So. There were no weapons of mass destruction after all. After months of repeatedly offering up Saddam Hussein's murderous potential as justification for invading Iraq, President Bush is finally forced to backpedal on his claim. Was he simply the victim of bad intelligence, as former weapons inspector David Kay claims? Or was he deliberately misleading the American people?
Unfortunately, there's increasing evidence for the latter. On Feb. 1 The New York Times reported that Bush administration officials allegedly bullied intelligence analysts into producing false conclusions about Iraq's weapons program. The Carnagie Endowment for International Peace notes that intelligence reports suddenly became markedly alarmist in mid-2002, presumably under pressure from the president.
If that's the case, it squares completely with Bush's track record over the past three years. The president's modus operandi has been leadership by falsehood. Time and again, Bush and his appointees have used their bully pulpit to deliver half-truths, exaggerations and sometimes flat-out mistatements. They have lied about foreign policy. They have lied about domestic policy. The president himself has misstated his own personal history.
"Through his campaign for the presidency and his first years in the White House, he has mugged the truth--not merely in honest error, but deliberately, consistently, and repeatedly to advance his career and his agenda," writes David Corn in his book The Lies of George W. Bush "Lying greased his path toward the White House; it has been one of the essential tools of his presidency. To call the 43rd president of the United States a prevaricator is not an exercise of opinion, not an inflammatory talk-radio device. This insult is supported by an all too extensive record of self-serving falsifications. So constant is his fibbing that a history of his lies offers a close approximation of the history of his presidential tenure."
Here's an overview of some of the mistruths that have emerged from Bush & Co.:
"The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed in the 1990s that Saddam Hussein had an advanced nuclear weapons development program, had a design for a nuclear weapon and was working on five different methods of enriching uranium for a bomb. The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.... Saddam Hussein has not credibly explained these activities. He clearly has much to hide." (Bush, State of the Union, Jan. 28, 2003)
Saddam's nuclear threat was one of Bush's claims for invading Iraq. But both diplomatic and scientific experts say that no such capability has ever existed--and the White House knew that.
The International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors found nothing more than some "crude experiments" that put Iraq "a very long way from nuclear success," according to Peter Zimmerman, who in the '90s served as chief scientist at the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.
As for the African connection: In 2002, the CIA asked career diplomat Joseph Wilson to investigate concerns that Iraq had bought uranium from Niger, a U.S. ally. "It did not take long to conclude that it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place," reported Wilson, who served as charge d'affairs in Baghdad during the Bush Sr. presidency. After Wilson briefed the CIA on his findings, the agency then shared its own doubts with the White House. In fact, when Bush's speechwriters were preparing another presidential address in October 2002, they were warned not to discuss the unsubstantiated Niger rumors. The reference was deleted--only to reappear three months later in the State of the Union.
"Senator, I don't believe anyone that I know in the administration has ever said that Iraq had nuclear weapons." (Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Senate defense appropriations subcommitee, May 14, 2003)
Perhaps Rumsfeld wasn't watching TV the day Dick Cheney appeared on NBC's Meet The Press two months earlier. "We believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons," the vice president said of Hussein.
"We know he's got ties with al Qaeda." (Bush, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Nov. 1, 2002)
Though Bush repeatedly links Saddam Hussein with Osama bin Laden's terrorist organization, the president has never produced any evidence that a relationship actually exists. Nor has anyone else in his administration. "We've been looking at this hard for more than a year, and you know what? We just don't think it's there," one FBI official told The New York Times earlier this year. Likewise, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and Hans Blix, the chief UN weapons inspector in Iraq, say they haven't uncovered any connections.
French Jean-Louis Bruguiere, the dean of Europe's terrorism investigators and a respected crime-fighter in the eyes of U.S. officials, is adamant on this point. "We have found no evidence of links between Iraq and al Qaeda," he told reporters three days after Bush's New Hampshire speech. "And we are working on 50 cases involving al Qaeda or radical Islamic cells. I think if there were such links, we would have found them."
