Friday :: Jun 6, 2003

The Bush WMD Lies: The Media Sticks With It, and John Dean Brings Up the “I” Word

by Steve

The more information that seeps out about George W. Bush’s lies about Iraq’s WMDs before the war, the worse it gets. Today, the Defense Intelligence Agency released a report that confirmed last fall that there was “no definitive, reliable information” that Iraq was making or storing chemical or biological weapons. Yet, as the report was completed and circulated, the administration was still certain and making definitive statements that Iraq was making and hiding such weapons. And this kind of damaging information is coming out even before any congressional hearings start.

Warren Stroebel of Knight-Ridder Newspapers comes close to saying that Bush was lying:

President Bush and his top aides made prewar claims about Iraq's weapons programs that weren't always backed up by U.S. intelligence and painted a threatening picture far starker than what American spies knew definitively, according to current and former intelligence officials and a review of available documents.

Senior defense officials confirmed Friday that a report by the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency last September expressed significant doubts about whether Saddam Hussein was producing and stockpiling chemical and biological weapons as Bush, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell all claimed.

"There is no reliable information on whether Iraq is producing and stockpiling chemical weapons, or whether Iraq has -- or will -- establish its chemical warfare agent-production facilities," said the intelligence report. While Iraq had biological stockpiles, "the size of those stockpiles is uncertain and is subject to debate," said the classified report titled "Iraq: Key Weapons Facilities -- An Operational Support Study."

The Defense Intelligence Agency report and other developments illuminate a growing debate over the White House's use of intelligence on Iraq. The new developments suggest the possibility that some U.S. officials, deliberately or inadvertently, magnified what they were told by intelligence agencies, which had an incomplete picture of Iraq and few sources of their own to fill in the blanks. The DIA report was completed just as the White House was launching a campaign to make the case that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and terrorist ties presented so grave a danger as to justify pre-emptive military action.

Hans Blix said in essence that many of the intelligence leads provided to his team by the US and Great Britain were crap.

The UN chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, expressed his disappointment yesterday at the quality of the intelligence given to him by the US and Britain before the war with Iraq.

Mr Blix, who retires at the end of the month, told the BBC: "We went to a great many sites that were given to us by intelligence, and only in three cases did we find anything - and they did not relate to weapons of mass destruction. That shook me a bit, I must say."

He added: "I thought 'My God, if this is the best intelligence they had and we find nothing, what about the rest?'"

But surprisingly, the most damning story in its tone comes tomorrow from the Washington Post, and specifically Walter Pincus and Dana Priest, two reporters who have close ties to the CIA and armed forces, respectively. The Post story also makes the case that Bush and other administration officials made official pronouncements without proof or evidence of Iraq WMDs. In other words, they lied.

During the weeks last fall before critical votes in Congress and the United Nations on going to war in Iraq, senior administration officials, including President Bush, expressed certainty in public that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons, even though U.S. intelligence agencies were reporting they had no direct evidence that such weapons existed.

As the administration built its case for war last fall, some policymakers used caveats in describing Iraq's weapons holdings that mirrored the caution built into the DIA and other intelligence reports. In early September, for example, Bush used words such as "likely" or "suggests" in making the case that Iraq had a covert weapons program. But many of the president's speeches, as well as statements by Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, went without caveats.

Before his Rose Garden statement in late September, Bush had used more measured language about Iraq's chemical weapons program, in line with the Defense Intelligence Agency conclusion. At the United Nations on Sept. 12, when he urged the world body to join the United States in confronting Iraq, Bush said that previous U.N. inspections revealed "that Iraq likely maintains stockpiles of VX, mustard and other chemical agents."

But on Sept. 26, as the campaign to win congressional and U.N. Security Council approval for military action intensified, the president told congressional leaders Iraq "possesses" such weapons. On the same day, Rumsfeld told reporters that Iraq has "active development programs for those weapons, and has weaponized chemical and biological weapons."

On Oct. 1, the CIA released a "white paper" on Iraq's weapons programs derived from a broader, classified National Intelligence Estimate that had been sent to the White House and shared with members of Congress in briefings.

Among the "Key Judgments" in the first two pages of the National Intelligence Estimate that were meant to summarize the details that followed were statements in the white paper that "Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons," and "Baghdad has begun renewed production of chemical warfare agents, probably including mustard, sarin, cyclosarin and VX."

However, the more detailed backup material later in the document did not support those assessments. The intelligence paper contained more qualified language, stating, for example, that "gaps in Iraqi accounting and current production capabilities strongly suggest Iraq has the ability to produce chemical warfare agents within its chemical industry.”

On Oct. 7, Bush echoed without qualification the white paper's "key judgment" conclusion when he said that Iraq "possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons."

