Missing Weapons Of Mass Destruction:
Is Lying About The Reason For War An Impeachable Offense?
By JOHN W. DEAN ---- Friday, Jun. 06, 2003
President 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 nation.
Now 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 war.
That seems unlikely. Until the questions surrounding the Iraqi war are
answered, Congress and the public may strongly resist more of President
Presidential 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.
Frankly, 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
President Bush's Statements On Iraq's Weapons Of Mass DestructionReaders 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.
Bush's statements, in chronological order, were:
"Right now, Iraq is expanding and improving facilities that were used for the production of biological weapons."
United Nations Address
September 12, 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."
October 5, 2002
"The Iraqi regime . . . possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons. It is seeking nuclear weapons."
"We know that the regime has produced thousands of tons of chemical
agents, including mustard gas, sarin nerve gas, VX nerve gas."
"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. We're
concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using these UAVS for missions
targeting the United States."
"The 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 weapons."
Cincinnati, Ohio Speech
October 7, 2002
"Our intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the
materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve
State of the Union Address
January 28, 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."
Address to the Nation
March 17, 2003
Should The President Get The Benefit Of The Doubt?When 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.
As 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.
On 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.
First, 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.
Second, 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.
Third, 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."
In 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."
Finally, 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 done so.
So 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?
After 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.
So where is all that? And how can we reconcile the White House's unequivocal statements with the fact that they may not exist?
There 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 world.
A Desperate Search For WMDs Has So Far Yielded Little, If Any, FruitEven 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.
Throughout Operation Freedom's penetration of Iraq and drive toward Baghdad, the search for WMDs continued. None were found.
As the coalition forces gained control of Iraqi cities and countryside,
special search teams were dispatched to look for WMDs. None were found.
During 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.
British and American Press Reaction to the Missing WMDsBritish 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
New 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.
Still, 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.
Undersecretary 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.
But, 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 not there."
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?
The 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.
Investigating The Iraqi War Intelligence ReportsEven 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?"
In 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.
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.
These 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.
Senator 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 scenarios:
One 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
Senator 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 this administration."
Graham 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.
But 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.
Recent 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."
Worse than Watergate? A Potential Huge Scandal If WMDs Are Still MissingKrugman 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.
As 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.
To 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, including the 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."
It's 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 power.
Nixon 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.
John Dean, a FindLaw columnist, is a former Counsel to the President of the United States.