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  xSaturday, June 07, 2003

missing weapons story has legs

There's no doubt about it: The so-called "liberal media" is beginning to wake up to Bush's prevarication in justifying his coveted war on Iraq, especially as U.S. soldiers continue to die as a result of Bush's ambition.

The AP: Ex-Official: Evidence Distorted for War
WASHINGTON - The Bush administration distorted intelligence and presented conjecture as evidence to justify a U.S. invasion of Iraq, according to a retired intelligence official who served during the months before the war.

"What disturbs me deeply is what I think are the disingenuous statements made from the very top about what the intelligence did say," said Greg Thielmann, who retired last September. "The area of distortion was greatest in the nuclear field." [Ed: Gee, ya think? With Bush claiming Saddam was six months from having a nuke -- a claim that utterly asotnished the IAEA?]

Thielmann was director of the strategic, proliferation and military issues office in the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research. His office was privy to classified intelligence gathered by the CIA and other agencies about Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear programs.

In Thielmann's view, Iraq could have presented an immediate threat to U.S. security in two areas: Either it was about to make a nuclear weapon, or it was forming close operational ties with al-Qaida terrorists.

Evidence was lacking for both, despite claims by President Bush and others, Thielmann said in an interview this week. Suspicions were presented as fact, contrary arguments ignored, he said.

The administration's prewar portrayal of Iraq's weapons capabilities has not been validated despite weeks of searching by military experts. Alleged stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons have not turned up, nor has significant evidence of a nuclear weapons program or links to the al-Qaida network.

It's increasingly obvious that Bush and crew had a policy -- invade Iraq -- and sought evidence to justify it. A process turned entirely on its head, and a recipe for prevarication.

Let's start with this op-ed by Steve Chapman: Why the truth about Iraq remains so elusive
What is dawning on many people now is that in making the case for war, the administration and its allies did not make a fetish of strict honesty and candor. Why? Because if the American people had gotten the truth and nothing but the truth, they might not have been willing to go along with the whole enterprise.

But the strategy worked so beautifully that it's being used for the postwar occupation as well. We were given no idea of what would happen once victory was achieved, and we have been given no idea what lies ahead. The danger for Mr. Bush is that one of these days, the public may be hit in the face with a cold dash of reality.

The chief rationale for the invasion was that we had to prevent Saddam Hussein from using his vast arsenal of unconventional weapons. Unfortunately, those munitions have yet to be found, and Mr. Rumsfeld now admits that they may never be, because the Iraqis may have destroyed them.

Why a thug regime that defied the United Nations for years would be so fastidious about eliminating all evidence of guilt at its hour of doom is a deep mystery. But the administration would rather live with this puzzle than admit that maybe Mr. Hussein didn't have the arsenal that Mr. Bush told us about.

...When it comes to the aftermath, the question is not whether Americans were misinformed: The picture painted by hawks was that the Iraqi people and their liberators would all live happily ever after, and that has turned out to be a fairy tale.

No one in the White House predicted widespread looting, the collapse of order, anti-American protests, continuing attacks on U.S. troops, or the rise of fundamentalist Shiite groups. [Ed: Many opponents, though, raised those possibilities, only to have them dismissed out of hand by the hawks. Why? Because nothing that didn't aupport the war was legitimate; the evidence was determined by the policy, not the other way 'round.] The only issue is whether the administration failed to tell us out of ignorance or out of deceit - whether the president and his aides were deliberately fooling us or inadvertently fooling themselves.

In any case, the administration now has the problem of maintaining public support for a mission that promises to be expensive, open-ended, messy and thankless. But it has given the American people only the vaguest idea what they can expect.

Not everyone is as candid; the WaPo editorial board just can't bring itself to believe it was fooled:
PRESIDENT BUSH'S claim last week that U.S. forces in Iraq already "have found the weapons of mass destruction" has made a difficult problem for the administration worse. In fact, no Iraqi chemical, biological or nuclear weapons have been located, though a couple of mobile laboratories likely constructed for producing banned biological agents have been found. It still is possible -- we'd say probable -- that weapons will be found. After all, coalition forces haven't found Saddam Hussein or his sons, either, but they or their remains surely do exist; conditions in Iraq remain chaotic, and American control over large parts of the country is still tenuous. But Mr. Bush's attempt to dismiss the WMD issue, like his equally premature description of the Iraq war as a mission accomplished, has damaged U.S. credibility abroad and raised troubling questions about the administration's intentions.

Many critics of the war have rushed to the conclusion that Iraq never had weapons of mass destruction and that the Bush administration falsified or deliberately hyped the evidence. This seems unlikely on both counts. Saddam Hussein was proven to have biological and chemical arms during the 1990s. He repeatedly refused to provide evidence that he had destroyed them, even when the survival of his regime was at stake. Not only was the Bush administration convinced that weapons and weapons programs continued: The Clinton administration publicly stated the same conclusion, as did the governments of Britain and France.

