On The Anniversary Of The Iraq Invasion, Bush Press Secretary Claims Bush Didn’t Lie
On the sixteenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, as the US government threatens punitive action against International Criminal Court investigators for attempting to look into US war crimes, former George W Bush administration Press Secretary Ari Fleischer has decided to publish a Twitter thread claiming that Bush did not lie to the world about Iraq.
Here is a transcript of the full thread by Fleischer:
The Iraq war began sixteen years ago tomorrow. There is a myth about the war that I have been meaning to set straight for years. After no WMDs were found, the left claimed “Bush lied. People died.” This accusation itself is a lie. It’s time to put it to rest.
The fact is that President Bush (and I as press secretary) faithfully and accurately reported to the public what the intelligence community concluded. The CIA, along with the intelligence services of Egypt, France, Israel and others concluded that Saddam had WMD. We all turned out to be wrong. That is very different from lying.
After the war, a bipartisan group was created to determine what went wrong, particularly why the intelligence community’s conclusions about Iraq were so different from what was found on the ground after the war. The group of experts was named the Robb-Silberman commission. It’s report was issued in March 2005. It can be found in full here. Its key finding was that that a “major intelligence failure” took place. It also stated that no intelligence service was pressured by the Bush Administration to conclude that Saddam had WMDs.
Here are the key quotes from their report:
“Overall Commission Finding: The Intelligence Community’s performance in assessing Iraq’s pre-war weapons of mass destruction programs was a major intelligence failure.
Nuclear Weapons Summary Finding: The Intelligence Community seriously misjudged the status of Iraq’s alleged nuclear weapons program in the 2002 NIE and other pre-Iraq war intelligence products. This misjudgment stemmed chiefly from the Community’s failure to analyze correctly Iraq’s reasons for attempting to procure high-strength aluminum tubes.
Biological Warfare Summary Finding: The Intelligence Community seriously misjudged the status of Iraq’s biological weapons program in the 2002 NIE and other pre-war intelligence products. The primary reason for this misjudgment was the Intelligence Community’s heavy reliance on a human source — codenamed ‘Curveball’ — whose information later proved to be unreliable.
Chemical Warfare Summary Finding: The Intelligence Community erred in its 2002 NIE assessment of Iraq’s alleged chemical warfare program. The Community’s substantial overestimation of Iraq’s chemical warfare program was due chiefly to flaws in analysis and the paucity of quality information collected. In the case of Iraq, collectors of intelligence absorbed the prevailing analytic consensus and tended to reject or ignore contrary information. The result was ‘tunnel vision’ focusing on the Intelligence Community’s existing assumptions. The Intelligence Community did not make or change any analytic judgments in response to political pressure to reach a particular conclusion, but the pervasive conventional wisdom that Saddam retained WMD affected the analytic process. The CIA took too long to admit error in Iraq, and its Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control Center actively discouraged analysts from investigating errors.
Finally, we closely examined the possibility that intelligence analysts were pressured by policymakers to change their judgments about Iraq’s nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons programs. The analysts who worked Iraqi weapons issues universally agreed that in no instance did political pressure cause them to skew or alter any of their analytical judgments.”
That is what the investigators reported, after been given full access to people throughout the intelligence community. Which leads me to conclude that there was a liar and his name was Saddam Hussein. He created an elaborate system of lies to fool western intelligence services and he succeeded. He wanted us to believe he had WMDs.
The allegaton that “Bush lied. People died” is a liberal myth created to politically target President Bush. I understand the anger that was felt after no WMDs were found. But that doesn’t justify calling the President a liar. I can only hope that serious historians and other experts do their homework and resist falling for this myth.
Ari Fleischer is lying. It is an absolute proven fact that George W Bush and his administration lied extensively about the degree of certainty in intelligence regarding Saddam Hussein possessing weapons of mass destruction, having ties to Al Qaeda, and seeking nuclear weapons, all of which (along with Vice President Cheney’s claim that the US invaders would be “greeted as liberators”) proved false. The Bush administration did not know the things they claimed to know with any degree of certainty, but they claimed that they were certain in order to manufacture support for war. Claiming to know something you do not know is lying, especially when it’s to advance an ulterior motive.
“Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications and statements by people now in custody reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of Al Qaeda,” Bush claimed in January 2003. “Secretly, and without fingerprints, he could provide one of his hidden weapons to terrorists, or help them develop their own.”
“Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction,” Cheney claimed in August 2002. “There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.”
“The United States knows that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction,” Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said in December 2002. “Any country on the face of the earth with an active intelligence program knows that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.”
“We are absolutely sure they have continued to develop weapons of mass destruction, and we are sure they have in their possession weapons of mass destruction,” Secretary of State Colin Powell said in December 2002.
“My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources,” Powell told the United Nations Security Council in his infamous Iraq presentation in February 2003. “These are not assertions. What we’re giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.”
“People will continue to debate this issue, but there is no doubt in my mind,” Powell said in the same presentation. “These illicit procurement efforts show that Saddam Hussein is very much focused on putting in place the key missing piece from his nuclear weapons program, the ability to produce fissile material.”
Powell was not nearly as certain as he claimed to be. None of them were. Facts revealed after the invasion prove that for all their public claims of complete and total certainty that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, was aiding and abetting Al Qaida, and was developing nuclear weapons, behind the veil of government secrecy there was nothing like certainty at all.
For starters, Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, who was cited in Powell’s presentation and who Fleischer refers to by the code name “Curveball” in the above thread, was known to have been lying about bioweapons long before the invasion. Despite the confident assertions made by the Bush administration about Janabi’s claims to the public, no American personnel were present when he made those claims, and he told the Guardian in 2011 that the BND (the German intelligence agency who interrogated him) had known he was lying all along.
“The BND [German intelligence] knew in 2000 that I was lying after they talked to my former boss, Dr Bassil Latif, who told them there were no mobile bioweapons factories,” Janabi said. “For 18 months after that they left me alone because they knew I was telling lies even though I never admitted it. Believe me, back then, I thought the whole thing was over for me. Then all of a sudden [in the run up to the 2003 invasion] they came back to me and started asking for more details about what I had told them. I still don’t know why the BND then passed on my information to the CIA and it ended up in Powell’s speech.”
Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson was Powell’s chief of staff and helped him prepare his UN presentation on Iraq. When asked on MSNBC if he believed he was lied to about Janabi following the 2011 revelation, Wilkerson told Cenk Uygur that “I cannot come to any other conclusion, especially when I have discovered that no US personnel were present when Curveball was interrogated by the BND, the German intelligence service. That we accepted that, that we even had a head of the European division for the CIA, Tyler Drumheller, who at the last minute during Powell’s preparation, during my preparation of the secretary, had told both Tenet and McLaughlin that Curveball might not be reliable. That information was never relayed to the Secretary of State, or to me. I have some serious doubts about it now. I think there was some manipulation of this material, and there was some outright lying.”
When asked by Uygur who he thought lied to him, Wilkerson said one of WINPAC’s two WMD experts at the time may have been answering directly to Dick Cheney’s office.
A declassified report from 2002 titled Iraq: Status of WMD Programs reveals that while the Bush administration was making its claims of absolute certainty regarding the dangers posed by the Iraqi government, behind the scenes it was damn near the opposite. Some choice excerpts:
“Our assessments rely heavily on analytic assumptions and judgment rather than hard evidence. The evidentiary base is particularly sparse for Iraqi nuclear programs.”
“We range from 0% to about 75% knowledge on various aspects of their program.”
“Our knowledge of the Iraqi (nuclear) weapons program is based largely — perhaps 90% — on analysis of imprecise intelligence.”
“We cannot confirm the identity of any Iraqi facilities that produce, test, fill, or store biological weapons.”
