicted, as was the hapless-and-now-commuted Scooter Libby, of perjury?

So, I didn’t think twice about it. I really thought Skelton perhaps forgot, and the ten-minute interlude of silence while they fixed the microphone was a good chance to raise this seemingly innocent question.

The more so since the ranking Republican representatives had been protesting too much. Practicing the obverse of “killing the messenger,” they had been canonizing the messenger with protective fire. Ranking Armed Services Committee member Duncan Hunter (R-California) began what amounted to a SWAT-team attack on the credibility of those who dared question the truthfulness of the sainted Petraeus, and issued a special press release decrying a full-page ad in today’s New York Times equating Petraeus with “Betray-us.”

Hunter served notice on any potential doubters, insisting Petraeus’s “capability, integrity, intelligence … are without question.” And Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida), ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, rang changes on the same theme, unwittingly choosing another infelicitous almost-homonym for the charges against Petraeus – “outrageous.”

Indeed, Hunter’s prepared statement, which he circulated before the hearing, amounted to little more than a full-scale “duty-honor-country” panegyric for the general. On the chance we did not hear him the first time, Hunter kept repeating how “independent” Petraeus is, how candid and full of integrity, and compared him to famous generals who testified to Congress in the past – Eisenhower, MacArthur and Schwarzkopf.

Hunter was smart enough to avoid any mention of Gen. William Westmoreland, commander of US forces in Vietnam, who fell tragically short on those traits. (See “Is Petraeus Today’s Westmoreland?”)

If memory serves, the aforementioned generals and Westmoreland were required to testify under oath. And this was one of the more embarrassing sticking points when CBS aired a program showing Westmoreland had deliberately dissembled on the strength of Communist forces and US “progress” in the war.

When Westmoreland sued CBS for libel, several of his subordinates came clean, and Westmoreland quickly dropped the suit. The analogy with Westmoreland – justifying a White House death wish to persist in an unwinnable war – is the apt one here.

If Petraeus is so honest and full of integrity, what possible objection could he have to being sworn in? I had not the slightest hesitation being sworn in when testifying before the committee assembled by John Conyers (D-Michigan) on June 16, 2005. Should generals be immune? Or, did Petraeus’s masters wish to give him a little more assurance he could play fast and loose with the truth without the consequences encountered by Scooter Libby?

With the microphone finally fixed, much became quickly clear. Petraeus tried to square a circle in his very first two paragraphs. In the first, he thanks the committees for the opportunity to “discuss the recommendations I recently provided to my chain of command for the way forward.” Then he stretches credulity well beyond the breaking point – at least for me:

“At the outset, I would like to note that this is my testimony. Although I have briefed my assessment and recommendations to my chain of command, I wrote this testimony myself. It has not been cleared by, nor shared with, anyone in the Pentagon, the White House, or Congress.”

Is not the commander in chief in Petraeus’s chain of command?

As Harry Truman (D-Missouri) would have said, “Does he think we were born yesterday?”

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Savior in Washington, DC. He was an Army infantry/intelligence officer in the early sixties and then a CIA analyst from 1963 to 1990. He had a front-seat for the charades orchestrated by Westmoreland in Vietnam.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Was Petraeus Trying to Betray Us?
Nita, Karin, Laura, Eli, and the MoveOn.org Political Action Team

(September 11th, 2007) — Yesterday, General David Petraeus misled the country. He used faulty statistics and cherry-picked intelligence to argue that American troops should stay in Iraq for the foreseeable future. The general said we’re making major progress (1) —and we have to stay the course. Sadly, independent assessments show that things in Iraq have gone from bad to worse (see below for more on how Petraeus stretched the truth).

Some of you have emailed to say it reminds you of the day four and a half years ago when President Bush sent General Colin Powell to the U.N. to make a trumped-up case for war.

Powell’s WMDs helped justify the invasion of Iraq, and Petraeus’ version of “progress”—if it goes unchallenged—will justify keeping troops there for years. Can you take a few minutes to write a letter-to-the editor reminding folks that the “surge” didn’t work—and that the responsible thing to do is bring our troops home?

Petraeus based much of his assessment on the claim that violence in Iraq is dropping. (2) That just isn’t true:

• Petraeus is using “funny math.” According to the Washington Post, Petraeus and the Pentagon are using a bizarre formula for measuring violence in the country. For example, deaths by car bombs don’t count. (3) And assassinations count only if you’re shot in the back of the head—not in the front. (4)

• Iraqis believe the surge has failed. According to a massive new ABC/BBC poll, every single Iraqi polled in Baghdad, the primary target of the “surge,” said it had made security worse. Iraqis themselves overwhelmingly think the situation in Iraq is deteriorating, in terms of security, political cooperation, the economy, and other measures. Overall, 70% think the escalation worsened rather than improved security conditions. (5)

• The independent GAO report found that violence is up. A comprehensive Government Accountability Office report ordered by Congress found that “average number of daily attacks against civilians have remained unchanged from February to July 2007.” (6) In August, things got worse, with civilian casualties rising according to the Associated Press (7) and the Los Angeles Times. (8)

• For our troops, it’s the bloodiest summer yet. More U.S. troops died every month this year compared to the same month last year. (9)

Petraeus claimed that he compiled his report without conferring with the White House. But the Washington Post recently reported that Petraeus or his staff joined daily conference calls with the White House and former RNC chairman Ed Gillespie this summer to “map out ways of selling the surge.” The Post reported that Gillespie’s White House political unit was “hard-wired” to Petraeus’ military unit. (10)

We would all like to see life improving in Iraq. But it’s not —it’s getting worse. And if US forces stay in Iraq both Americans and Iraqis will pay a terrible price.

Today is the anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in American history. The wounds of 9/11 are still fresh for many of us. After 9/11, President Bush used fear, lies and trumped-up intelligence to stampede us into Iraq. Now, America is bogged down in an unwinnable civil war, and Al Qaeda has regained enough strength to once again menace the United States. (11)

It would be a tragic irony if, six years later, the administration used skewed intelligence to head off the growing momentum for an exit strategy from Iraq.

Please write a letter reminding America and Congress not to fall, ever again, for White House lies—we need a timeline to bring our troops home.


P.S. Yesterday, MoveOn members sponsored an ad in the New York Times debunking Petraeus’ claims. Click here to see the ad— and the evidence to back it up:

The ad stirred a controversy on Capitol Hill — it accuses Petraeus of “cooking the books.” And it charges that Petraeus is betraying the American peoples’ trust by spinning the facts to support the White House. Some Democrats were uncomfortable with such strong language, and Republicans attacked MoveOn.

We’re sure if we’d run an ad debunking Colin Powell’s testimony in 2003, they would have done the same thing — but sometimes it’s important to set the facts straight.

• 1. Washington Post, “Petraeus Backs Initial Pullout,” 9/11/07
• 2. Ibid.
• 3. New York Times, “Time to Take a Stand,” 9/7/07
• 4. Washington Post, “Experts Doubt Drop in Violence in Iraq,” 9/6/07
• 5. ABC News, “Iraqis’ Own Surge Assessment,” 9/10/07
• 6. Washington Post, “Experts Doubt Drop in Violence in Iraq,” 9/6/07
• 7. Associated Press, “1,809 Iraqi civilians killed in August,” 9/1/07
• 8. Los Angeles Times, “Iraqi civilian deaths climb again,” 9/1/07
• 9. http://www.iCasualties.org
• 10. Washington Post, “Among Top Officials, ‘Surge’ Has Sparked Dissent, Infighting,” 9/9/07
• 11. Washington Post, “Scarier than Bin Laden,” 9/9/07