David Hicks to Serve Nine Months for Terror

Guantanamo Bay inmate David Hicks was sentenced on Friday to seven years’ prison for supporting a terrorist organization, yet he will serve only nine months of his sentence according to a plea deal struck with his US prosecutors. He will also be returned to Australia no later than May 29 to serve the remainder of his sentence, and could be free by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, legal challenges could overturn Mr Hicks’ conviction, resulting either in his even earlier release or his further detention and retrial at Guantanamo Bay.

Many legal and political analysts believe the relatively lenient sentence the military commission handed down to Mr Hicks – who faced life imprisonment prior to his plea negotiations – was intended to ease tensions between the US and the Australian government, who had lost patience with the delays in the trial process.

Mr Hicks’ incarceration without charge for five years has become a major electoral liability for Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who heads into a federal election at the end of 2007. His government is under fire for being silent on claims that Mr Hicks was denied a fair trial and physically abused at Guantanamo Bay.

Under the terms of his plea agreement, Mr Hicks is banned from speaking to the media for a year, selling his story or taking legal action against the US. He has also withdrawn all previous statements that he was physically abused by the US military.

In a confession statement read aloud by commission judge Colonel Ralph Kohlmann, Mr Hicks said he traveled to Afghanistan in January 2001 to attend an al Qaeda training camp where he learned to use weapons, land mines and explosives. In April 2001, he attended a second course in guerilla warfare and mountain fighting. During this time, he met Osama bin Laden to whom he complained that there were no English-language training manuals. In June 2001, he took a third course on urban warfare, which included sniper training, kidnapping and assassination. He also conducted surveillance of the former US embassy in Kabul.

Mr Hicks’ confession also stated that he traveled to Pakistan on September 9, 2001 and two days later saw the televised attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York – of which he denied having any prior knowledge. The following day, he returned to Afghanistan. When the US started bombing Afghanistan on October 7, Mr Hicks fought alongside the Taliban and al Qaeda. One week later, he sold his gun for cab fare as he tried to flee to Pakistan. At that point, he said he was captured.

As Mr Hicks’ confession and conviction make headlines around the world, the legitimacy of the US military commissions has been questioned in most reports.

On Thursday, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said in his testimony to Congress that he had tried to persuade President Bush to close down Guantanamo Bay prison camp and have the trials moved from Cuba to the US, because “I felt that no matter how transparent, no matter how open the trials, if they took place at Guantanamo, in the international community they would lack credibility.”

Nevertheless, the Bush administration and the Howard government have hailed Mr Hicks’ conviction as a victory in the war on terror and a vindication of the US military tribunals. Mr Howard told reporters in Sydney, “Whatever may be the rhetorical responses of some and particularly the government’s critics, the facts speak for themselves. He pleaded guilty to knowingly assisting a terrorist organization, namely al Qaeda. He’s not a hero in my eyes and he ought not to be a hero in the eyes of any people in the Australian community. The bottom line will always be that he pleaded guilty to knowingly assisting a terrorist organization.”

However, Professor of Law George Williams of the University of New South Wales wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald that, because Mr Hicks was denied his usual rights within the legal systems of both the US and Australia, challenges in both countries’ major justice venues could produce very different outcomes.

One current challenge proceeding to the US Supreme Court may result in the military commissions being declared illegal and Mr Hicks’ conviction being overturned. If that happened while Mr Hicks were still in US custody, he would need to be retried. Yet if he had already been transferred to an Australian prison, he could either be returned to Guantanamo Bay for retrial or released early into the Australian community.

The High Court of Australia could also overturn Mr Hicks’ conviction on a number of grounds. Firstly, Australians can only be imprisoned by a court order and as such the military commissions do not qualify. Secondly, Mr Hicks pleaded guilty to an offence that is not a war crime under the Geneva Conventions and is retrospective, because it did not exist at the time of his arrest in 2001. Thirdly, the trial process could be deemed unfair due to the admissibility of hearsay statements and evidence obtained by coercion. Finally, a number of statements on the public record appear to indicate that US military officials pre-judged the guilt of Guantanamo detainees.

Once repatriated, if Mr Hicks’ conviction were overturned by an Australian court for any of the above reasons, he would most likely be freed immediately.

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Second British Sailor “Confesses” on Iranian TV

Iran’s televised broadcast of a second British sailor confessing to trespassing has further escalated the week-long crisis which began when Iran captured 15 British sailors and marines who had allegedly strayed into Iranian waters in the Persian Gulf.