Reporter: "So oil is not a factor?"
Ari Fleischer: "That is not a factor. This is about preserving the peace and saving the lives of Americans." (Press briefing, Oct. 9, 2002)
While Fleischer was assuring journalists that we were not invading Iraq for anything as crude as oil, the Bush administration was sending different signals to the corporate community. Grant Aldonas, undersecretary of commerce for international trade, promised a business forum that the Iraqi war "would open up this spigot on Iraqi oil, which certainly would have a profound effect in terms of the performance of the world economy."
"Iraq has at least seven of these mobile biological agent factories.... They can produce enough dry biological agent in a single month to kill thousands upon thousands of people." (Secretary of State Colin Powell, United Nations, Feb. 5, 2003)
"We have had reports for a long time about these mobile units," said Hans Blix the day before Powell's UN speech. "We have never found one. We have not seen any signs of things being moved around, whether tracks in the sand or in the ground." He confirmed this a month later in a speech to the UN Security Council: "Food-testing mobile laboratories and mobile workshops have been seen, as well as large containers with seed processing equipment. No evidence of proscribed activities have so far been found."
Even Defense Department scientists secretly concur with Blix. A classified report by the majority of the Defense Intelligence Agency's engineering experts concluded that those facilities were probably used to produce hydrogen for weather balloons--not to manufacture biological weapons.
"The coalition in this activity is larger than the coalition that existed during the Gulf War in 1991." (Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, press briefing, March 20, 2003)
The Gulf War military force actually came from 34 nations, while the 2003 Iraqi invasion was staffed almost entirely by U.S., British and Australian soldiers.
Some of the 44 nations on Rumsfeld's list of coalition members, including Turkey and Germany, actually opposed the war. Others--including Palau, Costa Rica, Iceland, and the Marshall Islands--don't even have militaries. "We laid down weapons sometime in the 14th century," Icelandic Ambassador Helgi Agustsson told The Washington Post.
"The prisoners in Guantanamo are being treated humanely. They're receiving medical care, they're receiving food. They're receiving far better treatment than they received in the life that they were living previously." (Fleischer, press briefing, May 28, 2003)
Humane indeed: According to Amnesty International, the U.S. military has blatantly violated international law both while transporting prisoners to the Guantnamo Bay naval base in Cuba and while detaining them there. "During the 22-hour flights, the prisoners were handcuffed, shackled [and] effectively blindfolded by the use of taped-over ski goggles," the organization reports. Denied lawyers and speedy trials, they were placed in a "temporary facility consisting of small wire-mesh cells, exposed to the elements, and lit up throughout the night by powerful arc lighting." They were frequently chained, denied exercise, and eventually transferred to even smaller cells. Many snapped under the conditions. Just before Fleischer's press briefing, the Navy reported two more suicide attempts at Guantnamo Bay, bringing the total to 27.
"I don't think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon; that they would try to use...a hijacked airplane as a missile." (National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, press briefing, May 16, 2002)
The White House actually had a two-year heads-up about the Sept. 11 attacks. In 1999, a government-commissioned investigation conducted by the the Library of Congress' Federal Research Division predicted: "Suicide bomber(s) belonging to al-Qaida's Martyrdom Battalion could crash-land an aircraft packed with high explosives (C-4 and semtex) into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), or the White House."
Then, in July 2001, senior administration officials received an intelligence briefing that warned of a coming terrorist attack by Osama Bin Laden. "The attack will be spectacular and designed to inflict mass casualties against U.S. facilities or interests," the memo said. "Attack preparations have been made. Attack will occur with little or no warning."
As for using airplanes as weapons, a September 2002 congressional investigation concluded that "the intelligence community was aware of the potential for this type of terrorist attack." The CIA admitted as much when it said in a November 2001 analysis, "The idea of hijacking planes for suicide attacks had long been current in jihadist circles.... Likewise, the World Trade Center had long been a target of terrorist bombers."
