An orchestrated deception: The study findings

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Observer staff
Jan. 30, 2008

It isn’t so blatant as to say the administration lied.

Instead, a comprehensive study released last week describes 935 false statements made by President Bush and top officials as they made a case for invading Iraq as “an orchestrated deception.”

The War Card, a 1,400-page database released last week by the independent nonprofits Center for Public Integrity and Fund for Independence in Journalism, documented “every single public utterance by the top eight Bush administration officials from Sept. 11, 2001 to Sept. 11, 2003, regarding Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction and also Iraq’s links to Al Qaeda,” said Fund President Charles Lewis.

Graphic courtesy of the CENTER FOR PUBLIC INTEGRITY

“We’re at the five-year anniversary of the war and it seemed important to put it into perspective,” he said. “How did America and the world end up with a war in Iraq?”

The 1,400-page, 380,000-word searchable database attempts to answer that question. In addition to the database, the War Card includes a list of key false statements, poll data, and other information. You can visit the War Card site here. You can also view our recent interview with Lewis, or listen to excepts from last week’s press conference. If you’re curious about the Center, check out this profile.

The database began as research for a chapter on Lewis’ forthcoming book on truth. Lewis tapped recent college graduate Mark Reading-Smith to create a chronology of what officials said in the lead-up to the war.

“It stated as a timeline but it grew into much more,” Reading-Smith said during an interview at the Center recently. “It continued to grow and grow and grow.” It grew so much, in fact, that Reading-Smith spent the final six months of the project hunched over a computer until 3 a.m.

With the help of a staff of interns, Reading-Smith and Lewis gleaning officials’ statements from press briefings, public speeches, news interviews, congressional reports and testimony, and more than 25 books. They compared those statements with secondary documents showing what the administration knew, “or should have known,” at the time.
The Center’s executive director, Bill Buzenberg, said the project made clear the Bush administration “wanted to go to war” and “was set on doing it when they came into office, although they couldn’t tell the public that; 9/11 was an excuse for them to go to war,” he said.

Bush’s plans for Iraq began as early as his first cabinet meetings as president, when the question of “What do we do about Iraq?” was often an agenda item, former cabinet members later told reporters.

Buzenberg said the data shows two spikes in the number of false statements between the Sept. 11 attacks of 2001 and the March 17 invasion of Iraq in 2003.

“They were right before the mid-term election, which is where they were voting on a war resolution in Congress, and right before it was introduced to the United Nations,” Buzenberg said. You can click here to watch Buzenberg’s interview with C-SPAN.

Lewis explained the decision to veer away from what he calls the “L-word.”

“We’re calling them false statements because Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, and it was not meaningfully linked to Al Qaeda,” Lewis said. “Is it possible that some of them believed what they were saying? Yes. Is it possible that they exaggerated? Yes.”

According to the study, Bush uttered the most falsehoods during those two years – 260 – followed closely by then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, with 254. Then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, tied for third place, each making 109 false statements.

Then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Vice-President Dick Cheney, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, and former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan took up the rear.
The Center highlights a list of “key false statements” as evidence of the “orchestrated campaign” to lead the nation into a “war begun under the illusion of an imminent national security threat.” Consider the following:

• “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction,” Cheney said in August 2002. Former CIA Director George Tenet later said Cheney’s assertions were well beyond the CIA’s knowledge at the time. A CIA agent said, “Our reaction was, ‘Where is he getting this stuff?’”
• “The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons,” Bush said in September 2002, as a congressional vote approached to authorize the use of force in Iraq. “This regime is seeking a nuclear bomb and with fissile material could build one within a year.” The statements were made before anyone in the intelligence community had asked the CIA to put together a National Intelligence Estimate, the highest level of intelligence report. The report was subsequently put together in three weeks as opposed to the common six to 10 months.
• “We found the weapons of mass destruction,” Bush said during a Polish TV interview two months after the invasion. “We found biological laboratories.” Days before, civilian experts had examined the two mobile labs and concluded they were not used for biological weapons, but had probably been used to make hydrogen for weather balloons.

