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At a White House ceremony on October 16, 2002, President George W. Bush signs the resolution passed by Congress the previous week to authorize the use of force if Iraq fails to comply with new weapons inspections.
Fact check: The Iraq war and weapons of mass destruction
"The Iraq war began sixteen years ago tomorrow. There is a myth about the war that I have been meaning to set straight for years. After no WMDs were found, the left claimed 'Bush lied. People died.' This accusation itself is a lie. It's time to put it to rest." -- Former Bush administration press secretary Ari Fleischer, in a Twitter thread, March 19, 2019
Sixteen years after the Iraq War started, the White House press spokesman at the time sought to rebut a claim he called a "liberal myth" -- that George W. Bush lied about Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction to launch the invasion. (Never mind that the current Republican president also has made this claim, saying in 2016: "They lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction there were none.")
In more than 20 tweets, Fleischer laid out the case that the intelligence community failed -- and Saddam Hussein for unknown reasons lied about having illicit weapons. He quoted at length from findings made in 2005 by the Robb-Silberman Commission that was set up to investigate the intelligence failures.
A careful reading of Fleischer's Twitter thread shows he's only talking about Bush and himself he conveniently leaves out other administration officials, especially Vice President Dick Cheney -- who stretched the available intelligence in his public remarks and frequently hinted there was more he could not say.
"My tweets were about me and Bush," Fleischer acknowledged to The Fact Checker.
Moreover, he leaves out the fact that there was a second report -- by the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2008 -- that examined whether the public statements by U.S. government officials were substantiated by the intelligence.
In particular, the committee looked at five major policy speeches by Bush, Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell. The Robb-Silberman report specifically was not allowed to look at that issue, noting, "We were not authorized to investigate how policymakers used the intelligence assessments they received from the Intelligence Community."
The Senate report was adopted on a bipartisan vote of 10-5.
Fleischer argues the findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee report are undercut by this line in Robb-Silverman: "Finally, it was a failure to communicate effectively with policymakers the Intelligence Community didn't adequately explain just how little good intelligence it had -- or how much its assessments were driven by assumptions and inferences rather than concrete evidence."
Fleischer said: "I can state with certainty no one expressed doubts to me. I was told Saddam had chemical and biological stockpiles. I was told he did not have nuclear, but he was working on it. There were no doubts, hesitations or nuances raised. If there had been, it would have been reflected in what I said."
He also supplied excerpts from Bush's 2010 memoir, in which the president reflects that even countries opposed to the war, such as Germany, agreed that Iraq had WMDs. "The conclusion that Saddam had WMD was nearly a universal consensus. My predecessor believed it. Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill believed it. Intelligence agencies in Germany, France, Great Britain, Russia, China, and Egypt believed it," Bush wrote in "Decision Points."
It's worth recalling that the Bush administration appeared determined to attack Iraq for any number of reasons beyond suspicions of WMDs officials simply seized on WMDs because they concluded that that represented the strongest case for an invasion.
"For bureaucratic reasons we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on," then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told Vanity Fair in 2003.
Fleischer's deputy at the time, Scott McClellan, put it this way in his own memoir, "What Happened": "In the fall of 2002, Bush and his White House were engaging in a carefully orchestrated campaign to shape and manipulate sources of public approval to our advantage. . . . Our lack of candor and honesty in making the case for war would later provoke a partisan response from our opponents that, in its own way, further distorted and obscured a more nuanced reality." (He added "the media would serve as complicit enablers.")
So in the interest of providing the historical record, what was the U.S. intelligence community's record on Iraqi WMDs, and did the Bush administration hype the evidence?
The short answer is that both played a role. There were serious problems in the intelligence, some of which were relegated to dissenting footnotes. But the Bush administration also chose to highlight aspects of the intelligence that helped make the administration's case, while playing down others.
The clearest example of stretching the intelligence concerned Saddam Hussein's links to al-Qaeda and by extension the 9/11 attacks, which were thin and nonexistent -- but which the Bush administration suggested were deeply suspicious.
Cheney especially banged the drum of a possible link, long after the intelligence was discredited. The Washington Post reported in 2003:
"In making the case for war against Iraq, Vice President Cheney has continued to suggest that an Iraqi intelligence agent met with a Sept. 11, 2001, hijacker five months before the attacks, even as the story was falling apart under scrutiny by the FBI, CIA and the foreign government that first made the allegation."
