Friday, April 07, 2006

Iraq: Three Years Later: Pt. Deux: The First Casuality of War

By: UnrepentantNewDealer

I had originally hoped that I would post pt. 2 soon after pt. 1, but due to computer problems and tons of schoolwork in the interim, that was not to be. Since my last post, an interesting debate has been taking place on the metaphysics of abortion. I have little doubt that this debate will continue and have no wish to preempt it, only to provide a change of scenery and continue my planned series of posts on Iraq.

In the last post, I detailed the lies of the Bush administration in the leadup to the Iraq war. Due to length, I decided to end it there rather than detail precisely why these claims were lies--which is, naturally enough, the subject of this post.

Where to start? Those who don't remember Pt. 1 can catch up here. In fact, it might be a good idea to look back at the claims outlined in my last post to refresh your memory. The most startling thing about all of these claims by senior administration officials is how often they use the words "no doubt." They do not portray the intelligence as we now know it was--flawed, ambiguous, with some sources of dubious credibility affirming the administration's assertions and some sources of better credibility affirming the contrary. No, far from it, the Bush White House told Americans, in Dick Cheney's words, "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction."

A plausible explanation for the statements of officials before the invasion that there was "no doubt" Iraq had WMD and the complete lack of WMD discovered in Iraq after the invasion is that the administration merely overstated its case. "Overstated" would be a bit of a stretch, though. "Fabricated" would seem to be more accurate.

Remember that the Bush administration's rationale for invading Iraq was not to spread democracy; in a post-9/11 world, the president knew that Americans would not support another war (in addition to the one in Afghanistan) unless he could connect it to a threat to national security. His case, which convinced most Americans, myself included, was that we knew Saddam had WMD in violation of UN resolutions, we knew that he had ties to terrorists (including a long-standing collaboration with al-Qaida), and hence, the all-too-real danger was that Saddam could give these WMD to terrorist groups to use against America and her allies. This is how we were sold the idea of preemptive war against Iraq.

The Terrorist Connection

First, the administration needed to establish links between Al-Qaida and Saddam. Right-wing partisans have tried to claim that the administration never claimed that the two were in cahoots. Yet, Bush sent a letter to Congress on the outbreak of war three years ago, to immunize himself against claims that he needed a specific authorization from Congress to invade Iraq. Quite the contrary, his letter claimed, the invasion of Iraq was already authorized by the "Authorization to Use Military Force" Congress passed after 9/11; specifically, the section giving him permission to use military force against those "nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001." There really isn't any wiggle room here. Bush asserted in this letter that the regime of Saddam Hussein fit the definition of “nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.” Ergo, military action was justified without another congressional resolution.

Of course, not a shred of evidence has ever proven such a link between Al-Qaida and Saddam. The VP trotted out an alleged meeting, based on a Czech intelligence report, between the leader of the 9/11 hijackers, Mohammed Atta, and a top Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague in April of 2001. This was discredited long before the invasion of Iraq. The CIA warned that the report was not credible and the FBI had already established through financial records (later confirmed by the 9/11 Commission) that Atta was indisputably in Florida on the date in question, not in Prague. In October 2002, CIA director George Tenet told Congress that the CIA could not verify the Prague story.

Most damning of all, "on October 21, 2002, The New York Times reported that Czech President Vaclav Havel 'quietly told the White House he has concluded that there is no evidence to confirm earlier reports' of the meeting." The Czech government had passed onto the U.S. a piece of intel, then, after concluding it was fake, warned the U.S. government at the highest levels that it was not true. Someone truly concerned about Iraq's links to terrorists would have quietly laid this one to rest at this point. Yet, despite such warnings, the VP and others in the administration kept repeating this assertion up to the outbreak of war, and in Cheney's case, long after.

Beware 0f Curveballs

This was typical of the way intelligence was misused by the White House in the leadup to war. Remember this gem from Powell's speech to the UN?: "One of the most worrisome things that emerges from the thick intelligence file we have on Iraq's biological weapons is the existence of mobile production facilities used to make biological agents.... The trucks and train cars are easily moved and are designed to evade detection by inspectors. In a matter of months, they can produce a quantity of biological poison equal to the entire amount that Iraq claimed to have produced in the years prior to the Gulf War."

Turns out this was based on a single source, a former Iraqi Army major codenamed "Curveball," who was passed onto the Defense Intelligence Agency by the Iraqi exile group led by Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi exile convicted of bank fraud in Jordan in 1982 and considered unreliable and too close to Iran (a nation that would stand to gain quite a lot by Saddam's overthrow) by the CIA and State Department, but beloved by the neocons at the Pentagon and the White House, who made "infomation" provided by Chalabi's group the core of the case for war. (Surprise, suprise, after the invasion, it turned out Chalabi's tips were unreliable and he passed U.S. intelligence secrets to Iran. Why, oh, why, didn't someone speak out?) This "Curveball" turned out to be none other than the brother of one of Chalabi's closest associates.

