by William Rivers Pitt
June 16, 2003
After several years teaching high school, I've heard all the excuses. I didn't get my homework done because my computer crashed, because my project partner didn't do their part, because I feel sick, because I left it on the bus, because I had a dance recital, because I was abducted by aliens and viciously probed. Houdini doesn't have as many tricks. No one on earth is more inventive than a high school sophomore backed into a corner and faced with a zero on an assignment.
No one, perhaps, except Bush administration officials forced now to account for their astounding claims made since September 2002 regarding Iraq's alleged weapons program.
After roughly 280 days worth of fearful descriptions of the formidable Iraqi arsenal, coming on the heels of seven years of UNSCOM weapons inspections, four years of surveillance, months of UNMOVIC weapons inspections, the investiture of an entire nation by American and British forces, after which said forces searched "everywhere" per the words of the Marine commander over there and "found nothing," after interrogating dozens of the scientists and officers who have nothing to hide anymore because Hussein is gone, after finding out that the dreaded "mobile labs" were weather balloon platforms sold to Iraq by the British, George W. Bush and his people suddenly have a few things to answer for.
You may recall this instance where a bombastic claim was made by Bush. During his constitutionally-mandated State of the Union address on Jan. 28, 2003, Mr. Bush said, "Our intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent." Nearly five months later, those 500 tons are nowhere to be found. A few seconds with a calculator can help us understand exactly what this means.
Five hundred tons of gas equals one million pounds. After UNSCOM, after UNMOVIC, after the war, after the U.S. Army inspectors, after all the satellite surveillance, it is difficult in the extreme to imagine how one million pounds of anything could refuse to be located. Bear in mind, also, that this one million pounds is but a part of the Iraqi weapons arsenal described by Bush and his administration.
Maybe the dog ate it. Or maybe it was never there to begin with, having been destroyed years ago by the first U.N. inspectors and by the Iraqis themselves. Maybe we went to war on a big lie, one that killed over 3,500 Iraqi civilians to date, one that killed some 170 American soldiers, one that has been costing us one American soldier's life per day thus far.
If you listen to the Republicans on Capitol Hill, however, this is all just about "politics." An in-depth investigation into how exactly we came to go to war on the WMD word of the Bush administration has been quashed by the Republican majority in the House of Representatives. Closed-door hearings by the Intelligence Committee are planned next week, but an open investigation has been shunted aside by Bush allies who control the gavel and the agenda. If there is nothing to hide, as the administration insists, if nothing was done wrong, one must wonder why they fear to have these questions asked in public.
The questions are being asked anyway. Thirty-five Representatives have signed H.R. 260, which demands with specificity that the administration back up it's oft-repeated claims about the Iraqi weapons arsenal with evidence and fact. The guts of the resolution are as follows:
Resolved, That the president is requested to transmit to the House of Representatives not later than four days after the date of the adoption of this resolution documents or other materials in the president's possession that provides specific evidence for the following claims relating to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction:
(1) On Aug. 26, 2002, the Vice President in a speech stated: "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.... What he wants is time, and more time to husband his resources to invest in his ongoing chemical and biological weapons program, and to gain possession of nuclear weapons."
(2) On Sept. 12, 2002, in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly, the president stated: "Right now, Iraq is expanding and improving facilities that were used for the production of biological weapons. Iraq has made several attempts to buy high-strength aluminum tubes used to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon."
(3) On Oct. 7, 2002, in a speech in Cincinnati, Ohio, the president stated: "It possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons. It is seeking nuclear weapons. And surveillance photos reveal that the regime is rebuilding facilities that it had used to produce chemical and biological weapons."
(4) On Jan. 7, 2003, the secretary of defense at a press briefing stated: "There is no doubt in my mind but that they currently have chemical and biological weapons."
(5) On Jan. 9, 2003, in his daily press briefing, the White House spokesperson stated: "We know for a fact that there are weapons there Iraq."
(6) On March 16, 2003, in an appearance on NBC's Meet The Press, the vice president stated: "We believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons. I think Mr. El Baradei frankly is wrong."