The Senate Intelligence Committee report was unsparing in its criticism of this aspect of the White House's case for war. The 170-page report said such Iraq/al-Qaeda statements were "not substantiated by the intelligence," adding that multiple CIA reports dismissed the claim that Iraq and al-Qaeda were cooperating partners -- and that there was no intelligence information that supported administration statements that Iraq would provide weapons of mass destruction to al-Qaeda.
The committee further said there was no confirmation of a meeting between Mohamed Atta, a key 9/11 hijacker, and an Iraqi intelligence officer.
Note, however, that Fleischer kept his Twitter thread confined to intelligence findings that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. In this case, the Senate report found that remarks by administration officials generally reflected the intelligence, but failed to convey "substantial disagreements that existed in the intelligence community." In general, officials strongly suggested that WMD production was ongoing, reflecting "a higher degree of certainty than the intelligence judgments themselves."
Here are the findings in the Senate report on key weapons:
1. Nuclear weapons. Before the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, some intelligence agencies assessed that the Iraqi government was reconstituting a nuclear weapons program, while others disagreed. The NIE reflected a majority view that it was being reconstituted, but there were sharp dissents by the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research and the Department of Energy (which is the main source of nuclear weapons expertise in the U.S. government).
In particular, administration officials leaked to the New York Times that Iraq had obtained large quantities of aluminum tubes for use in the uranium enrichment project -- though the Energy Department experts were convinced that the tubes were poorly suited for such uses and instead were intended for artillery rockets.
Also, before the war, CIA Director George Tenet warned the White House not to use sketchy intelligence about Iraqi purchases of uranium in Africa. But the White House inserted it into a presidential speech anyway, much to its later embarrassment.
After the invasion, officials discovered Iraq had basically ended its nuclear weapon program in 1991.
Conclusion: "Statements by the president, vice president, secretary of state and the national security advisor regarding a possible Iraqi nuclear weapons program were generally substantiated by the intelligence community, but did not convey the substantial disagreements that existed in the intelligence community."
2. Biological weapons. The intelligence community consistently stated between the late 1990s and 2003 that Iraq retained biological warfare agents and the capability to produce more. However, there were intelligence gaps in Iraq's biological weapons programs, made explicit in the October 2002 NIE, which policymakers did not discuss.
After the war, officials discovered that Iraq had not conducted biological weapons production research since 1996. Iraq could have reestablished an elementary program within weeks, but no indications were found that Iraq intended to do so.
Conclusion: "Statements in the major speeches analyzed, as well as additional statements, regarding Iraq's possession of biological agents, weapons, production capability and use of mobile biological laboratories were substantiated by intelligence information."
3. Chemical weapons. The October NIE said that Iraq retained between 100 and 500 metric tons of chemical weapons. The intelligence community assessed that Hussein wanted to have chemical weapons capability and that Iraq was seeking to hide its capability in its dual-use chemical industry. However, intelligence assessments clearly stated that analysts could not confirm that production was ongoing.
After the war, officials could find no caches of chemical weapons munitions and only a handful of pre-1991 chemical munitions. There was no credible evidence that Iraq resumed its chemical weapons program after 1991.
Conclusion: "Statements in the major speeches analyzed, as well as additional statements, regarding Iraq's possession of chemical weapons were substantiated by intelligence information. Statements by the president and vice president prior to the October 2002 NIE . . . did not [reflect] the intelligence community's uncertainties as to whether such production was ongoing."
The minority views of the Senate report include many statements by Democrats that echoed the certainty of the Bush administration. For instance: "All U.S. intelligence experts agree that Iraq is seeking nuclear weapons," then-Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said on Oct. 9, 2002. "There is little question that Saddam Hussein wants to develop nuclear weapons."
But Kerry was wrong: Not all intelligence agencies agreed with that claim.
One problem is that few members of Congress actually read the classified 2002 NIE. Instead, they relied on the sanitized version distributed to the public, which was scrubbed of dissenting opinions. (It was later learned that the public white paper had been drafted long before the NIE had been requested by Congress, even though the white paper was publicly presented as a distillation of the NIE. So that should count as another manipulation of public opinion.)
One of the few lawmakers who did read the classified report, Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., voted against the congressional resolution to authorize an attack on Iraq. He later wrote that the classified version "contained vigorous dissents on key parts of the information, especially by the departments of State and Energy. Particular skepticism was raised about aluminum tubes that were offered as evidence Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program. As to Hussein's will to use whatever weapons he might have, the estimate indicated he would not do so unless he was first attacked."
Graham said that the gap between the 96-page document that was secret and the 25-page version made public made him "question whether the White House was telling the truth -- or even had an interest in knowing the truth."
