Every regime needs a fall guy (or woman) or two. In the United States, Vice-President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby now holds number this unenviable title. Yesterday he was convicted of obstruction of justice, perjury and lying to the FBI. He took the fall for both Cheney and President Bush in a case that goes to the heart of the false information put out to bolster the case for war against Iraq. Peculiarly, Libby has also taken the rap for the New Labour government on this side of the Atlantic. For the disinformation involved concerns allegations that Niger was selling uranium to Iraq that would be used to restart that country’s nuclear programme. The source for this fantasy was London. In his State of the Union address in January 2003, Bush said: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." Both governments and their intelligence agencies knew this to be totally untrue and that the documents that purported to show the sale were crude forgeries. But never let a few facts stand in the way of an invasion that had already been decided upon. When a career diplomat sent to Niger later exposed the story, the White House struck back with a vengeance. The diplomat’s wife was a spook, a leading CIA agent. Her name and work suddenly appeared in the press. Several journalists testified that Libby conveyed this information to the media, although he was not charged with this federal offence.
The Niger connection first appeared in the infamous "Dodgy Dossier" put out by the Blair government in September 2002. That dossier was cobbled together after Downing Street exerted pressure for the agencies to come up with what Blair wanted to hear. Libby, a leading member of the neo-con circle that had seized power in Washington, took the matter one step further. He helped Colin Powell, then secretary of state, draw up the now discredited dossier that was put before the UN Security Council on the eve of the invasion. The Niger claim was repeated, with Powell openly thanking Jack Straw, then foreign secretary. For the origins of the Niger claim, you have to go back to 2001. According to the Italian newspaper La Reppublica, the documents purporting to show the sale by Niger of 400 tons of uranium were offered to Bush by the then Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi in October of that year. The CIA dismissed them as forgeries and the matter was apparently dropped. But the Bush regime had already set up a parallel, secret spy network because of its distrust of the CIA. That group met with Italian intelligence officials in Rome later in 2001 and by all accounts resurrected the Niger connection. This was then recycled through British intelligence and back to the United States. Libby was essentially convicted of a cover-up. His prosecution says as much about internal conflicts within the capitalist state as it does about the rule of law. A question suddenly springs to mind. Could Lord Levy of Cashpoint, as he is known, suffer a similar fate to Libby’s? Could he end up being the fall guy for others? The Metropolitan Police is apparently determined to pursue the cash-for-honour scandal until the bitter end, when normally the men in blue would find easier ways to run up the overtime bill and move their careers on. Apparently, there is no smoking gun that shows peerages being offered in return for donations to New Labour. But it is suggested that there is mounting evidence of a cover-up and that the police will recommend charges be brought. Either way, the morning papers don’t make pleasant reading for Messrs Bush and Blair.
Paul Feldman, communications editor