(7) On March 17, 2003, in an address to the nation, the President stated: "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."
(8) On March 21, 2003, in his daily press briefing the White House spokesperson stated: "Well, there is no question that we have evidence and information that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, biological and chemical particularly. All this will be made clear in the course of the operation, for whatever duration it takes."
(9) On March 24, 2003, in an appearance on CBS's Face the Nation, the secretary of defense stated: "We have seen intelligence over many months that they have chemical and biological weapons, and that they have dispersed them and that they're weaponized and that, in one case at least, the command and control arrangements have been established."
(10) On March 30, 2003, in an appearance on ABC's This Week, the secretary of defense stated: "We know where they are, they are in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad."
On June 10, 2003, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) transmitted a letter to Condoleezza Rice demanding answers to a specific area of concern in this whole mess. His letter goes on to repeat, in scathing detail, the multi-faceted claims made by the Bush administration regarding an Iraqi nuclear weapons program, and deconstructs those claims with a fine scalpel. "What I want to know is the answer to a simple question: Why did the president use forged evidence in the State of the Union address?" the letter concludes. "This is a question that bears directly on the credibility of the United States, and it should be answered in a prompt and forthright manner, with full disclosure of all the relevant facts."
It is this aspect, the nuclear claims, that has led the Bush administration to do what many observers expected them to do for a while now: They have blamed it all on the CIA. A report in the June 12, 2003 edition of The Washington Post cites an unnamed Bush administration official who claims that the CIA knew the evidence of Iraqi nuclear plans had been forged, but that CIA failed to give this information to Bush. The Post story states, "A senior intelligence official said the CIA's action was the result of 'extremely sloppy' handling of a central piece of evidence in the administration's case against then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein."
Ergo, it wasn't the dog who ate the WMD. It was the CIA. Unfortunately for Bush and his people, this blame game will not hold water.
Early in October of 2002, Bush went before the American people and delivered yet another vat of nightmarish descriptions of what Saddam Hussein could do to America and the world with his vast array of weaponry. One week before this speech, however, the CIA had publicly stated that Hussein and Iraq were less of a threat than they had been for the last 10 years.
Columnist Robert Scheer reported on Oct. 9, 2002, that, "In its report, the CIA concludes that years of U.N. inspections combined with U.S. and British bombing of selected targets have left Iraq far weaker militarily than in the 1980s, when it was supported in its war against Iran by the United States. The CIA report also concedes that the agency has no evidence that Iraq possesses nuclear weapons."
Certainly, if citizen Scheer was able to read and understand the CIA report on Iraq's nuclear capabilities, the president of the United States could easily do so as well.
The scandal which laid Bill Clinton low centered around his lying under oath about sex. The scandal which took down Richard Nixon was certainly more profound, as he was accused of misusing the CIA and FBI to spy on political opponents while paying off people to lie about his actions. Lying under oath and misusing the intelligence community are both serious transgressions, to be sure. The matter of Iraq's weapons program, however, leaves both of these in deep shade.
George W. Bush and his people used the fear and terror that still roils within the American people in the aftermath of 9/11 to fob off an unnerving fiction about a faraway nation, and then used that fiction to justify a war that killed thousands and thousands of people.
Latter-day justifications about "liberating" the Iraqi people or demonstrating the strength of America to the world do not obscure this fact. They lied us into a war that, beyond the death toll, served as the greatest Al Qaeda recruiting drive in the history of the world. They lied about a war that cost billions of dollars which could have been better used to bolster America's amazingly substandard anti-terror defenses. They are attempting, in the aftermath, to misuse the CIA by blaming them for all of it.
Blaming the CIA will not solve this problem, for the CIA is well able to defend itself. Quashing investigations in the House will not stem the questions that come now at a fast and furious clip.
They lied. Period. Trust a teacher on this. We can spot liars who have not done their homework a mile away.
William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times best-selling author of two books, War On Iraq (Context Books, 2002), and The Greatest Sedition is Silence now available from Pluto Press at www.SilenceIsSedition.com. Scott Lowery contributed research to this report. This article first appeared in Truthout (www.truthout.org).