The bottom line
The intelligence community's assessments on Iraq's WMD stockpiles and programs turned out to be woefully wrong, largely because analysts believed that Iraq had kept on a path of building its programs rather than largely abandoning them after the 1991 Persian Gulf war. Thus the stockpiles theoretically got larger as time went on.
But at the same time, the Senate report shows Bush administration officials often hyped the intelligence that supported their policy goals -- while ignoring or playing down dissents or caveats from within the intelligence community. The intelligence was used for political purposes, to build public support for a war that might have been launched no matter what intelligence analysts had said about the prospect of finding WMDs in Iraq.
(We do not know whether Bush read the dissents in the NIE. His memoir just says the NIE was based on "much of the same intelligence the CIA had been showing to me for the past eighteen months." Then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice wrote in her memoir that "NSC Principals, all experienced people, read the NIE from cover to cover." The National Security Council is chaired by the president, and regular attendees include the vice president, secretary of state, defense secretary, treasury secretary and national security adviser.)
Fleischer says it is "a lie" that Bush lied. Regular readers know we generally do not use the word "lie." Fleischer is offering his opinion -- one that conveniently ignores the Senate report that looked at this issue. His own deputy at the time certainly said the White House spun the intelligence for political purposes, while Fleischer still argues the White House was misled by the intelligence community.
Is there a fine line between hyping the evidence and lying about it? It's too fuzzy for the Pinocchio Test, as it also falls in the realm of opinion. But we will let our readers offer their own opinion.
Full text: Bush's speech
My fellow citizens, events in Iraq have now reached the final days of decision. For more than a decade, the United States and other nations have pursued patient and honorable efforts to disarm the Iraqi regime without war. That regime pledged to reveal and destroy all its weapons of mass destruction as a condition for ending the Persian Gulf War in 1991.
Since then, the world has engaged in 12 years of diplomacy. We have passed more than a dozen resolutions in the United Nations Security Council. We have sent hundreds of weapons inspectors to oversee the disarmament of Iraq. Our good faith has not been returned.
The Iraqi regime has used diplomacy as a ploy to gain time and advantage. It has uniformly defied Security Council resolutions demanding full disarmament. Over the years, U.N. weapon inspectors have been threatened by Iraqi officials, electronically bugged, and systematically deceived. Peaceful efforts to disarm the Iraqi regime have failed again and again -- because we are not dealing with peaceful men.
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. This regime has already used weapons of mass destruction against Iraq's neighbors and against Iraq's people.
The regime has a history of reckless aggression in the Middle East. It has a deep hatred of America and our friends. And it has aided, trained and harbored terrorists, including operatives of al Qaeda.
The danger is clear: using chemical, biological or, one day, nuclear weapons, obtained with the help of Iraq, the terrorists could fulfill their stated ambitions and kill thousands or hundreds of thousands of innocent people in our country, or any other.
The United States and other nations did nothing to deserve or invite this threat. But we will do everything to defeat it. Instead of drifting along toward tragedy, we will set a course toward safety. Before the day of horror can come, before it is too late to act, this danger will be removed.
The United States of America has the sovereign authority to use force in assuring its own national security. That duty falls to me, as Commander-in-Chief, by the oath I have sworn, by the oath I will keep.
Recognizing the threat to our country, the United States Congress voted overwhelmingly last year to support the use of force against Iraq. America tried to work with the United Nations to address this threat because we wanted to resolve the issue peacefully. We believe in the mission of the United Nations. One reason the UN was founded after the second world war was to confront aggressive dictators, actively and early, before they can attack the innocent and destroy the peace.
In the case of Iraq, the Security Council did act, in the early 1990s. Under Resolutions 678 and 687 - both still in effect - the United States and our allies are authorized to use force in ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction. This is not a question of authority, it is a question of will.
Last September, I went to the U.N. General Assembly and urged the nations of the world to unite and bring an end to this danger. On November 8, the Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1441, finding Iraq in material breach of its obligations, and vowing serious consequences if Iraq did not fully and immediately disarm.
Today, no nation can possibly claim that Iraq has disarmed. And it will not disarm so long as Saddam Hussein holds power. For the last four-and-a-half months, the United States and our allies have worked within the Security Council to enforce that Council's long-standing demands. Yet, some permanent members of the Security Council have publicly announced they will veto any resolution that compels the disarmament of Iraq. These governments share our assessment of the danger, but not our resolve to meet it. Many nations, however, do have the resolve and fortitude to act against this threat to peace, and a broad coalition is now gathering to enforce the just demands of the world. The United Nations Security Council has not lived up to its responsibilities, so we will rise to ours.
