Monday :: Jun 9, 2003

The Media Is Getting Wise to Bush and His WMD Dodge


by Steve

The media has caught on to the Bush Administration’s attempt at message misdirection regarding their lies about Saddam’s WMDs. Dana Milbank, in his Page One story in tomorrow’s Washington Post, repeats Bush’s rebuttal from earlier today, but directly slaps Bush for his attempt to misdirect the issue away from the imminent threat issue to the disingenuous one of Saddam having a weapons program.

President Bush yesterday defended the accusations leveled by his administration about Saddam Hussein's illegal weapons capability, saying history will record that the United States made the "absolute right decision" in attacking Iraq three months ago.

Bush's words came amid questions from Capitol Hill about the quality of U.S. intelligence on Iraq's weapons and whether the administration distorted that intelligence. The administration had used as its primary rationale for the war against Iraq the accusation that Hussein possessed chemical, biological or nuclear weapons that represented a direct threat to the United States. No such weapons have been discovered to date.

"Iraq had a weapons program," Bush said yesterday after a meeting of his Cabinet, the first time the body had met since the war started. "Intelligence throughout the decade showed they had a weapons program. I am absolutely convinced with time we'll find out that they did have a weapons program."
Even in making that stout defense, though, Bush appeared to redefine the accusations being made about his administration's use of intelligence in rallying support for an attack on Iraq. Nobody disputes that Hussein had weapons programs at one point. At issue is whether Iraq pursued such programs after inspectors left in 1998 and whether Hussein continued to possess such weapons in quantities to threaten the United States.

But Bush spoke of Iraq's weapons program, rather than its weaponry, and referred to it in the past tense. Bush's remarks were significantly more circumscribed than his statement two weeks ago that "we found the weapons of mass destruction," based on the discovery of two trailers that the CIA has said could have been used to produce biological warfare agents. Although no actual pathogens had been recovered, Bush asserted then that "we'll find more weapons as time goes on."

A week later, Bush dropped the assertion that weapons had been found, saying instead that "we're on the look" for the weapons and that Hussein had "a big country in which to hide them."

On the eve of the war, on March 17, Bush asserted that "intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised."

Although it remains possible that proscribed weapons will be found in Iraq, even some administration advisers have come to the conclusion that weapons will not be found in the quantities described by the administration or in as menacing a form.

Milbank goes on to directly point out the discrepancies in the stories used by the Bushies.

The question of whether the administration overstated the case against Iraq in the months before the war gained new attention last week with the emergence in public of an intelligence report from last fall saying there was "no reliable information on whether Iraq is producing or stockpiling chemical weapons." Lawmakers are considering probes of the intelligence related to Iraq and the administration's handling of it.

Bush aides have given somewhat conflicting accounts of how intelligence about Iraq's weapons was used. Fleischer, asked yesterday about an inaccurate claim in Bush's State of the Union address in January that Iraq sought to buy uranium in Africa, said intelligence officials declared the charge incorrect "as the information was received."

But national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said Sunday that "somebody may have known" the information was false 11 months before Bush's speech. Rice also asserted Sunday of Iraq's weapons: "No one ever said that we knew precisely where all of these agents were, where they were stored." But on March 30, Rumsfeld had said: "We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat."

Yesterday, Bush also expressed irritation about a New York Times article yesterday reporting that two of the highest-ranking al Qaeda leaders in custody have told the CIA that the Iraqi government did not work with the terrorist group. Bush pointed to the involvement of "al Zarqawi's network" in the killing of a U.S. diplomat.

Although the Bush administration painted Abu Musab Zarqawi, head of a terrorist group called al Tawhid, as a central al Qaeda figure, the CIA viewed him as "affiliated with al Qaeda," meaning he had associated with some al Qaeda members but had his own agenda.

The CIA "always said, 'We can't make the connection, we can't take you there,' " said a senior administration official. As for an "operational connection" between al Qaeda and Iraq, the CIA "didn't ever tell [the administration] there was one before the war."

More broadly, some intelligence officials said they were surprised at how definitive the Bush administration was in public about the links between al Qaeda and Iraq. Al Qaeda operative Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was captured shortly before the war began, told his interrogators that al Qaeda did not work with Iraq. "The people I worked with were flabbergasted by statements coming out of the White House about the links to terrorism," said an intelligence expert on Capitol Hill.

CIA officials viewed these statements with skepticism, because they came from captured al Qaeda figures whose verifiable information was often false. But they passed them on to policymakers in summaries of interrogation debriefings. That intelligence became a source of frustration for some lawmakers who knew the information cast doubt on the administration's case linking Iraq with terrorism. But because the information was classified, they were not permitted to share those doubts with the public.

Milbank is pulling no punches here. He has consistently been one of the least likely Beltway reporters to be intimidated by BushCo, and he seems to sense blood in the water here. He is stating clearly in a Page One story of a paper that has been nauseatingly supportive of Bush that the president is full of crap.

The best thing you can do is to send Mr. Milbank an email thanking him for his approach and willingness to go right at the Administration for its lack of integrity. While you are at it, also please remind him that the “imminent threat” rationale is what the Bushies seem to be backing away from, if only the media would let them.

Please tell Mr. Milbank not to let them off the hook. You can write him at milbankd@washpost.com

Unfortunately, not all reporters are doing a good job on this issue. David Stout of the New York Times, reporting on the same story today, makes a misstatement as follows:

The United States has never accused Saddam Hussein of having a direct role in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But Bush administration officials have repeatedly asserted that the Baghdad regime was sympathetic to terrorists and had offered them shelter.

But as I reported back on March 19, 2003, Bush claimed exactly that as his rationale to Congress for going to war.

Steve :: 9:44 PM :: Comments (8) :: Digg It!