“Our knowledge of what biological weapons the Iraqis are able to produce is nearly complete. Our knowledge of how and where they are produced is nearly 90% incomplete.”
“We do not know the status of enrichment capabilities. We do not know with confidence the location of any nuclear-weapon-related facilities.”
“Please take a look at this material as to what we don’t know about WMD. It is big.” (That one was from Rumsfeld.)
“We don’t know with any precision how much we don’t know.”
This is not the language of certainty. Yet certainty was presented to the public to manufacture support for a war which murdered a million Iraqis.
The 2002 Downing Street memo, made public in 2005, reveals a secret meeting between senior officials of the British government, intelligence and defense agencies discussing what they knew about America’s plans for war. The text of the document contains an assertion by the head of MI6 that Bush had already determined that the invasion of Iraq would take place, and it was only a matter of fixing bits of intelligence around a narrative to make the case.
“Military action was now seen as inevitable,” the document reads. “Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime’s record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.”
“It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided,” the document quotes Foreign Secretary Jack Straw as saying. “But the case was thin.”
In a 2008 hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, attorney and author Vincent Bugliosi pointed out that the fact that Bush lied about Iraq could be proven by the difference between the classified 2002 National Intelligence Estimate and its declassified white paper which was made available to the public. The classified version contained dissents from the consensus and language which made it clear that the reader was reading assessments and opinions by the CIA and other intelligence agencies, whereas the unclassified version saw these things deleted, presenting the assessments as absolute fact.
“The evidence that he lied about weapons of mass destruction, by the way, which is not the basis for this book, are right in front of me,” Bugliosi said. “I have it right here. Here is the evidence. This document here is the National Intelligence Estimate. I didn’t name it before. I talked about a classified report. This is it right here. October 1st, 2002, classified NIE report. It is called Iraq’s Continuing Programs of Weapons of Mass Destruction. In this document right here, the CIA and 15 other U.S. intelligence agencies use words like this, ‘we assess that’ or ‘we judge that’ Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. This document here is the white paper that was given to you folks here in Congress and the American people. And the words ‘we assess that’ or ‘we judge that’ were removed, meaning that you folks here heard a fact, and in fact, it was only an opinion.
“Number two, on nuclear weapons, this document right here, the classified report has several important dissents. This document right here, the white paper that you folks were given and the American people, all of those dissents were deleted.”
Over and over and over again we saw the same thing: uncertainty presented as certainty. Guesses presented as fact. Opinions presented as proof. That’s a lie. Bush lied. We know this with as much certainty as his administration was pretending to have in the lead-up to the Iraq invasion. There was a pre-existing agenda to invade Iraq, and justifications were advanced to provide an excuse for that invasion with such extreme aggression that now-National Security Advisor John Bolton literally threatened to murder an international official’s children for making diplomacy work with Saddam.
Here are a few more courtesy of Vox:
In October 2002, Bush said that Saddam Hussein had a “massive stockpile” of biological weapons. But as CIA Director George Tenet noted in early 2004, the CIA had informed policymakers it had “no specific information on the types or quantities of weapons agent or stockpiles at Baghdad’s disposal.” The “massive stockpile” was just literally made up.
In December 2002, Bush declared, “We do not know whether or not [Iraq] has a nuclear weapon.” That was not what the National Intelligence Estimate said. As Tenet would later testify, “We said that Saddam did not have a nuclear weapon and probably would have been unable to make one until 2007 to 2009.” Bush did know whether or not Iraq had a nuclear weapon — and lied and said he didn’t know to hype the threat.
On CNN in September 2002, Condoleezza Rice claimed that aluminum tubes purchased by Iraq were “only really suited for nuclear weapons programs.” This was precisely the opposite of what nuclear experts at the Energy Department were saying; they argue that not only was it very possible the tubes were for nonnuclear purposes but that it was very likely they were too. Even more dire assessments about the tubes from other agencies were exaggerated by administration officials — and in any case, the claim that they’re “only really suited” for nuclear weapons is just false.