In recent days, some governments in the Middle East have been doing their part. They have delivered public and private messages urging the dictator to leave Iraq, so that disarmament can proceed peacefully. He has thus far refused. All the decades of deceit and cruelty have now reached an end. Saddam Hussein and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours. Their refusal to do so will result in military conflict, commenced at a time of our choosing. For their own safety, all foreign nationals - including journalists and inspectors - should leave Iraq immediately.
Many Iraqis can hear me tonight in a translated radio broadcast, and I have a message for them. If we must begin a military campaign, it will be directed against the lawless men who rule your country and not against you. As our coalition takes away their power, we will deliver the food and medicine you need. We will tear down the apparatus of terror and we will help you to build a new Iraq that is prosperous and free. In a free Iraq, there will be no more wars of aggression against your neighbors, no more poison factories, no more executions of dissidents, no more torture chambers and rape rooms. The tyrant will soon be gone. The day of your liberation is near.
It is too late for Saddam Hussein to remain in power. It is not too late for the Iraqi military to act with honor and protect your country by permitting the peaceful entry of coalition forces to eliminate weapons of mass destruction. Our forces will give Iraqi military units clear instructions on actions they can take to avoid being attacked and destroyed. I urge every member of the Iraqi military and intelligence services, if war comes, do not fight for a dying regime that is not worth your own life.
And all Iraqi military and civilian personnel should listen carefully to this warning. In any conflict, your fate will depend on your action. Do not destroy oil wells, a source of wealth that belongs to the Iraqi people. Do not obey any command to use weapons of mass destruction against anyone, including the Iraqi people. War crimes will be prosecuted. War criminals will be punished. And it will be no defense to say, "I was just following orders."
Should Saddam Hussein choose confrontation, the American people can know that every measure has been taken to avoid war, and every measure will be taken to win it. Americans understand the costs of conflict because we have paid them in the past. War has no certainty, except the certainty of sacrifice.
Yet, the only way to reduce the harm and duration of war is to apply the full force and might of our military, and we are prepared to do so. If Saddam Hussein attempts to cling to power, he will remain a deadly foe until the end. In desperation, he and terrorists groups might try to conduct terrorist operations against the American people and our friends. These attacks are not inevitable. They are, however, possible. And this very fact underscores the reason we cannot live under the threat of blackmail. The terrorist threat to America and the world will be diminished the moment that Saddam Hussein is disarmed.
Our government is on heightened watch against these dangers. Just as we are preparing to ensure victory in Iraq, we are taking further actions to protect our homeland. In recent days, American authorities have expelled from the country certain individuals with ties to Iraqi intelligence services. Among other measures, I have directed additional security of our airports, and increased Coast Guard patrols of major seaports. The Department of Homeland Security is working closely with the nation's governors to increase armed security at critical facilities across America.
Should enemies strike our country, they would be attempting to shift our attention with panic and weaken our morale with fear. In this, they would fail. No act of theirs can alter the course or shake the resolve of this country. We are a peaceful people - yet we're not a fragile people, and we will not be intimidated by thugs and killers. If our enemies dare to strike us, they and all who have aided them, will face fearful consequences.
We are now acting because the risks of inaction would be far greater. In one year, or five years, the power of Iraq to inflict harm on all free nations would be multiplied many times over. With these capabilities, Saddam Hussein and his terrorist allies could choose the moment of deadly conflict when they are strongest. We choose to meet that threat now, where it arises, before it can appear suddenly in our skies and cities.
The cause of peace requires all free nations to recognize new and undeniable realities. In the 20th century, some chose to appease murderous dictators, whose threats were allowed to grow into genocide and global war. In this century, when evil men plot chemical, biological and nuclear terror, a policy of appeasement could bring destruction of a kind never before seen on this earth.
Terrorists and terror states do not reveal these threats with fair notice, in formal declarations - and responding to such enemies only after they have struck first is not self-defense, it is suicide. The security of the world requires disarming Saddam Hussein now.
As we enforce the just demands of the world, we will also honor the deepest commitments of our country. Unlike Saddam Hussein, we believe the Iraqi people are deserving and capable of human liberty. And when the dictator has departed, they can set an example to all the Middle East of a vital and peaceful and self-governing nation.
The United States, with other countries, will work to advance liberty and peace in that region. Our goal will not be achieved overnight, but it can come over time. The power and appeal of human liberty is felt in every life and every land. And the greatest power of freedom is to overcome hatred and violence, and turn the creative gifts of men and women to the pursuits of peace.