"When I heard about the terrorist attack, I was in Florida. I was in a classroom talking about a reading program that works. I was sitting outside the classroom waiting to go in, and I saw an airplane hit the tower--the TV was obviously on. And I used to fly myself, and I said, 'Well, there's one terrible pilot.'" (Bush, Orlando, Florida, Dec. 4, 2001)
Bush must have been watching a different television station from everyone else in the U.S. Since no one anticipated the Sept. 11 attacks, footage of the first plane crash wasn't immediately broadcast--except maybe in the president's head.
"I am glad to reassure the people of New York...that their air is safe to breathe." (Environmental Protection Administrator Christine Whitman, press statement, Sept. 18, 2001)
For weeks after the World Trade Center attacks, Bush officials downplayed the dangers of visiting Lower Manhattan. "Our tests show that it is safe for New Yorkers to go back to work in New York's Financial District," announced Assistant Secretary of Labor John Henshaw on Sept. 14 in one of many similar statements.
It wasn't true. So eager was the administration to reopen Wall Street that it issued the series of proclamations without scientific evidence, according to a scathing report issued by EPA's inspector general. In fact, Lower Manhattan wasn't safe at all: The attacks had clogged the air with asbestos, lead, dioxin, mercury and other threats to human health, according to the inspector general's report and the American Journal of Industrial Medicine. For example, the journal noted, a respected electron microscopist studied the inside of one apartment building near Ground Zero a week after Sept. 11--and found asbestos levels 37 times the federal government's own safety standards.
"In May, I signed a bill that authorizes $15 billion for the global fight on AIDS.... The House of Representatives and the United States Senate must fully fund this initiative, for the good of the people on this continent of Africa." (Bush, Abuja, Nigeria, July 12, 2003)
At the exact time Bush was promising Africans to fully fund his overseas AIDS initiative, he was quietly urging Congress to slash next year's $3 billion allocation by one-third. "We didn't think the program could ramp up fast enough to absorb that amount of money," he tried to explain when confronted two weeks later. But AIDS advocates say they're desperate for that extra $1 billion and could easily put it to use on a continent devastated by the disease. "There are endless examples of how that money can be spent," says Paul Zeitz, director of the Global AIDS Alliance in Washington, D.C. "I can go country by country, example by example. In fact, $3 billion isn't enough. It's ridiculous that they're playing this game of misinformation."
"As a result of private research, more than 60 genetically diverse stem-cell lines already exist. They were created from embryos that have already been destroyed, and they have the ability to regenerate themselves indefinitely, creating ongoing opportunities for research." (Bush, Crawford, Texas, Aug. 9, 2001)
Bush used this factoid as justification for banning research on new stem-cell lines--a leading goal of the anti-abortion movement. But the number was bogus. The following month, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson admitted it was closer to 25--and then last spring, National Institutes of Health Director Elias Zerhouni said there were only 11 lines readily available to scientists, all potentially contaminated.
When it comes to scientific information, the Bush administration has taken considerable criticism for generating mistruths. According to a 40-page report issued last summer by the Democratic staff of the House Committee on Government Reform, the administration has distorted scientific data, suppressed agency reports, altered public-health web sites, and blocked the publication of scientific papers it didn't agree with. "The subjects involved spanned a broad range"--stem-cell research, breast cancer, food safety, lead contamination, condom use, global warming, agricultural pollution--"but they share a common attribute: the beneficiaries of the scenitific distortions are important supporters of the president, including social conservatives and powerful industry groups," the congressional report concluded.
"The President is committed to continuing the efforts on fighting children using tobacco worldwide." (Fleischer, White House briefing, Aug. 3, 2001)
Fleischer was responding to a reporter's question about the resignation of Thomas Novotny, who headed the delegation to the World Health Organization's tobacco-treaty negotiations. In fact, the assistant surgeon general had quit the negotiations after the Bush administration ordered him to back off on his delegation's strong public-health positions. Novotny was directed to oppose both worldwide cigarette taxes and an international advertising ban, two measures that would help discourage children from smoking. "It was clear that what was happening was coming from the White House," he says. "They don't care about tobacco control. They've got people from Philip Morris in the White House."