“We trespassed without permission,” said the sailor, who gave his name as Nathan Thomas Summers. “I would like to apologize for entering your waters without any permission … I deeply apologize.”

In the video, three soldiers in uniform – one a woman, also wearing a headscarf – talked in front a floral curtain. Iran has rescinded its offer to release the only female captive, Faye Turney, who also apologized on Iranian television on Wednesday; she appeared wearing the Muslim hijab and smoking a cigarette.

The Iranian embassy in London has also released two letters it says were written by Ms Turney. The second letter calls on Britain to withdraw its troops from Iraq. “Isn’t it time for us to start withdrawing our forces from Iraq and let them determine their own future?” asked the letter, which was addressed to the British parliament and faxed to Reuters from the Iranian embassy.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair expressed dismay at the latest televised broadcast. “I really don’t know why the Iranian regime keeps doing this. All it does is enhance peoples’ disgust at captured personnel being paraded and manipulated in this way,” he said. “What the Iranians have to realize is that if they continue in this way they will face increasing isolation.”

On Thursday, the UN Security Council passed a resolution that expressed “grave concern” at Iran’s detention of the British soldiers called for their release. The resolution was supported by Belgium, France, Italy, Panama, Peru, Slovakia and the US. Britain will now press European Union foreign ministers to introduce economic sanctions against Iran.

The British government is also considering a letter, delivered by Iran’s Foreign Ministry to the British embassy in Tehran, which is apparently similar to a statement used to resolve the 2004 crisis when the Iranian government detained eight British soldiers for three days.

The letter states that Iran “… emphasizes the respect for the rules and principles of international law concerning the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states, underlines the responsibility of the British government for the consequences of such violation, and calls for the guarantee to avoid the recurrence of such acts.”

Last Friday, Iran intercepted two small boats carrying 15 crewmembers of the HMS Cornwall who had been inspecting an Indian merchant ship in the Persian Gulf. The British and Iranian governments are locked in dispute over the exact location of the boats when the crew were seized. The British insist they were well within Iraqi waters, while Iran maintains they had strayed into Iranian territory. The crisis has dramatically escalated over the past week, especially since the televised ‘confessions’.

Meanwhile, US military officials announced on Thursday that they will end naval maneuvers involving two aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf. President Bush said at the time of their deployment that their presence would reassure US allies of America’s commitment to security and stability in the Middle East. However, political and military analysts said the forceful display of US military might on Iran’s doorstep was designed to apply pressure on the Iranians at a time when they are accused of developing nuclear weapons and assisting the insurgency in Iraq.

Last month, Iran announced that it had successfully tested missiles that could “sink big warships” in the Gulf.

Karim Sadjadpour, an Iranian expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told PBS’ NewsHour that he believes the Iranians have escalated the current crisis with the British captives in order to appear strong in standing up to the West while minimizing the potential for military conflict.

“In my opinion, this is much more an act of desperation rather than provocation,” he said. “Iran feels under siege. There’s US aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf, Iranian officials being detained in Iraq, and the sanctions of the UN Security Council, and they want to show to the West that, if you want to escalate, we can reciprocate. And it’s a lot easier to act against the British without fear of repercussions.”

Twelve Iraqi Police Detained for Sunni Tel Afar Slaughter

Twelve Iraqi police have been detained in connection with the slaughter of seventy Sunni men and boys in the northern city of Tel Afar overnight, apparently in revenge for a double suicide bombing on Tuesday in which 85 people were killed and 150 wounded.

The overnight rampage in the Sunni neighborhood of al-Wihda began at 2 a.m. and lasted several hours, as Iraqi police and Shiite militants dragged men and teenaged boys from their beds and shot them in the back of the head.

“I wish you can come and see all the bodies. They are lying in the grounds. We don’t have enough space in the hospital. All of the victims were shot in the head,” one doctor told Reuters by telephone from the main hospital in Tal Afar. “Between 50 and 55 people were killed. I’ve never seen such a thing in my life.”

Major-General Khorshid Saleem, who heads the Third Army Division in Tal Afar, put the death toll at 70 and said that 30 more men and boys had been wounded and 40 kidnapped.

The carnage only stopped when a contingent of Iraqi troops arrived to take control. They quickly imposed a curfew and rounded up twelve policemen and six Shiite militiamen they claim were responsible for the bloodshed.

Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has ordered an inquiry into the incident.

Only last year President Bush pronounced Tel Afar, an agrarian city in the Ninawa province close the regional capital of Mosul and the Syrian border, an example of US military success in Iraq. Tel Afar had been notorious as a northern insurgent haven and a point of entry for foreign fighters, until the US military established a strong presence there in 2005, in partnership with local Iraqi police and security forces.

