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On Monday, Oct., 7, 2007, the "President" went to Cincinnati to, in the words of his speechwriters, "take a few minutes to discuss a grave threat to peace, and America's determination to lead the world in confronting that threat." That "threat," of course, was Iraq, and Bush's speech was the first comprehensive effort at quantifying the allegation. Nationally televised, it remains the single most mendacious speech Bush delivered in the course of his entire presidency (a title for which it has some pretty serious competition). Every assertion he made in it, with regard to Iraqi WMDs and alliances with al Qaida--his case for war--has been shown to have been either an outright fabrication or so misleading as to be, in essence, fiction.[1]


"Over the years, Iraq has provided safe haven to terrorists such as Abu Nidal, whose terror organization carried out more than 90 terrorist attacks in 20 countries that killed or injured nearly 900 people, including 12 Americans. Iraq has also provided safe haven to Abu Abbas, who was responsible for seizing the Achille Lauro and killing an American passenger. And we know that Iraq is continuing to finance terror and gives assistance to groups that use terrorism to undermine Middle East peace."

While both of those first two allegations are true, it's also true--but, of course, unmentioned by the "President's" speechwriters--that, while those events occured--decades ago--the Reagan administration, fully aware of them, had removed Iraq from the State Dept. list of nations that support terrorism. Iraq was removed in 1982 and remained off of it year after year right up until Operation Desert Storm. Officially, in other words, Iraq was not a sponsor of terrorism then.[2] It's also noteworthy that both of these examples involve terrorists who haven't committed an act of terror in a decade or more. Abu Abbas, who made his organization's headquarters in Baghdad only briefly in the 1980s, renounced terrorism years ago, and the U.S. warrant for his arrest in the 1985 Achille Lauro incident was dropped over two years before Bush spoke. According to the Bush administration's own State Dept., Abu Nidal, who died months before Bush dug him up again, hadn't been involved in an act of terrorism in a decade, and had "not attacked Western targets since the late 1980s."[3]

The third allegation is couched in absurdly euphemistic rhetoric, and for good reason. It refers to Iraq's practice of offering relief money to the families of those killed and injured by Israeli violence in the occupied territories--that same money is also offered to the families of those who have committed suicide bombings. The good reason, from the administration's standpoint, to couch this allegation in euphemism is that U.S. ally Saudi Arabia also does this, and they pay a good deal more than Iraq. This was reported six months before Bush's speech, after the Bush administration had condemned the Iraqi regime for the practice. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, from then:

"Here is an individual [Saddam Hussein] who is the head of a country, Iraq, who has proudly, publicly made a decision to go out and actively promote and finance human sacrifice for families that will have their youngsters kill innocent men, women, and children. That is an example of what it is we're dealing with."

A week later, after the press published the fact that Saudi Arabia does the same thing, Rumsfeld was asked about it again at a news conference, and, as per his usual habit, immediately switched into "don't know nuthin'" mode: "I have no information whatsoever that suggests that the government of Saudi Arabia is doing what Iraq is."

In Cincinnati, Bush's speechwriters made some other allegations about an Iraqi partnership with al Qaida:

"We know that Iraq and al Qaeda have had high-level contacts that go back a decade. Some al Qaeda leaders who fled Afghanistan went to Iraq. These include one very senior al Qaeda leader who received medical treatment in Baghdad this year, and who has been associated with planning for chemical and biological attacks. We've learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases."

Bob Baer, a long-time CIA hand who tracked the rise of Al Qaida, confirmed, to the Guardian, that there were contacts in Sudan between al Qaida and the Iraqi government in the early 1990s and again in 1998 (they'd been public knowledge for years), "but there is no evidence that a strategic partnership came out of it. I'm unaware of any evidence of Saddam Hussein pursuing terrorism against the United States." The speechwriters' wording is intended to suggest they'd been in cahoots for years, when, in fact, the intel community was telling Bush--correctly--that no such partnership either exists, has existed, or is likely to ever exist. That had been the view inside the intel community for years, and it was restated to Bush and his underlings repeatedly. Bush's "analysis" was based on nothing, and ran directly counter to what he'd been told.

The "very senior al Qaeda leader" mentioned by Bush's speechwriters was Abu Musab Zarqawi, who was not, in fact, a "very senior al Qaeda leader," or a "senior al Qaeda leader," or an "al Qaeda leader", or, in fact, a member of al Qaeda at all. Zarqawi, instead, ran a rival terrorist group. Intelligence officials told ABC News that there was no evidence that the Iraqi government even knew Zarqawi was in Iraq. The alleged "medical treatment" was for a leg he lost--in reality, Zarqawi died months after the U.S. invasion with two good legs under him. After the invasion, Zarqawi briefly aligned himself with al Qaida, a rocky alliance, on its best day, and one that had essentially come to an end by the time Zarqawi met his own.