That is the future we choose. Free nations have a duty to defend our people by uniting against the violent. And tonight, as we have done before, America and our allies accept that responsibility.
George W. Bush on Iraqs Weapons of Mass Destruction - HISTORY
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 22, 2003
President Discusses Beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom
President's Radio Address
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. American and coalition forces have begun a concerted campaign against the regime of Saddam Hussein. In this war, our coalition is broad, more than 40 countries from across the globe. Our cause is just, the security of the nations we serve and the peace of the world. And our mission is clear, to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein's support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people.
The future of peace and the hopes of the Iraqi people now depend on our fighting forces in the Middle East. They are conducting themselves in the highest traditions of the American military. They are doing their job with skill and bravery, and with the finest of allies beside them. At every stage of this conflict the world will see both the power of our military, and the honorable and decent spirit of the men and women who serve.
In this conflict, American and coalition forces face enemies who have no regard for the conventions of war or rules of morality. Iraqi officials have placed troops and equipment in civilian areas, attempting to use innocent men, women and children as shields for the dictator's army. I want Americans and all the world to know that coalition forces will make every effort to spare innocent civilians from harm.
A campaign on harsh terrain in a vast country could be longer and more difficult than some have predicted. And helping Iraqis achieve a united, stable, and free country will require our sustained commitment. Yet, whatever is required of us, we will carry out all the duties we have accepted.
Across America this weekend, the families of our military are praying that our men and women will return safely and soon. Millions of Americans are praying with them for the safety of their loved ones and for the protection of all the innocent. Our entire nation appreciates the sacrifices made by military families, and many citizens who live near military families are showing their support in practical ways, such as by helping with child care, or home repairs. All families with loved ones serving in this war can know this: Our forces will be coming home as soon as their work is done.
Our nation entered this conflict reluctantly, yet with a clear and firm purpose. The people of the United States and our friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder. Now that conflict has come, the only way to limit its duration is to apply decisive force. This will not be a campaign of half-measures. It is a fight for the security of our nation and the peace of the world, and we will accept no outcome but victory.
In March 2003, President George W. Bush authorized Operation Iraqi Freedom for the purposes of removing Saddam Hussein from power. The main justification was that Iraq possessed and sought to develop weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Even now, the claim that Bush lied about Iraqi WMD comes up on occasion.
In 2002, Bush began to push for military action against Iraq for violating United Nations Security Council Resolutions 686 and 687. The push for this military action paved the way for Resolution 1441 which allowed for new inspections for WMD in Iraq and was Iraq’s last chance to comply. Bush’s claim was that Iraq had active programs to develop weapons of mass destruction and that it was hiding weapons from prior to the Gulf War.
Weapons of mass destruction is a category of weapons that are biological, chemical, and nuclear in nature. During the 1980s, Iraq and Iran were at war. To prevent a victory by Iran, a number of countries, including the United States, assisted Iraq in the process of developing WMD programs. There was programs for developing biological weapons as well as a nuclear program. It was known that Iraq possessed chemical weapons as it had previously deployed them against Iran.
After the Persian Gulf War in 1991, Iraq agreed to destroy its WMD and to no longer pursue their development. Iraq was the subject of inspections to ensure their compliance. The inspections ended in 1998 and Iraq did not allow inspectors back until 2002. In Resolution 1441, the burden of proof was placed on Iraq to prove compliance. In January 2003, weapons inspectors reported that they had found no indication of an active nuclear program or nuclear weapons. Some experts argued that if Iraq had retained WMD from before 1990, they would have long decayed as they have a shelf life of roughly five years.
After the main operation of the war was over, there were some discoveries made. In general, weapons of mass destruction that were found fall into one of two categories: those that were known to be possessed by UN or similar agency and those that dated from the Iran-Iraq war that Iraqi military lost track of.
For example, there were weapon stored at Al Muthanna because it was not safe to move them. The United Nations and the United States knew of this cache of weapons. The United States military failed to secure this facility which resulted in some of it being looted.
- In April 2003, US Marines found several drums of yellowcake. These containers were known by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) since 1991.
- In May 2004, a shell containing mustard gas was discovered in Baghdad. The gas had decayed to the point that it was not effective. In a separate incident, an artillery shell that was used as an improvised bomb contained a nerve agent. It was not believed that it was from a stockpile there was the possibility.
- In 2004, hundreds of chemical warheads were recovered from the desert near the Iran-Iraq border. These warheads were hidden there during the Iran-Iraq war.
