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It's Still There
By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Harry Reid's so-called "stunt" on the Senate floor this past Tuesday - invoking Rule 21 to create a closed session, during which he demanded an investigation into how we were dragged to war in Iraq - brought the issue of the never-found weapons of mass destruction back into the daylight. It's about damned time. This ball of thorns is three years old now, and we have come nowhere near addressing its roots.
Recall, if you will, George W. Bush's State of the Union address from January of 2003. In that speech, he told us that Iraq was in possession of 26,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin, 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent (500 tons equaling one million pounds, by the way), 30,000 munitions to deliver the stuff, mobile biological weapons labs, and uranium from Niger for use in Iraq's advanced nuclear weapons program.
The page on the White House web site detailing the existence of all this stuff is still there, by the way. None of the weapons they described in such dire tones actually exist, but that page is still sitting there in all its glory.
As of Wednesday morning, 2,032 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq. 95 died in the month of September alone. More than 15,000 American soldiers have been wounded, many of these suffering permanently debilitating injuries, lost limbs and brain damage. There is no adequate accounting of the number of Iraqi civilians killed and wounded since the invasion and occupation began, but the toll easily reaches into the tens of thousands. Hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent. The occupation, which was supposed to result in a rain of flowers from a grateful Iraqi populace, has lasted 959 days, with no end in sight.
There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. There were no al Qaeda terrorists there. Hussein did not support Osama bin Laden; indeed, bin Laden has wanted Hussein dead for years, because Hussein made it his business to slaughter every Wahabbist he could get his hands on. Now, the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq are roadside bombs that kill American troops by twos and threes. Now, Iraq is a magnificent training ground for terrorists of every stripe. Now, our so-called mission of democracy appears ready to birth a Shia-dominated theocracy with robust ties to the hard-liners in Iran, with a constitution not worth the paper it is printed on serving only to highlight the depth of this debacle.
How did we get here? The answer to this comes in three parts. Of course, we got here because the Bush administration lied with its bare face hanging out about the threat posed by Iraq. Recall, if you will, these gems:
"Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction." - Dick Cheney, Speech to VFW National Convention, 8/26/2002
"Iraq has stockpiled biological and chemical weapons, and is rebuilding the facilities used to make more of those weapons. We 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." - George W. Bush, Radio Address, 10/5/2002
"We've 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." - George W. Bush, Cincinnati, Ohio Speech, 10/7/2002
"We know for a fact that there are weapons there." - Ari Fleischer, Press Briefing, 1/9/2003
"We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction, is determined to make more." - Colin Powell, Remarks to UN Security Council, 2/5/2003
"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." - George W. Bush, Address to the Nation, 3/17/2003
"We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat." - Donald Rumsfeld, ABC Interview, 3/30/2003
"But for those who say we haven't found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they're wrong, we found them." - George W. Bush, Interview with TVP Poland, 5/30/2003
There are, literally, dozens more comments and declarations exactly like this. The best one, after that magically deranged comment from Bush claiming we actually found the stuff, came from Ari Fleischer on July 9, 2003, as he attempted to fend off questions about why no WMD had been located. "I think the burden," said Fleischer while channeling Orwell, "is on those people who think he didn't have weapons of mass destruction to tell the world where they are."
Here's the funny part: Senator Kit Bond, Republican of Missouri, apparently spent a portion of Tuesday assuring people that the weapons of mass destruction were in Iraq, and that we would find them. Yes, this was Tuesday. Not last year or two years ago. Tuesday. Methinks someone missed a memo somewhere.
Right. So that's the easy part. They lied, repeatedly and with deliberate intent. They used the fears created by September 11 against the American people to get the war they wanted, to get the payday they wanted for their friends, to make sure they had a dead-bang winner of an issue to run on in the 2002 midterms. This administration has admitted no fault, made no steps to rectify the mess they have created, and appears willing to slog on indefinitely. This is, in the end, not at all surprising. Getting them to admit fault is almost certainly impossible.
There are others in this, however, who must also admit fault and come completely clean. Bush and his folks were not alone in this.
