Sen. Robert Byrd

The Road to Coverup Is the Road to Ruin

The following is the text of floor remarks made to the US Senate on June 24, 2003 by Sen. Robert Byrd.

Mr. President, last fall, the White House released a national security strategy that called for an end to the doctrines of deterrence and containment that have been a hallmark of American foreign policy for more than half a century.

This new national security strategy is based upon pre-emptive war against those who might threaten our security.

Such a strategy of striking first against possible dangers is heavily reliant upon interpretation of accurate and timely intelligence. If we are going to hit first, based on perceived dangers, the perceptions had better be accurate. If our intelligence is faulty, we may launch pre-emptive wars against countries that do not pose a real threat against us. Or we may overlook countries that do pose real threats to our security, allowing us no chance to pursue diplomatic solutions to stop a crisis before it escalates to war. In either case lives could be needlessly lost. In other words, we had better be certain that we can discern the imminent threats from the false alarms.

Ninety-six days ago [as of June 24], President Bush announced that he had initiated a war to "disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger." The President told the world: "Our nation enters this conflict reluctantly -- yet, our purpose is sure. 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." [Address to the Nation, 3/19/03]

The President has since announced that major combat operations concluded on May 1. He said: "Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed." Since then, the United States has been recognized by the international community as the occupying power in Iraq. And yet, we have not found any evidence that would confirm the officially stated reason that our country was sent to war; namely, that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction constituted a grave threat to the United States.

We have heard a lot about revisionist history from the White House of late in answer to those who question whether there was a real threat from Iraq. But, it is the President who appears to me to be intent on revising history. There is an abundance of clear and unmistakable evidence that the Administration sought to portray Iraq as a direct and deadly threat to the American people. But there is a great difference between the hand-picked intelligence that was presented by the Administration to Congress and the American people when compared against what we have actually discovered in Iraq. This Congress and the people who sent us here are entitled to an explanation from the Administration.

On January 28, 2003, President Bush said in his State of the Union Address: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." [State of the Union, 1/28/03, pg. 7] Yet, according to news reports, the CIA knew that this claim was false as early as March 2002. In addition, the International Atomic Energy Agency has since discredited this allegation.

On February 5, Secretary of State Colin Powell told the United Nations Security Council: "Our conservative estimate is that Iraq today has a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons agent. That is enough to fill 16,000 battlefield rockets." [Remarks to UN Security Council, 2/5/03, pg. 12] The truth is, to date we have not found any of this material, nor those thousands of rockets loaded with chemical weapons.

On February 8, President Bush told the nation: "We have sources that tell us that Saddam Hussein recently authorized Iraqi field commanders to use chemical weapons - the very weapons the dictator tells us he does not have." [Radio Address, 2/8/03] Mr. President, we are all relieved that such weapons were not used, but it has not yet been explained why the Iraqi army did not use them. Did the Iraqi army flee their positions before chemical weapons could be used? If so, why were the weapons not left behind? Or is it that the army was never issued chemical weapons? We need answers.

On March 16, the Sunday before the war began, in an interview with Tim Russert, Vice President Cheney said that Iraqis want "to get rid of Saddam Hussein and they will welcome as liberators the United States when we come to do that." He added, "...the vast majority of them would turn [Saddam Hussein] in in a minute if, in fact, they thought they could do so safely." [Meet the Press, 3/16/03, pg. 6] But in fact, Mr. President, today Iraqi cities remain in disorder, our troops are under attack, our occupation government lives and works in fortified compounds, and we are still trying to determine the fate of the ousted, murderous dictator.

On March 30, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, during the height of the war, said of the search for weapons of mass destruction: "We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south, and north somewhat." [This Week, 3/30/03, pg. 8] But Baghdad fell to our troops on April 9, and Tikrit on April 14, and the intelligence Secretary Rumsfeld spoke about has not led us to any weapons of mass destruction.

