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And None of It Was True
The 10 most appalling lies from the Bush administration’s relentless campaign to misinform the public about the dangers posed by Iraq and pave the way for war
By Christopher Scheer

“The 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 danger.”

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:

Lie 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.

Fact: 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.”

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.

Fact: 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.”

Lie No. 3: “We believe [Saddam] has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.”—Vice President Dick Cheney, March 16, 2003, on Meet the Press.

Fact: There was and is absolutely zero basis for this statement. CIA reports up through 2002 showed no evidence of an Iraqi nuclear weapons program.

Lie 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 Bush.

Fact: 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.

Lie 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.

Fact: 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.

Lie 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.

Fact: 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”?

Lie 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.

Fact: 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 the war.

Lie 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.

Fact: 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.

Lie 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.

Fact: Needless to say, no such weapons were found, not to the east, west, south or north, somewhat or otherwise.

Lie 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.

Fact: 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.

Christopher Scheer is the managing editor of AlterNet.org. He can be reached at feedback@alternet.org.


Former U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney Photo: Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images

Counter Intelligence
Cheney, the CIA, and the uranium-from-Niger fabrication

As 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?

—Ray McGovern

Ray 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.


Former U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney Photo: Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images

Bush League
Open letter to the president on his failure to at least fake some evidence

Dear 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 to us.

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.

Oops.

Never a good idea to rely on a bush, Lieutenant.

Yours,

Michael Moore

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.”

—Michael Moore


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