Should George Tenet give up his Medal of Freedom?

A group of former CIA officers says yes. I can't believe he accepted it to begin with.

Published April 30, 2007 9:45PM (EDT)

Newsweek reports that a group of former CIA officials led by Larry Johnson is demanding that former CIA Director George Tenet return his Medal of Freedom and donate half the profits from his book "At the Center of the Storm" to charities for wounded Iraq vets. It's not exactly friendly advice: The group is calling Tenet "the Alberto Gonzales of the intelligence community" for his belated admissions that he knew the administration's case for war with Iraq was shoddy but chose not to tell the American people.

Glenn Greenwald noted today that neocons are beginning to smear Tenet, now that he's naming names, but I don't think the former CIA director deserves any sympathy. (Juan Cole makes that clear.) Tenet's "revelations" come five years after he failed to fight the neocon hawks, four years after the war began and almost three years after he resigned his position. Had he gone public sooner, as did former Clinton administration counterterror czar Richard Clarke, Bush might never have been reelected in 2004. Now that the president's approval rating is in the 20s and the vast majority of Americans think the war is a mistake, George Tenet finds his voice?

Particularly galling, to me, is that Tenet accepted the Medal of Freedom nine months after Clarke's book was published (and smeared by the administration and its neoconservative friends) in March 2004. The photo of Bush hanging the medal around his neck (it's on that Newsweek story) should haunt Tenet all his life. It looks a little like a noose right now. I know the former CIA officers (all Bush critics) who wrote to Tenet today aren't trying to help out their old boss, but I still think they're giving him good advice: He should quietly mail the medal back to the White House, and donate his book proceeds to charity. It would be the beginning of trying to make up for his awful mistakes, not profit from them. Whatever happened to people who do shameful things slinking off in ... shame?

By Joan Walsh

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