Whether or not intelligence reports were bent, stretched, or massaged to make Iraq look like an imminent threat to the United States, it is clear that the Administration's rhetoric played upon the well-founded fear of the American public about future acts of terrorism. But, upon close examination, many of these statements have nothing to do with intelligence, because they are at root just sound bites based on conjecture. They are designed to prey on public fear.

The face of Osama bin Laden morphed into that of Saddam Hussein. President Bush carefully blurred these images in his State of the Union Address. Listen to this quote from his State of the Union Address: "Imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans - this time armed by Saddam Hussein. It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known." [State of the Union, 1/28/03, pg 7] Judging by this speech, not only is the President confusing al Qaeda and Iraq, but he also appears to give a vote of no-confidence to our homeland security efforts. Isn't the White House, the brains behind the Department of Homeland Security? Isn't the Administration supposed to be stopping those vials, canisters, and crates from entering our country, rather than trying to scare our fellow citizens half to death about them?

Not only did the Administration warn about more hijackers carrying deadly chemicals, the White House even went so far as to suggest that the time it would take for U.N. inspectors to find solid, 'smoking gun' evidence of Saddam's illegal weapons would put the U.S. at greater risk of a nuclear attack from Iraq. National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice was quoted as saying on September 9, 2002, by the Los Angeles Times, "We don't want the 'smoking gun' to be a mushroom cloud." [Los Angeles Times, "Threat by Iraq Grows, U.S. Says," 9/9/02] Talk about hype! Mushroom clouds? Where is the evidence for this? There isn't any.

On September 26, 2002, just two weeks before Congress voted on a resolution to allow the President to invade Iraq, and six weeks before the mid-term elections, President Bush himself built the case that Iraq was plotting to attack the United States. After meeting with members of Congress on that date, the President said: "The danger to our country is grave. The danger to our country is growing. The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons.... The regime is seeking a nuclear bomb, and with fissile material, could build one within a year."

These are the President's words. He said that Saddam Hussein is "seeking a nuclear bomb." Have we found any evidence to date of this chilling allegation? No.

But, President Bush continued on that autumn day: "The dangers we face will only worsen from month to month and from year to year. To ignore these threats is to encourage them. And when they have fully materialized it may be too late to protect ourselves and our friends and our allies. By then the Iraqi dictator would have the means to terrorize and dominate the region. Each passing day could be the one on which the Iraqi regime gives anthrax or VX - nerve gas - or some day a nuclear weapon to a terrorist ally." [Rose Garden Remarks, 9/26/02]

And yet, seven weeks after declaring victory in the war against Iraq, we have seen nary a shred of evidence to support his claims of grave dangers, chemical weapons, links to al Qaeda, or nuclear weapons.

Just days before a vote on a resolution that handed the President unprecedented war powers, President Bush stepped up the scare tactics. On October 7, just four days before the October 11 vote in the Senate on the war resolution, the President stated: "We know that Iraq and the al Qaeda terrorist network share a common enemy -- the United States of America. We know that Iraq and al Qaeda have had high-level contacts that go back a decade." President Bush continued: "We've learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gasses.... Alliance with terrorists could allow the Iraqi regime to attack America without leaving any fingerprints."

President Bush also elaborated on claims of Iraq's nuclear program when he said: "The evidence indicates that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program. Saddam Hussein has held numerous meetings with Iraqi nuclear scientists, a group he calls his 'nuclear mujahideen' -- his nuclear holy warriors.... If the Iraqi regime is able to produce, buy, or steal an amount of highly enriched uranium a little larger than a single softball, it could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year." [Cincinnati Museum Center, 10/7/02, pg. 3-4]

This is the kind of pumped up intelligence and outrageous rhetoric that were given to the American people to justify war with Iraq. This is the same kind of hyped evidence that was given to Congress to sway its vote for war on October 11, 2002.