Zarqawi, along with other al Qaida vets from Afghanistan, had been assisting a militant anti-Saddam faction in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq. It was somewhat remarkable that Bush's speechwriters would bring up the fact that "some al Qaida leaders who fled Afghanistan went to Iraq"--the only ones known to have done so fled to this enclave, which is militarily controlled by Kurdish factions courtesy of the U.S.-enforced no-fly zone. In other words, they were harbored by the Bush administration, not Saddam's regime, toward which they were openly hostile.[4]

Zarqawi was used as an exhibit in this way throughout the lead-up to war--"evidence" of Saddam/Osama partnership. Afterwards, it emerged that those in the administration had three different opportunities to take out Zarqawi and his camp with air-strikes, prior to the war, but passed on them because they thought their misinformation about he and his operation worked better as a propaganda ploy to get that war. As NBC reported, "the administration feared destroying the terrorist camp in Iraq could undercut its case for war against Saddam." After the invasion, when Zarqawi became the leader of the anti-U.S. resistance in Iraq, many American servicemen and Iraqis died because Bush wanted his propaganda.

The allegation that Iraq "has trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases" came from Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a genuine al Qaida operative who, after being captured, was shipped off to Egypt to be tortured. On the waterboard, he asserted that Iraq had been training al Qaida terrorists in bomb-making, poisons, and the use of gases. Both the CIA and DIA eventually concluded that al-Libi was merely saying what he thought his interrogators wanted to hear in order to get them off his back (SOP in cases of torture). That was the conclusion stated in the DIA report on these developments from Feb. 2002: "[T]his individual is [likely] intentionally misleading the debriefers." Nevertheless, 8 months later, there was Bush in Cincinnati, offering al-Libi's nonsense as fact.

To justify the timing of their push for war, the "President's" speechwriters invoked the threat from weapons of mass destruction again:

"Some ask how urgent this danger is to America and the world. The danger is already significant, and it only grows worse with time. If we know Saddam Hussein has dangerous weapons today--and we do--does it make any sense for the world to wait to confront him as he grows even stronger and develops even more dangerous weapons?"

The "and we do" is particularly grating--Bush knew no such thing, and, in fact, it wasn't true. Iraq had been out of the WMD business for over a decade. Bush's bad faith was pretty obvious at the time: if he genuinely believed this, why would it make any sense for him to have done nothing for the previous two years about this so-called growing threat? The degree of the administration's genuine commitment to the view that Iraq was somehow an imminent threat could be gauged by the fact that, many months before Bush's speech, it created a marketing strategy designed to sell the public and the allies on war with Iraq, then delayed implementing it until nearly September, right in the final stretch of the congressional election campaign.[5] The only conclusions that can be drawn from this is that those in the administration either genuinely believed what they're saying and are criminally incompetent or really didn't believe what they're saying at all.

Bush's speechwriters, keeping in their standard tune, dragged out the spectre of new construction at facilities inside Iraq that were previously used for work on weapons of mass destruction:

"...surveillance photos reveal that the regime is rebuilding facilities that it had used to produce chemical and biological weapons."

And again:

"Satellite photographs reveal that Iraq is rebuilding facilities at sites that have been part of its nuclear program in the past."

That sounds like a good argument for getting weapons inspectors back into Iraq, but the administration had, instead, consistently ridiculed that idea. Bush's speechwriters did it that night, in fact, calling it "the old approach" and presenting the inspections as ineffective. This sort of thing was, in no way, a rationale for a full-scale invasion--if the facilities in question were of genuine concern, they could be reduced to rubble by airstrikes within an hour of the "President" issuing the order. There was never any such order, of course, which is, once again, an indication of how serious the administration took its own charges.

Bush's speechwriters gave us, once again, these historical chestnuts to chew on:

"Iraq's weapons of mass destruction are controlled by a murderous tyrant who has already used chemical weapons to kill thousands of people."

And again:

"Saddam Hussein also has experience in using chemical weapons. He has ordered chemical attacks on Iran, and on more than forty villages in his own country. These actions killed or injured at least 20,000 people, more than six times the number of people who died in the attacks of September the 11th."

All true, but lacking that crucial disclaimer at the end: "With Our Support." In fact, Iraq had never used weapons of mass destruction without the support of the U.S., a conclusion underscored by a CIA report on Iraq issued only days before Bush's speech.


[1] As the Guardian reported two days after the speech, Bush "relied on a slanted and sometimes entirely false reading of the available U.S. intelligence." Speaking to several government officials and analysts, the Guardian's Julian Borger discovered that "officials in the CIA, FBI and Energy department are being put under intense pressure to produce reports which back the administration's line." For those of us who actually followed the Iraq debacle as it developed, this would become a familiar story in the weeks to come.

[2] The present administration has recently tried to construct a false history of this period. On Aug. 29, Vice President Dick Cheney appeared at an event honoring veterans of the Korean war and said "We are, after all, dealing with the same dictator [Saddam Hussein] who... has been on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism for nearly two decades."

[3] Cited in the Washington Post, 9/10/02

[4] As noted in Left Hook!, 9/10/02

[5] Bush's Cincinnati speech was a part of that strategy.

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