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Then & Now: Joseph Wilson

Then: In 1990, Joseph Wilson, left, engaged in tense meetings with Iraqi officials, including Saddam Hussein.



Saddam Hussein
George W. Bush

(CNN) -- In 1991, the acting U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Joe Wilson, sheltered 800 Americans at the embassy in Baghdad during Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. Twelve years later, Wilson was thrust back onto the international stage when he accused President Bush of misleading the American people into another war with Iraq.

Accusations he claims cost his CIA-operative wife her anonymity and her job.

After he left Baghdad, Wilson was nominated by President George H.W. Bush as ambassador to Gabon. President Bill Clinton later named him to the National Security Council in charge of African affairs.

The uranium question

Wilson retired from public service in 1998. But in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, he was called back by the CIA to investigate whether Saddam Hussein tried to buy large quantities of uranium from the central African state of Niger.

After visiting Niger in February 2002, Wilson informed the CIA that Saddam did not purchase uranium yellowcake, which can be used to develop enriched uranium for nuclear weapons.

"I spent eight days there looking at this, found out there was nothing to the allegation. ... I came back; I submitted my report," Wilson said in an interview with the Institutes of International Studies at University of California at Berkeley in 2003.

"My report was one of three reports that were in the files of the U.S. government. ... And all three reports said essentially the same thing: 'This could not happen, did not happen; don't worry about it.' I assumed the vice president would sleep easier at night, knowing that he did not, in fact, have to worry about Iraq reconstituting its nuclear weapons programs using uranium from Niger."

Wilson was stunned when Bush stated in his 2003 State of the Union address, "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

In an op-ed piece published July 6, 2003, in The New York Times, Wilson accused the White House of using discredited intelligence to justify the war in Iraq.

"America's foreign policy depends on the sanctity of its information. For this reason, questioning the selective use of intelligence to justify the war in Iraq is neither idle sniping nor 'revisionist history,' as Mr. Bush has suggested," Wilson wrote.

Although Bush later backed off the State of the Union assertion, Wilson's statements helped fuel allegations the Bush administration exaggerated the threat posed by Iraq before the war.

Identity unveiled

Shortly after the article was published, Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was revealed as a CIA operative in a newspaper column written by Bob Novak, a nationally syndicated columnist for the Chicago Sun Times and a CNN contributor. Wilson alleges the White House blew Plame's cover in revenge for his outcry over Bush's assertion.

"Nobody knows the name of the person who put the sixteen words in the president's State of the Union address. Everybody knows my name, everybody knows my wife's name," he told CNN.

(Novak claimed two senior administration officials gave him the information about Plame; White House officials deny it came from there).

According to Wilson, reporters were given the green light to go after Plame after White House officials referred to her as "fair game." President Bush called the Justice Department's investigation into Plame's outing a "a criminal matter," and said he expected all aides to cooperate fully and in a timely manner.

Under fire: Freedom of press

In February 2005, a U.S. appeals court ruled that two journalists -- New York Times investigative reporter Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper, the White House correspondent for Time magazine, (like CNN a Time Warner company) must testify about the CIA leak that revealed Plame's identity.

The three-judge panel ruled that the two journalists must comply with a subpoena from a grand jury investigating whether the Bush administration illegally leaked the CIA officer's name to the news media.

"There is no First Amendment privilege protecting the evidence sought," Judge David Sentelle wrote in the main opinion for the court.

He rejected the argument by the journalists that the identity of their confidential sources was protected under the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher of The New York Times, vowed to challenge the decision and said, "If Judy is sent to jail for not revealing her confidential sources for an article that was never published, it would create a dangerous precedent that would erode the freedom of the press."

The judge's ruling also revealed that investigators were seeking information about a specific government official, who was not identified.

Miller and Cooper face 18-month prison sentences unless the court's order is overturned.

Outspoken critic

In 2004, Wilson wrote the memoir, "The Politics of Truth," which is due out in paperback this year.

The book chronicles Wilson's ambassadorship in Africa, his days in Baghdad as acting ambassador when the first Persian Gulf War was gearing up and his anger in 2003 when the Bush administration used intelligence he described as "not accurate."

"One of the conclusions that I draw in the book -- in fact, writing the book allowed me to think [this] through ... What makes us as Americans hold our government to account? Essentially, it's our social contract with our government, and that contract is based upon a healthy skepticism of the power of the executive branch. It's enshrined in institutional checks and balances. It's also enshrined in freedom of the press and freedom of speech," Wilson said in an interview with the Institutes of International Studies at UC Berkeley in 2003.

Today, he spends much of his time with his 4-year-old twins Trevor and Samantha, but he continues to be an outspoken critic of the war in Iraq.

"When I got into this debate, it was not as a Democrat or as a Republican," Wilson told CNN in a recent interview. "It was as an American who believed that the most solemn duty a government ever has is that decision to send Americans to kill and to die in the name of our country."

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