We hear some voices say, but why should we care? After all, the United States won the war, didn't it? Saddam Hussein is no more; he is either dead or on the run. What does it matter if reality does not reveal the same grim picture that was so carefully painted before the war? So what if the menacing characterizations that conjured up visions of mushroom clouds and American cities threatened with deadly germs and chemicals were overdone? So what?

Mr. President, our sons and daughters who serve in uniform answered a call to duty. They were sent to the hot sands of the Middle East to fight in a war that has already cost the lives of 194 Americans, thousands of innocent civilians, and unknown numbers of Iraqi soldiers. Our troops are still at risk. Hardly a day goes by that there is not another attack on the troops who are trying to restore order to a country teetering on the brink of anarchy. When are they coming home?

The President told the American people that we were compelled to go to war to secure our country from a grave threat. Are we any safer today than we were on March 18, 2003? Our nation has been committed to rebuilding a country ravaged by war and tyranny, and the cost of that task is being paid in blood and treasure every day.

It is in the compelling national interest to examine what we were told about the threat from Iraq. It is in the compelling national interest to know if the intelligence was faulty. It is in the compelling national interest to know if the intelligence was distorted.

Mr. President, Congress must face this issue squarely. Congress should begin immediately an investigation into the intelligence that was presented to the American people about the pre-war estimates of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction and the way in which that intelligence might have been misused. This is no time for a timid Congress. We have a responsibility to act in the national interest and protect the American people. We must get to the bottom of this matter.

Although some timorous steps have been taken in the past few days to begin a review of this intelligence -- I must watch my terms carefully, for I may be tempted to use the words "investigation" or "inquiry" to describe this review, and those are terms which I am told are not supposed to be used -- the proposed measures appear to fall short of what the situation requires. We are already shading our terms about how to describe the proposed review of intelligence: cherry-picking words to give the American people the impression that the government is fully in control of the situation, and that there is no reason to ask tough questions. This is the same problem that got us into this controversy about slanted intelligence reports. Word games. Lots and lots of word games.

Well, Mr. President, this is no game. For the first time in our history, the United States has gone to war because of intelligence reports claiming that a country posed a threat to our nation. Congress should not be content to use standard operating procedures to look into this extraordinary matter. We should accept no substitute for a full, bipartisan investigation by Congress into the issue of our pre-war intelligence on the threat from Iraq and its use.

The purpose of such an investigation is not to play pre-election year politics, nor is it to engage in what some might call "revisionist history." Rather it is to get at the truth. The longer questions are allowed to fester about what our intelligence knew about Iraq, and when they knew it, the greater the risk that the people -- the American people whom we are elected to serve -- will lose confidence in our government.

This looming crisis of trust is not limited to the public. Many of my colleagues were willing to trust the Administration and vote to authorize war against Iraq. Many members of this body trusted so much that they gave the President sweeping authority to commence war. As President Reagan famously said, "Trust, but verify." Despite my opposition, the Senate voted to blindly trust the President with unprecedented power to declare war. While the reconstruction continues, so do the questions, and it is time to verify.

I have served the people of West Virginia in Congress for half a century. I have witnessed deceit and scandal, cover up and aftermath. I have seen Presidents of both parties who once enjoyed great popularity among the people leave office in disgrace because they misled the American people. I say to this Administration: Do not circle the wagons. Do not discourage the seeking of truth in these matters.

Mr. President, the American people have questions that need to be answered about why we went to war with Iraq. To attempt to deny the relevance of these questions is to trivialize the people's trust.

The business of intelligence is secretive by necessity, but our government is open by design. We must be straight with the American people. Congress has the obligation to investigate the use of intelligence information by the Administration, in the open, so that the American people can see that those who exercise power, especially the awesome power of preemptive war, must be held accountable. We must not go down the road of cover-up. That is the road to ruin.

The Truth Will Emerge

Senate Floor Remarks - May 21, 2003
"Truth, crushed to earth, shall rise again,
The eternal years of God are hers;
But Error, wounded, writhes in pain,
And dies among his worshippers."
Truth has a way of asserting itself despite all attempts to obscure it. Distortion only serves to derail it for a time. No matter to what lengths we humans may go to obfuscate facts or delude our fellows, truth has a way of squeezing out through the cracks, eventually.