However, sectarian tensions have recently been rising between Shiite and Sunni residents, who are mostly ethnic Iraqi Turkmen.

On Tuesday, two trucks exploded in the northern and central districts of Tel Afar, leaving 55 people dead and 180 wounded. The first suicide bomber posed as a humanitarian relief worker distributing sacks of flour in a Shiite neighborhood. Once a crowd of local residents had gathered around his truck, he detonated the explosives. Minutes later, a second suicide bomber blew up his vehicle in a used car lot in a religiously mixed area of Tel Afar.

With US and Iraqi forces focused primarily on quelling sectarian violence in Baghdad, other areas of Iraq have seen a spike in violence.

In Fallujah, insurgents carried out two coordinated attacks on Wednesday. Eight Iraqi soldiers were killed at a checkpoint outside a US military base when two suicide car bombs exploded. A US military statement said there would have been more casualties had the Iraqi police not identified and fired on the bombers.

“Iraqi police identified the first suicide attacker and fired on the truck, causing it to detonate before reaching the compound,” said the statement. “Iraqi Army soldiers spotted the second suicide truck approaching the gate and engaged it with small arms fire, causing it to also detonate near the entrance of the compound.”

Earlier on Wednesday, two chlorine truck bombs were used to attack a local government building, wounding dozens of US and Iraqi soldiers, many of whom suffered chlorine poisoning. “Numerous Iraqi soldiers and policemen are being treated for symptoms such as labored breathing, nausea, skin irritation and vomiting that are synonymous with chlorine inhalation,” said a statement issued by the US military.

There has also been an increase in the number of rocket and mortar attacks on the fortified Green Zone in Baghdad which houses the US military compound, the US embassy and most Iraqi government offices. On Tuesday, one US soldier and one US contractor were killed by exploding mortars. Over the past three days, nine people have also been wounded inside the Zone.

This week, the US Senate voted 50-48 to set a timeline for a complete withdrawal of US troops from Iraq by March 31, 2008. With the proposed no-timeline amendment defeated, the Senate will now vote on the full Senate Emergency Appropriations Bill.

However, President Bush remains opposed to any timelines for troop withdrawal and has made it clear that he will veto the legislation.

David Hicks Pleads Guilty to Helping al Qaeda

Last night, Australian David Hicks became the first terror suspect to be arraigned at Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba since the controversial facility opened more than five years ago.

Mr Hicks had been scheduled to appear before a military tribunal in November 2005, but this was cancelled after the US Supreme Court ruled that the Bush administration’s initial trial process was unconstitutional. The current hearing is being held under the new Military Commissions Act of 2006.

In a surprise move, Mr Hicks, 31, pleaded guilty to one charge of material support for terrorism related to helping al Qaeda fight US troops during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. Three charges that had previously brought against him – attempted murder, conspiracy and aiding the enemy – were recently dropped.

It is believed that the plea was negotiated just before 8.30 pm local time, to avoid the 20-year prison term that chief prosecutor Air Force Colonel Moe Davis suggested might be imposed if Mr Hicks were tried and found guilty.

David McLeod, his Australian lawyer, said: “Obviously all the options have to be discussed, from ‘not guilty and tough it out’, through to ‘how do I get out of here at the earliest opportunity?’”Mr McLeod also said he believes the military commission is unfair and designed to obtain convictions.

One of the long-standing criticisms of both the previous and current military tribunal processes is the admissibility of evidence obtained by means of coercion.

Yesterday, Mr Hicks’ hearing began with the presiding officer, Colonel Ralph Kohlmann, barring the participation of two lawyers who had been working with Mr Hicks over the past two and a half years.

One of the attorneys, Rebecca Snyder, was removed from the case on the basis that the commission could only allow civilians to represent detainees if there was no expense incurred by the US government; Ms Snyder works for the Pentagon. Then criminal defense lawyer Joshua Dratel was disqualified from representing Mr Hicks when he refused to agree to procedural rules that had not yet been defined. He said, “I can’t sign a document that provides a blank check on my ethical obligations.”

Mr Hicks, who had long intended to plead not guilty, became alarmed as his legal team dissolved. When Colonel Kohlmann asked if he wanted Mr Dratel to remain at his side despite being disqualified, Mr Hicks responded, “I’m shocked because I just lost another lawyer. What’s the sense of him sitting here if he’s not my lawyer and can’t represent me?”

