None of It Was True
The 10 most appalling lies from
the Bush administrations relentless campaign to misinform
the public about the dangers posed by Iraq and pave the
way for war
By Christopher Scheer
Iraqi dictator must not be permitted to threaten America
and the world with horrible poisons and diseases and gases
and atomic weapons.”—President George W. Bush, Oct. 7, 2002,
in a speech in Cincinnati.
There is a small somber box that appears in The New York
Times every day. Titled simply “Killed in Iraq,” it
lists the names and military affiliations of those who most
recently died on tour of duty. A recent edition listed just
one name: Orenthial J. Smith, age 21, of Allendale, S.C.
The young, late O.J. Smith almost certainly was named after
the legendary running back, Orenthal J. Simpson, before
that dashing American hero was charged for a double murder.
Now his namesake has died in far-off Mesopotamia in a noble
mission to, as our president put it on March 19, “disarm
Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave
Today, more than three months after Bush’s stirring declaration
of war and nearly two months since he declared victory,
no chemical, biological or nuclear weapons have been found,
nor any documentation of their existence, nor any sign they
were deployed in the field.
The mainstream press, after an astonishing two years of
cowardice, is belatedly drawing attention to the unconscionable
level of administrative deception. They seem surprised to
find that when it comes to Iraq, the Bush administration
isn’t prone to the occasional lie of expediency but, in
fact, almost never told the truth.
What follows are just the most outrageous and significant
of the dozens of outright lies uttered by Bush and his top
officials over the past year in what amounts to a systematic
campaign to scare the bejeezus out of everybody:
No. 1: “The evidence indicates that Iraq is reconstituting
its nuclear weapons program. . . . Iraq has attempted to
purchase high-strength aluminum tubes and other equipment
needed for gas centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium
for nuclear weapons.”—President Bush, Oct. 7, 2002, in Cincinnati.
This story, leaked to and breathlessly reported by Judith
Miller in The New York Times, has turned out to be
complete baloney. Department of Energy officials, who monitor
nuclear plants, say the tubes could not be used for enriching
uranium. One intelligence analyst, who was part of the tubes
investigation, angrily told The New Republic: “You
had senior American officials like Condoleezza Rice saying
the only use of this aluminum really is uranium centrifuges.
She said that on television. And that’s just a lie.”
No. 2: “The British government has learned that Saddam
Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium
from Africa.”—President Bush, Jan. 28, 2003, in the State
of the Union address.
This whopper was based on a document that the White House
already knew to be a forgery thanks to the CIA. Sold to
Italian intelligence by some hustler, the document carried
the signature of an official who had been out of office
for 10 years and referenced a constitution that was no longer
in effect. The ex-ambassador whom the CIA sent to check
out the story is pissed: “They knew the Niger story was
a flat-out lie,” he told The New Republic, anonymously.
“They [the White House] were unpersuasive about aluminum
tubes and added this to make their case more strongly.”
No. 3: “We believe [Saddam] has, in fact, reconstituted
nuclear weapons.”—Vice President Dick Cheney, March 16,
2003, on Meet the Press.
There was and is absolutely zero basis for this statement.
CIA reports up through 2002 showed no evidence of an Iraqi
nuclear weapons program.
No. 4: “[The CIA possesses] solid reporting of senior-level
contacts between Iraq and al-Qaeda going back a decade.”—CIA
director George Tenet in a written statement released Oct.
7, 2002, and echoed in that evening’s speech by President
Intelligence agencies knew of tentative contacts between
Saddam and Al Qaeda in the early ’90s, but found no proof
of a continuing relationship. In other words, by tweaking
language, Tenet and Bush spun the intelligence 180 degrees
to say exactly the opposite of what it suggested.
No. 5: “We’ve learned that Iraq has trained Al Qaeda
members in bombmaking and poisons and deadly gases. . .
. Alliance with terrorists could allow the Iraqi regime
to attack America without leaving any fingerprints.”—President
Bush, Oct. 7, 2002.
No evidence of this has ever been leaked or produced. Colin
Powell told the United Nations that this alleged training
took place in a camp in northern Iraq. To his great embarrassment,
the area he indicated was later revealed to be outside Iraq’s
control and patrolled by Allied warplanes.
No. 6: “We have also discovered through intelligence
that Iraq has a growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial
vehicles that could be used to disperse chemical or biological
weapons across broad areas. We are concerned that Iraq is
exploring ways of using these UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles]
for missions targeting the United States.”—President Bush,
Oct. 7, 2002.
Said drones can’t fly more than 300 miles, and Iraq is 6,000
miles from the U.S. coastline. Furthermore, Iraq’s drone-building
program wasn’t much more advanced than your average model-plane
enthusiast. And isn’t a “manned aerial vehicle” just a scary
way to say “plane”?
No. 7: “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.”—President Bush, Feb. 8, 2003, in
a national radio address.
Despite a massive nationwide search by U.S. and British
forces, there are no signs, traces or examples of chemical
weapons being deployed in the field, or anywhere else during
No. 8: “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.”—Secretary of State Colin Powell, Feb. 5, 2003,
in remarks to the U.N. Security Council.
