George W. Bush has got a very serious problem.
Before asking Congress for a Joint Resolution
authorizing the use of American military forces
in Iraq, he made a number of unequivocal statements
about the reason the United States needed
to pursue the most radical actions any nation
can undertake - acts of war against another
it is clear that many of his statements appear
to be false. In the past, Bush's White House
has been very good at sweeping ugly issues
like this under the carpet, and out of sight.
But it is not clear that they will be able
to make the question of what happened to Saddam
Hussein's weapons of mass destruction (WMDs)
go away - unless, perhaps, they start another
seems unlikely. Until the questions surrounding
the Iraqi war are answered, Congress and the
public may strongly resist more of President
statements, particularly on matters of national
security, are held to an expectation of the
highest standard of truthfulness. A president
cannot stretch, twist or distort facts and
get away with it. President Lyndon Johnson's
distortions of the truth about Vietnam forced
him to stand down from reelection. President
Richard Nixon's false statements about Watergate
forced his resignation.
I hope the WMDs are found, for it will end
the matter. Clearly, the story of the missing
WMDs is far from over. And it is too early,
of course, to draw conclusions. But it is
not too early to explore the relevant issues.
Bush's Statements On Iraq's Weapons Of Mass
may not recall exactly what President Bush
said about weapons of mass destruction; I
certainly didn't. Thus, I have compiled these
statements below. In reviewing them, I saw
that he had, indeed, been as explicit and
declarative as I had recalled.
statements, in chronological order, were:
now, Iraq is expanding and improving facilities
that were used for the production of biological
September 12, 2002
has stockpiled biological and chemical weapons,
and is rebuilding the facilities used to make
more of those weapons."
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."
October 5, 2002
Iraqi regime . . . possesses and produces
chemical and biological weapons. It is seeking
know that the regime has produced thousands
of tons of chemical agents, including mustard
gas, sarin nerve gas, VX nerve gas."
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're concerned that Iraq is exploring
ways of using these UAVS for missions targeting
the United States."
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. Satellite
photographs reveal that Iraq is rebuilding
facilities at sites that have been part of
its nuclear program in the past. Iraq has
attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum
tubes and other equipment needed for gas centrifuges,
which are used to enrich uranium for nuclear
October 7, 2002
intelligence officials estimate that Saddam
Hussein had the materials to produce as much
as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve
of the Union Address
January 28, 2003
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."
to the Nation
March 17, 2003
The President Get The Benefit Of The Doubt?
these statements were made, Bush's let-me-mince-no-words
posture was convincing to many Americans.
Yet much of the rest of the world, and many
other Americans, doubted them.
Bush's veracity was being debated at the United
Nations, it was also being debated on campuses
- including those where I happened to be lecturing
at the time.
several occasions, students asked me the following
question: Should they believe the President
of the United States? My answer was that they
should give the President the benefit of the
doubt, for several reasons deriving from the
usual procedures that have operated in every
modern White House and that, I assumed, had
to be operating in the Bush White House, too.
I assured the students that these statements
had all been carefully considered and crafted.
Presidential statements are the result of
a process, not a moment's thought. White House
speechwriters process raw information, and
their statements are passed on to senior aides
who have both substantive knowledge and political
insights. And this all occurs before the statement
ever reaches the President for his own review
and possible revision.
I explained that - at least in every White
House and administration with which I was
familiar, from Truman to Clinton - statements
with national security implications were the
most carefully considered of all. The White
House is aware that, in making these statements,
the President is speaking not only to the
nation, but also to the world.
I pointed out to the students, these statements
are typically corrected rapidly if they are
later found to be false. And in this case,
far from backpedaling from the President's
more extreme claims, Bush's press secretary,
Ari Fleischer had actually, at times, been
even more emphatic than the President had.
For example, on January 9, 2003, Fleischer
stated, during his press briefing, "We know
for a fact that there are weapons there."
addition, others in the Administration were
similarly quick to back the President up,
in some cases with even more unequivocal statements.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld repeatedly
claimed that Saddam had WMDs - and even went
so far as to claim he knew "where they are;
they're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad."
I explained to the students that the political
risk was so great that, to me, it was inconceivable
that Bush would make these statements if he
didn't have damn solid intelligence to back
him up. Presidents do not stick their necks
out only to have them chopped off by political
opponents on an issue as important as this,
and if there was any doubt, I suggested, Bush's
political advisers would be telling him to
hedge. Rather than stating a matter as fact,
he would be say: "I have been advised," or
"Our intelligence reports strongly suggest,"
or some such similar hedge. But Bush had not
what are we now to conclude if Bush's statements
are found, indeed, to be as grossly inaccurate
as they currently appear to have been?
all, no weapons of mass destruction have been
found, and given Bush's statements, they should
not have been very hard to find - for they
existed in large quantities, "thousands of
tons" of chemical weapons alone. Moreover,
according to the statements, telltale facilities,
groups of scientists who could testify, and
production equipment also existed.
where is all that? And how can we reconcile
the White House's unequivocal statements with
the fact that they may not exist?
are two main possibilities. One that something
is seriously wrong within the Bush White House's
national security operations. That seems difficult
to believe. The other is that the President
has deliberately misled the nation, and the
Desperate Search For WMDs Has So Far Yielded
Little, If Any, Fruit
before formally declaring war against Saddam
Hussein's Iraq, the President had dispatched
American military special forces into Iraq
to search for weapons of mass destruction,
which he knew would provide the primary justification
for Operation Freedom. None were found.
Operation Freedom's penetration of Iraq and
drive toward Baghdad, the search for WMDs
continued. None were found.
the coalition forces gained control of Iraqi
cities and countryside, special search teams
were dispatched to look for WMDs. None were
the past two and a half months, according
to reliable news reports, military patrols
have visited over 300 suspected WMD sites
throughout Iraq. None of the prohibited weapons
were found there.
and American Press Reaction to the Missing
Prime Minister Tony Blair is also under serious
attack in England, which he dragged into the
war unwillingly, based on the missing WMDs.
In Britain, the missing WMDs are being treated
as scandalous; so far, the reaction in the
U.S. has been milder.
York Times columnist, Paul Krugman, has
taken Bush sharply to task, asserting that
it is "long past time for this administration
to be held accountable." "The public was told
that Saddam posed an imminent threat," Krugman
argued. "If that claim was fraudulent," he
continued, "the selling of the war is arguably
the worst scandal in American political history
- worse than Watergate, worse than Iran-contra."
But most media outlets have reserved judgment
as the search for WMDs in Iraq continues.
signs do not look good. Last week, the Pentagon
announced it was shifting its search from
looking for WMD sites, to looking for people
who can provide leads as to where the missing
WMDs might be.
of State for Arms Control and International
Security John Bolton, while offering no new
evidence, assured Congress that WMDs will
indeed be found. And he advised that a new
unit called the Iraq Survey Group, composed
of some 1400 experts and technicians from
around the world, is being deployed to assist
in the searching.
as Time magazine reported, the leads
are running out. According to Time,
the Marine general in charge explained that
"[w]e've been to virtually every ammunition
supply point between the Kuwaiti border and
Baghdad," and remarked flatly, "They're simply
most troubling, the President has failed to
provide any explanation of how he could have
made his very specific statements, yet now
be unable to back them up with supporting
evidence. Was there an Iraqi informant thought
to be reliable, who turned out not to be?
Were satellite photos innocently, if negligently
misinterpreted? Or was his evidence not as
solid as he led the world to believe?
absence of any explanation for the gap between
the statements and reality only increases
the sense that the President's misstatements
may actually have been intentional lies.
The Iraqi War Intelligence Reports
now, while the jury is still out as to whether
intentional misconduct occurred, the President
has a serious credibility problem. Newsweek
magazine posed the key questions: "If America
has entered a new age of pre-emption --when
it must strike first because it cannot afford
to find out later if terrorists possess nuclear
or biological weapons--exact intelligence
is critical. How will the United States take
out a mad despot or a nuclear bomb hidden
in a cave if the CIA can't say for sure where
they are? And how will Bush be able to maintain
support at home and abroad?"
an apparent attempt to bolster the President's
credibility, and his own, Secretary Rumsfeld
himself has now called for a Defense Department
investigation into what went wrong with the
pre-war intelligence. New York Times
columnist Maureen Dowd finds this effort about
on par with O. J.'s looking for his wife's
killer. But there may be a difference: Unless
the members of Administration can find someone
else to blame - informants, surveillance technology,
lower-level personnel, you name it - they
may not escape fault themselves.
