By William Fisher
Millions of us shook our heads in disbelief as President George W. Bush made a cottage industry of rewarding the undeserving.
The cast of characters is long and Orwellian.
There’s Jay Bybee, the Justice Department lawyer who famously wrote the “torture memo” whose twisted logic somehow blew off the Geneva Conventions and justified the interrogation techniques that brought us Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and Guantanamo. Dubya rewarded him with a lifetime appointment as a federal judge.
Nor was Bybee’s boss, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, to be ignored. He got his reward by getting elevated to be the Attorney General of the United States – “the people’s lawyer.”
Then came that breathtakingly Kafkaesque White House ceremony where the nation’s highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, was conferred on yet more deserving folks.
There was General Tommy Franks, whose shock and awe led our troops into Baghdad without a clue about what to do when we got there.
And Ambassador Jerry Bremer, who became America’s proconsul in Iraq and arguably created history’s most inappropriate, arrogant and inefficient bureaucracy – wasting billions of dollars in taxpayer funds and managing to create many of the conditions that have now brought that country to the brink of civil war.
Not to forget George (It’s a slam-dunk) Tenet, the CIA Director who told the President exactly what the Vice-President and his Iraq cabal wanted to hear about Saddam’s WMD stockpiles, yellowcake in Niger, aluminum tubes, and mushroom clouds.
And the rewarding of the undeserving goes on, the latest example being Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. (“Get dogs!”) Miller, the Guantánamo Bay commandant who helped organize interrogation centers in Afghanistan and at Abu Ghraib. An Army investigation recommended that Gen. Miller be reprimanded for his key role in “GITMO-izing” Iraqi prisons, but that recommendation was turned down by his commanding officer. Instead, Gen. Miller was able to retire honorably with the military’s highest non-combat medal -- the Distinguished Service Medal -- pinned to his chest following a ceremony in – wait for it! -- the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes. The medal is for “exceptionally meritorious service to the government” beyond the performance of duty.
Well, what’s done can’t be undone, no matter how embarrassing it may be to our nation. But if there’s even a remote possibility that the President wants to restore the honor of the Medal of Freedom, I have a couple of nominees for him to consider.
The first is Stuart W. Bowen Jr., our special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction. Bowen, a Texas lawyer and longtime Bush loyalist – he spent 35 days in Florida during the 2000 presidential recount – was charged in 2004 with rooting out fraud, embezzlement and misappropriation of the billions Congress appropriated to rebuild Iraq.
He began his Congressionally-mandated work in Iraq under Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority, the CPA, but could find few who were interested in what he was finding. Since the dissolution of the CPA, and Bremer’s departure from Iraq, he has found and reported to Congress evidence of millions of “missing” dollars, arrant over-charging and substandard performance – or non-performance -- by contractors, dazzling lack of oversight by American authorities both in Iraq and in the U.S., and pervasive corruption among Iraqi leaders. Many of his findings have been referred to the Justice Department and will likely result in criminal charges.
Bowen’s findings, reports and Congressional testimonies are not likely to win him many friends in the Bush Administration – but that’s exactly the point. He deserves to be honored not only for what he’s found, but because in reporting what he’s found, he has put the nation’s interest above his own.
My second nominee for President Bush’s consideration is the Controller General of the United States – a title virtually unknown outside the Beltway. His name is David M. Walker. Formerly a partner at Arthur Anderson, he was appointed to his 15-year term by President Bill Clinton in 1998.
The Comptroller General is the nation’s chief accountability officer and head of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), a legislative branch agency founded in 1921. GAO’s mission is to help improve the performance and assure the accountability of the federal government for the benefit of the American people.
In that role, Walker has led hundreds of objective, fact-based, non-partisan investigations into government waste, fraud, and abuse – and has found no shortage of subject matter. No agency or department in the Executive Branch has been immune from GAO’s scrutiny – including, most recently, such sacred cows as the Department of Homeland Security and its FEMA unit, and the Pentagon’s non-existent systems to manage and account for the billions in its bloated budget.
While Walker’s staff works with each agency it is examining, and solicits and publishes their objections to GAO findings and recommendations, most Executive Branch agencies quietly regard GAO as the enemy.
In a large majority of cases, the investigated department expresses agreement with GAO findings, says it’s “working on the problem” or promises to do so but, far too often, does little or nothing to correct it -- a situation exacerbated by the pitiful state of Congressional oversight.
Walker’s mission is not made any easier by the paranoid secrecy of the Bush Administration. Nonetheless, the GAO is one of the few public bodies mandated to disinfect with sunshine. For that, it deserves the nation’s gratitude.
So, Mr. President, if the real meaning of the Medal of Freedom is of any consequence to you, you might start restoring it by honoring these two genuine public servants.
We’ll be watching.