Putting aside the glaring fact that not one drop of this
massive stockpile has been found, as previously reported
on AlterNet, the United States’ own intelligence reports
show that these stocks—if they existed—were well past their
use-by date and therefore useless as weapon fodder.
No. 9: “We know where [Iraq’s WMD] are. They’re in the
area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south, and
north somewhat.”—Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, March
30, 2003, in statements to the press.
Needless to say, no such weapons were found, not to the
east, west, south or north, somewhat or otherwise.
No. 10: “Yes, we found a biological laboratory in Iraq
which the U.N. prohibited.”—President Bush in remarks in
Poland, published internationally June 1, 2003.
This was reference to the discovery of two modified truck
trailers that the CIA claimed were potential mobile biological
weapons labs. But British and American experts—including
the State Department’s intelligence wing in a report released
this week—have since declared this to be untrue. According
to the British, and much to Prime Minister Tony Blair’s
embarrassment, the trailers are actually exactly what Iraq
said they were—facilities to fill weather balloons, sold
to them by the British themselves.
So, months after the war, we are once again where we started—with
plenty of rhetoric and absolutely no proof of this “grave
danger” for which O.J. Smith died. The Bush administration
is now scrambling to place the blame for its lies on faulty
intelligence, when in fact the intelligence was fine; it
was their abuse of it that was “faulty.”
Rather than apologize for leading us to a preemptive war
based on impossibly faulty or shamelessly distorted “intelligence”
or offering his resignation, our sly madman in the White
House is starting to sound more like that other O.J. Like
the man who cheerfully played golf while promising to pursue
“the real killers,” Bush is now vowing to search for “the
true extent of Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs, no matter
how long it takes.”
On the terrible day of the 9/11 attacks, five hours after
a hijacked plane slammed into the Pentagon, retired Gen.
Wesley Clark received a strange call from someone (he didn’t
name names) representing the White House position: “I was
on CNN, and I got a call at my home saying, ‘You got to
say this is connected. This is state-sponsored terrorism.
This has to be connected to Saddam Hussein,’” Clark told
Meet the Press anchor Tim Russert. “I said, ‘But—I’m
willing to say it, but what’s your evidence?’ And I never
got any evidence.’ ”
And neither did we.
Scheer is the managing editor of AlterNet.org. He can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney Photo:
Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images
the CIA, and the uranium-from-Niger fabrication
though this were normal! I mean the repeated visits Vice
President Dick Cheney made to the CIA before the war in
Iraq. The visits were, in fact, unprecedented. During my
27-year career at the Central Intelligence Agency, no vice
president ever came to us for a working visit.
During the ’80s, it was my privilege to brief Vice President
George H.W. Bush and other very senior policymakers every
other morning. I went either to the vice president’s office
or (on weekends) to his home. I am sure it never occurred
to him to come to CIA headquarters.
The morning briefings gave us an excellent window on what
was uppermost in the minds of those senior officials and
helped us refine our tasks of collection and analysis. Thus,
there was never any need for policymakers to visit us. And
the very thought of a vice president dropping by to help
us with our analysis is extraordinary. We preferred to do
that work without the pressure that inevitably comes from
policymakers at the table.
Cheney got into the operational side of intelligence as
well. Reports in late 2001 that Iraq had tried to acquire
uranium from Niger stirred such intense interest that his
office let it be known he wanted them checked out. So, with
the CIA as facilitator, a retired U.S. ambassador was dispatched
to Niger in February 2002 to investigate. He found nothing
to substantiate the report and lots to call it into question.
There the matter rested—until last summer, after the Bush
administration made the decision for war in Iraq.
Cheney, in a speech on Aug. 26, 2002, claimed that Saddam
Hussein had “resumed his effort to acquire nuclear weapons.”
At the time, CIA analysts were involved in a knockdown,
drag-out argument with the Pentagon on this very point.
Most of the nuclear engineers at the CIA, and virtually
all scientists at U.S. government laboratories and the International
Atomic Energy Agency, found no reliable evidence that Iraq
had restarted its nuclear weapons program.
But the vice president had spoken. Sad to say, those in
charge of the draft National Intelligence Estimate took
their cue and stated, falsely, that “most analysts assess
Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program.”
Smoke was blown about aluminum tubes sought by Iraq that,
it turns out, were for conventional weapons programs. The
rest amounted to circumstantial things like Hussein’s frequent
meetings with nuclear scientists and Iraq’s foot-dragging
in providing information to U.N. inspectors.
Not much heed was paid to the fact that Hussein’s son-in-law,
who supervised Iraq’s nuclear program before he defected
in 1995, had told interrogators that Iraq’s nuclear facilities—except
for the blueprints—had been destroyed in 1991 at his order.
(Documents given to the United States this week confirm
that. The Iraqi scientists who provided them added that,
even though the blueprints would have given Iraq a head
start, no order was given to restart the program; and even
had such an order been given, Iraq would still have been
years away from producing a nuclear weapon.)
In sum, the evidence presented in last September’s intelligence
estimate fell far short of what was required to support
Cheney’s claim that Iraq was on the road to a nuclear weapon.
