Bill O'Reilly argued that a New York Times article -- which disclosed that Iraqi military leaders had assumed Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction -- vindicated President Bush. He declared that "those people who accused President Bush of lying about WMDs owe him an apology" and proceeded to present a "liar list" that included numerous Democratic and progressive critics of the war. In fact, the Times revelation does nothing to undermine these critics' argument -- that Bush downplayed or outright ignored the intelligence community's doubts about Iraq's weapon capability in presenting the case for war.
On March 13, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly claimed that a revelation in a recent New York Times article proved wrong all those who have argued that the Bush administration, in making the case for war with Iraq, deliberately misled the country about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. O'Reilly argued that Bush's repeated assertion -- since proven false -- that Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) was understandable in light of the Times' disclosure that Iraqi military leaders were themselves surprised to learn in late 2002 that their country had no such weapons. O'Reilly further declared that "those people who accused President Bush of lying about WMDs owe him an apology" and proceeded to present a "liars list" that included numerous Democratic and progressive critics of the war.
In the March 12 article, Times staff writer Michael R. Gordon and retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Bernard E. Trainor wrote that Hussein's "top military leaders were stunned when he told them three months before the war that he had no weapons of mass destruction." But in making the argument that this disclosure vindicates the president, O'Reilly falsely suggested that the substance of arguments put forth by those on his "liar list" is simply that Bush and the U.S. intelligence community -- like the Iraqi generals -- severely misjudged the potential threat posed by Saddam Hussein. As O'Reilly stated on his syndicated radio show, "[N]ow, if that intelligence is what the high-ranking officials in the Iraqi administration believed, well, the CIA got that information, passed it along to the president. Put yourself in Bush's position. ... If all the top Iraqi generals think they have all of these biological and chemical weapons, then I'm going to assume they have them, correct?" Referring to his list, O'Reilly continued, "[A]ll of these people have made a mistake and they should own up to it."
In fact, these purported "liars" -- including former President Jimmy Carter, Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean, and Democratic Sens. Harry Reid (NV), Richard J. Durbin (IL), John Kerry (MA), Edward Kennedy (MA), and Patrick Leahy (VT), among others -- have repeatedly noted that the U.S. intelligence community had significant doubts about Iraq's weapon capability. They have further argued that the Bush administration downplayed or ignored these doubts in presenting their case for war to Congress and the American people. The Times revelation does nothing to undermine this argument.
The following are examples of claims made by Bush regarding Iraqi's weapon capability. In each of these cases, his unequivocal assertions were not only found to have been false, but determined to not have been justified by the intelligence available at the time.
Iraq's aluminum tubes were intended to enrich uranium
In an October 7, 2002, speech in Cincinnati, Bush told his audience, "Evidence indicates that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program." The "evidence" he went on to cite included the claim that Iraq had "attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes and other equipment needed for gas centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons." More than three months later, in his 2003 State of the Union address, the president repeated this claim: "Our intelligence sources tell us that he [Hussein] has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production."
But in contrast to Bush's firm statements, the various U.S. intelligence agencies disagreed over the purpose of the aluminum tubes -- a dispute that the president was well aware of. While the CIA concluded that the tubes were suitable to enrich uranium for nuclear bombs, both Department of Energy (DOE) experts and the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) had dissented from this view.
These agencies' position that the tubes were "poorly suited" for uranium enrichment was included in the classified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) provided to Congress in October 2002. Prior to his October 7 speech, the CIA delivered to the president a one-page summary of the NIE's findings, which noted that DOE and INR believed the tubes were "intended for conventional weapons," rather than a nuclear bomb. Despite this disagreement, he and other administration officials went on to repeatedly cite the tubes as solid evidence that Iraq's nuclear program had been revived.
Iraq tried to purchase uranium from Africa
In his 2003 State of the Union address, Bush said, "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." But months earlier, the CIA had voiced serious doubts about the basis for the uranium assertion and implored administration officials not to include it in Bush's speeches.