This left only US Marine Major Michael Mori to represent Mr Hicks. Major Mori has been an indefatigable advocate for Mr Hicks since being appointed his defense counsel in 2003, often appearing in the Australian media to criticize both the US and Australian governments for allowing Mr Hicks to be subjected to inhumane treatment,  extended interrogations and years of detention at Guantanamo Bay without being charged. Major Mori has also been a fierce critic of what he sees as the lack of judicial fairness of the Bush administration’s military commissions.

Jennifer Daskal, an attorney who is observing the Guantanamo Bay military commissions for Human Rights Watch, condemned yesterday’s proceedings. “These trials are the United States’ chance to restore its moral authority and reputation as a leading proponent of the rule of law,” she said. “Instead, today’s antics highlighted the illegitimacy of a hastily crafted process without established precedent or established rules. It appears that Mr Hicks was strong-armed into pleading guilty after two of his counsel were thrown off the case.”

Chief prosecutor Colonel Davis rejected this interpretation, insisting that the process is fair and robust, and would “stack up at least equally if not better than any other system on the planet”.

Colonel Kohlmann is expected to accept Mr Hicks’ guilty plea later this week.

Under a long-standing diplomatic agreement, Mr Hicks will serve his prison sentence in Australia.

US Senate Authorizes Subpoenas of Bush Officials

Today, the US Senate authorized subpoenas compelling Bush administration officials to give sworn testimony to Congress regarding the circumstances under which eight federal prosecutors were fired in December. However, there are no immediate plans to issue the subpoenas.

“We’re authorizing that ability but we’re not issuing them,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). “It’ll only strengthen our hand in getting to the bottom of this.”

Congressional Republicans are also urging caution. “I counsel my colleagues, both Democrats and Republicans, to work hard to avoid an impasse. We don’t need a constitutional confrontation,” said Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the panel’s ranking Republican.

President Bush will almost certainly invoke Executive Privilege if the subpoenas are served.

Thus, what began as a scandal over political interference in the federal administration of justice may soon approach a constitutional crisis, and the battle between Congress and the White House could well end up in the US Supreme Court.

President Bush has rejected outright the prospect of his aides testifying under oath in public, arguing that it would set a harmful precedent for the separation of powers and damage the institution of the presidency.

Instead, he offered to allow senior administration officials – including top Bush political advisor Karl Rove, former White House counsel Harriet Miers, and the embattled US Attorney General’s former chief of staff Kyle Sampson – to privately discuss the attorneys’ dismissals with Congress.

Mr Bush’s offer includes stringent conditions that there be no public testimony, no testimony under oath, no transcripts of discussions and no calling witnesses back to answer further questions.

These provisos have not gone over well with Congressional Democrats.

“Anyone who would take that deal isn’t playing with a full deck,” said Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who added that it would be “outrageous” to allow Mr Rove to testify off the record. “Congress and the American people deserve a straight answer. If Karl Rove plans to tell the truth, he has nothing to fear from being under oath like any other witness.”

Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) agreed, “To insist that these interviews be conducted privately, not under oath, and with no transcript, I would suggest borders on insulting this committee and this Congress.”

But Mr Bush defended the offer: “The proposal we put forward is a good one. There really is a way for people to get information. We’ll just find out what’s on their mind.”

US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and other Department of Justice officials initially told Congress that the dismissals of eight federal prosecutors had been carried out due to their poor job performance. Officials have since backed down from that claim, after the prosecutors’ favorable performance evaluations came to light.

The White House has continually argued that federal attorneys can be fired for any reason since they are “political” appointees who “serve at the pleasure of the President.”

However, critics counter that this is not the case if there is criminal wrongdoing.  Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said that if an attorney is fired “to stop an ongoing investigation, then you do get into the criminal area.”

One of the fired attorneys, Carol Lam of California, successfully prosecuted Republican congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham, who is now serving eight years in federal prison for conspiracy to commit bribery, mail fraud, wire fraud and tax evasion. On the basis of evidence uncovered in that case, Ms Lam had decided to broaden her investigation. Department of Justice e-mails released last week include one authored by Mr Sampson which referred to “the real problem we have right now with Carol Lam that leads me to conclude that we should have someone ready to be nominated on 11/18, the day her 4-year term expires.” This has raised suspicions that the Bush administration wanted to stop an investigation that targeted Republicans.