- The House Intelligence committee released key points from a classified report in June of 2006. It was reported that approximately 500 weapons with degraded mustard or sarin gas were recovered. These weapons were manufactured in the 1980 during the war with Iran.
Additionally, from 2004-2011, American and Iraqi troops repeatedly encountered and were wounded by chemical weapons from before the Persian Gulf War. In all, troops found roughly 5000 chemical warheads, shells, or bombs. There was secrecy surrounding these encounters. This secrecy extended to the troops and military doctors which resulted in troops from receiving proper medical care and recognition.
In 2015, an operation known as Operation Avarice was declassified. The operation started in 2005. The military was contacting an unnamed Iraqi individual who had knowledge and possession of WMD stockpiles and munitions. It was not know how the individual came to possess the weapons or from where they originated. The weapons were in a variety of conditions. Some weapons were higher quality that what was expected.
President Bush Admits Iraq Had No WMDs and 'Nothing' to Do With 9/11
On Monday, President Bush admitted that the Iraq war is “straining the psyche of our country.” But he vowed to stay the course. A reporter questioned him about why he opposed withdrawing US troops from Iraq. In his answer, Bush admitted that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and had “nothing” to do with 9/11. [includes rush transcript]
Related StoryStory Apr 16, 2019 Rep. Ilhan Omar Faces Death Threats & “Dangerous Hate Campaign” as Right-Wing Attacks Continue
AMY GOODMAN : On Monday, Present Bush admitted the Iraq war is “straining the psyche of our country,” but he vowed to stay the course. A reporter questioned him about why he opposed withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.
REPORTER : A lot of the consequences you mentioned for pulling out seem like maybe they never would have been there if we hadn’t gone in. How do you square all of that?
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH : I square it, because &mdash imagine a world in which you had Saddam Hussein who had the capacity to make a weapon of mass destruction, who was paying suiciders to kill innocent life, who would &mdash who had relations with Zarqawi. Imagine what the world would be like with him in power. The idea is to try to help change the Middle East.
Now, look, I didn’t &mdash part of the reason we went into Iraq was &mdash the main reason we went into Iraq at the time was we thought he had weapons of mass destruction. It turns out he didn’t, but he had the capacity to make weapons of mass destruction. But I also talked about the human suffering in Iraq, and I also talked the need to advance a freedom agenda. And so my question &mdash my answer to your question is, is that &mdash imagine a world in which Saddam Hussein was there, stirring up even more trouble in a part of the world that had so much resentment and so much hatred that people came and killed 3,000 of our citizens.
You know, I’ve heard this theory about, you know, everything was just fine until we arrived, and then, you know, kind of that we’re going to stir up the hornet’s nest theory. It just &mdash just doesn’t hold water, as far as I’m concerned. The terrorists attacked us and killed 3,000 of our citizens before we started the freedom agenda in the Middle East.
REPORTER : What did Iraq have to do with that?
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH : What did Iraq have to do with what?
REPORTER : The attack on the World Trade Center?
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH : Nothing, except for it’s part of &mdash and nobody has ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack. Iraq was a &mdash Iraq &mdash the lesson of September the 11th is, take threats before they fully materialize, Ken. Nobody has ever suggested that the attacks of September the 11th were ordered by Iraq.
AMY GOODMAN : President Bush at his news conference yesterday.
George W. Bush on Iraqs Weapons of Mass Destruction - HISTORY
As Hillary Clinton makes a second bid for the presidency, the record of her husband -- former President Bill Clinton -- is being revived on social media. Recently, a meme has been circulating that makes a little fun of the former president’s "teflon" nature -- failings didn‘t stick to him the way they stuck to other politicians.
The meme features a photograph of Clinton with an impish grin and a twinkle in his eye, along with the following caption: "I gave a speech in 1996 about Iraq having WMDs (weapons of mass destruction) and stuff. I said we needed a regime change for the security of our nation and to free the Iraqi people from an evil dictator. In 1998 I signed the Iraq Liberation Act. Ya’ll blamed it on Bush. Thanks for that!"
The meme argues that Clinton essentially escaped the opprobrium that plagued his successor, President George W. Bush, even though they said similar things about Saddam Hussein-era Iraq and the geopolitical threat it posed. By extension, the meme suggests that Democratic supporters of Clinton are hypocritical by celebrating Clinton but excoriating Bush.
We looked back at the speeches in question and found that the meme’s pairing of Clinton’s views with Bush’s is misleading on several fronts.
Clinton ‘gave a speech in 1996 about Iraq having WMDs’
Clinton did indeed give a weekly radio address on Sept. 7, 1996, in which he said, "We must redouble our efforts to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons, such as those that Iraq and other rogue nations have developed."
