For years, the Bush administration has faced charges that it bent the truth or flat-out misled the public about Iraq's alleged stockpile of weapons of mass destruction in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of the country. Now, a study by two nonprofit journalism organizations claims that President Bush and top officials in his administration issued nearly 1,000 false statements about the security threat posed by Iraq in the wake of 9/11.
The results of the study were posted Tuesday on the Web site for the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity, which worked on the project with the Fund for Independence in Journalism. "On at least 532 separate occasions (in speeches, briefings, interviews, testimony and the like), Bush and these three key officials [Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld], along with former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and former White House press secretaries Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan, stated unequivocally that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (or was trying to produce or obtain them), links to al Qaeda or both. This concerted effort was the underpinning of the Bush administration's case for war," reads the report.
Entitled "False Pretenses," the report claims that the statements were "part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses." According to The Associated Press, White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said he could not comment on the study because he had not seen it.
Of the 935 false statements made by the administration, according to the study, Bush was reported to have led all White House officials with 259 false statements, which included 231 about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and 28 about Iraq's links to al Qaeda. Second on the list was Powell with 244 false statements about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and 10 about Iraq and al-Qaeda.
"It is now beyond dispute that Iraq did not possess any weapons of mass destruction or have meaningful ties to al Qaeda," wrote authors Charles Lewis and Mark Reading-Smith of the Fund for Independence in Journalism. "In short, the Bush administration led the nation to war on the basis of erroneous information that it methodically propagated and that culminated in military action against Iraq on March 19, 2003."
Relying on what it described as a "massive database" of information that fed the results of the project, the authors said their research was based on juxtaposing what President Bush and the top officials in his administration said in public against what was known, "or should have been known, on a day-to-day basis." The searchable database includes public statements drawn from both primary sources like official transcripts and secondary sources like the reporting of major news organizations over the two years beginning on September 11, 2001. It also used information from more than 25 government reports, books, articles, speeches and interviews.
An example given in the report is a portion of an address given at the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars on August 26, 2002, during which Cheney said, "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies and against us." According to the report, former CIA Director George Tenet later said Cheney's assertions went well beyond his agency's assessments at the time, and another CIA official, referring to the speech, told a prominent journalist, "Our reaction was, 'Where is he getting this stuff from?' "
The study came under immediate fire from some conservative bloggers, who painted it as "leftist propaganda" and pointed out that it came from an organization funded by billionaire George Soros, who has given millions to a number of liberal think tanks and advocacy organizations. Steve Carpinelli, a spokesman for the Center, denied the charges and said the organization does not advocate any agenda, endorse any legislation or engage in any of the actions of an advocacy group. "What we've included here is all factual information that we were able to quantify and put into a form that people can search using a database," said Carpinelli, who added that Soros contributed general funds to the organization in 2004, but that those funds were not used for the report and that they were not nearly the "millions" quoted by detractors.
As for criticism that the report does not have any new information but rather rehashes already-reported facts, Carpinelli said, "The difference is that while there have been many intelligence reports that came out that contradicted a lot of statements from administration officials, there's been nothing that could show you how it was a coordinated effort." The report is accompanied by a bar graph that Carpinelli said shows how the false statements reached their peak in the months prior to the March 2003 launch of the Iraq war and how they tapered off soon after.