"So the Defense Intelligence Agency put out a 'fabrication notice' in May 2002 for intelligence agencies advising them to consider any information from that source as suspect. But intelligence analysts ignored the notice and the information from the Iraqi major on the existence of biological weapons labs was included in the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, a key pre-war report that assessed Iraq's banned weapons capabilities."

"On the same day of Powell's presentation, senior Iraqi officials at al-Kindi Research, Testing, Development, and Engineering facility in Mosul, Iraq, commented to the UK's Observer newspaper on pictures Powell alleged to be of Iraqi mobile laboratories saying 'those vans are used to produce hydrogen chemically for artillery weather balloons.'"

As with Atta's Prague connection, the administration was warned beforehand that these claims were bunk:

"According to an investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee, the main source for this information was an Iraqi defector codenamed Curveball who was a source for the German central intelligence agency BND. Several German intelligence officials responsible for Curveball have now told the LA Times that the Bush administration and the CIA have repeatedly exaggerated his claims and ignored warnings of the BND that the source was unreliable. Recounting his reaction after seeing Powell's United Nations speech one German intelligence officer said: 'We were shocked. Mein Gott! We had always told them it was not proven…. It was not hard intelligence.'

"Powell was never warned that his United Nations speech contained material that both the DIA and CIA had determined was false, even though several people present at Powell's CIA meetings were fully aware of this.... Questioning the validity of Curveball's information in front of his CIA supervisor, the doctor was advised to 'Keep in mind that this war is going to happen regardless of what Curveball said or didn't say and the Powers That Be probably aren't terribly interested in whether Curveball knows what he's talking about.'

"Shortly after Powell's UN speech and several days before the invasion, United Nations weapons inspectors attempted to directly verify several key claims made by Curveball, but concluded that they were unsustainable. The White House insisted on its WMD claims based on Curveball's information.

"Even after the invasion, when more and more of Curveball's accounts were shown to be pure fabrication, the CIA and the Bush administration relied on Curveball's information. When U.S. forces discovered trucks with lab equipment and Curveball claimed that these were identical to the ones he has been reporting about, the CIA rushed to publish a White Paper claiming that these trucks were part of Saddam Hussein's secret biological weapons program and Bush claimed publicly that, 'We found the weapons of mass destruction.' Several days later, twelve of the thirteen WMD experts who analyzed the trucks agreed that the equipment was not suited for biological weapons production."

But wait, there's more!

"By this time [summer 2001], too, U.S. intelligence had been informed that Curveball was a possible alcoholic and 'out of control.'.... A second Iraqi exile source had echoed Curveball's talk of such trailers. He was judged a fabricator by the CIA in early 2002, but by July his statements were back in classified U.S. reports. As for Curveball, whose veracity was never checked by the DIA, within three months his German handlers would be telling the CIA he was unreliable, a 'waste of time.'"

Anyone who still doubts that we were lied into war should really just read the whole article. What should be apparent by this point is that the intelligence agencies didn't misread the threat posed by Saddam; their warnings merely went unheeded.

"In an unusual move, Cheney shuttled to the CIA through mid-2002 to visit analysts 10 times, according to Patricia Wald, a member of the presidential investigative commission headed by Judge Laurence Silberman and ex-U.S. Sen. Charles Robb. The commission concluded analysts 'worked in an environment that did not encourage skepticism about the conventional wisdom.'

The CIA analysts weren't proving the claims Cheney needed to convince Americans Saddam was a threat. So, he apparently figured that the analysts would magically find the evidence he was looking for if he merely watched over them at their desks. The CIA analysts still didn't seem to be getting the message, so the neocons started up an ad-hoc intelligence outfit at the Pentagon called the Office of Special Plans to provide the intelligence the neocons wanted.

In the fall of 2002, the administration started warning about Iraq's efforts to purchase uranium to build nuclear weapons. In April 2001, "a CIA report told of another 'indicator': Iraq was shopping for thousands of high-strength aluminum tubes, said to be useful as cores of centrifuges to enrich uranium, the stuff of atom bombs.... On April 11, 2001, a day after the classified CIA report was distributed, the Energy Department filed a swift dissent. Energy, home of U.S. centrifuge specialists, said the tubes' dimensions weren't well-suited for centrifuges, and were more likely meant for artillery rockets. The U.N. nuclear agency, the Vienna-based IAEA, told U.S. officials the same.

Anyone want to take a stab at what the tubes turned out to have been used for? If you guessed, "artillery rockets," you're catching on!