However, it’s important to note that Clinton focused on chemical weapons and did not bring up nuclear weapons, as Bush would later do.
"The Senate will vote on ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention," Clinton said. "By voting for this treaty, the Senate can help to banish poison gas from the earth, and make America's citizens and soldiers much more secure. … The treaty will increase the safety of our citizens at home, as well as our troops in the field. The destruction of current stockpiles, including at least 40,000 tons of poison gas in Russia alone, will put the largest potential sources of chemical weapons out of the reach of terrorists, and the trade controls will deny terrorists easy access to the ingredients they seek."
Bush, by contrast, would later make much more sweeping claims.
For instance, in a weekly radio address on Sept. 14, 2002, Bush said of Hussein-era Iraq, "Today this regime likely maintains stockpiles of chemical and biological agents, and is improving and expanding facilities capable of producing chemical and biological weapons. Today Saddam Hussein has the scientists and infrastructure for a nuclear weapons program, and has illicitly sought to purchase the equipment needed to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon. Should his regime acquire fissile material, it would be able to build a nuclear weapon within a year."
Then, during his State of the Union address on Jan. 28, 2003 -- on the eve of the war -- Bush said, "The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed in the 1990s that Saddam Hussein had an advanced nuclear weapons development program, had a design for a nuclear weapon and was working on five different methods of enriching uranium for a bomb. The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production."
So while it’s true that both Clinton and Bush mentioned weapons of mass destruction in relation to Iraq, Bush’s claim was much more expansive.
Bush, the Truth and Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction
Regarding Laurence H. Silberman’s “The Dangerous Lie That ‘Bush Lied’” (op-ed, Feb. 9): The dovetailing of misinformation that constituted the National Intelligence Estimate leaves little room for doubt that the NIE was itself contrived.
What is shocking about this dismal chapter in our history is that so many members of Congress (Democrats especially, but Republicans as well) sat quietly and allowed themselves to be cowed into complicity in this rush to war when there was so little genuine evidence to justify it.
It is now clear that the decision to go to war was made long before Gen. Colin Powell presented a litany of “evidence” of an active nuclear-weapons initiative in Iraq to the U.N. Point after point was made, not only justifying the case for war, but as the only responsible course. Ignored were the conclusions of the Director General of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency Mohamed ElBaradei and that of former director Hans Blix, after a U.N. weapons inspection in Iraq, that an invasion of Iraq was not justified.
If the prelude to war did not involve intentional misrepresentations, it involved reckless indifference to the truth. The consequences were the same. Ultimately, the “evidence” relied upon to justify that war was demonstrated to be either false or inaccurate.
Judge Silberman’s concern that a future president’s credibility may be undermined by memories of this “false charge” seems to me to be exactly backward. What should be remembered are the terrible consequences of an unjustified and unsupportable war, such as the one in Iraq.
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Did Bush Lie About Weapons of Mass Destruction?
During Saturday night’s GOP presidential debate in North Carolina, Donald Trump asserted that former president George W. Bush and his administration deliberately misled the world about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Trump declared: “They lied! They said there were weapons of mass destruction. There were none, and they knew there were none.”
This claim that Bush lied about Iraq’s weaponry has been a repeated accusation of his political opponents. The same individuals have also ascribed various motives to Bush, including the desire to take Iraq’s oil, enrich the military-industrial complex, and settle a vendetta with Saddam Hussein on behalf of Bush’s father.
Conspiracies aside, the notion that Bush purposely deceived anyone about this matter conflicts with a broad range of verifiable facts. Even before Bush took office, Bill Clinton, high-ranking members of his administration, and many prominent Democrats assessed the evidence and arrived at the same conclusion that Bush reached. For example:
- “So there was an organization that is set up to monitor whether Saddam Hussein had gotten rid of his weapons of mass destruction. And that organization, UNSCOM, has made clear it has not.”
– Madeline Albright, Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State, November 10, 1999
- “The UNSCOM inspectors believe that Iraq still has stockpiles of chemical and biological munitions, a small force of Scud-type missiles, and the capacity to restart quickly its production program and build many, many more weapons.”
– President Bill Clinton, February 17, 1998
- “Saddam Hussein has been engaged in the development of weapons of mass destruction technology which is a threat to countries in the region and he has made a mockery of the weapons inspection process.”
