June 10, 2008—In a kind of Watergate in reverse, the Washington Post has rallied once again to defend George W. Bush’s honesty, with the paper’s editorial-page editor swatting away the latest swarm of evidence showing how the President took the nation to war in Iraq via a series of lies.
Much as the rival Washington Star in the 1970s let itself be used by Richard Nixon to muddy the Watergate waters – obscuring the mounting evidence of his guilt – now Washington Post editor Fred Hiatt and the newspaper’s hierarchy have lent themselves to the task of covering up Bush’s deceptions about the Iraq War.
This pattern started with the Post’s full-throated endorsement of the false pre-war intelligence on Iraq, continued with its ugly attacks on early war critics like former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, and has carried over to Hiatt’s latest attempt to discredit the Senate Intelligence Committee’s critical findings on Bush’s deceptions.
In his June 9 op-ed, entitled “‘Bush Lied?’ If Only It Were That Simple,” Hiatt seeks to separate Bush’s pre-war statements about Iraq – both its alleged WMD stockpiles and Saddam Hussein’s supposed ties to Islamic terrorists – from the historical context: the war fever that Bush created and exploited.
Hiatt argues that it’s unfair to say Bush lied when there was some intelligence buttressing his public case. In other words, Hiatt advances the argument, long used by Bush apologists, that the President was deceived by the faulty information just like so many others, both Republican and Democrat.
Hiatt notes that Sen. Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee which issued the June 5 report critical of Bush’s use of the intelligence, also bought into the false WMD claims in fall 2002.
Hiatt writes: “The phony ‘Bush lied’ story line distracts from the biggest prewar failure: the fact that so much of the intelligence upon which Bush and Rockefeller and everyone else relied turned out to be tragically, catastrophically wrong.”
But Hiatt’s selective history ignores the real story of how the Iraq War was sold, a case in which all the participants shared in propagating the falsehoods while still benefiting from enough ambiguity so they could point the finger at others.
It was like a modern-day execution with the task divvied up into interlocking parts – strapping down the prisoner, inserting the IV, preparing the chemicals, and releasing them. That way, each participant can deny full responsibility if it turns out that the prisoner was innocent and the death was wrongful.
In much the same way, by saying Bush didn’t lie – he was just deceived by erroneous intelligence – Hiatt advances the argument that no one is really at fault.
All Are Guilty
Yet, in the case of the bloody invasion of Iraq – committed under false pretenses and leading to the deaths of more than 4,000 U.S. soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis – the truth is that all the participants are guilty.
The sequence of responsibility went like this:
[For details, see our book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush.]
Though this daisy chain of activists and enablers shared responsibility for the Iraq invasion, that doesn’t wash the blood off the hands of the various participants, including Hiatt and other pro-war propagandists. Nor does it mean that Bush is NOT a liar.
In fact, the overwhelming evidence is that Bush is a willful (if not pathological) liar, in that he repeatedly misrepresented evidence that he personally knew to be true.
While it may be impossible to say exactly what Bush believed about Iraq’s non-existent WMD before the war, it can’t be seriously disputed that after the invasion, he rewrote the pre-war history to assert that Saddam Hussein “chose” war by not letting the United Nations inspectors in to check for WMD.
“We gave him [Saddam Hussein] a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn’t let them in. And, therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power,” Bush told reporters on July 14, 2003 – less than four months after the invasion.
Facing no serious challenge from the White House press corps, Bush continued repeating this lie in varied forms as part of his public litany for defending the invasion.
On Jan. 27, 2004, for example, Bush said, “We went to the United Nations, of course, and got an overwhelming resolution – 1441 – unanimous resolution, that said to Saddam, you must disclose and destroy your weapons programs, which obviously meant the world felt he had such programs. He chose defiance. It was his choice to make, and he did not let us in.”
As the months and years went by, Bush’s lie and its constant retelling took on the color of truth. In the frequent repetition of this claim, Bush never acknowledged the fact that Hussein did comply with Resolution 1441 by declaring accurately that he had disposed of his WMD stockpiles and by permitting U.N. inspectors to examine any site of their choosing.
Prominent Washington journalists eventually began repeating Bush’s lie as their own. In a July 2004 interview, ABC’s veteran newsman Ted Koppel used it to explain why he – Koppel – thought the invasion of Iraq was justified.