Taken In By Bad Forgeries

The other part of the case that Iraq was restarting its nuclear weapons program was that it was trying to buy uranium. James Bamford's A Pretext For War tells the whole sordid story. The short version is that, over the New Year's holiday in 2000/2001 the Nigerian embassy in Rome was ransacked by unknown perpetrators. Strangely, the only items removed from the embassy were documents. In September 2001, an unknown individual gave agents from SISMI, Italy's intel agency, documents allegedly showing that Wissam al-Zahawiah, Iraq's ambassodor to the Vatican, had in 1999 visited Niger to try to purchase "500 tonnes of uranium." The smoking gun was a document that was "dated July 6, 2000, and signed by Niger President Tandia Mamadou.... noted that it was legal under the Niger constitution of 1965.... The uranum was supposedly shipped on August 28 and would have arrived around the time of September 11."

These documents were painfully obvious forgeries, which we now know were fabricated using the documents stolen from the embassy. Let's do a little detective work here: "A letter dated July 30, 1999, actually refers in the past tense to supposed deals agreed to in Niamey a year later, on June 29, 2000. And the October 10 letter had the heading "Conseil Militaire Supreme," an organization that went out of existence in May 1989. The signature was that of Minister of Foreign Affairs Allele Habibou, who held the post from 1988 to 1989 and had been out of office for more than a decade. And finally, while the letter was dated October 10, it was supposedly stamped as recieved in Rome on September 28--thus it was recieved about two weeks before it was ever sent, another form of magic.

"Also, the agreement signed by President Mamadou says the transaction was approved under the May 12, 1965, constitution, but a new constitution was promulgated on August 9, 1999, and the presidential signature bore little resemblance to that of the real Tandja Mamadou. At the same time, the forger used an inaccurate representation of the national emblem.

"And a September 3, 2001, document attempting to show a connection to the attacks appears identical to the document outlining the ambassador's previous 1999 trip--same flight date and time. The only thing that was changed was the date at the top of the page. Also, by September 4, 2001, al-Zahawiah was no longer ambassador, a slight problem."

A slight problem, indeed! Revealing these documents to be forgeries wasn't hard; you could do it in hour or two on Google--which is exactly how long it took IAEA inspectors to debunk them using Google.

Turns out al-Zahawiah was merely trying to get African heads of state to visit Baghdad in defiance of the air embargo, as Libya's Ghadafi already had. These forgeries were analyzed by SISMI and a summary of the information was passed to British intelligence, which then passed on the summary to the CIA, where it was quickly deemed of dubious origin and filed away, never to see the light of day again. The State Department's own intel service also investigated the claims; the head of the unit, Greg Thielman, recalled afterwords that, "A whole lot of things told us that the report was bogus. This wasn't highly contested. There weren't strong advocates on the other side. It was done, shot down."

Unfortunately, the new Office of Special Plans, got wind of the intel and informed Cheney about it. The next morning, Cheney asked his CIA briefer to check out this report. More to humor the VP than anything else, the CIA decided to investigate further by sending former ambassador Joe Wilson to Niger. Ideally suited for the mission, he had served as envoy in Iraq and in several African nations, including Niger. Wilson investigated and found that the alleged transfer of uranium was impossible, for the Nigerian government did not own the uranium mines--Eurpoean companies did. "From the time the ore is extracted from the ground; packed in hermetically sealed, numbered, and dated drums; and transported to Benin, where it is loaded onto ships, it is heavily guarded by gendarmes and the International Atomic Energy Agency."

Wilson concluded that there was too much oversight over the mines for any such illegal sale to have occurred. He reported back to CIA headquarters that the documents were bogus; these conclusions were forwarded to the White House in March 2002. Despite these, and other warnings, the forgeries became central to the President's case for war. Remember those damning "sixteen words" from Bush's 2003 State of the Union address: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussin recently sought significant quanities of uranium from Africa."

In reality, we now know that, "Evidence shows Iraq in 2001 had little interest in nuclear 'reconstitution.' In one captured document from that May, Iraqi diplomats in Kenya reported to Baghdad that a Ugandan businessman had offered uranium for sale, but they turned him away, saying U.N. sanctions forbade it."

The Case of Hussein Kamel

The prize for most egregious Iraq lie would surely go to Cheney and the other officials who used the words of Hussein Kamel to support their case that Iraq had WMD. Kamel was the son-in-law of Saddam and was the head of Iraq's unconventional waepons programs until his defection to the the West in 1995. He defected with thousands of pages of classified Iraqi documents on their pre-1991 WMD programs were provided to the UN weapons inspectors as well as to the CIA. Being the highest-ranking Iraqi to defect gave added credence to his words.

According to Cheney before the war, Kamel "should serve as a reminder to all that we often learned more as the result of defections than we learned from the inspection regime itself." Kamel was held up by Kenneth Pollard and other neocons as Exhibit A for why inspections were not working and preemptive war was required.

