Sen. Robert Byrd: The Perception of Deception
June 05, 2003
The Perception of Deception: Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction
With each passing day, the questions surrounding Iraq's missing weapons of mass destruction take on added urgency. Where are the massive stockpiles of VX, mustard, and other nerve agents that we were told Iraq was hoarding? Where are the thousands of liters of botulinim toxin? Wasn't it the looming threat to America posed by these weapons that propelled the United States into war with Iraq? Isn't this the reason American military personnel were called upon to risk their lives in combat?
On March 17, in his final speech to the American people before ordering the invasion of Iraq, President Bush took one last opportunity to bolster his case for war. The centerpiece of his argument was the same message he brought to the United Nations months before, and the same message he hammered home at every opportunity in the intervening months, namely that Saddam Hussein had failed to destroy Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and thus presented an imminent danger to the American people. "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised," the President said.
Now, nearly two months after the fall of Baghdad, the United States has yet to find any physical evidence of those lethal weapons. Could they be buried underground or are they somehow camouflaged in plain sight? Were they destroyed before the war? Have they been shipped out of the country? Do they actually exist? The questions are mounting. What started weeks ago as a restless murmur throughout Iraq has intensified into a worldwide cacophony of confusion.
The fundamental question that is nagging at many is this: How reliable were the claims of this President and key members of his Administration that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction posed a clear and imminent threat to the United States, such a grave threat that immediate war was the only recourse?
Lawmakers, who were assured before the war that weapons of mass destruction would be found in Iraq, and many of whom voted to give this Administration a sweeping grant of authority to wage war based upon those assurances, have been placed in the uncomfortable position of wondering if they were misled. The media is ratcheting up the demand for answers: Could it be that the intelligence was wrong, or could it be that the facts were manipulated? These are very serious and grave questions, and they require immediate answers. We cannot - - and must not - - brush such questions aside. We owe the people of this country an answer. Every member of this body ought to be demanding answers.
I am encouraged that the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence Committees are planning to investigate the credibility of the intelligence that was used to build the case for war against Iraq. We need a thorough, open, gloves-off investigation of this matter and we need it quickly. The credibility of the President and his Administration hangs in the balance. We must not trifle with the people's trust by foot-dragging.
What amazes me is that the President himself is not clamoring for an investigation. It is his integrity that is on the line. It is his truthfulness that is being questioned. It is his leadership that has come under scrutiny. And yet he has raised no question, expressed no curiosity about the strange turn of events in Iraq, expressed no anger at the possibility that he might have been misled. How is it that the President, who was so adamant about the dangers of WMD, has expressed no concern over the where-abouts of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?
Indeed, instead of leading the charge to uncover the discrepancy between what we were told before the war and what we have found – or failed to find – since the war, the White House is circling the wagons and scoffing at the notion that anyone in the Administration exaggerated the threat from Iraq.
In an interview with Polish television last week, President Bush noted that two trailers were found in Iraq that U.S. intelligence officials believe are mobile biological weapons production labs, although no trace of chemical or biological material was found in the trailers. "We found the weapons of mass destruction," the President was quoted as saying. Certainly he cannot be satisfied with such meager evidence.
At the CIA, Director George Tenet released a terse statement the other day defending the intelligence his agency provided on Iraq. "The integrity of our process was maintained throughout and any suggestion to the contrary is simply wrong," he said. How can he be so absolutely sure?
At the Pentagon, Doug Feith, the Under Secretary of Defense for policy, held a rare press conference this week to deny reports that a high level intelligence cell in the Defense Department doctored data and pressured the CIA to strengthen the case for war. "I know of no pressure. I can't rule out what other people may have perceived. Who knows what people perceive," he said. Is this Administration not at all concerned about the perception of deception?
And Secretary of State Powell, who presented the U.S. case against Iraq to the United Nations last February, strenuously defended his presentation in an interview this week and denied any erosion in the Administration's credibility. "Everybody knows that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction," he said. Should he not be more concerned than that about U.S. claims before the United Nations?
And yet...and yet...the questions continue to grow, and the doubts are beginning to drown out the assurances. For every insistence from Washington that the weapons of mass destruction case against Iraq is sound comes a counterpoint from the field – another dry hole, another dead end.
As the top Marine general in Iraq was recently quoted as saying, "It was a surprise to me then, it remains a surprise to me now, that we have not uncovered weapons, as you say, in some of the forward dispersal sites. Again, believe me, it's not for lack of trying. We've been to virtually every ammunition supply point between the Kuwaiti border and Baghdad, but they're simply not there."
Who are the American people to believe? What are we to think? Even though I opposed the war against Iraq because I believe that the doctrine of preemption is a flawed and dangerous instrument of foreign policy, I did believe that Saddam Hussein possessed some chemical and biological weapons capability. But I did not believe that he presented an imminent threat to the United States – as indeed he did not.
Such weapons may eventually turn up. But my greater fear is that the belligerent stance of the United States may have convinced Saddam Hussein to sell or disperse his weapons to dark forces outside of Iraq. Shouldn't this Administration be equally alarmed if they really believed that Saddam had such dangerous capabilities?
Saddam Hussein is missing. Osama bin Laden is missing. Iraq's weapons of mass destruction are missing. And the President's mild claims that we are "on the look" do not comfort me. There ought to be an army of UN inspectors combing the countryside in Iraq or searching for evidence of disbursement of these weapons right now. Why are we waiting? Is there fear of the unknown? Or fear of the truth?
This nation and, indeed, the world were led into war with Iraq on the grounds that Iraq, possessed weapons of mass destruction, and posed an imminent threat to the United States and to the global community. As the President said in his March 17 address to the nation, "The danger is clear: using chemical, biological or, one day, nuclear weapons, obtained with the help of Iraq, the terrorists could fulfill their stated ambitions and kill thousands or hundreds of thousands of innocent people in our country, or any other."
That fear may still be valid, but I wonder how the war with Iraq has really mitigated the threat from terrorists. As the recent attack in Saudi Arabia proved, terrorism is alive and well and unaffected by the situation in Iraq.
Meanwhile, the President seems oblivious to the controversy swirling about the justification for the invasion of Iraq. Our nation's credibility before the world is at stake. While his Administration digs in to defend the status quo, Members of Congress are questioning the credibility of the intelligence and the public case made by this Administration on which the war with Iraq was based. Members of the media are openly challenging whether America's intelligence agencies were simply wrong or were callously manipulated. Vice President Cheney's numerous visits to the CIA are being portrayed by some intelligence professionals as "pressure." And the American people are wondering, once again, what is going on in the dark shadows of Washington.
It is time that we had some answers. It is time that the Administration stepped up its acts to reassure the American people that the horrific weapons that they told us threatened the world's safety have not fallen into terrorist hands. It is time that the President leveled with the American people. It is time that we got to the bottom of this matter.
We have waged a costly war against Iraq. We have prevailed. But, we are still losing American lives in that nation. And the troubled situation there is far from settled. American troops will likely be needed there for years. Billions of American tax dollars will continue to be needed to rebuild. I only hope that we have not won the war only to lose the peace. Until we have determined the fate of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, or determined that they, in fact, did not exist, we cannot rest, we cannot claim victory.
Iraq's weapons of mass destruction remain a mystery and a conundrum. What are they, where are they, how dangerous are they? Or were they a manufactured excuse by an Administration eager to seize a country? It is time to answer these questions. It is time– past time – for the Administration to level with the American people, and it is time for the President to demand an accounting from his own Administration as to exactly how our nation was led down such a twisted path to war.
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