THE ITALIAN LETTER: HOW THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION USED A FAKE LETTER TO BUILD THE CASE FOR WAR IN IRAQ by Peter Eisner and Knut Royce (Rodale), 268 pages, $31 cloth. Rating: NNNN
Do these 16 words ring a bell? "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
With those infamous words, in his January 2003 State Of The Union address, President Bush made his strongest pitch for war. Yet no uranium was ever found in the ruins of the militarily anemic police state.
The remarkable story behind the origin of those 16 words is told in The Italian Letter, by Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporters Peter Eisner and Knut Royce.
The trail leads back to Rocco Martino, an enigmatic, elderly sometime spy for Italian intelligence, who was pimping a collection of forged letters showing that Hussein had tried to purchase weapons-grade uranium from Niger in 2000.
Former U.S. ambassador Joe Wilson went to Niger on behalf of the CIA to check out the story and quickly concluded that the documents were part of a hoax.
Five months after the war began, Wilson dared to write about his findings in a lengthy editorial in the New York Times. For some in the Bush administration, this bit of truth-telling was too dangerous to go unchallenged. So they whispered that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, an undercover CIA officer, had sent her husband on a junket to Africa, their idea being that if he was on vacation, the diligence of his research debunking the sale of uranium to Iraq would be suspect.
This lie about African uranium was just part of the tapestry of deceit and dirty tricks woven by an incompetent, morally bankrupt group of conspirators in the Pentagon and the White House, with the help of intelligence agencies and Iraqi con men, to trick Congress into supporting a cruel and costly war.
When the history of this gruesome war is finally written, people will marvel at how this shoddy forgery became such an effective weapon in the Bush administration's arsenal of lies.