Senator Reid's strong stand on Tuesday cannot obscure the fact that he, along with Democratic Senators Lincoln, Feinstein, Dodd, Lieberman, Biden, Carper, Nelson of Florida, Nelson of Nebraska, Cleland, Miller, Bayh, Harkin, Breaux, Landrieu, Kerry, Carnahan, Baucus, Torricelli, Clinton, Schumer, Edwards, Dorgan, Hollings, Daschle, Johnson, Cantwell, Rockefeller and Kohl all voted to support the Iraq War Resolution in October of 2002. 21 Democrats, led by Senator Byrd and joined by Independent Senator Jeffords, voted no on the IWR. The only Republican to join them in voting "No" was Lincoln Chafee.
Reid gave the Republican Congress a good tongue-lashing on Tuesday, one that was richly deserved. Yet the Democrats who got behind this thing in the first place have not come close to absolving themselves of their responsibility for what has taken place. "We were misled," goes the Democratic refrain these days. "We were tricked. We were duped." Perhaps this is true. Those who believe it argue the point well enough, and add this bit: these Senators trusted Bush; they refused to believe he would send young men and women to die based on lies.
This may be true, but I struggle with that explanation. I wrote a book in August of 2002, two full months before the Iraq War Resolution vote and seven months before the invasion, called "War on Iraq." The book stated unequivocally that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, no ties to Osama bin Laden or al Qaeda or 9/11, and thus no reason to go to war there. This book was subsequently translated into twelve languages and read all over the world. A copy was delivered to each and every member of the Senate.
If I knew this - me, wee little me - then how is it possible that all these Senators allowed themselves to be "tricked?" The answer to this is difficult. Did these Senators fall victim to a Pollyanna belief that Bush wouldn't deceive the country? Or were their actions motivated by political ugliness of the purest ray serene: the midterms were around the corner, a Presidential election was coming, a bunch of these Senators wanted to run for that office, and voting to approve the war was the most politically expedient option at the time.
Were they duped, or did they vote to protect their jobs and their positions and their aspirations? At least one Senator - Barbara Boxer - voted no because she read the National Intelligence Estimate, heard the dissenting opinions from the State Department, and decided the information coming from the White House did not jibe with the facts. If she got it right, how did the others fail to do so?
Whichever explanation may be true, these Senators allowed Bush to throw thousands of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians to the wolves. Reid's actions on Tuesday, strong as they were, are not sufficient. The Democrats who empowered the White House to undertake this invasion must apologize to the country and to the world. Either they were duped, or else they went along for the ride. Neither is acceptable. If they are going to fix the mess, the first step they must take is to admit their own complicity. Until they do, the stain of their failure will remain.
The third player in this tragedy is the mainstream news media, led by the "august" New York Times. On Wednesday, the Times editors coughed up a moralistic scolding of the Bush administration regarding the WMD issue titled "Remember that Mushroom Cloud?" In it, the editors wrote, "Americans are long overdue for an answer to why they were told there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq."
Indeed, Americans are long overdue for an answer to this. To find one, however, the Times editors and the rest of the mainstream news media need to take a long, hard look in the mirror. It was the Times editors who allowed Judy Miller to run wild with scandal-riddled bagman Ahmad Chalabi on the front page of the paper and claim that Iraq was practically swimming in weapons of mass destruction.
Once the Times said it, the rest of the news media felt more than comfortable repeating it, augmenting it, making it axiomatic, and in the process provided excellent cover for the Bush administration to push its invasion agenda. It had a good beat, and they danced to it with all their might, with visions of high ratings and advertising revenues dancing in their heads. Their failures are manifest today, and there must be a reckoning within newsrooms all across the country.
It has taken almost a thousand days for the wall of lies and disinformation surrounding this invasion to begin to crumble. A lot of people have been killed and maimed in the process. Others have had their livelihoods and reputations crushed for daring to speak truth to power. That wall was built by a threesome - the White House, Senate Democrats who should have and could have known better, and a debased news media. Today, they all have blood on their hands.
It will not be enough for George W. Bush and this administration to admit fault, and never mind the fact that such a moment will almost certainly never come. Those Democrats in the Senate who supported this invasion for whatever reasons, and those members of the news media who provided cover for the invasion by repeating the lies because it was easier than actually acting like journalists, owe a debt of sorrow and remorse to us all.
If the Democrats and the media expect Bush to accept responsibility and admit fault, they must first do so themselves. The stain of their actions is still there, still with us. They must find the courage, today, to admit they were wrong. Reid's stand on Tuesday was an excellent beginning, but only a beginning. Unless this beginning is followed by action, the horrors created will remain with us, still there, going nowhere but deeper into darkness.
William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence.