Tell the Truth


It’s been said often that while everyone is entitled to his own opinion, no one is entitled to his own facts. Today, we hear misstatements all the time. Some of them are deliberate lies. Some of them are just mistakes.

A House committee has just exposed the terrible fact that Army officials fabricated a story about the death of Pat Tillman and lied through their teeth. The Army knew from Day One that Tillman died from so-called friendly fire, but it was five weeks before Army officials got around to telling the family.

In the meantime, the Army falsified a citation to give him a Silver Star at his memorial service, which was turned into a media event — conveniently timed, his family now believes, to distract attention from the scandal of Abu Ghraib prison.

Tillman did not die fighting the enemy. He died of American bullets. The girl from West Virginia, Jessica Lynch, hailed as a female Rambo, in fact was knocked unconscious in a vehicle wreck before she ever had a chance to fire a shot. She woke up in an Iraqi hospital. To her credit, as soon as she recovered from her serious injuries, she always told the truth. The story had been spread by a "government source" that she had fought heroically until the last bullet.

Lies and faulty memories (Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testified under oath 71 times that he could not recall or recollect) should not be tolerated even by this pathologically tolerant society. Mistakes can be forgiven, but deliberate lies are hostile acts. The liar is trying to subvert your mind and manipulate you into a position favorable to him. Calling a man a liar was once an act that would prompt a duel, but today people seem to shrug it off.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., recently misstated some information about Saddam Hussein in his attempt to defend the president’s position. He said, for example, that Saddam fired "at our planes every day in defiance of U.N. resolutions." Not true. The no-fly zones were never authorized or approved by the Security Council. They were imposed by George H.W. Bush.

After the end of Gulf War I, the CIA grossly miscalculated the damage done to Saddam’s army. Consequently, the CIA urged the Shiites and the Kurds to rise up in rebellion and finish off Saddam’s government. When Saddam’s army began to slaughter both the Shiites and the Kurds, an embarrassed U.S. hurriedly imposed the no-fly zones.

Graham said Hussein sent checks to the families of suicide bombers in Palestine. This is a partial truth. Saddam had been sending checks to the families of all Palestinians killed in the struggle for independence before the suicide-bombing tactic was taken up. He was not subsidizing terror. He was subsidizing the Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation.

The members of the House and Senate have great resources available to them. Not only do they have large staffs, but there are also the Congressional Research Service, the Government Accountability Office, the great Library of Congress and the Congressional Budget Office. It seems they should have no excuse for not getting their facts straight.

The problem is that most of them, most of the time, concentrate on getting re-elected. In the 18th and 19th century, a contemptuous description of such people was "officeholders." Seems mild, but it was meant to separate the statesmen from the politicians with no agenda but their own political welfare.

It’s impossible to have a legitimate debate about anything if the participants lie, don’t know the basic facts of the issue or deliberately distort their opponents’ position. Self-government is the most difficult of all the forms of government, and it requires honesty on everyone’s part to function.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.

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