"[The UN Population Fund's] support of, and involvement in, China's population-planning program activities allows the Chinese government to implement more effectively its program of coercive abortion." (Letter from Secretary of State Colin Powell, July 21, 2002)
With those words, the Bush administration froze $34 million for the UN Population Fund, which Powell himself had said "does invaluable work through its programs in maternal and child health care, voluntary family planning, screening for reproductive tract cancers, breast-feeding promotion and HIV/AIDS prevention." Powell's claim that the UN Fund promotes involuntary abortions was contradicted by his own State Department, whose research team traveled to China and found "no evidence" that this was the case. Even some pro-life advocates agree that the UN Fund is trying to discourage China from mandating abortions.
The Fund estimates that the $34 million cut will result in two million unwanted pregnancies, more 80,000 deaths--and, ironically, 800,000 preventable abortions.
"In 2002, our economy was...pulling out of a recession that began before I took office." (Bush, radio address, Dec. 28, 2002)
Bush can't blame Clinton for this one. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the recession began in March 2001--two months after Bush took office. It was the first recession since March 1991, when Bush's father was president.
"The tax relief is for everyone who pays income taxes." (Bush, State of the Union, Jan. 28, 2003)
Tell that to the 8.1 million taxpayers who would have received no benefit from Bush's tax-cut proposal, according to a study by the Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center. Of those, the vast majority are in the under-$20,000 bracket--the very Americans who could most use a little extra money in their pockets.
"To keep family farms in the family, we're going to get rid of the death tax." (Bush, White House, March 2, 2001)
Bush's tug on America's agrarian heartstrings has no basis in fact. Under the U.S. tax code, farmers pay few if any estate taxes. "Yes, there is some farm property that's subject to the estate tax, but it's not owned by the struggling family farmer," says Iowa State University economist Neil Harl, one of the nation's preeminent scholars of agricultural law. "It's the Ted Turners of the world who own the farms that are subject to the estate tax." In four decades of research, Harl has not unearthed a single case of a family losing its farm to the so-called death tax.
"After September the 11th, many insurance companies stopped covering builders and real estate owners against the risk of terrorist attack. The lack of terrorism insurance has...cost 300,000 jobs--jobs to carpenters and joiners, bricklayers, plumbers and other hardworking Americans." (Bush, radio address, Oct. 12, 2002)
Not true, says the Federal Reserve, which surveyed bank loan officers that year and found few difficulties. "Concerns about terrorism have not been widespread," the agency informed Congress three months before Bush's radio address. Likewise, insurers themselves were reporting few problems. "In the seven months following Sept. 11, the market has stabilized, more capacity has become available, and prices have dropped," reported the industry magazine National Underwriter around the same time.
That didn't stop Bush from going to bat for the insurance industry, lobbying for a federal bailout of companies faced with large terrorism-related claims in the future.
Under the Bush Administration plan to overhaul the federal overtime laws, "there are 644,000 paid hourly workers...that could be converted to salaried employees" and therefore lose overtime benefits. (Bush Labor Department, Federal Register, March 31, 2003)
Try 8 million. That's how many people plan to lose their overtime under new rules proposed by the Labor Department, according to a study by the Washington-based Economic Policy Institute. EPI analyzed the federal government's own workforce data and concluded the new rules would "deny overtime pay to paralegals, emergency medical technicians, licensed practical nurses, draftsmen, surveyors, and many others who currently have the law's protection."