Meanwhile, David Iglesias of New Mexico, another of the fired attorneys, recently told Fox News, “Performance has nothing to do with this. This is a political hit.” Mr Iglesias said he was fired after Senator Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) complained to Bush administration officials that he hadn’t prosecuted Democrats over alleged voter fraud, despite there being insufficient evidence. Mr Iglesias also told the New York Times, “I thought I was insulated from politics, but now I find out that main Justice was up to its eyeballs in partisan political maneuvering.”

Atlee W. Wampler III, chairman of a national organization of former US attorneys and a prosecutor who served in the Carter and Reagan administrations, said in the same NYT report, “People who understand the history and the mission of the United States attorney and Justice Department — they are uniformly appalled, horrified.” He added, “Any American should be disturbed.”

Mr Rove became a central figure in the unfolding scandal when it was revealed that one of the dismissed attorneys, Bud Cummins of Arkansas, had been immediately replaced with Mr Rove’s protégé, Tim Griffin. Another of Mr Sampson’s e-mails confirmed that “getting him [Griffin] appointed was important to Harriet, Karl, etc.” Yet Congress had initially been assured that there had been no White House involvement in the attorneys’ firings.

“After two months of stonewalling, shifting stories and misleading testimony, it is clear that we are still not getting the truth about the decision to fire these prosecutors and its cover-up,” said Linda Sanchez, who chairs the House judiciary subcommittee on commercial and administrative law which approved the subpoenas on Wednesday. “There must be accountability.”

Suicide Bomb Kills American in Afghanistan

One US diplomat and several US embassy officials were wounded, some of them seriously, when a suicide car bomber targeted their convoy in Afghanistan on Monday. It was the ninth suicide attack in Afghanistan during the past week.

US Ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald Neumann was not traveling in the convoy when it was attacked.

According to the Associated Press, one person died in the bombing. There are conflicting reports regarding the number of wounded, but several local Afghan civilians and children are understood to have been injured.

The US convoy was attacked in eastern Kabul on Jalalabad Road, a busy thoroughfare which leads east out of the capital. The road is frequently used by NATO and US-led coalition forces battling the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.

Two US vehicles were badly damaged in the blast. One SUV was split in half and its front end blown to the opposite side of the road.

The amount of damage was reportedly reduced in this attack, when the full load of explosives failed to detonate.

Mullah Dadullah, a senior Taliban commander, claimed responsibility for the attack in an interview with Reuters by satellite phone from a secret location, in which he also claimed that several US soldiers had been killed. He also said the insurgents were planning more attacks.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force has cordoned off the area, keeping curious locals and journalists at bay, while helicopters survey the scene from overhead.

After the bombing, the US embassy closed down and sent out a security alert to Americans living in Kabul.

On February 27, a suicide bomber blew up the entrance to the Bagram US military base 30 miles north of Kabul during a visit by US Vice-President Dick Cheney. The blast killed 23 troops and wounded a further 20. In September, a suicide bombing near the US embassy in Kabul killed 16 people, including two US soldiers.

Taliban commanders have long warned that 2,000 suicide bombers would soon launch a bloody spring offensive against foreign troops in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has seen a surge in Iraq-style guerilla warfare over the past year, especially over the past few weeks. These tactics, which include suicide attacks and roadside bombings, were brought to Afghanistan by al Qaeda.

Al Qaeda has re-joined forces with the Taliban insurgency and is believed to have re-established terrorist training camps in southern Afghanistan.

Bush Administration Flamed Valerie Wilson Plame

In a move unprecedented in US history, the Bush administration recklessly blew the cover a CIA agent and breached national security safeguards for purely political reasons, the US House Oversight and Government Reform Committee was told on Friday.

At the hearing which examined the White House’s handling of classified information, Valerie Plame Wilson stated that Bush administration officials had “recklessly and carelessly” abused their power by disclosing her identity to the media for the “purely political motive” of discrediting her husband, a former US Ambassador who publicly challenged the veracity of statements made by President Bush regarding Iraq’s alleged attempts to obtain yellowcake uranium in his State of the Union Address two months before invading Iraq in 2003.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who chairs the committee, opened the hearing by listing some of the consequences of revealing Ms Wilson’s top-secret identity, which he called “an extraordinary breach of national security”. He said, “The disclosure of Ms Wilson’s employment with the CIA had several serious effects. First, it terminated her covert job opportunities with CIA. Second, it placed her professional contacts at greater risk. And third, it undermined the trust and confidence with which future CIA employees and sources hold the United States.” Mr Waxman also said to Ms Wilson, “They made you collateral damage … Your life may have been in jeopardy, and they didn’t seem to care.”

