A senior, retired Foreign Service officer, who was called back to help topple dictator Saddam Hussein, sought to spearhead a national campaign to label President Bush a liar on the Iraq war in June 2003 when the victorious U.S forces were searching for weapons of mass destrucion.
Interviews and documents obtained by Insight show that Charles Edward Bernier, a 30-year retired officer with the United States Information Service—once known as the U.S. Information Agency (USIA)—and former U.S. embassy spokesman in 10 Arab countries in the 1980s and ‘90s, played a key role in trying to orchestrate an anti-war “Bush lies” movement among his former colleagues in the State Department and CIA—a movement that has been feverishly joined in recent months by many in the establishment media and the Democratic Party.
The genesis of this national anti-Bush campaign remains unknown. What is known, however, is that Mr. Bernier articulated searing criticisms of Mr. Bush’s Iraq policy—which are strikingly similar to those made today by anti-war liberals—shortly after the fall of Baghdad in April 2003.
Mr. Bernier, 70, of Hilton Head Island, S.C., told Insight that he was brought out of retirement in early February 2003 and hired to help with regime change and the reconstruction of Iraq by International Resources Group (IRG), a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID).
He said in a telephone interview that IRG hired him as a $685-a-day contractor assigned to Army Lt. Gen. Jay M. Garner’s Iraq Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance Team that initially deployed to Kuwait in March 2003.
Mr. Bernier, former U.S. embassy spokesman and USIA chief in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, said he was directed in the lead-up to the Iraq invasion until May 2003, to help generate “positive stories” for news organizations covering military operations. He was also tasked with advising U.S. commanders on cultural matters and outreach to the Muslim population as Operation Iraqi Freedom unfolded.
“I was disgusted, it was denigrating,” Mr. Bernier said of the direction he received from younger superiors “with zero background in the region.”
Mr. Bernier said he quit after 90 days “because the effort I had put into a public affairs campaign was being ignored.” He returned to Hilton Head, where his wife, Geraldine, is a leader of the island’s Democratic Party organization and prolific anti-Bush administration letter-writer to local and statewide newspapers.
After his return from Kuwait, friends said, Mr. Bernier boasted of earning close to $30,000 a month while using his time “on assignment on the ground to dig up stuff” to be used against the war effort and the president.
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