The difference being, of course, that while Clinton, the UN and others (including myself) believed Saddam had chemical or biological weapons, they didn't attempt to portray them as an imminent threat to US security requiring nothing short of invasion. Note also how they dismiss equally the notions of Bush lying and that evidence was hyped, when in the WaPo's own news pages carry stories asserting the latter:
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.

In an example of the tenor of the administration's statements at the time, the president said in the Rose Garden on Sept. 26 that "the Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons. The Iraqi regime is building the facilities necessary to make more biological and chemical weapons."

But a Defense Intelligence Agency report on chemical weapons, widely distributed to administration policymakers around the time of the president's speech, stated there was "no reliable information on whether Iraq is producing or stockpiling chemical weapons or whether Iraq has or will establish its chemical agent production facilities."

The disparities between the conviction with which administration officials portrayed the threat posed by Iraq in their public statements and documents, and the more qualified reporting on the issue by intelligence agencies in classified reports, are at the heart of a burgeoning controversy in Congress and within the intelligence community over the U.S. rationale for going to war. The failure of the United States to uncover any proscribed weapons eight weeks after the end of the war is fueling sentiment among some Democrats on Capitol Hill and some intelligence analysts that the administration may have exaggerated the threat posed by Iraq.

Once again, this wasn't about "if we invade Iraq, weapons will turn up" but about "we have evidence right now." I wonder what claims of the Bush Administration the WaPo feels have been supported by the evidence so far?

On the WaPo op-ed page, meanwhile, Richard Cohen -- who supported the war -- notes that the "threat" of Saddam's alleged chemical weapons was indeed the official justification Bush used to obtain his war powers from a compliant Congress.
Last October, Congress passed a resolution authorizing the president to use force in Iraq. It said nothing about bringing democracy to Iraq, reordering the Middle East or getting the Israelis and Palestinians to make nice -- some of the reasons now retroactively advanced to justify the war. Instead, the resolution talked about the grave threat the United States faced from Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and his links to al Qaeda. In less than a year, that resolution has gone from a stirring call to war to an outright embarrassment.

The resolution declares that "Iraq both poses a continuing threat to the national security of the United States and international peace and security in the Persian Gulf region." It says that Iraq "continues to possess and develop a significant chemical and biological weapons capability." It says Iraq is "actively seeking a nuclear weapons capability, and supporting and harboring terrorist organizations." It says that based on those findings, the president was authorized to go to war. He did. You can look it up.

It's too soon to know if the Bush administration was lying, exaggerating or simply mistaken. But it is not too soon to say that the case it advanced concerning weapons of mass destruction was much more tenuous than the administration admitted. It somehow forgot to mention all the caveats, doubts and contrary evidence. As for the link with al Qaeda, that was just plain hogwash -- not that it was believed by anyone much in Congress. Just the American people.

Well, and the British people -- and Parliament is not happy they were duped.
LONDON, June 4-Prime Minister Tony Blair failed today to quiet a roar of criticism over his insistence that Iraq's deposed government had weapons of mass destruction, with the opposition leader declaring that "nobody believes a word now that the prime minister is saying."

In a raucous House of Commons session punctuated by catcalls and cheers, Blair defended his prewar claims that then-President Saddam Hussein was hiding a dangerous arsenal and said charges that his Labor government doctored intelligence reports were "completely and totally untrue."

Iain Duncan Smith, the Conservative Party leader, accused Blair of "equivocating" and argued that "the whole credibility of his government rests on clearing up these charges." Smith dismissed as "disgraceful" claims made by senior Labor Party officials to the London newspaper the Times that "rogue elements" in the intelligence services were trying to cast doubt on Blair's case for war against Iraq.

Blair has been under fierce pressure in recent days, in part from members of his own party, since fresh doubts surfaced about his case that Hussein's government possessed weapons of mass destruction.

That was the major justification the United States and Britain cited for going to war, but almost two months after the fall of Baghdad, no such weapons have been found. The most compelling evidence the United States has presented to date is two trailers that the CIA says were probably intended as mobile labs for the production of biological weapons.

More than 70 Labor members in the House of Commons have signed a petition demanding that Blair publish his evidence [Ed: That's Blair's own party. Can you imagine the GOP having the integroity to hold Bush accountable? I can't, either.], with one, Malcolm Savidge, calling the issue "potentially more serious than Watergate."

It's beginning to look to me like Blair may be cooked over this one. And if Blair is forced out I suspect the heat will increase on Bush to answer why going to war on faulty evidence isn't a high crime or misdemeanor.

