The recent spectacle of Congressional hearings on the alleged use of steroids and/or Human Growth Hormone (HGH) by Roger Clemons, a professional baseball player nicknamed “the Rocket,” throws into question the viability and functionality of a Congress controlled by the Democratic Party. The House Government Reform Committee, chaired by Representative Henry Waxman (D-California), carried out its own made-for-television version of Court TV, grilling the All Star pitcher and his former trainer over their contradictory statements as to whether or not Clemons actually was injected with a banned performance enhancing substance. While this hearing was underway, thousands of miles away, in Iraq, American service members continued the ugly business of occupying Iraq. That Waxman would abuse his position by pursuing such trivia while Americans continued to fight and die in a war built exclusively on a framework of lies is disturbing.
True, Henry Waxman has chaired numerous hearings, and issued even more statements, which have resulted in several embarrassing questions being asked by the Government Reform Committee of a recalcitrant White House. But none of Henry Waxman’s efforts have produced the high drama of the Clemons hearings, where every word was wrestled with, every context explored. Forensic data was introduced. Reputations were (and are) on the line. The consequences are potentially grave: perjury charges could be brought forward against Clemons and others. What was the source of this commotion? Simply put, a few syringes and a game. Baseball might be the national pastime, perhaps, but it remains a game nonetheless. War is all-too real, and the war in Iraq has cost nearly 4,000 Americans their lives, while wounding tens of thousands more, while killing and wounding hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.
At the same time Henry Waxman’s committee was grilling the Cy Young award-winning pitcher, the House Foreign Affairs Committee was holding hearings of its own, on the issue of Iraq. Another Democrat, Representative Robert Wexler (D-Florida), raised the matter of findings from a report issued by the Center for Public Integrity, issued last month, that document some 935 allegations of false statements made by the Bush administration in the lead up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Of particular interest to Wexler were 56 of those allegedly false statements attributed to the witness seated before the committee, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who had served as the National Security Advisor in the period of time when the alleged false statements were made.
To his credit, Representative Wexler pressed home his point, namely that Condi Rice had lied when she helped make the case for war against Iraq by selectively citing certain intelligence information while suppressing others. Secretary Rice, of course, denied any wrongdoing, leaving America with a curt point-counterpoint exchange which served little purpose when it comes to the matter of the search for truth and accountability through oversight. When Roger Clemons denied the charges leveled at him, the robust overseers of Congressional Constitutional mandate who populate the Government Reform Committee subjected him to a withering round of cross-examination full of recrimination and doubt. Following Wexler’s brief moment of inquiry, Condi Rice was let off without further reproach.
Clearly there are discrepancies between the charges leveled by Wexler and the responses offered by Rice. That the compendium of alleged false statements comes from an independent, non-governmental entity (the Center for Public Integrity) should not serve as a roadblock to further investigation and hearings into the matter: the Government Reform Committee was acting in response to an independent investigation, the Mitchell Report, authorized not by Congress, but rather the Commissioner of Baseball. Unlike the Mitchell Report, however, the matter of Bush administration prevarication concerning the false case made for war in Iraq delves not into the lives of private citizens, where the consequences get no bigger than inflated sports statistics, but rather the words and actions of elected officials which influenced public opinion and the will of Congress in a manner which has cost hundreds of billions of dollars and several thousand American lives.
Congress shouldn’t have to wait for a private organization like the Center for Public Integrity to do its job for it. The misrepresentation of fact, fabrication of falsehoods, and outright lies the Center for Public Integrity documents are all a matter of public record, most of which were derived from statements made before Congress itself.
That Congress puts the so-called integrity of a game ahead of its own Constitutional mandate of oversight of legitimate governance is a travesty. That this travesty is carried out in the face of a pledge by a Democratic-controlled Congress to effectively and responsibly carry out its duty to investigate how and why our nation went to war with Iraq is not only incomprehensible, but reprehensible.
Perhaps if Saddam Hussein had been accused of injecting HGH instead of hiding WMD, Congress would have stepped up to the plate, so to speak, and dug deep into the truth of the matter. Henry Waxman, as well meaning as he is, sits at the head of a legislative process which has lost touch with reality and purpose. Pandering to the no-risk approach of non-governance by pursuing “The Rocket” and allegations of HGH abuse, while ignoring the high-risk demands of legitimate government by pursuing matters pertaining to how the Bush administration manufactured evidence of illusory Iraqi rockets tipped with imagined WMD, represents the ultimate indictment of a Congress, and legislative process, that long ago lost touch with its ultimate purpose of being: the pursuit of the best interests of the American people through the defense of the rule of law as set forth by the United States Constitution.
Scott Ritter is a former UNSCOM weapons inspector in Iraq and the author of Target Iran: The Truth Behind the White House’s Plans for Regime Change (Nation Books, 2006).
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