Throughout the run-up to war, according to senior intelligence officials, intelligence agencies had no direct evidence such as photographs or stolen Iraqi documents to support a firm conclusion about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. They said the case was circumstantial, largely because U.N. weapons inspectors had left Iraq in 1998, shutting off the last bit of direct knowledge available to the United States.

An emerging question that is gaining traction is whether such lies and gross and intentional deception to lead the country into war is an impeachable offense. John Dean, writing for FindLaw in a piece that hit CNN just hours ago, speculates that Bush has a problem here.

President George W. Bush has got a very serious problem. Before asking Congress for a joint resolution authorizing the use of U.S. military forces in Iraq, he made a number of unequivocal statements about the reason the United States needed to pursue the most radical actions any nation can undertake -- acts of war against another nation.

Now it is clear that many of his statements appear to be false. In the past, Bush's White House has been very good at sweeping ugly issues like this under the carpet, and out of sight. But it is not clear that they will be able to make the question of what happened to Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) go away -- unless, perhaps, they start another war. That seems unlikely. Until the questions surrounding the Iraqi war are answered, Congress and the public may strongly resist more of President Bush's warmaking.

Presidential statements, particularly on matters of national security, are held to an expectation of the highest standard of truthfulness. A president cannot stretch, twist or distort facts and get away with it. President Lyndon Johnson's distortions of the truth about Vietnam forced him to stand down from reelection. President Richard Nixon's false statements about Watergate forced his resignation.

So what are we now to conclude if Bush's statements are found, indeed, to be as grossly inaccurate as they currently appear to have been? After all, no weapons of mass destruction have been found, and given Bush's statements, they should not have been very hard to find -- for they existed in large quantities, "thousands of tons" of chemical weapons alone. Moreover, according to the statements, telltale facilities, groups of scientists who could testify, and production equipment also existed.

So where is all that? And how can we reconcile the White House's unequivocal statements with the fact that they may not exist? There are two main possibilities. One, that something is seriously wrong within the Bush White House's national security operations. That seems difficult to believe. The other is that the president has deliberately misled the nation, and the world.

And Dean points out that Bob Graham probably knows that Bush was lying because Graham was one of the only senators who actually saw the same National Intelligence Estimate that Bush did.

Graham has good reason to complain. According to the New York Times, he was one of the few members of the Senate who saw the national intelligence estimate that was the basis for Bush's decisions. After reviewing it, Graham requested that the Bush administration declassify the information before the Senate voted on the administration's resolution requesting use of the military in Iraq. But rather than do so, CIA Director Tenet merely sent Graham a letter discussing the findings. Graham then complained that Tenet's letter only addressed "findings that supported the administration's position on Iraq," and ignored information that raised questions about intelligence. In short, Graham suggested that the Administration, by cherrypicking only evidence to its own liking, had manipulated the information to support its conclusion.

Dean then brings up direct comparisons to Watergate.

(Paul) Krugman is right to suggest a possible comparison to Watergate. In the three decades since Watergate, this is the first potential scandal I have seen that could make Watergate pale by comparison. If the Bush Administration intentionally manipulated or misrepresented intelligence to get Congress to authorize, and the public to support, military action to take control of Iraq, then that would be a monstrous misdeed.

This administration may be due for a scandal. While Bush narrowly escaped being dragged into Enron, which was not, in any event, his doing. But the war in Iraq is all Bush's doing, and it is appropriate that he be held accountable.

To put it bluntly, if Bush has taken Congress and the nation into war based on bogus information, he is cooked. Manipulation or deliberate misuse of national security intelligence data, if proven, could be "a high crime" under the Constitution's impeachment clause. It would also be a violation of federal criminal law, including the broad federal anti-conspiracy statute, which renders it a felony "to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose."

It's important to recall that when Richard Nixon resigned, he was about to be impeached by the House of Representatives for misusing the CIA and FBI. After Watergate, all presidents are on notice that manipulating or misusing any agency of the executive branch improperly is a serious abuse of presidential power. Nixon claimed that his misuses of the federal agencies for his political purposes were in the interest of national security. The same kind of thinking might lead a President to manipulate and misuse national security agencies or their intelligence to create a phony reason to lead the nation into a politically desirable war. Let us hope that is not the case.

I am already impressed that the media hasn’t been cowed and given up on this story. I think it is possible that they, like Dean suggests, see that there may be blood in the water on this issue. And if they have the slightest reason to believe that people will talk and the case may lead to juicy hearings and talk of “high crimes”, you can bet that the competitive nature of the Beltway pack will overcome their collective timidity with the Bushies up until now.

I hope every administration official who testifies is forced to do so under oath.

Steve :: 10:31 PM :: Comments (19) :: Digg It!