Yet, when reporter John Barry looked at the actual CIA interrogation logs for Kamel for an article for Newsweek in early 2003, he found that Kamel had actually said that, "after the Gulf War, Iraq destroyed all its chemical and biological weapons stocks and the missiles to deliver them.... a military aide who defected with Kamel... backed Kamel's assertions about the destruction of WMD stocks.' In Kamel's words, "All weapons-- biological, chemical, missile, nuclear, were destroyed."

Sadly, Kamel was no longer available to correct the neocons' misrepresentation of what he'd said. Several months after defecting, Kamel foolishly accepted Saddam's offer to return to Iraq and recieve a pardon. Like all who betrayed Saddam, Kamel recieved a bullet to the head. Yes, it ended badly for Kamel, but the fact that he was dead must have been of great comfort to the neocons three years ago. Dead men tell no tales.

Putting the Pieces Together

The former head of the CIA's Counterterrorism division, Vince Cannistraro "said that in the weeks and months leading up to the war in Iraq, the White House had exerted unprecedented pressure on the CIA and other intelligence agencies to come up with evidence linking Iraq to Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaida. Pressure was also placed on analysts, he said, to show that Baghdad was trying to build a nuclear bomb. 'They were looking for those selective pieces of intelligence that would support the policy,' Cannistraro said." (Bamford, p.335-336)

That meshes with what a British diplomat wrote in the now-infamous "Downing Street Memo" from July 2002: that, "Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."

It also meshes with the accounts of others in the Bush administration. Then-Treasury Sec. Paul O'Neill claimed in his 2004 book "The Price of Loyalty" that the first cabinet meeting of his presidency in January 2001, was consumed by allegations of the threat posed by Iraq and the need for military action against Saddam. It meshes with White House Counterterrorism Czar Richard Clarke's assertion that on September 12, 2001, "The president, in a very intimidating way, left us, me and my staff, with the clear indication that he wanted us to come back with the word that there was an Iraqi hand behind 9/11 because they had been planning to do something about Iraq from before the time they came into office." It meshes with former Supreme Allied Commander-Europe Wesley Clark's claim that on the evening of 9/11, "I was on CNN, and I got a call at my home saying, 'You got to say this is connected. This is state-sponsored terrorism. This has to be connected to Saddam Hussein.' I said, 'But--I'm willing to say it, but what's your evidence?' And I never got any evidence."

It meshes with the note Rumsfeld's secretary took at 2:40 p.m. on 9/11, quoting Rumsfeld saying that "he wanted 'best info fast. Judge whether good enough hit S.H.' – meaning Saddam Hussein – 'at same time. Not only UBL' – the initials used to identify Osama bin Laden. 'Go massive,' the notes quote him as saying. 'Sweep it all up. Things related and not.' The preponderance of evidence meshes to form a compelling theory: that, for whatever reason, the Bush administration was determined to go to war against Iraq long before 9/11 and that they deliberately distorted and cherry-picked intelligence to present a convincing case for war.
The Lie

But, there will be those who will still say, where is the lie? Perhaps the president was ignorant of the disputes between agencies on whether Iraq had WMD? Au contraire! Take a look at This
"Among other things, the report stated that the Energy Department and the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research believed that the tubes were 'intended for conventional weapons,' a view disagreeing with that of other intelligence agencies, including the CIA, which believed that the tubes were intended for a nuclear bomb.

"The disclosure that Bush was informed of the DOE and State dissents is the first evidence that the president himself knew of the sharp debate within the government over the aluminum tubes during the time that he, Cheney, and other members of the Cabinet were citing the tubes as clear evidence of an Iraqi nuclear program. Neither the president nor the vice president told the public about the disagreement among the agencies....

"The report stated that U.S. intelligence agencies unanimously agreed that it was unlikely that Saddam would try to attack the United States -- except if 'ongoing military operations risked the imminent demise of his regime' or if he intended to 'extract revenge' for such an assault, according to records and sources.

On the eve of war, Bush told Americans, "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." He also repeatedly claimed Saddam Hussein's regime posed a threat to America. In reality, we now know that the President was informed that there was doubt among America's intel agencies about whether Iraq had WMD, and that the intel agencies unanimously agreed that Saddam would not try to attack America. I do not fault him for choosing to believe that Saddam had WMD. I do fault him for saying that there was no doubt that Saddam had WMD, when in fact, that was very much in doubt, and the president knew it was in doubt before he made the above statement. I do fault him for claiming that Saddam posed an imminent threat to America when no intel agency made that claim.That's not overstating your case. That's lying to the American people--and to the world. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I rest my case.

Actually, not quite. The reason it's important that Bush lied before the war is that it calls into question both his credibility and competence in the three years since. If Bush had prosecuted the Iraq war competently and truthfully, the fact that he lied us into the war in the first place would merely be crying over spilt milk. Instead, the same incompetence and dishonesty that characterized the leadup to the war has also dominated the three years since.

To Be Continued....