Specifically, the agency sent two memos to the White House expressing such doubts. Further, then-CIA director George J. Tenet directly asked then-deputy national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley not to use the claim. INR similarly responded in the October NIE that claims of Iraq seeking to purchase nuclear material from Africa were "highly dubious." These warnings led the administration to remove a uranium reference from the October 2002 Cincinnati speech.
Nonetheless, they included the claim in the 2003 State of the Union. On July 22, 2003, Hadley took responsibility for the administration's use of the claim in Bush's State of the Union address. He acknowledged,"I should have asked that the 16 words be taken out."
Iraq possessed stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons
In an October 5, 2002, radio address, Bush asserted that "Iraq has stockpiled biological and chemical weapons, and is rebuilding the facilities used to make more of those weapons." In his speech in Cincinnati two days later, he unequivocally declared that Iraq "possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons." Months later, on March 6, 2003, the president further claimed that "Iraqi operatives continue to hide biological and chemical agents."
But the intelligence did not justify the president's unequivocal claims. For example, a classified Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) report published the in September 2002 had found "no reliable information" to substantiate the claim that Iraq was producing or stockpiling chemical weapons. Moreover, while the intelligence community believed Iraq possessed biological agents that could be quickly produced and weaponized, the October NIE made clear that the agencies lacked hard evidence to back up this assumption: "We had no specific information on the types or quantities of weapons, agents, or stockpiles at Baghdad's disposal."
In the year preceding the war, the president and other senior administration officials repeatedly emphasized the threat of Iraq mounting an attack on U.S. soil as a major rationale for war. In the October 7 speech, for example, Bush claimed that Iraq had a fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that could be used to deliver chemical or biological weapons. "We're concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using these UAVs for missions targeting the United States," the president declared.
But the ability of these drones to carry out such attacks was a matter of dispute among intelligence agencies. While the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) had endorsed the view that the Iraqi UAVs could be used by Iraq to attack its neighbors and possibly the United States, analysts at the U.S. Air Force -- which controls the U.S. fleet of UAVs -- dissented from this view in the October 2002 NIE. They contended that the planes were unarmed reconnaissance drones -- a conclusion endorsed by analysts at the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency.
But months later, Bush continued to cite the UAVs as a threat to the United States. On February 6, 2003, he said, "Iraq has developed spray devices that could be used on unmanned aerial vehicles with ranges far beyond what is permitted by the Security Council. A UAV launched from a vessel off the American coast could reach hundreds of miles inland."
Iraq would mount unprovoked attack on U.S.
Moreover, the president's broader claims suggesting Iraq's ability to attack the U.S. without provocation overlooked the intelligence community's unanimous conclusion that the likelihood of such an attack was minimal.
The NIE stated that an Iraqi attack on the U.S. would likely only occur if "Baghdad feared an attack that threatened the survival of the regime were imminent or unavoidable." Moreover, the NIE classified the confidence level for this judgment as "low." INR went a step further, concluding that Hussein was "unlikely to conduct clandestine attacks against the U.S. homeland even if [his] regime's demise is imminent."
As with the intelligence community's conflicted assessments concerning the purpose of the aluminum tubes, the president was directly informed in January 2003 of the widely-held view that Iraq was unlikely to consider attacking the U.S. unless attacked first.
Despite having read the intelligence agencies' assessment of the threat, Bush said on February 25, 2003, "The risk of doing nothing, the risk of the security of this country being jeopardized at the hands of a madman with weapons of mass destruction, far exceeds the risks of any action we may be forced to take." In his 2003 State of the Union address, he continued to emphasize the risk of an unprovoked Iraqi attack. "The danger is clear: Using chemical, biological, or, one day, nuclear weapons obtained with the help of Iraq, the terrorists could fulfill their stated ambitions and kill thousands or hundreds of thousands of innocent people in our country," he said in the speech. "The United States and other nations did nothing to deserve or invite this threat. But we will do everything to defeat it."
Iraq could launch an attack in 45 minutes
On September 26, 2002, President Bush repeated a claim put forth by British intelligence that "the Iraqi regime could launch a biological or chemical attack in as little as 45 minutes after the order were given." On September 28, he again made the claim in his weekly radio address.