Molly Ivins has learned not to trust Bush, of course, but she's had it with Bush apologists who are try to change the subject.
Safire's recent column about "hyping the 'hoax' charge" is the most elegant of its kind: Suddenly those who ask, "So where are these weapons of mass destruction we went to war to over?" are the problem.

In Safire's parallel universe, the problem is not that we're not finding weapons of mass destruction -- which means that either we were lied to by the Bush administration or there was a massive intelligence failure.

No, that's not the problem at all. The problem is, rather, that the people asking the question are "the crowd that bitterly resents America's mission to root out the sources of terror" and are "whipping up its intelligence hoax hype."

Got that? If you ask, "Where are the weapons of mass destruction?" -- a fairly obvious question at this point -- you are the problem.

That's good, but not as good as The Wall Street Journal's editorial board. This week's "Weapons of Mass Distortion" editorial is a masterpiece. In this version, those who ask the WMD question are attempting "to damage the credibility of Mr. Blair, President Bush and other war supporters."

"But who's trying to deceive whom here?" thunders the Journal. "That Saddam had biological or chemical weapons was a probability that everyone assumed to be true, even those who were against the war."

So there! And why did everyone assume it? Either because we were lied to or because there was a massive intelligence failure.

To get off Orwell and back to the facts here, we were told that we were going to war because Iraq had 5,000 gallons of anthrax, several tons of VX nerve gas, between 100 tons and 500 tons of other toxins (including botulinin, mustard gas, ricin and Sarin), 15 to 20 Scud missiles, drones fitted with poison sprays and mobile chemical laboratories.

The ex post facto development of tender concern on the part of hawks for human rights is delightful to see.

To repeat, there was always a good case to be made for taking out Saddam Hussein on humanitarian grounds alone -- those of us who work in the human rights movement were making that case back when the Reagan administration was arming Saddam. It was not, however, the case made by the Bush administration, in part because we are still supplying weapons to other monsters.

There's an old newspaper saw: "Error runs around the world before the truth can get its boots on."

Here's one from USA Today that illustrates how, quite beyond the mess we're in in Iraq, and to whatever extent Iraq distracted Bush from the war on terror (part of the war on terror? Don't make me laugh), Bush's obsession with Saddam has serious implications for national security:

Bush's war doctrine questioned / Skepticism of intelligence on Iraq undercuts pre-emptive strike policy
A failure by the Bush administration to prove its prewar allegations could undermine the pre-emption doctrine. The next time the president comes to Capitol Hill warning of an emerging threat, one that requires military action to pre-empt and defeat, some lawmakers of both parties say they will be skeptical.

In other words, if a genuine threat happens along, the US will be in a weaker position to launch a preemptive attack should it prove necessary. Not that it's likely stop Bush; it didn't this time, after all, but if such a situation arises when we have a president with scruples -- or a Congress less eager to cede its Constitutional power to make war -- we're in trouble.

John Dean, who knows an impeachable offense when he sees one, thinks Bush may have a little trouble now that his postive assertions are proving to be, ah, a tad exaggerated.
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.

...Perhaps most troubling, the president has failed to provide any explanation of how he could have made his very specific statements, yet now be unable to back them up with supporting evidence. Was there an Iraqi informant thought to be reliable, who turned out not to be? Were satellite photos innocently, if negligently misinterpreted? Or was his evidence not as solid as he led the world to believe?

The absence of any explanation for the gap between the statements and reality only increases the sense that the President's misstatements may actually have been intentional lies.

One final pont: Once again, stumbling across some rusty barrels of mustard gas will not, repeat not retroactively justify Bush's war. The issue is not whether Saddam had nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, but that Bush claimed to have evidence that Saddam posed a threat to US security. There's no question now that whatver "evidence" or "proof" they had was bogus, because if it were real we'd have found the stuff where we looked. Back when I was merely skeptical, I recall questioning the President's case on the grounds that it was long on assertion and short on evidence, and wondering aloud whether the President's assertion was enough to authorize war. A number of Bush supporters took umbrage at the notion that the evidence wasn't enough, or that I didn't just take Bush's word for it. Somehow, I don't think I'll be hearing an apology from any of these people, although I feel I'm entitled to one. I can't see any credibility at all in the assertion that Bush's prewar lies assertions about nuclear, chemical or biological weapons held water. (It's simple, really: Exactly which one of those statements can they produce evidence to support? If they can't, they can't claim they know it's true.) Even supporters of the war should be outraged if Bush lied to the American public and the world to support his desire to oust Saddam. And I think more and more people are becoming convinced as well.

Several bloggers have been examining these developments, but in particular, check out The Left Coaster.

As they say at Daily Kos, Bush lied. People died.

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