“It did not make logical sense that Saddam Hussein, whose armies had been defeated once before by the United States and the Coalition, would be prepared to lose control over his country if all he had to do was say, ‘All right, U.N., come on in, check it out,” Koppel told Amy Goodman, host of “Democracy Now.”
Of course, Hussein did tell the U.N. to “come on in, check it out.”
In fall 2002, Hussein’s government allowed teams of U.N. inspectors into Iraq and gave them free rein to examine any site of their choosing. Then, on Dec. 7, 2002, Iraq sent to the United Nations a 12,000-page declaration explaining how its WMD stockpiles had been eliminated.
At the time, the Bush administration – and much of the Washington press corps – mocked those efforts as proof that the Iraqis were continuing their WMD cover-up.
The U.N. inspections continued into March 2003 when Bush decided to press ahead with war and forced the inspectors to leave. After the invasion, U.S. weapons inspectors also found no WMD and concluded that the Iraqis had been telling the truth.
As the WMD search came up empty in summer 2003, Bush and his inner circle continued their campaign to punish critics and confuse the public.
The most notorious case was the behind-the-scenes assault on the reputation of former Ambassador Wilson for daring to disclose that Bush had used a false claim in his 2003 State of the Union Address about Iraq obtaining yellowcake uranium from Niger.
As administration officials fanned out to disparage Wilson with friendly journalists, several of the leakers – including Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, White House political adviser Karl Rove and I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff – also divulged that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, worked for the CIA.
That leak, which surfaced in a Robert Novak column in the Washington Post on July 14, 2003, destroyed Plame’s CIA career and jeopardized foreign nationals who had collaborated with her covert intelligence network.
In September 2003, upset about this collateral damage, the CIA forwarded a criminal complaint to the Justice Department seeking an investigation into the outing of Plame. As far as the CIA was concerned, her classified identity was covered by a 1982 law barring willful exposure of CIA officers who had “served” abroad in the preceding five years.
But Bush and his inner circle could still breathe easily since the probe was under the control of Attorney General John Ashcroft, considered to be a right-wing Bush ally. The White House responded to press inquiries disingenuously, claiming Bush took the leak very seriously and would punish anyone involved.
“The President has set high standards, the highest of standards, for people in his administration,” press secretary Scott McClellan said on Sept. 29, 2003. “If anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration.”
Bush announced his determination to get to the bottom of the matter.
“If there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is,” Bush said on Sept. 30, 2003. “I want to know the truth. If anybody has got any information inside our administration or outside our administration, it would be helpful if they came forward with the information so we can find out whether or not these allegations are true.”
Yet, even as Bush was professing his curiosity and calling for anyone with information to step forward, he was withholding the fact that he had authorized the declassification of some secrets about the Niger uranium issue and had ordered Cheney to arrange for those secrets to be given to reporters.
In other words, though Bush knew a great deal about how the anti-Wilson scheme got started – since he was involved in starting it – he uttered misleading public statements to conceal the White House role.
Also, since the other conspirators knew that Bush already was in the know, they would have read his comments as a signal to lie, which is what they did. In early October, press secretary McClellan said he could report that political adviser Karl Rove and National Security Council aide Elliott Abrams were not involved in the Plame leak.
That comment riled Libby, who feared that he was being hung out to dry. Libby went to his boss, Dick Cheney, and complained that “they’re trying to set me up; they want me to be the sacrificial lamb,” Libby’s lawyer Theodore Wells later said.
Cheney scribbled down his feelings in a note to McClellan: “Not going to protect one staffer + sacrifice the guy
the Pres that was asked to stick his head in the meat grinder because of incompetence of others.”
Cheney initially ascribed Libby’s role in going after Wilson to Bush’s orders, but the Vice President apparently thought better of it, crossing out “the Pres” and putting the clause in a passive tense.
Cheney has never explained publicly the meaning of his note, but it suggests that it was Bush who sent Libby out on the get-Wilson mission to limit damage from Wilson’s criticism of Bush’s false Niger-yellowcake claim.
If the Washington Post were still the newspaper it was in the 1970s, it would be building on this body of evidence to make the case that Bush not only lied to the public but committed serious crimes that harmed U.S. national security.
Instead Hiatt and the Post’s editorial pages continue to cover up for a President who has abused his powers and misled the American people – a rear-guard protective role that once was assigned to the now-defunct Washington Star.
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This story was published on June 11, 2008.