But the administration chose not to consult the CIA before making this assertion. If they had, however, they would have learned that two weeks earlier, the agency had objected to the claim that Iraq could mount an attack so quickly. In discussions with the British government, the CIA had noted that the claim was based on a single, unreliable source and had advised British intelligence to remove it from a dossier they had compiled on Iraq's weapons capability.
Who is the liar?
The above examples support the argument that in 2002 and 2003 the Bush administration often disregarded the misgivings among the intelligence community about the severity of the threat posed by Iraq. Whether senior Iraqi generals believed that Saddam Hussein possessed WMDs does not change the fact that the many in the U.S. intelligence community doubted he did and that the Bush administration chose to ignore them. This is the argument that many on O'Reilly's "liars list" have made:
- Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV): In a November 1, 2005, floor statement, Reid referred to how the Bush administration "consistently and repeatedly manipulated the facts" in making the case for war. "Obviously we know now their nuclear claims were wholly inaccurate," Reid said. "But more troubling is the fact that a lot of intelligence experts were telling the administration then that its claims about Saddam's nuclear capabilities were false."
- Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-IL): In the "Additional Views" section of the Senate Intelligence Committee's 2004 report on prewar intelligence, Sen. Durbin, along with Sens. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-NY) and Carl Levin (D-MI), described Bush's claims that Iraq could launch an attack in as little as 45 minutes as an example of how the administration "repeatedly overstated what the Intelligence Community assessed at the time."
- Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA): In a March 5, 2004, speech, Kennedy cited Bush's claims concerning the aluminum tubes. He responded: "In fact, as we now know, the intelligence community was far from unified on Iraq's nuclear threat. The administration attempted to conceal that fact by classifying the information and the dissents within the intelligence community until after the war, even while making dramatic and excessive public statements about the immediacy of the danger. ... The evidence so far leads to only one conclusion. What happened was not merely a failure of intelligence, but the result of manipulation and distortion of the intelligence and selective use of unreliable intelligence to justify a decision to go to war. The administration had made up its mind, and would not let stubborn facts stand in the way."
- Sen. John Kerry (D-MA): "The facts speak for themselves," Kerry said in a November 14, 2005, floor statement. "The White House has admitted that the president told Congress and the American public in the State of the Union address that Saddam was attempting to acquire fuel for nuclear weapons despite the fact that the CIA specifically told the Administration three times, in writing and verbally, not to use this intelligence. [...] This is not relying on faulty intelligence, as Democrats did; it is knowingly, and admittedly, misleading the American public on a key justification for going to war."
- Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT): In an October 24, 2005, floor statement, Leahy said, "We know that the key public justifications for the war -- to stop Saddam Hussein from developing nuclear weapons and supporting al Qaeda -- were based on faulty intelligence and outright distortions and have been thoroughly discredited."
- Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean: In a July 12, 2003, CNN interview, Dean cited Bush's uranium claim as evidence that he misled the country into war with Iraq. "The big deal is not so much that we went to war over a deal between Iraq and Niger which didn't exist and that the administration knew ahead of time it didn't exist," he said. "The big deal is the credibility of the United States of America and the credibility of the president in telling the American people the truth and the rest of the world the truth."
- Former President Jimmy Carter: In his book, Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis (Simon & Schuster, November 2005), Carter wrote that the Bush administration was determined to attack Iraq using "false and distorted claims after 9/11."
From the March 13 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
O'REILLY: Even though the liberal New York Times buried the lead, its two-part series on what really happened in the run-up to opposing Saddam is a great piece of reporting. According to writers Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor, Saddam's top generals were shocked when he told them that he destroyed his WMD arsenal. The article says, quote, "The Iraqi dictator was so secretive and kept information so compartmentalized that his top military leaders were stunned when he told them three months before the war began that he had no weapons of mass destruction, and they were demoralized because they had counted on hidden stocks of poison gas or germ weapons for the nation's defense."
Now, according to the article, Saddam wanted the USA, Iran, and other perceived enemies to believe he had WMDs. He thought that would deter action against him. So we now know why the CIA, British intelligence, Russian intelligence, and many other countries believed Saddam did possess deadly weapons: because his own generals believed it. Therefore, those people who have accused President Bush of lying about WMDs owe him an apology, do they not?
The liar list includes Senators Reid, [John] Edwards [D-NC], [Barack] Obama [D-IL], [Richard J.] Durbin [D-IL], Leahy, Kennedy, [Robert] Byrd [D-WV], and [Mark] Dayton [D-MN]. Also, Al Gore, Jimmy Carter, Al Sharpton, Howard Dean, and a bunch of congressmen. The president should also be getting apologetic notes from at least four New York Times columnists, Ron Reagan Jr., Chevy Chase, Barbra Streisand, [Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream co-founder] Ben Cohen, Jessica Lange, Johnny Depp, Helen Thomas, just to name a few.
"Talking Points" will let you know which of these people steps up and apologizes, does the right thing.
OK. That's the plus for the president. He didn't lie.
From the March 13 edition of Westwood One's The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly:
O'REILLY: OK, we have an extraordinary story that broke in The New York Times over the weekend explaining weapons of mass destruction and what went wrong in Iraq. Now, as you know, The New York Times, a left-wing newspaper, which sometimes lets its hard news coverage be influenced by its editorial position, but in this case while they buried the lead, the definitely buried the lead, which means that they didn't tell you the most important of the story up front. It is an amazing display and it is true. And that's what we're going to talk about. Now, every person that said Bush lied about WMDs now has to apologize. Every single one. And what we're going to do is I'm going to name some of them and then you can call me at 1-877-9-NOSPIN, and you can tell me who you heard say that. 'Cause we have the politicians, but I'm sure that you heard lots of people, oh Bush lied, Bush lied, Bush lied. Um, they all have to apologize. And we're going to prove it. So that's coming up.
OK, here are the following -- just do a partial list of people who accused President Bush of lying the nation into war. John Kerry, Harry Reid, John Edwards, Barack Obama, Dick Durbin, Patrick Leahy, Edward Kennedy, Robert Byrd, Mark Dayton, Al Gore, Jimmy Carter, Howard Dean, Al Sharpton, [Rep.] John Conyers [D-MI], [Rep.] Gary Ackerman [D-NY], [Rep.] Michael McNulty [D-NY], [Rep.] Dennis Kucinich [D-OH]. Now do all of those gentlemen owe Bush an apology? Do they?
How about on the entertainment front -- Will Smith, Chevy Chase, Johnny Depp, Ron Reagan Jr., Mike Farrell, Barbra Streisand, and the usual, you know, left-wing nuts like [The Nation Washington editor] David Corn and all of those people. Do they owe Bush an apology? I mean, this is very simple.
Saddam's own generals believed he had weapons of mass destruction. He sat down a few months -- three months according to The New York Times before the invasion and said, "Well, we don't have them." They were stunned. A month before when they watch Colin Powell at the U.N. lay out the charts and everything, the generals said, "Boy, he knows as much about this as we do."
So, I mean, with all due respect to Mr. Gordon, to me, I'm saying all right, now, if that intelligence is what the high-ranking officials in the Iraqi administration believed, well, the CIA got that information, passed it along to the president. Put yourself in Bush's position. I mean, I would have done the same thing. If all the top Iraqi generals think they have all of these biological and chemical weapons, then I'm going to assume they have them, correct?
Now it's only -- you gotta be a Kool-Aid drinker not to see the logic in this. You've gotta be crazy if you can't admit that all of these people have made a mistake and they should own up to it. On the other side, there's no question in my mind that [Secretary of Defense Donald H.] Rumsfeld and [Gen. Tommy] Franks booted it about the Fedayeen [Iraqi paramilitary forces] and the insurgency, and we're paying for that today.
But the initial threat of WMDs by this New York Times article -- and, by the way, all the New York Times hate-Bush columnists have to apologize too. The whole slew of them have to apologize, cause they all said, "Oh, Bush lied." The evidence is he didn't lie. He didn't lie.