Bad Iraq Data from Start to Finish
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June 3, 2003 -- Ever since the tragedy of Sept. 11, the Bush administration has relied on selective and distorted intelligence data to make the case for invading Iraq. But the truth will out, and the White House is now scrambling to explain away its mendacity.
On Sunday, Condoleezza Rice admitted that President Bush had used a forged document in his State of the Union speech to prove Iraq represented a nuclear threat: "We did not know at the time -- maybe someone knew down in the bowels of the agency -- but no one in our circles knew that there were doubts and suspicions that this might be a forgery. Of course it was information that was mistaken."
United Nations inspectors, belatedly presented with the same document, realized within hours it was a crude forgery.
While this garbage and much else like it got rushed into the light, the Bush administration protected its continuing lie about a connection between 9/11 and Saddam Hussein by repressing the results of interrogations of captured top Al Qaeda leaders.
As Monday's New York Times reported, Al Qaeda honchos in separate interrogations told a consistent story a year ago: The terrorist group, and Osama bin Laden in particular, had shunned any connection with Hussein and his government.
In going to war, the administration was unable to come up with a shred of verifiable evidence linking Hussein with Bin Laden. The closest it came was a purported meeting in Prague between an Al Qaeda member and an Iraqi diplomat, which has been fully repudiated by the Czech government.
Keeping secret any information that contradicted the pro-war line of the administration allowed Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to fabricate what he called a "bulletproof" connection between Al Qaeda and Hussein. We were expected to believe that our government had hard, definitive intelligence we couldn't be shown -- just as we were told to trust that U.N. inspectors wouldn't be able to find all of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction in time to avert disaster.
Thus, with the pattern established, it was not surprising last week to read in the Los Angeles Times of a leaked report from the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency -- secret since its completion last September -- that indicated the depth of our government's confusion as to the nature of the Iraq WMD threat.
The report stated that "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," according to U.S. officials interviewed by The Times. Yet that very month, Rumsfeld told Congress that Hussein's "regime has amassed large, clandestine stockpiles of chemical weapons -- including VX, sarin, cyclosarin and mustard gas."
Did Rumsfeld know of the DIA report? If so, did he keep that information from the president? Or did he and Bush knowingly deceive the American people? And isn't that an impeachable offense?
Unfortunately, the president still hasn't learned his lesson.
Only last week, on his trip to Europe, he pointed to two mobile trailers the U.S. had seized in Iraq as proof of Iraq's threatening WMD program. Yet, as emerged over the weekend in newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic, Bush's claims rest on intelligence that is again unable to withstand scrutiny: Some leading weapons experts summoned by the administration to make the case for the ominous trailers take issue with the Bush administration's interpretation of their design and use.
On Saturday, the New York Times, which had originally hyped the trailer story based on official U.S. sources, published a front-page report quoting experts who repudiated the administration's claims.
One such expert went so far as to say the government's "white paper" on the labs "was a rushed job and looks political." Others questioned myriad technical claims and suppositions in the report that led to the government's conclusion that the trailers were germ labs that could be used to cook up anthrax or other bioweapons.
"It's not built and designed as a standard fermenter," one top U.S. scientist told the New York Times. "Certainly, if you modify it enough you could use it. But that's true of any tin can."
On Sunday, the London Observer, citing British intelligence sources, reported that it "is increasingly likely that the units were designed to be used for hydrogen production to fill artillery balloons, part of a system originally sold to Saddam by Britain in 1987."
The British Parliament is in an uproar, but so far the U.S. Congress has failed to exercise its obligation to hold the executive branch accountable.