Something scarier had to be produced, and quickly, if Congress
was to be persuaded to authorize war. And so the decision
was made to dust off the uranium-from-Niger canard.
The White House calculated—correctly—that before anyone
would make an issue of the fact that this key piece of “intelligence”
was based on a forgery, Congress would vote yes. The war
could then be waged and won. In recent weeks, administration
officials have begun spreading the word that Cheney was
never told that the Iraq-Niger story was based on a forgery.
I asked a senior official who recently served at the National
Security Council if he thought that was possible. He pointed
out that rigorous NSC procedures call for a very specific
response to all vice-presidential questions and added that
“the fact that Cheney’s office had originally asked that
the Iraq-Niger report be checked out makes it inconceivable
that his office would not have been informed of the results.”
Did the president himself know that the information used
to secure congressional approval for war was based on a
forgery? We don’t know. But which would be worse—that he
knew or that he didn’t?
McGovern, a CIA analyst from 1964 to 1990, regularly reported
to the vice president of the United States and senior policymakers
from 1981 to 1985. He now is codirector of the Servant Leadership
School, an inner-city outreach ministry in Washington, D.C.
U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney Photo:
Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images
Open letter to the president on his failure to at
least fake some evidence
Lt. George W. Bush, I hope you don’t mind me referring to
you by the only true military rank you ever achieved, that
being the one from your on-again, off-again “days” in the,
um, Texas Air National Guard. Ever since I saw you in that
flyboy outfit, landing on that ship, I assumed you now wanted
to be addressed by your military title, as opposed to the
civilian rank imposed on you by your dad’s friends.
So, Lieutenant, I was wondering, would you do me a favor?
Could you please do better than a rosebush?
I saw the guy on TV yesterday that your boys found, the
Iraqi who said he had “planted” some nuclear plans in his
“backyard” in Baghdad—12 years ago—“under a rosebush.”
Woo boy. That’s a good one. Do you really think we are as
dumb as we look? I know our fascination with American
Idol and Scott Peterson may make us Americans look a
little light in the head, but when it comes to lying to
us to lead us into war, we really do demand a bit more of
an effort and a follow-through.
You see, George, it’s not the lying and the doctoring of
intelligence that has me all upset. It’s that you’ve had
control of Iraq for more than two months now—and you couldn’t
even find the time to plant just a few nukes or vats of
nerve gas and at least make it look like you weren’t lying
You see, by not faking some evidence of weapons of mass
destruction, it shows that you thought no one would mind
if it turned out you made everything up. A different kind
of president, who believes that the American public would
be outraged if they ever found out the truth, would go to
great lengths to cover up his subterfuge.
Johnson did it with the Gulf of Tonkin. He said our ships
were “attacked” by the North Vietnamese. They weren’t, but
he knew he had to at least make it look like it happened.
Nixon said he wasn’t “a crook,” but he knew that wasn’t
enough, so he paid hush money to the burglars and somehow
had 18-and-a-half minutes erased from a tape in the Oval
Office. Why did he do this? Because he knew the American
people would be pissed if they found out the truth.
Your blatant refusal to back up your verbal deception with
the kind of fake evidence we have become used to is a slap
in our collective American face. It’s as if you are saying,
“These Americans are so damn apathetic and lazy, we won’t
have to produce any weapons to back up our claims!” If you
had just dug a few silo holes in the last month outside
Tikrit, or spread some anthrax around those Winnebagos near
Basra, or “discovered” some plutonium with that stash of
home movies of Uday Hussein feeding his tigers, then it
would have said to us that you thought we might revolt if
you were caught in a lie. It would have shown us some respect.
We honestly wouldn’t have cared if it later came out that
you planted all the WMD—sure, we’d be properly peeved, but
at least we would have been proud to know that you knew
you had to back up your phony claims with the real deal!
I guess you finally figured that out this week. It started
to appear that millions of us were calling you on your bluff—those
“fictitious reasons for the fictitious war.” So you quickly
produced this man and his rosebush and some 12-year-old
piece of paper and some metal parts. CNN broke in at 5:15
PM and screamed they had the exclusive! “IRAQI NUCLEAR PLANS
FOUND!” But a few good reporters started asking some hard
questions—and, barely three hours later, your own administration
was forced to admit the plans were “not the smoking gun”
proving that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
Never a good idea to rely on a bush, Lieutenant.
P.S. Sorry, I still can’t get that padded flyboy suit out
of my head. I know, I need help. But when you landed on
that carrier, and that banner read, “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED,”
just what mission was that that was accomplished? ‘Cause
by my count, more than 50 of our young soldiers have died
since you said the mission was accomplished. Anarchy still
reigns in Iraq, the Brits are losing kids too, and wacko
fundamentalists now seem to be ready to rule the land. Women
are already being told to cover their faces and shut their
mouths, store owners who sell liquor have been executed
and movie theaters showing “immoral” Hollywood movies have
been forced to shut down. And hey, this isn’t even west
Texas! Maybe you could get back into that jumpsuit, fly
over to Baghdad and land at the former Saddam International
Airport, jump out and give one of those big happy waves—under
a sign that reads, “MISSION IMPOSSIBLE.”