But the danger is that at some point it may no longer matter. The danger is that damage is done before the truth is widely realized. The reality is that, sometimes, it is easier to ignore uncomfortable facts and go along with whatever distortion is currently in vogue. We see a lot of this today in politics. I see a lot of it -- more than I would ever have believed -- right on this Senate Floor.

Regarding the situation in Iraq, it appears to this Senator that the American people may have been lured into accepting the unprovoked invasion of a sovereign nation, in violation of long-standing International law, under false premises. There is ample evidence that the horrific events of September 11 have been carefully manipulated to switch public focus from Osama Bin Laden and Al Queda who masterminded the September 11th attacks, to Saddam Hussein who did not. The run up to our invasion of Iraq featured the President and members of his cabinet invoking every frightening image they could conjure, from mushroom clouds, to buried caches of germ warfare, to drones poised to deliver germ laden death in our major cities. We were treated to a heavy dose of overstatement concerning Saddam Hussein's direct threat to our freedoms. The tactic was guaranteed to provoke a sure reaction from a nation still suffering from a combination of post traumatic stress and justifiable anger after the attacks of 9/11. It was the exploitation of fear. It was a placebo for the anger.

Since the war's end, every subsequent revelation which has seemed to refute the previous dire claims of the Bush Administration has been brushed aside. Instead of addressing the contradictory evidence, the White House deftly changes the subject. No weapons of mass destruction have yet turned up, but we are told that they will in time. Perhaps they yet will. But, our costly and destructive bunker busting attack on Iraq seems to have proven, in the main, precisely the opposite of what we were told was the urgent reason to go in. It seems also to have, for the present, verified the assertions of Hans Blix and the inspection team he led, which President Bush and company so derided. As Blix always said, a lot of time will be needed to find such weapons, if they do, indeed, exist. Meanwhile Bin Laden is still on the loose and Saddam Hussein has come up missing.

The Administration assured the U.S. public and the world, over and over again, that an attack was necessary to protect our people and the world from terrorism. It assiduously worked to alarm the public and blur the faces of Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden until they virtually became one.

What has become painfully clear in the aftermath of war is that Iraq was no immediate threat to the U.S. Ravaged by years of sanctions, Iraq did not even lift an airplane against us. Iraq's threatening death-dealing fleet of unmanned drones about which we heard so much morphed into one prototype made of plywood and string. Their missiles proved to be outdated and of limited range. Their army was quickly overwhelmed by our technology and our well trained troops.

Presently our loyal military personnel continue their mission of diligently searching for WMD. They have so far turned up only fertilizer, vacuum cleaners, conventional weapons, and the occasional buried swimming pool. They are misused on such a mission and they continue to be at grave risk. But the Bush team's extensive hype of WMD in Iraq as justification for a preemptive invasion has become more than embarrassing. It has raised serious questions about prevarication and the reckless use of power. Were our troops needlessly put at risk? Were countless Iraqi civilians killed and maimed when war was not really necessary? Was the American public deliberately misled? Was the world?

What makes me cringe even more is the continued claim that we are "liberators." The facts don't seem to support the label we have so euphemistically attached to ourselves. True, we have unseated a brutal, despicable despot, but "liberation" implies the follow up of freedom, self-determination and a better life for the common people. In fact, if the situation in Iraq is the result of "liberation," we may have set the cause of freedom back 200 years.

Despite our high-blown claims of a better life for the Iraqi people, water is scarce, and often foul, electricity is a sometime thing, food is in short supply, hospitals are stacked with the wounded and maimed, historic treasures of the region and of the Iraqi people have been looted, and nuclear material may have been disseminated to heaven knows where, while U.S. troops, on orders, looked on and guarded the oil supply.