"By thinning overgrown forests, we will reduce the risk of catastrophic fire and restore the health of forest ecosystems. That is the purpose of my Healthy Forest Initiative." (Bush, radio address, Aug. 16, 2003)
"The legislation makes forest health the priority, a high priority, when courts are forced to resolve disputes." (Bush, touting the Healthy Forests Initiative in Redmond, Oregon, Aug. 21, 2003)
Bush's plan is designed to make it simpler to log millions of acres of public land, ostensibly to reduce the threat of fires. But you'd be hard-pressed to find a scientist who buys the president's argument. In fact, they say his plan will actually increase the fire threat. "When you have a forest fire, what carries the flame into the canopy is the small trees," says Norm Christensen, an ecology professor at the Duke University School of the Environment. "It's the little stuff we need to remove." The problem is that the Healthy Forest Initiative would allow loggers to remove larger trees--"the trees that are fire resistent, that shade the understory and keep it moist." Cutting the big trees opens the woods to sunlight (which dries fuel) and wind (which fans fire). At the same time, removing the giants ensures that "the forest is going to grow back in a scrubby, flammable way." Last June, Christensen chaired a meeting of the nation's leading forest-fire ecologists, and "there was 100 percent agreement that you don't cut big old trees," he says.
Nor does the Healthy Forest Initiative ensure courts will protect forest health. It does the opposite, severely limiting who can sue, and when, to prevent environmentally destructive logging activity. What's more, under the initiative, the courts are ordered to give "deference" to any federal agency that insists there's a significant long-term benefit to cutting down the woods.
"Clear Skies will bring Americans much cleaner air, and healthier forests, lakes, and estuaries. Many cities and towns will meet air quality standards for the first time in years. We will virtually eliminate the problem of acid rain, which affects so many lakes and forests in the Northeast. We also will dramatically reduce urban smog and nitrogen and mercury deposition. Clear Skies will reduce air pollution from power plants by 70 percent--the most significant step America has ever taken to address this problem." (Bush, official statement, July 1, 2002)
The president's Clear Skies Initiative actually does the opposite of what its title promises. According to documents from the White House and Environmental Protection Agency, the Bush plan would permit more than twice as much sulfur dioxide--and five times as much mercury--as the current Clean Air Act will allow during the same time frame. The Clear Skies Initiative would also delay tough pollution standards for up to 10 years, and make it harder for downwind states to force their polluting neighbors to clean up their fumes.
"The Arctic National Wildlife Reserve ... covers 19 million acres, an area roughly the size of South Carolina. The amount of land that would need to be disturbed on the surface by oil production would be about 2,000 acres. That is an area smaller than the size of Dulles Airport outside of Washington D.C." (Vice President Dick Cheney, Toronto, April 30, 2001)
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, petroleum in the Arctic refuge is dispersed widely across the 1.5 million-acre coastal plain. Although the GOP-sponsored energy plan would limit the actual footprint of pipelines, roads, airstrips and production facilities to 2,000 acres, that infrastructure can be spread out across an area larger than Delaware.
"We will link debt reduction and the conservation of tropical forests. These forests affect the air we breathe, the food we eat, medicines that cure disease, and are home to more than half of earth's animal and plant species. Expanding the aims of the Tropical Forest Conservation Act, I will ask Congress to provide $100 million to support the exchange of debt reduction for the protection of tropical forests." (Bush, Miami, Aug. 25, 2000)
Three months after taking office, Bush asked for just $13 million for the tropical-forest program. That wasn't even new money; it was diverted from the Agency for International Development. To make matters worse, this year the president threw his support behind a $1.6 billion natural gas project that threatens to devastate a pristine rainforest and marine sanctuary in Peru.
"Another way to make sure that we foster growth and restore confidence is to hold people accountable for misdeeds... We expect there to be full disclosure of assets and liabilities. We expect there to be fair accounting practices. We expect you to treat your investors and employees with the respect they deserve. And if not, we intend to do something about it at the federal level." (Bush, Birmingham, Alabama, July 15, 2002)
While Bush was promising a new era of corporate responsibility, his administration was quietly making it easier for business executives to break the law. In 2001, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill helped gut an international effort to combat off-shore tax shelters, where U.S. companies relocate to avoid paying taxes. Then Bush overturned federal rules requiring the government to examine a corporation's compliance with environmental, antitrust, labor and consumer-protection laws before awarding contracts. Finally, the president lobbied hard for legislation that made it easy for off-shore tax evaders to get Homeland Security contracts.