committees are also looking into the pre-war
intelligence collection and evaluation. Senator
John Warner (R-VA), chairman of the Senate
Armed Services Committee, said his committee
and the Senate Intelligence Committee would
jointly investigate the situation. And the
House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence
plans an investigation.
investigations are certainly appropriate,
for there is potent evidence of either a colossal
intelligence failure or misconduct - and either
would be a serious problem. When the best
case scenario seems to be mere incompetence,
investigations certainly need to be made.
Bob Graham - a former chairman of the Senate
Intelligence Committee - told CNN's Aaron
Brown, that while he still hopes they find
WMDs or at least evidence thereof, he has
also contemplated three other possible alternative
is that [the WMDs] were spirited out of
Iraq, which maybe is the worst of all possibilities,
because now the very thing that we were
trying to avoid, proliferation of weapons
of mass destruction, could be in the hands
of dozens of groups. Second, that we had
bad intelligence. Or third, that the intelligence
was satisfactory but that it was manipulated,
so as just to present to the American people
and to the world those things that made
the case for the necessity of war against
Graham seems to believe there is a serious
chance that it is the final scenario that
reflects reality. Indeed, Graham told CNN
"there's been a pattern of manipulation by
has good reason to complain. According to
the New York Times, he was one of the
few members of the Senate who saw the national
intelligence estimate that was the basis for
Bush's decisions. After reviewing it, Senator
Graham requested that the Bush Administration
declassify the information before the Senate
voted on the Administration's resolution requesting
use of the military in Iraq.
rather than do so, CIA Director Tenet merely
sent Graham a letter discussing the findings.
Graham then complained that Tenet's letter
only addressed "findings that supported the
administration's position on Iraq," and ignored
information that raised questions about intelligence.
In short, Graham suggested that the Administration,
by cherrypicking only evidence to its own
liking, had manipulated the information to
support its conclusion.
statements by one of the high-level officials
privy to the decisionmaking process that lead
to the Iraqi war also strongly suggests manipulation,
if not misuse of the intelligence agencies.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz,
during an interview with Sam Tannenhaus of
Vanity Fair magazine, said: "The truth
is that for reasons that have a lot to do
with the U.S. government bureaucracy we settled
on the one issue that everyone could agree
on which was weapons of mass destruction as
the core reason." More recently, Wolfowitz
added what most have believed all along, that
the reason we went after Iraq is that "[t]he
country swims on a sea of oil."
than Watergate? A Potential Huge Scandal If
WMDs Are Still Missing
is right to suggest a possible comparison
to Watergate. In the three decades since Watergate,
this is the first potential scandal I have
seen that could make Watergate pale by comparison.
If the Bush Administration intentionally manipulated
or misrepresented intelligence to get Congress
to authorize, and the public to support, military
action to take control of Iraq, then that
would be a monstrous misdeed.
I remarked in an
earlier column, this Administration may
be due for a scandal. While Bush narrowly
escaped being dragged into Enron, it was not,
in any event, his doing. But the war in Iraq
is all Bush's doing, and it is appropriate
that he be held accountable.
put it bluntly, if Bush has taken Congress
and the nation into war based on bogus information,
he is cooked. Manipulation or deliberate misuse
of national security intelligence data, if
proven, could be "a high crime" under the
Constitution's impeachment clause. It would
also be a violation of federal criminal law,
broad federal anti-conspiracy statute,
which renders it a felony "to defraud the
United States, or any agency thereof in any
manner or for any purpose."
important to recall that when Richard Nixon
resigned, he was about to be impeached by
the House of Representatives for misusing
the CIA and FBI. After Watergate, all
presidents are on notice that manipulating
or misusing any agency of the executive branch
improperly is a serious abuse of presidential
claimed that his misuses of the federal agencies
for his political purposes were in the interest
of national security. The same kind of thinking
might lead a President to manipulate and misuse
national security agencies or their intelligence
to create a phony reason to lead the nation
into a politically desirable war. Let us hope
that is not the case.
Dean, a FindLaw columnist, is a former Counsel
to the President of the United States.
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