When asked about the War Card report during a press briefing last week, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino dismissed it.

“It is so flawed in terms of taking anything into context,” she said. “They only looked at members of the administration, rather than looking at members of Congress or people around the world. Because as you’ll remember, we were part of a broad coalition of countries that deposed a dictator based on a collective understanding of the intelligence.”

Only three other countries assisted in the 2003 invasion – Britain, Poland and Australia. And while more than 30 countries sent limited numbers of personnel during the subsequent years, more than half of them have pulled back out their troops.
Major newspapers began reporting widespread disapproval of the unilateral, preemptive action within a week of the invasion.

On March 27, 2003, the New York Times reported on the turning of public opinion – huge student demonstrations and harsh editorials in substantive national publications around the world.

France and Germany decried the war, as did China. In South Africa, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Desmond Tutu called it an “immoral war.” In Turkey, polls showed 94 percent of the country opposed the war.

Germany’s newsweekly, Der Spiegel, mused the war could be the beginning of the end of the U.S. Empire.

“The world’s only remaining superpower is beginning to suffer from the disease with which every imperial power throughout history has been afflicted: the overestimation and overtaxing of its capabilities. Could the Iraq war herald its decline?”

By the two year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the Times led with this: “The view of the United States as a victim of terrorism that deserve the world’s sympathy and support has given way to a widespread vision of America as an imperial power that has defied world opinion through unjustified and unilateral use of military force.”

But in the United States, the public rallied behind Bush. As the War Card shows through a series of polls taken during the same two-year period, most Americans believed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and ties to Al Qaeda. And most people believed Bush had clearly explained his case for war.

Graphic courtesy of the CENTER FOR PUBLIC INTEGRITY
A CBS News/New York Times poll asked the question “Do you approve or disapprove of the United States taking military action against Iraq to try and remove Saddam Hussein from power?”

After more than two years of research, Lewis said he believes this was an orchestrated effort, “a calculated drumbeat of false information and public pronouncements that ultimately misled the American people and this nation’s allies on their way to war.”

Lewis places the blame not only on the administration, but also on an impotent Congress and indolent media.
“Congress has never focused on the decision making itself,” he said. “The executive branch lately deciding what they want to tell the world and how they want to frame it and the Congress is not doing an oversight job they’re supposed to do.” Without Congress shining a light, issuing subpoenas, and demanding answers.

“But guess what, those things did not happen,” He said. “No one’s asking. So if you don’t have that inquiry, you don’t have those checks and balances of our government and you don’t have journalists playing that skeptical role; instead of stereo, you have mono. There’s no other noise, no other information for the public. And that’s a problem because frequently, presidents lie.”

Graphic courtesy of the CENTER FOR PUBLIC INTEGRITY
A CBS News/New York Times poll asked the question “Do you think Iraq probably does or probably does not have weapons of mass destruction that the U.N. weapons inspectors have not found.

Nearly 1,000 publications carried the Center’s report last week. The daily visitors to the non-profit’s extensive site increased 14-fold after the database went live. Reading-Smith, whose e-mail appears on the site, said he received more than 1,000 responses in the first two days. Click here to read a selection from Reading-Smith’s “In Box.”

“Obviously, you’re another looney left-wing propaganda machine,” wrote Mike Dyer, from Clifton Park, NY. “You know in your heart Iraq had weapons (even looney Slick Willie Clinton knew that). Iraq simply moved the weapons to Syria while USA was waiting for Britain to join the war. You are [expletive]. Drop dead.” Read other responses by clicking here.
Many of them, like this one, are angry, Reading-Smith said. “But that means we touched a nerve.”

Orchestrated deception:
The study’s findings
Video Interview with Charles Lewis

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The Center for Public Integrity
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