On January 23, 2008, the Center for Public Integrity published a study that found that Administration officials had made 935 false statements about Iraq and WMD or Iraq and al Qaeda in the two years following the 9/11 attacks. Bush was responsible for 260 false statements, i.e. lies, followed by Colin Powell with 254, Ari Fleischer and Donald Rumsfeld both with 109, Paul Wolfowitz with 85, Condoleezza Rice with 56, Dick Cheney with 48, and Scott McClellan with 14. While this is an important report, the shame of it is that it could have been done and should have been done years ago by what passes for our news media but was not.
The New York Times did publish an apology for its part in hyping the case for WMD in the run up to the war. It did so on May 26, 2004 more than a year after the war began. It concentrated on 6 articles: 2 of which were written by Judith Miller and 2 she co-wrote with Michael Gordon. Yet this fact is never mentioned. Judith Miller’s name does not appear at all, and Michael Gordon is cited only once and that approvingly as a further source opining on the complexity of the aluminum tubes debate. Somehow this complexity went unappreciated by the IAEA which saw almost immediately that the aluminum tubes story was bogus. Judith Miller was let go by the Times but not for her role in lying the nation into an expensive, unnecessary, and endless war but for the far worse sin of embarrassing the paper in the Valerie Plame case. Gordon remains at the Times where he continues his career shilling for the Pentagon.
Even though by the time of its apology it was clear there were no WMD in Iraq, the Times was still not willing to give up on them entirely: “It is still possible that chemical or biological weapons will be unearthed in Iraq.” The apology is rife with weasely phrases. “These accounts have never been independently verified.” Note the use of the passive. Translation: “We never verified them.” Or “we, along with the administration, were taken in.” Translation: “We didn’t verify this either, but it’s not our fault.”
The only bright spot in the Times apology is that it took the Washington Post even longer to come up with one. The Post published its apology on August 12, 2004. Bob Woodward’s laughably illogical take was “We did our job, but we didn’t do enough.” Translation: “We did our job, except for the part about doing our job, which we did not do."
Along these lines, on May 28, 2008, former Bush Press Secretary Scott McClellan (July 17, 2003 – April 26, 2006) of all people wrote a more accurate and scathing assessment of the press than any it was willing to make itself:
And through it all, the media would serve as complicit enablers. Their primary focus would be on covering the campaign to sell the war, rather than aggressively questioning the rationale for war or pursuing the truth behind it. … [T]he media would neglect their watchdog role, focusing less on truth and accuracy and more on whether the campaign was succeeding. [Page 125]
If anything, the national press corps was probably too deferential to the White House and to the administration in regard to the most important decision facing the nation during my years in Washington, the choice over whether to go to war in Iraq. … In this case, the "liberal media" didn’t live up to its reputation. If it had, the country would have been better served. [Pages 156-157]
On June 5, 2008, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released what has come to be known as its Phase II report on intelligence and the run up to the Iraq war. It is actually two reports. The first of these compares what Bush and others said to what they knew as evidenced by the intelligence assessments at the time. In keeping with the Public Integrity report, it finds many discrepancies (lies) where the Administration overstated the case (lied) or made erroneous statements (more lies). Phase I came out on July 7, 2004. Phase II was stalled first by the Republicans while they were in the majority and then by weak kneed, conservative leaning Democrats like Jay Rockefeller the Committee Chair. While the report contains many interesting tidbits, the delay in its writing, measured in years, vitiates most of its findings (which was rather the point of the delay). Yes, Bush and Cheney lied the country into a war. Yes, this is an impeachable offense, a high crime if ever there was one, but the Democrats have done and will do nothing about it.
Overall the report is very badly written. It does not look at why the October 2002 NIE after considerable White House prodding made a more robust (although still highly conditioned) case for Iraq as a threat. It does not connect the dots. The intelligence community, for instance, concluded that even under optimum conditions if Iraq had somehow reconstituted its nuclear program, it would still take it 5-7 years to produce a nuclear device. This is important because it takes away the argument of Iraq as an imminent threat and turns a justified pre-emptive war into a preventive war, which is a war crime. Nor does it look at the likelihood that Iraq had reconstituted its nuclear program. Nuclear weapons are not something that are thrown together in one’s garage. They require a vast industrial undertaking which can not be hidden. It is also a multi-phased process: uranium ore must be acquired, enriched, processed, and machined; there must be a design; a device must be made and tested; then it must be miniaturized to fit on a vehicle (in this case a missile); finally the missile must be built and tested. When you consider how much of Iraq’s nuclear infrastructure was dismantled and destroyed in the inspections following the First Gulf War, the idea that Saddam could reconstitute a fully functioning nuclear weapons program on the sly is in the realm of pure paranoid fantasy. Now most Americans were not aware of this at the time but the Bush Administration, the intelligence community, and members of defense and intelligence committees in the Congress certainly were.
The run up to war, how it was treated then and later, is the paradigm for the Bush years. The White House committed acts which it knew to be illegal and then lied to us about them. Congressional Republicans covered for the Administration by blocking investigations when they were in the majority and belittling them when they went into the minority. Congressional Democrats (with few exceptions) did nothing to stop what was happening. The media (also with few exceptions) gave up their role as investigator for that of cheerleader. Now years later, we are at last beginning to see some investigation. Yet for the most part, it is too little, too late. Actual accountability remains as far off as ever.