Bush himself would have trouble meeting the standards he set in his Birmingham speech. When Bush served as a director of the Harken Energy Corp., he approved of the creation of an Enron-like partnership to conceal the company's debts. He also made more than $80,000 in 1990 by selling Harken stocks at an inflated price right before the company announced a $23 million loss--and failed to disclose the sale for eight months.
"I got to know Ken Lay when he was the head of the Governor's Business Council in Texas. He was a supporter of Ann Richards in my run in 1994. And she had named him the head of the Governor's Business Council. And I decided to leave him in place, just for the sake of continuity. And that's when I first got to know Ken." (Bush, White House, Jan. 10, 2002)
Enron's scandal-plagued chairman, Ken Lay, was actually a Bush supporter in 1994--he and his wife gave W $37,500 that year, three times what they contributed to Democrat Ann Richards. Lay has told reporters that he and Bush, acquaintances since the 1980s, were "very close" by the time the '94 election rolled around.
"We need to prepare our children to read and succeed in school with improved Head Start." (Bush, State of the Union, Jan. 29, 2002)
Bush's plan to revamp Head Start--which serves almost a million preschoolers with meals, health screenings, and literacy education--does call for new academic standards. But that's not the real intent of the legislation, according to the National Head Start Association and local educators, who say Bush's plan would will actually weaken Head Start. That's because the legislation would begin the process of turning Head Start over to the states without imposing rigorous standards or ensuring that the money isn't diverted elsewhere. Government research shows that states have a poor track record, compared to the federal government, of serving the poorest students.
"The law enforcement community has no interest in your reading habits. Tracking reading habits would betray our high regard for the First Amendment.... No one believes in our First Amendment civil liberties more than this administration." (Attorney General John Ashcroft, Washington, D.C. Sept. 15, 2003)
Ashcroft's own USA Patriot Act allows the government to monitor what library books you read, what information you download from the Internet, what videos you rent from Blockbuster. According to the 2001 law, the FBI may request "books, records, papers, documents, and other items" as part of a terrorism investigation. U.S. citizens and permanent residents can be investigated partly based on their First Amendment activity (such as anti-government letters to the editor), while non-Americans can be investigated solely based on that activity.
Last June, Ashcroft appeared before the House Judiciary Committee. Under questioning from Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin, he explained how far-reaching the Patriot Act really is:
Baldwin: Under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, now the government can obtain any relevant tangible items. Is that correct?
Ashcroft: I think they are authorized to ask for relevant tangible items.
Baldwin: And so that would include things like book purchase records?
Ashcroft: I think it's possible that they--in the narrow arena in which they are authorized to ask, yes.
Baldwin: Library book or computer records?
Ashcroft: I think it could include library book or computer records....
Baldwin: Education records?
Ashcroft: I think there are some education records that would be susceptible to demand....
Baldwin: Genetic information?
Ashcroft: ...I think we probably could.
The Justice Department has already admitted to contacting about 50 libraries as part of its Patriot Act investigations, but it won't reveal whether it asked for patron borrowing records.
"I've been to war. I've raised twins. If I had a choice, I'd rather go to war." (President George W. Bush, Charleston, West Virginia, reported Jan. 29, 2002)
Been to war? Bush joined the Texas Air National Guard in 1968, but the closest he ever got to combat was working on a couple of political campaigns.
It has taken four years, but the facts about Bush's time in the National Guard are finally coming out--no thanks to Bush. In fact, he has promised documents proving his claim to have transferred and served with the Alabama Guard, but has been slow releasing them--and none of them prove he was there.
Meanwhile, no one in the Alabama Guard has spoken up to say they saw him during the months he says he was there, before he received an early discharge to head to Harvard business school.
Who knows? Maybe Bush just forgot he had never been a soldier.
Research assistance by Randall Williams.