On numerous occasions, Dick Cheney cited a report that 9/11 conspirator Mohammed Atta had met in Prague with an Iraqi intelligence officer. He said this after the CIA and FBI concluded that this meeting never took place.
More generally on the question of Iraq and al-Qaeda, on September 18, 2001, Rice received a memo summarizing intelligence on the relationship, which concluded there was little evidence of links. Nonetheless Bush continued to claim that Hussein was “a threat because he’s dealing with al-Qaeda” more than a year later.
In August 2002, Dick Cheney declared, “Simply stated, there’s no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.” But as Corn notes, at that time there was “no confirmed intelligence at this point establishing that Saddam had revived a major WMD operation.” Gen. Anthony Zinni, who had heard the same intelligence and attended Cheney’s speech, would later say in a documentary, “It was a total shock. I couldn’t believe the vice president was saying this, you know? In doing work with the CIA on Iraq WMD, through all the briefings I heard at Langley, I never saw one piece of credible evidence that there was an ongoing program.”
In 2007 General Wesley Clark told Democracy Now that he’d actually been informed of the decision to invade Iraq immediately after 9/11, while the crosshairs were turning on Afghanistan and well before the public narrative was being amped up in demand of an invasion of Iraq. His comments read as follows:
About ten days after 9/11, I went through the Pentagon and I saw Secretary Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz. I went downstairs just to say hello to some of the people on the Joint Staff who used to work for me, and one of the generals called me in.
He said, “Sir, you’ve got to come in and talk to me a second.” I said, “Well, you’re too busy.” He said, “No, no.” He says, “We’ve made the decision we’re going to war with Iraq.” This was on or about the 20th of September. I said, “We’re going to war with Iraq? Why?” He said, “I don’t know.” He said, “I guess they don’t know what else to do.” So I said, “Well, did they find some information connecting Saddam to al-Qaeda?” He said, “No, no.” He says, “There’s nothing new that way. They just made the decision to go to war with Iraq.” He said, “I guess it’s like we don’t know what to do about terrorists, but we’ve got a good military and we can take down governments.” And he said, “I guess if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem has to look like a nail.”
So I came back to see him a few weeks later, and by that time we were bombing in Afghanistan. I said, “Are we still going to war with Iraq?” And he said, “Oh, it’s worse than that.” He reached over on his desk. He picked up a piece of paper. And he said, “I just got this down from upstairs” — meaning the Secretary of Defense’s office — “today.” And he said, “This is a memo that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.” I said, “Is it classified?” He said, “Yes, sir.” I said, “Well, don’t show it to me.” And I saw him a year or so ago, and I said, “You remember that?” He said, “Sir, I didn’t show you that memo! I didn’t show it to you!”
Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran. If you’ve been following the behaviors of the US war machine, Iraq won’t be the only painfully familiar name on that list.
Ari Fleischer is a liar. He was in the thick of the Bush administration’s campaign to sell the Iraq war to the American public, and to this day he continues trying to sell them on new acts of depraved US interventionism. He’s just as much a warmongering neocon inside as he was when he was behind a podium defending Bush’s wars in the press room, so it’s no wonder he wants to preserve the image of his insatiable death cult. Fleischer wants to preserve his legacy, yes, but he also wants to preserve support for the war machine whose feet he worships at, hence his ham-fisted attempt at narrative manipulation regarding the unforgivable Iraq invasion.
The responses to Fleischer’s Twitter thread have been overwhelmingly negative, though, so it doesn’t look like anyone’s buying it. In our new political landscape, where the image of George W Bush is being continually rehabilitated, that gives me a bit of hope.
These monsters lied to start a war which snuffed out a million human lives and destabilized an entire region, and they did it right in front of our faces. The fact that they’re now trying to lie about the thing we all watched them do is as insulting as it is infuriating. Never let them pull the wool over your eyes, and never forget what they did. Forgiveness is highly overrated.
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