Meanwhile, lucrative contracts to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure and refurbish its oil industry are awarded to Administration cronies, without benefit of competitive bidding, and the U.S. steadfastly resists offers of U.N. assistance to participate. Is there any wonder that the real motives of the U.S. government are the subject of worldwide speculation and mistrust?

And in what may be the most damaging development, the U.S. appears to be pushing off Iraq's clamor for self-government. Jay Garner has been summarily replaced, and it is becoming all too clear that the smiling face of the U.S. as liberator is quickly assuming the scowl of an occupier. The image of the boot on the throat has replaced the beckoning hand of freedom. Chaos and rioting only exacerbate that image, as U.S. soldiers try to sustain order in a land ravaged by poverty and disease. "Regime change" in Iraq has so far meant anarchy, curbed only by an occupying military force and a U.S. administrative presence that is evasive about if and when it intends to depart.

Democracy and Freedom cannot be force fed at the point of an occupier's gun. To think otherwise is folly. One has to stop and ponder. How could we have been so impossibly naive? How could we expect to easily plant a clone of U.S. culture, values, and government in a country so riven with religious, territorial, and tribal rivalries, so suspicious of U.S. motives, and so at odds with the galloping materialism which drives the western-style economies?

As so many warned this Administration before it launched its misguided war on Iraq, there is evidence that our crack down in Iraq is likely to convince 1,000 new Bin Ladens to plan other horrors of the type we have seen in the past several days. Instead of damaging the terrorists, we have given them new fuel for their fury. We did not complete our mission in Afghanistan because we were so eager to attack Iraq. Now it appears that Al Queda is back with a vengeance. We have returned to orange alert in the U.S., and we may well have destabilized the Mideast region, a region we have never fully understood. We have alienated friends around the globe with our dissembling and our haughty insistence on punishing former friends who may not see things quite our way.

The path of diplomacy and reason have gone out the window to be replaced by force, unilateralism, and punishment for transgressions. I read most recently with amazement our harsh castigation of Turkey, our longtime friend and strategic ally. It is astonishing that our government is berating the new Turkish government for conducting its affairs in accordance with its own Constitution and its democratic institutions.

Indeed, we may have sparked a new international arms race as countries move ahead to develop WMD as a last ditch attempt to ward off a possible preemptive strike from a newly belligerent U.S. which claims the right to hit where it wants. In fact, there is little to constrain this President. Congress, in what will go down in history as its most unfortunate act, handed away its power to declare war for the foreseeable future and empowered this President to wage war at will.

As if that were not bad enough, members of Congress are reluctant to ask questions which are begging to be asked. How long will we occupy Iraq? We have already heard disputes on the numbers of troops which will be needed to retain order. What is the truth? How costly will the occupation and rebuilding be? No one has given a straight answer. How will we afford this long-term massive commitment, fight terrorism at home, address a serious crisis in domestic healthcare, afford behemoth military spending and give away billions in tax cuts amidst a deficit which has climbed to over $340 billion for this year alone? If the President's tax cut passes it will be $400 billion. We cower in the shadows while false statements proliferate. We accept soft answers and shaky explanations because to demand the truth is hard, or unpopular, or may be politically costly.

But, I contend that, through it all, the people know. The American people unfortunately are used to political shading, spin, and the usual chicanery they hear from public officials. They patiently tolerate it up to a point. But there is a line. It may seem to be drawn in invisible ink for a time, but eventually it will appear in dark colors, tinged with anger. When it comes to shedding American blood -- when it comes to wreaking havoc on civilians, on innocent men, women, and children, callous dissembling is not acceptable. Nothing is worth that kind of lie -- not oil, not revenge, not reelection, not somebody's grand pipedream of a democratic domino theory.

And mark my words, the calculated intimidation which we see so often of late by the "powers that be" will only keep the loyal opposition quiet for just so long. Because eventually, as it always does, the truth will emerge. And when it does, this house of cards, built of deceit, will fall.
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