New York Times
June 6, 2008
It took just a few months after the United States’ invasion of Iraq for the world to find out that Saddam Hussein had long abandoned his nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs. He was not training terrorists or colluding with Al Qaeda. The only real threat he posed was to his own countrymen.
It has taken five years to finally come to a reckoning over how much the Bush administration knowingly twisted and hyped intelligence to justify that invasion. On Thursday — after years of Republican stonewalling — a report by the Senate Intelligence Committee gave us as good a set of answers as we’re likely to get.
The report shows clearly that President Bush should have known that important claims he made about Iraq did not conform with intelligence reports. In other cases, he could have learned the truth if he had asked better questions or encouraged more honest answers.
The report confirms one serious intelligence failure: President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other administration officials were told that Iraq still had chemical and biological weapons and did not learn that these reports were wrong until after the invasion. But Mr. Bush and his team made even that intelligence seem more solid, more recent and more dangerous than it was.
The report shows that there was no intelligence to support the two most frightening claims Mr. Bush and his vice president used to sell the war: that Iraq was actively developing nuclear weapons and had longstanding ties to terrorist groups. It seems clear that the president and his team knew that that was not true, or should have known it — if they had not ignored dissenting views and telegraphed what answers they were looking for.
Over all, the report makes it clear that top officials, especially Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, knew they were not giving a full and honest account of their justifications for going to war.
The report was supported by only two of the seven Republicans on the 15-member Senate panel. The five dissenting Republicans first tried to kill it, and then to delete most of its conclusions. They finally settled for appending objections. The bulk of their criticisms were sophistry transparently intended to protect Mr. Bush and deny the public a full accounting of how he took America into a disastrous war.
The report documents how time and again Mr. Bush and his team took vague and dubious intelligence reports on Iraq’s weapons programs and made them sound like hard and incontrovertible fact.
“They continue to pursue the nuclear program they began so many years ago,” Mr. Cheney said on Aug. 26, 2002, adding that “we now know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.”
On Oct. 7, 2002, Mr. Bush told an audience in Cincinnati that Iraq “is seeking nuclear weapons” and that “the evidence indicates that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program.” Saddam Hussein, he said, “is moving ever closer to developing a nuclear weapon.”
Later, both men talked about Iraq trying to buy uranium in Africa and about the purchase of aluminum tubes that they said could only be used for a nuclear weapons program. They talked about Iraq having such a weapon in five years, then in three years, then in one.
If they had wanted to give an honest accounting of the intelligence on Iraq’s nuclear weapons, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney would have said it indicated that Mr. Hussein’s nuclear weapons program had been destroyed years earlier by American military strikes.
As for Iraq’s supposed efforts to “reconstitute” that program, they would have had to say that reports about the uranium shopping and the aluminum tubes were the extent of the evidence — and those claims were already in serious doubt when Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney told the public about them. That would not have been nearly as persuasive, of course, as Mr. Bush’s infamous “mushroom cloud” warning.
The report said Mr. Bush was justified in saying that intelligence analysts believed Iraq had chemical and biological weapons. But even then, he and his aides glossed over inconvenient facts — that the only new data on biological weapons came from a dubious source code-named Curveball and proved to be false.
Yet Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney persisted in talking as if there were ironclad proof of Iraq’s weapons and plans for global mayhem.
“Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt that he is amassing them to use them against our friends, against our allies and against us,” Mr. Cheney said on Aug. 29, 2002.
Actually, there was plenty of doubt — at the time — about that second point. According to the Senate report, there was no evidence that Mr. Hussein intended to use weapons of mass destruction against anyone, and the intelligence community never said there was.
The committee’s dissenting Republicans attempted to have this entire section of the report deleted — along with a conclusion that the administration misrepresented the intelligence when it warned of a risk that Mr. Hussein could give weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups. They said Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney never used the word “intent” and were merely trying to suggest that Iraq “could” do those terrible things.
It’s hard to imagine that anyone drew that distinction after hearing Mr. Bush declare that “Saddam Hussein would like nothing more than to use a terrorist network to attack and to kill and leave no fingerprints behind.” Or when he said: “Each passing day could be the one on which the Iraqi regime gives anthrax or VX nerve gas or someday a nuclear weapon to a terrorist ally.”
The Senate report shows that the intelligence Mr. Bush had did not support those statements — or Mr. Rumsfeld’s that “every month that goes by, his W.M.D. programs are progressing, and he moves closer to his goal of possessing the capability to strike our population, and our allies, and hold them hostage to blackmail.”
Claims by Mr. Cheney and Mr. Rumsfeld that Iraq had longstanding ties to Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups also were false, and the Senate committee’s report shows that the two men knew it, or should have.
We cannot say with certainty whether Mr. Bush lied about Iraq. But when the president withholds vital information from the public — or leads them to believe things that he knows are not true — to justify the invasion of another country, that is bad enough.