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White House Under Fire Over WMDs

From the radio newsmagazine
Between The Lines
Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release June 17, 2003

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With No Weapons of Mass Destruction Yet Found in Iraq, White House Justification for War Comes Under Fire

Interview with Reese Erlich, journalist and author, conducted by Scott Harris

Listen in RealAudio:

Two months after the war against Iraq ended, tough questions are being raised in Britain and the U.S. about the credibility of evidence used by President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair to justify their war against Baghdad. The White House claimed that Saddam Hussein's government possessed or was developing chemical, biological and nuclear weapons as their principal justification for war, but these weapons have yet to be found.

Officials in Washington and London continue to maintain that the deadly weapons Iraq was said to have had will eventually be located. But leaks from inside intelligence agencies raise the possibility that the U.S. and British governments may have exaggerated evidence or deliberately misled their citizens in an effort to gain support for a war that had attracted deep skepticism. The U.S. and Britain defied the United Nations charter and overwhelming international opposition to prosecute a war based on the charge that Iraq posed an imminent threat to its neighbors, Britain and the U.S.

Britain's Parliament has recently begun an investigation to ascertain whether the intelligence on Iraq's weapons leading up to the war was flawed or simply manipulated for political ends while the U.S. Congress has yet to decide on the scope of such a probe. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with journalist Reese Erlich, co-author of the book, "Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn't Tell You." Erlich examines the serious questions now being asked about the credibility of the Bush administration's rationale for launching a pre-emptive war on the nation of Iraq.

Reese Erlich: You know, every recent war the U.S. has engaged in has been based on lies. The problem is those lies aren't often exposed until many years later. The whole Vietnam War was premised on the Gulf of Tonkin incident which turns out to have been a complete lie. The North Vietnamese never attacked the U.S. ships, but that wasn't known at the time.

What's significant now is that the fighting in Iraq continues. The war is supposed to be over, the U.S. troops are supposed to be coming home, they're not. The people in the United States are extremely upset. The Bush administration was completely isolated internationally when it went to war and it's now paying the consequences of that. So the lies that the anti-war movement and many critics of the Bush administration knew that they said -- there were no weapons of mass destruction -- before the war started and the weapons inspectors from the U.N. said there were no signs of weapons of mass destruction -- this is not new information. What is new is that the Bush administration is now being held to task inside the U.S. as well as in Europe and other parts of the world. So I think it's a very significant development, although obviously the Bush administration is doing everything they can to derail it, divert the issue, saying "Well, we really went to war because Saddam Hussein was such a horrible dictator and let's forget about all those other reasons we gave you."

So it's an ongoing battle but I think we've seen a rejuvenation of the same coalition and kinds of forces who opposed the war to begin with and it's a real battle for the Bush administration.

Between The Lines: There are formal investigations beginning in Great Britain now about Prime Minister Tony Blair's justification to join the United States in the war on Iraq. Do you foresee similar formal investigations getting underway here in the U.S. Congress, which is dominated by the Republicans? Is that going to be a possibility given the very restrained nature of the Democratic Party, to put it mildly?

Reese Erlich: The Congress and Senate has already announced that they will do an investigation. The problem is that they're trying to short circuit it from the very beginning, so the head of the intelligence committee for the Senate said that he wanted a thorough review of all the documents first. Well, that could take many weeks, if not months. So the indication there is that they don't want to have any kind of a real investigation. Some of the Democrats on the committee are saying they want to see a hearing as soon as possible, that would tend to throw a spotlight on it. The Democrats, as weak as they are -- and boy, are they ever weak on this issue -- this is the first time where there's been more than a slight peep out of some of the major candidates and so on. I think they feel that because the war is over, they can't be called unpatriotic or not supporting the troops, so they feel they have more political cover, which just indicates what cowards they were in the beginning, in the first place, and not oppose the war while it was going on while something could actually be done about it.