President Bush reportedly gave the order to discredit Ms Wilson’s husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who traveled to Niger at the request of the CIA in February 2002 to investigate whether Saddam Hussein had attempted to obtain yellowcake uranium from Niger for a nuclear weapons program. Mr Wilson determined that there was no evidence to support the claim. Then, after the Bush administration misrepresented his findings, invaded Iraq and failed to find weapons of mass destruction, Mr Wilson published an opinion piece in the New York Times on July 6, 2003 to make clear the evidence that had actually been presented to the White House as a result of his mission.

President Bush has maintained that he never ordered that the identity of Ms Wilson be revealed. Nevertheless, the campaign to discredit the former ambassador involved administration officials creating the impression that Mr Wilson’s CIA mission had been no more than a junket organized by his wife. This campaign was carried out by White House political advisor Karl Rove, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, Vice-President Dick Cheney and Mr Cheney’s former Chief of Staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Mr Libby was recently convicted of four felonies relating to the leak of Ms Wilson’s top-secret identity: two counts of perjury, one of obstruction of justice and one of making false statements to federal investigators.

Ms Wilson testified that she had not suggested her husband for the CIA mission to Niger in 2002. She said Mr Wilson had been selected by senior intelligence officials on the basis that he “had already gone on some CIA missions previously to deal with other nuclear matters”.

Ms Wilson told the hearing that, while she and her colleagues had always understood that “we might be exposed and threatened by foreign enemies … it was a terrible irony that administration officials were the ones who destroyed my cover.” Ms Wilson said she felt like she had been “hit in the gut” when she saw her name appear in an article written by syndicated columnist Robert Novak on July 14, 2003.

Contrary to claims made by the Bush administration, Ms Wilson testified that she was in fact an undercover CIA agent – with her employment status classified under an executive order – when her identity was leaked in 2003. Thus, the leak amounted to a criminal offence and, as a result, the CIA immediately filed a Crimes Report with the Department of Justice. There have been no prosecutions to date for any of the officials who blew Ms Wilson’s cover.

Rep. Thomas Davis (R-Va.), the committee’s top Republican, defended the Bush administration on this point and suggested that Ms Wilson and the CIA should shoulder some of the blame for the leak. “Shouldn’t the CIA have made sure that anyone who knew your name and your work be told of your [undercover] status?” asked Mr Davis. “Would that have been helpful in this case? That would have made it very clear, if anybody leaked it at that point they were violating the law, at least?” Ms Wilson responded that the CIA went to great lengths and considerable expense to protect the identity of its officers, but “it’s not a perfect world”.

Mr Davis then asked Ms Wilson whether anyone had ever told her that her identity was protected by a federal law that makes it a crime to knowingly disclose a covert agent’s identity. She said she could not recall ever being given that information explicitly.

Ms Wilson testified that she was working in the counterproliferation division of the CIA tracking the global development of illicit weapons when her cover was blown. Describing her duties at the time, she said her job was to “discover solid intelligence for senior policymakers on Iraq’s presumed weapons of mass destruction program” which required that she travel “to foreign countries on secret missions to find vital intelligence”.

Chairman Waxman stated that Ms Wilson had undertaken serious risks to serve her country, including “significant risks to her personal safety and her life”. Given the security implications for her colleagues and contacts, maintaining her cover was critically important. He also said that, while the Bush administration had revealed her identity, she had “taken a life-long oath to protect classified information, even after her CIA employment has ended”. She is thus unable to respond to many statements made about her and her work.

Mr Waxman acknowledged Ms Wilson’s twenty years of service at the CIA and said, “I want to thank Ms Wilson for the tremendous service she gave to our country and recognize the remarkable personal sacrifices that she and countless others have made to protect our national security. You and your colleagues perform truly heroic work and what happened to you not only should never have happened, but we should all work to make sure it never happens again.”

After the hearing, Mr Waxman sent a letter to Joshua Bolten, Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff, which said that the evidence presented at the hearing had “described breach after breach of national security requirements at the White House”. In the letter, Mr Waxman asked for a complete account of action taken by the White House “to investigate how the leak occurred, to review the security clearances of the White House officials implicated in the leak, to impose administrative or disciplinary sanctions on the officials involved in the leak, and to review and revise existing White House security procedures to prevent future breaches of national security.”

There are serious criminal offences attending the disclosure of Ms Wilson’s identity; they relate to Executive Order 12958, the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, the Espionage Act, Title 18 Section 641, conspiracy to impede or injure officers and the Classified Information Nondisclosure Agreement.

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