Ruth Rosen: Finally Bush's Lies Have Raised Questions About His Credibility





Historian and columnist Ruth Rosen, in the San Francisco Chronicle (March 15, 2004):

ONE YEAR LATER, the lies that led to the war in Iraq are coming unraveled. Last week, even CIA Director George Tenet admitted that he had privately disputed public statements made by top government officials who had twisted intelligence reports.

It's about time. One year ago, I watched as our nation's highest officials exploited the catastrophe of Sept. 11, 2001, by manipulating fears of terrorism and exaggerating the existence of weapons of mass destruction.

President Bush, in his 2003 State of the Union speech, declared that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from Niger -- a bogus story that was discredited in the foreign press. Secretary of State Colin Powell, in his address to the U.N. Security Council, cited"solid" British evidence of Iraq's WMDs that was immediately exposed as 10-year-old data posted on the Internet by a graduate student.

By the time the war began, the government's Big Lie had turned into conventional wisdom. Much of the American media, according to a study by the Center for International Security Studies at Maryland, amplified administration assertions and failed to critically analyze how officials"framed the events, issues, threats and policy options."

As a result, more than half of the American people believed that Iraqis had been among the Sept. 11 terrorists and that Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda had forged an alliance to destroy the United States.

Yet none of this was true.

One year later, more than 500 Americans soldiers have died in Iraq and thousands more have returned home with missing limbs and scarred souls. Countless Iraqi civilians have been killed, injured and humiliated by the American occupation.

One year later, our world is far more dangerous. Many of our allies are alienated by Bush's arrogant, unilateral deployment of military power. Hatred of our country has grown in much of the Islamic world.

Fortunately, lies have a way of unraveling because people with integrity step forward to speak the truth.

In a memorable July 6, 2003, New York Times opinion essay, Joseph W. Wilson, a career diplomat, broke his silence by disclosing that he had found no evidence that Niger had sold uranium to Iraq, and concluded that"some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat."

For that truth-telling, some senior administration officials leaked Wilson's wife's intelligence cover to journalist Robert Novak.

David Kay, the government's chief weapons inspector, returned from Iraq and publicly reported that his survey team had not found any evidence of WMDs. Paul O' Neill, former treasury secretary, revealed that as soon as Bush officials took office, they began plotting to invade Iraq.

Today, we also know why there was a so-called"intelligence failure." Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and company established their own private Pentagon intelligence unit -- the Office of Special Plans -- to seek evidence that confirmed only what they believed. CIA Director George Tenet, for his part, failed to expose the administration's manipulation of intelligence.

In"The New Pentagon Papers," published last week on Salon.com, Karen Kwiatkowski, a retired lieutenant colonel formerly assigned to the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans, writes,"I witnessed neoconservative agenda bearers within OSP usurp measured and carefully considered assessments, and through suppression and distortion of intelligence analysis promulgate what were in fact falsehoods to the Congress."

Now, as the one-year anniversary of the war approaches, the shelves in American bookstores groan under the weight of tomes that describe the deception that led to war in Iraq. The titles, to name just a few --"The Price of Loyalty;""Weapons of Mass Deception;""Big Lies;""The Lies of George W. Bush;" and"The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us About Iraq" -- reflect the president's growing credibility gap.

To these, add"Disarming Iraq," written by Hans Blix, the former U.N. weapons inspector, who says the war was illegal and criticizes the Bush administration for failing to allow his team to verify if Iraqi WMDs actually existed.

One year later, the media and Congress finally are asking tough questions and holding the Bush administration accountable for its past deeds and deceptions. Sen. John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, clearly intends to make the betrayal of soldiers and the American people a centerpiece of his campaign for the presidency.

For those of us who never believed Bush's statements and opposed the war, despair gives way to a glimmer of hope. American democracy is stronger than it was a year ago. But the political battle for the soul of the nation has just begun.


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