– Democratic Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, December 16, 1998
- “There is a very easy way for this problem to be resolved, and that is for Saddam Hussein to do what he said he would do … at the end of the Gulf War when he signed the cease-fire agreement: destroy his weapons of mass destruction and let the international community come in and see that he has done that. Period.” – Samuel Berger, Bill Clinton’s National Security Advisor, February 18, l998
- “We urge you, after consulting with Congress, and consistent with the U.S. Constitution and laws, to take necessary actions (including, if appropriate, air and missile strikes on suspect Iraqi sites) to respond effectively to the threat posed by Iraq's refusal to end its weapons of mass destruction programs.”
– Letter to Bill Clinton signed by 27 U.S. Senators, including Democrats John Kerry, Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Mikulski, Carl Levin, Chris Dodd, Tom Daschle, and others, October 9, 1998
- “Saddam has delayed he has duped he has deceived the inspectors from the very first day on the job. I have another chart which shows exactly what I’m talking about. From the very beginning, he declared he had no offensive biological weapons programs. Then, when confronted with evidence following the defection of his son-in-law, he admitted they had produced more than 2100 gallons of anthrax. … But the UN inspectors believe that Saddam Hussein still has his weapons of mass destruction capability—enough ingredients to make 200 tons of VX nerve gas 31,000 artillery shells and rockets filled with nerve and mustard gas 17 tons of media to grow biological agents large quantities of anthrax and other biological agents.”
– William Cohen, Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Defense, February 18, l998
Democrats made many other similar statements to this effect both before and after Bush took office. Yet, Snopes.com, a website ostensibly dedicated to debunking urban legends, has tried to diminish their import by noting that some of them “were offered in the course of statements that clearly indicated the speaker was decidedly against unilateral military intervention in Iraq by the U.S.”
That line of reasoning is an irrelevant distraction from the issue at hand. Such quotes were not brought forward to show that these people supported military action but that Democrats had no legitimate grounds for accusing Bush of lying. The chain email that Snopes critiqued for sharing these quotes makes this abundantly clear in its concluding words: “Now the Democrats say President Bush lied, that there never were any WMD's and he took us to war for his oil buddies. Right. ”
In the same piece, Snopes also whitewashed these quotes by declaring that several of them predate military strikes in 1998 that the Clinton administration said “degraded Saddam Hussein’s ability to deliver chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.”
That is a classic half-truth, for on the day that Bill Clinton ordered this action, he stated that these strikes will “significantly” degrade Hussein’s programs, but they “cannot destroy all the weapons of mass destruction capacity.”
In addition to the facts above, in 2004, the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee released a 500+ page report about “Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq.” The committee members—including eight Republicans and seven Democrats—unanimously concluded:
“The Committee did not find any evidence that intelligence analysts changed their judgments as a result of political pressure, altered or produced intelligence products to conform with Administration policy, or that anyone even attempted to coerce, influence or pressure analysts to do so.”
This statement appears on page 273 of the report, and the next 10 pages of the report provide detailed documentation that proves it.
Significantly, this report is not dismissive of the intelligence failures that preceded the Iraq war. It declares that “most of the major key judgments” made by the intelligence community in its “most authoritative” prewar report were “either overstated, or were not supported by, the underlying intelligence reporting.” However, as the quote above reveals, the committee found no malfeasance on the part of Bush or his appointees.
With disregard for these facts, the self-described “progressive” news outlet ThinkProgress, is giving credence to Trump’s claim by reporting:
“A 2005 report from United Nations inspectors found that by the time Bush sent U.S. soldiers to disarm Saddam Hussein, all evidence indicated there was nothing to support claims of nuclear or biological weapons.”
The hyperlink above leads to a 2005 Washington Post article about the Robb-Silberman report, which was commissioned by President Bush himself. These ThinkProgress and Washington Post articles both fail to provide a link to the actual report and any indication that the following statement appears on its opening page:
“After a thorough review, the Commission found no indication that the Intelligence Community distorted the evidence regarding Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. What the intelligence professionals told you about Saddam Hussein's programs was what they believed. They were simply wrong.”
The same ThinkProgress article, written by Zack Ford, also mischaracterizes a 2006 report from 60 Minutes. According to Ford:
“In 2006, Tyler Drumheller, former chief of the CIA’s Europe division, revealed that in 2002, Bush, Vice President Cheney, and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice were informed that Iraq had no active weapons of mass destruction program.”
In reality, 60 Minutes found that a lone source, an Iraqi foreign minister who “demonized the U.S. and defended Saddam,” had claimed this was the case. It is no mystery that such a person would be greeted with skepticism.
James D. Agresti is the president of Just Facts, a nonprofit institute dedicated to researching publishing verifiable facts about public policy.
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