Former President George W. Bush’s press secretary, Ari Fleischer, took to Twitter on Tuesday to complain that people are still talking about the lies told by administration officials in the lead up to the Iraq War — and supposedly to set the record straight.
“The Iraq war began sixteen years ago tomorrow. There is a myth about the war that I have been meaning to set straight for years,” Fleischer began. “After no WMDs were found, the left claimed ‘Bush lied. People died.’ This accusation itself is a lie. It's time to put it to rest.”
Fleischer went on to insist that the Bush administration and intelligence officials at the time did not lie but in fact only “turned out to be wrong.”
Matthews highlights how Americans can know that Fleischer’s statement is a lie: “There were numerous occasions when Bush and his advisers made statements that intelligence agencies knew to be false, both about weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and about Iraq President Saddam Hussein’s nonexistent links to al-Qaeda. The term commonly used for making statements that one knows to be false is ‘lying.’”
In fact, Mother Jones’s David Corn detailed numerous occasions that Bush and others were found to have lied to the American people in an effort to sell their war in Iraq.
In October 2002, for example, Bush claimed that Saddam Hussein had a “massive stockpile” of biological weapons, but this assertion was proved untrue by CIA Director George Tenet in 2004.
Tenet said the CIA told administration officials that it had “no specific information on the types or quantities of weapons agent or stockpiles at Baghdad’s disposal” — meaning Bush’s claim of a “massive stockpile” was simply fabricated.
Bush also claimed in 2002 that administration and intelligence officials “do not know whether or not [Iraq] has a nuclear weapon.” But Tenet’s testimony against contradicts the former president’s claim: “We said that Saddam did not have a nuclear weapon and probably would have been unable to make one until 2007 to 2009.”
The list goes on:
On CNN in September 2002, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice claimed that aluminum tubes purchased by Iraq were “only really suited for nuclear weapons programs.” This was precisely the opposite of what nuclear experts at the Energy Department were saying; they argued that not only was it very possible the tubes were for nonnuclear purposes but that it was very likely they were too. Even more dire assessments about the tubes from other agencies were exaggerated by administration officials — and in any case, the claim that they’re “only really suited” for nuclear weapons is just false.
In August 2002, Cheney declared, “Simply stated, there’s no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.” But as Corn notes, at that time there was “no confirmed intelligence at this point establishing that Saddam had revived a major WMD operation.” Gen. Anthony Zinni, who had heard the same intelligence and attended Cheney’s speech, would later say in a documentary, “It was a total shock. I couldn’t believe the vice president was saying this, you know? In doing work with the CIA on Iraq WMD, through all the briefings I heard at Langley, I never saw one piece of credible evidence that there was an ongoing program.”
Matthews also noted that Fleischer’s decision to lean on the Robb-Silberman Commission’s report is highly misleading. While he is correct that the commission concluded that U.S. intelligence agencies made numerous errors leading up to the war, Fleischer fails to mention that the commission’s mandate did not allow for investigating the manner in which policymakers used the intelligence they were given.
“We were not authorized to investigate how policymakers used the intelligence assessments they received from the Intelligence Community,” the report says. “Accordingly, while we interviewed a host of current and former policymakers during the course of our investigation, the purpose of those interviews was to learn about how the Intelligence Community reached and communicated its judgments about Iraq’s weapons programs — not to review how policymakers subsequently used that information.”
A full 16 years after the U.S. launched a bloody war that cost hundreds of thousands of lives, displaced millions of people and arguably led to the rise of ISIS, former Bush administration officials have yet to apologize.
Instead, they continue to defend the indefensible — but Bush really did lie, and consequently, people really did die.
Fleischer and his friends got away with it, and they all have lucrative careers now. The least they could do is apologize to the thousands of Iraqis whose fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons, and daughters were killed. To instead mark the anniversary of a decision that ruined their lives with nonsensical ass-covering isn’t just ridiculous. It’s morally obscene.