Bush’s Iraq War Lies Were Untrue
Much hubbub overnight by a joint Center for Public Integrity – Fund for Independence in Journalism study of statements made by Bush administration officials in their attempt to sell the Iraq War.
AP/YahooNews: Study: False statements preceded war
A study by two nonprofit journalism organizations found that President Bush and top administration officials issued hundreds of false statements about the national security threat from Iraq in the two years following the 2001 terrorist attacks. The study concluded that the statements “were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses.”
The study counted 935 false statements in the two-year period. It found that in speeches, briefings, interviews and other venues, Bush and administration officials stated unequivocally on at least 532 occasions that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or was trying to produce or obtain them or had links to al-Qaida or both.
“It is now beyond dispute that Iraq did not possess any weapons of mass destruction or have meaningful ties to al-Qaida,” according to Charles Lewis and Mark Reading-Smith of the Fund for Independence in Journalism staff members, writing an overview of the study. “In short, the Bush administration led the nation to war on the basis of erroneous information that it methodically propagated and that culminated in military action against Iraq on March 19, 2003.”
NYT is less judgmental with “Web Site Assembles U.S. Prewar Claims”
Warnings about the need to confront Iraq, by President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and two White House press secretaries, among others, can be combed line by line, and reviewed alongside detailed critiques published after the fact by official panels, historians, journalists and independent experts.
There is no startling new information in the archive, because all the documents have been published previously. But the new computer tool is remarkable for its scope, and its replay of the crescendo of statements that led to the war. Muckrakers may find browsing the site reminiscent of what Richard M. Nixon used to dismissively call “wallowing in Watergate.”
The officials have defended many of their prewar statements as having been based on the intelligence that was available at the time — although there is now evidence that some statements contradicted even the sketchy intelligence of the time.
President Bush said in 2005 that “much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong” but that “it was right to remove Saddam Hussein from power.”
This is the crux of the matter. Being proven wrong is not “lying.”
The study is entitled, “False Pretenses: Following 9/11, President Bush and seven top officials of his administration waged a carefully orchestrated campaign of misinformation about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.” Quite clearly, then, the authors contend that the statements were made with full knowledge that they were wrong in order to lead the nation to war.
The study finds no such thing.
It is now beyond dispute that Iraq did not possess any weapons of mass destruction or have meaningful ties to Al Qaeda. This was the conclusion of numerous bipartisan government investigations, including those by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (2004 and 2006), the 9/11 Commission, and the multinational Iraq Survey Group, whose “Duelfer Report” established that Saddam Hussein had terminated Iraq’s nuclear program in 1991 and made little effort to restart it.
But those committees were taking the evidence from well after the study’s timeframe. None of those commissions found that the administration deliberately lied.
The Duelfer Report was released a month before the 2004 election. Its chairman, Charles Duelfer, told a Senate panel, “We were almost all wrong” on Iraq. Note that he includes himself — and his audience — in this. This was Page 1 in the Washington Post and almost surely led every news report in the country that night. Bush was re-elected a month later.
The 9/11 Commission’s task, as its nickname implies, was to conduct a postmortem on the attacks, not assess the arguments leading up to the Iraq War. Its main findings were that our system of intelligence was broken and simply not up to the task of counterterrorism.
As to its findings on Saddam’s links to al Qaeda and similar organizations, the story is far more complex. Read Judith S. Yaphe’s statement to the Commission for a solid overview.
The executive summary of “False Pretenses” includes a number of statements that, given the advantage of hindsight, were untrue.
On February 5, 2003, in an address to the United Nations Security Council, Powell said: “What we’re giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence. I will cite some examples, and these are from human sources.” As it turned out, however, two of the main human sources to which Powell referred had provided false information. One was an Iraqi con artist, code-named “Curveball,” whom American intelligence officials were dubious about and in fact had never even spoken to. The other was an Al Qaeda detainee, Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, who had reportedly been sent to Eqypt by the CIA and tortured and who later recanted the information he had provided. Libi told the CIA in January 2004 that he had “decided he would fabricate any information interrogators wanted in order to gain better treatment and avoid being handed over to [a foreign government].”
Rather clearly, our intelligence was wrong. But there’s no reason in the world to believe Powell believed that to be the case. That this was among the strongest examples the authors could find speaks to their agenda — and the weakness of their case — rather than Powell’s integrity.
On May 29, 2003, in an interview with Polish TV, President Bush declared: “We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories.” But as journalist Bob Woodward reported in State of Denial, days earlier a team of civilian experts dispatched to examine the two mobile labs found in Iraq had concluded in a field report that the labs were not for biological weapons. The team’s final report, completed the following month, concluded that the labs had probably been used to manufacture hydrogen for weather balloons.
So, a report that would be written a month after Bush made the statement demonstrated that what Bush thought was true was wrong. And, of course, in May 2003 the war was already underway, so this was hardly an example of “false pretenses” getting us into war.
The most damning examples are along these lines:
In July 2002, Rumsfeld had a one-word answer for reporters who asked whether Iraq had relationships with Al Qaeda terrorists: “Sure.” In fact, an assessment issued that same month by the Defense Intelligence Agency (and confirmed weeks later by CIA Director Tenet) found an absence of “compelling evidence demonstrating direct cooperation between the government of Iraq and Al Qaeda.” What’s more, an earlier DIA assessment said that “the nature of the regime’s relationship with Al Qaeda is unclear.”
Of course, there’s no evidence here that Rumsfeld was aware of these reports. SECDEFs don’t read things that don’t make it to the top of the chain of command, after all.
My strong suspicion, though, is that Rumsfeld knew that an unequivocal “Sure” overstated the case. This, I think, reflects the consensus view of all but the most rabid pro- or anti-Bush observers that the administration 1) thought Saddam was dangerous, 2) believed he had an active WMD program if not WMD possession, 3) feared Saddam would transfer said technology to terrorists and other enemies of the United States and 4) cherry picked information that bolstered their case for action while downplaying dissenting views and evidence.
That’s bad. It’s not the way democracies are supposed to work and undermines the public’s confidence in their leaders. But it’s light years away from simply lying to the people about WMD known not to exist, which is what the report alleges.
Further, it’s worth noting that, despite most of the evidence and conclusions above being widespread by the fall of 2004, President Bush was nonetheless reelected by a comfortable margin. The public had already turned against the war by that point but nonetheless believed he was someone they trusted to continue to lead the national security apparatus.
UPDATE: Bryan Preston weighs in, noting that George Soros funded the report and wondering why that fact isn’t prominently noted in the news accounts.
Dave Schuler thinks most of the bloggers discussing the report are “using precisely the same approach used by the Bush Administration: they’re going beyond what the report says and voting their hearts, saying what they believe to be true rather than what can be proven to be true.”