- Laurence Silberman, a retired judge nominated by the
Bush administration as the co-chairman of the commission investigating
pre-war intelligence on Iraq, was involved in a major cover-up during the
Reagan era, his critics alleged yesterday.
- Mr Silberman sat on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance
Court of Review, which approved the expanded surveillance powers for the
justice department under the controversial Patriot Act.
- President Bush named him as the senior Republican on
a nine-member bipartisan commission examining how and why US intelligence
had been so wrong about Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction.
It will report next spring - well after the November elections.
- Democrats are sceptical about Judge Silberman's presence.
Nan Aron, head of the Alliance for Justice, a liberal pressure group, said:
"This is not a statesman of the sort the president should be seeking
to preside over this crucial and sensitive investigation."
- Judge Silberman is most notorious in American liberal
circles for his 1990 judgment overturning the conviction of Colonel Oliver
North, who admitted his central role in the Iran-Contra affair, in which
proceeds from secret arms sales to Iran were diverted illegally to the
Contra anti-communist rebels in Nicaragua.
- Col North, who coordinated the payments from the White
House, denied President Reagan knew what was going on. He became a martyr
for the American far right and the dismissal of his conviction caused uproar.
- Judge Silberman cast one of the two votes in the appeals
court that set him free. He is now a media commentator. The Republican-appointed
special prosecutor in the case, Lawrence Walsh, later wrote that Mr Silberman
should have been disqualified for his bias and his sympathy for Col North's
- As a former Reagan advisor, Mr Silberman took part in
a meeting between top Republicans and Iranian government representatives
during the 1980 election campaign, when the Carter administration was trying
to negotiate the release of American hostages in Tehran. Those negotiations
failed but the hostages were freed five minutes after President Reagan's
inauguration, provoking Democrat claims of a secret deal to delay the release
in return for military aid.
- Judge Silberman and two aides who took part in the meeting
later claimed they had rejected the Iranian offer of a deal and did not
even remember the name of the Iranian representative. But the meeting was
never reported to the state department, at a time of high tension in the
US-Iranian relations. Gary Sick, a former Iran expert on the national security
council who wrote a book about the affair, said Judge Silberman should
have withdrawn from the panel that considered Col North's appeal, and questioned
whether he was suitable to be co-chairman on the Iraq intelligence commission.
- "He always played politics. The fact that he was
nominated to this position does not give me any confidence that this will
be a purely bipartisan and objective," Prof Sick said. "I thought
it was a strange choice to head this commission. If you are looking for
credibility this is not the way you get it."
- Viet Dinh, a former clerk in Judge Silberman's chambers,
and former justice department official, came to his defence, telling the
Chicago Tribune: "I think Judge Silberman is one of the most, if not
the most, knowledgeable person on the federal bench about the intersection
of law and national security."
- The leading Democrat on the Iraq commission, Charles
Robb, a former senator and governor, is a moderate who critics doubt will
match Judge Silberman's fierce partisanship. Instead, they are placing
their trust in Senator John McCain, a maverick Republican who broke ranks
to call for a public inquiry, and Patricia Wald, a former judge at The
Hague war crimes tribunal for Yugoslavia.
- Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited