I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The road to Iraq

(updated below - updated again)

Long-time Bush and Iraq war supporter John Warner today announced his support for a resolution opposing the President's "surge" plan. While looking for a document relating to Sen. Warner's announcement, I came across this transcript from March 6, 2003, where Warner appeared on CNN with Larry King, along with Sen. Chris Dodd and Bob Woodward, to talk about the imminent invasion of Iraq. I don't have any particularly new observations to make about this, but nonetheless, it really never ceases to amaze what was said during this time period.

The behavior of our political and journalistic elite in the lead-in to the war is truly one of the dark and shameful periods in our history -- truly embarrassing, even painful, to read:

KING: What if Saddam Hussein tonight in a fit of sanity decides he totally wants to cooperate. That's it. Whatever Bush ask for short of exile. What does he do?

WARNER: You asked me what does he say, and my reply to that would be, he has no credibility.

KING: But he can't -- that's nothing.

WARNER: But he could establish credibility with quick and prompt actions.

KING: Like.

WARNER: And they'd have to manifest themselves as compliance with the Security Council resolutions all of them. But especially 1441. I am going to disarm, here it, is go find it. Not hide-and- seek. . . .

You know, I asked George Tenet, CIA director basically what you just stated, and he's written a letter, it arrived in my office an hour ago. And he states, we have now provided all of the information that we could to the inspectors. Yet they have not uncovered anything.

Because Saddam Hussein from the very beginning after 1991, decided that he's going have to endure some type of inspection regime as he continues to build weapons and he's become very skillful to keep these manufacturing base of weapons of mass destructions active, mobile and beyond the ability of any inspections to really catch it. And this is proof of it. We've given them all the information, they can't find it.

KING: What's his purpose, he's inviting war. . . .

WARNER: The group of nations agreed on [the inspections], and I think Hans Blix tried to make it work. But he's been outsmarted.

That reasoning is so Orwellian it's actually scary, even four years later. The less evidence we found that Saddam had WMDs, the more that meant we had to go to war. That's because the failure of Hans Blix to find the weapons meant that Saddam had hidden them very deeply, nefariously and deliberately -- he had outsmarted Blix -- and that "proved" that Saddam harbored ill intentions, which meant we had to go to war against him, otherwise he would use those weapons against us. Warner actually used the word "proof" to describe the failure of U.N. inspectors to find WMDs - that was "proof" that WMDs had been hidden by Saddam.

And then there was this:

CALLER: Hello. This question's for the panel. What evidence, if any, is there that Saddam Hussein is linked to the 9/11 attacks in New York City?

KING: Bob, have they linked it?

WOODWARD: They have not. There has been some very fuzzy intelligence on that, but there's nothing substantial. And in fact, if you look at what Secretary of State Powell said at the U.N. on February 5 he never alluded to any connections between Iraq and 9/11.

KING: You agree, Senators?

WARNER: But apparently Saddam Hussein has links with a number of the terrorist organizations, including al Qaeda. Now whether it was a direct linkage to 9/11 has still not been established.

Saddam has links to Al Qaeda, but -- and this in March, 2003, -- whether he was involved in 9/11 was an open question. The linkage was supported by "fuzzy intelligence" but "nothing substantial" yet (said Woodward); whether there is a "direct linkage" (as opposed to indirect) has "still not been established" (yet) (said Warner).

Moments later, Warner and Dodd argued a little bit over the expected cost (both in terms of lives and money) of the war, and Bob Woodward chimed in with this:

No war is a walk in the park. And I served during Vietnam, and you learn that the unexpected always occurs. The military thinks they have a good plan. We obviously have much more sophisticated weaponry. We have better intelligence. There is talk about two-week war, three-week war. But who knows? . . .

In the midst of this lovefest -- that there is a certain partisan edginess here. That is probably going wind up not serving anyone particularly well, particularly if we get into. . .

The few efforts to debate whether this war was advisable were attacked -- including by journalists such as Bob Woodward -- as unfortunate "partisan edginess" which would not "wind up serving anyone particularly well."

One finds things like this in almost every media "debate" from that time. Any random selection will include some of the most profoundly erroneous, incoherent, and misguided claims, one after the next, from our most trusted political figures and journalists. The level of irrationality and sheer war intoxication which prevailed during that time is almost impossible to overstate. Despite all of that, this is how CNN's Dana Bash today described Sen. Warner (accurately) when reporting on his announcement: a “very influential voice when it comes to military matters.” Still.

UPDATE: The logic used by Warner was hardly unique to Warner. From the first paragraph of a January 15, 2003, CNN article, headlined Rumsfeld: Lack of Evidence Could Mean Iraq is Hiding Something: "The failure of U.N. arms inspectors to find weapons of mass destruction 'could be evidence, in and of itself, of Iraq's noncooperation' with U.N. disarmament resolutions, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Wednesday."

Rumsfeld was often fond of pointing out that "an absence of evidence is not evidence of absence" (one of his many platitudes that made the media swoon), and that claim was applied to excuse away not only the "absence of evidence" concerning WMDs but also Saddam's ties to Al Qaeda. But in this rendition -- "The failure of U.N. arms inspectors to find weapons of mass destruction 'could be evidence, in and of itself, of Iraq's noncooperation'" -- Rumsfeld took a significant step further with that reasoning by actually arguing that absence of evidence could "in and of itself" be construed as the presence of evidence.

Not only did they not need evidence to start the war, but the fact that they had none actually proved -- "in and of itself" -- how urgent it was that the war be started (h/t R. Porrofatto).

UPDATE II: I didn't necessarily intend to host a little retrospective on misleading pre-war claims of war advocates, but we have had far too little of those, so why not proceed. One of the myths propagated by the political and media elite is that the false pre-war claims from Bush officials were comprised almost exclusively of claims about WMDs, which were in turn merely a by-product of "bad intelligence" and therefore excusable and understandable (at least in terms of judging those who advanced those claims).

But inducing a belief in the public that Saddam had WMDs was probably less important than inducing the belief among the overwhelming majority of Americans that Saddam played an active role in planning the 9/11 attacks. As Dover Bitch points out in Comments, this CBS News report from September, 2002 (when Congress was preparing to vote on the AUMF) highlights just how culpable the administration was in disseminating that total fiction:

"There clearly are contacts between al Qaeda and Iraq that can be documented; there clearly is testimony that some of the contacts have been important contacts and that there's a relationship here," [National Security Advisor Condoleezza] Rice said.

"We clearly know that there were in the past and have been contacts between senior Iraqi officials and members of al Qaeda going back for actually quite a long time," Rice said. "We know too that several of the (al Qaeda) detainees, in particular some high-ranking detainees, have said that Iraq provided some training to al Qaeda in chemical weapons development" . . . .

"No one is trying to make an argument at this point that Saddam Hussein somehow had operational control of what happened on Sept. 11, so we don't want to push this too far, but this is a story that is unfolding, and it is getting clearer, and we're learning more," Rice said.

As D.B. said: "As if there was a mountain of evidence that was just missing one or two tiny pieces to seal the deal. And all the momentum was moving towards that inevitable conclusion."

That might be one of the worst statements from any government official over the last six years, which is saying a lot. The fact that 69% of Americans -- 69% -- believed that Saddam was personally involved in the 9/11 attacks even as late as September, 2003 -- six months after the invasion -- is one of the most shameful political facts in our country's modern history. It is just a staggering fact. Deliberately misleading statements such as this one from Rice were designed to bolster those beliefs and they succeeded.

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