But I think any contributions, any CIA guys who want to leak information exposing the Bush administration's lies, that's great. Anybody in the MI6 in Britain that wants to do it, any Democrat that wants to come forward, that's fine. It all contributes to the weakening of the Bush administration and exposing their lies.

Between The Lines: Do you think the American public is ready for another Watergate-style investigation, if it indeed goes that far given the enormous stakes with U.S. national security in the post-9/11 era?

Reese Erlich: American public opinion is very volatile. If you recall, it wasn't that many months ago when, according to the polls, 55 percent of the American people opposed going to war unless the U.N. endorsed the action. And then the Bush administration cranked up its publicity machine and everyone from the New York Times to CNN to Fox TV jumped on the bandwagon, "Rah, rah, war" and that opinion changed. Well, if American troops are continually being shot and injured in Iraq when it's clear that that country is not being liberated, that it's being occupied, has the same kind of problems worse than in Afghanistan. I think more and more people in the U.S. will see that this was not what it was cracked up to be and they would be very receptive to a thorough investigation.

But like I said before, this is not by any means anything that's set. It could go either way, the Bush administration can rally its forces, can go to media and make the argument that "Hey, these guys are just carping because they opposed the war and they lost and we won, and let's get on with it and let's go invade another country." So there's a big battle going on, not only in Washington but all across the country.

Between The Lines: What can you tell us about the cracks that are starting to appear within the intelligence community, both active and retired intelligence officials who are quite upset by the use to which the CIA and the DIA and all the other tentacles of the U.S. spy apparatus were used in justifying this war?

Reese Erlich: Now that a) the war isn't won and is not going the way they wanted and b) that they can't find the weapons of mass destruction, everybody is suddenly pulling out the knives and stabbing each other in the back and saying, "Hey, it wasn't me." I suspect there are some honest people in intelligence who had their disagreements and stifled it because they wanted to keep their jobs or whatever, it wasn't politically opportune to say anything. The one I'm really curious about is this forged document showing that the Iraqis had bought a precursor nuclear material from the African country of Niger. That was cited not only by Colin Powell in his U.N. speech, but by President Bush in his State of the Union Address, that this was proof that Saddam Hussein was rebuilding his nuclear weapons program. It turned out to be a forged document that was discovered within hours through the very sophisticated methods of using a Google search. That went all the way up to the president: Either you have a series of complete incompetent nincompoops running the CIA and the MI6 or they passed it along, saying, "Hey, yeah, it's phony, but who's going to catch us?"

Visit our website at for related links including:

- "White House in Denial," by Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times, June 13, 2003

-"It's Too Early to Start Using the 'I-Word' About Bush," by Jules Witcover, Baltimore Sun, June 13, 2003

- "Missing Weapons Of Mass Destruction: Is Lying About The Reason For War An Impeachable Offense?" by John W. Dean, FindLaw's Writ, June 6, 2003

- "Shoulder to Shoulder and Stabbed in the Back," by Robin Cook, Britain's former foreign minister, Los Angeles Times, June 6, 2003

- "Spy Report Saw No Proof of Iraq Arms," by Bryan Bender, Boston Globe, June 7, 2003

- "Pentagon in 2002 Found `No Reliable' Iraq Arms Data," Bloomberg News, June 6, 2003

- "Some Analysts Say They Felt Pressure on Iraq Data," by Walter Pincus and Dana Priest, The Washington Post, June 4, 2003

- "Wolfowitz: 'Iraq War Was About Oil,'" Furor shines spotlight on interpretation of weapons intelligence, by George Wright, The Guardian, June 4, 2003

- "How Their Big Lie Came to Be," by Robert Scheer, The Los Angeles Times, June 3, 2003

- "Bush 'is on Brink of Catastrophe,'" by Roland Watson, The Times, May 23, 2003

- "Bush Should be Impeached and Tried for War Crimes," by Denise Giardina, The Charleston Gazette, May 12, 2003


Scott Harris is the executive producer of Between The Lines. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, nationally syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines (, for the week ending June 20, 2003.

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