President Bush is engaged in an increasingly bitter exchange with critics who maintain the White House intentionally misled the public to generate support for the war in Iraq.
Evidently most people seem to believe those claims — 64 percent of those questioned in the most recent Harris Interactive Poll believe the administration “generally misleads the public on current issues.”
The administration has acknowledged that the intelligence used to advance the argument that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction was faulty. But critics say their claims that Bush is providing misleading data is based on other declarations:
— On Oct. 7, 2002, during a major speech in Cincinnati, the president said Iraq was involved in training al Qaeda members to make bombs and providing advice on the use of poisons and deadly gases. It subsequently was learned through declassified Defense Intelligence Agency documents that the sole source for that claim, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a top al Qaeda operative, “was intentionally misleading the debriefers” when he offered that information. That report was issued in February 2002 _ long before Bush included the allegation in his speech.
— In that same Cincinnati presentation, the president said Iraq maintained a “growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles” that could be used in missions targeting the United States. But the U.S. Air Force, in a National Intelligence Estimate released to the White House just before Bush’s appearance, declared that Iraq was developing the UAVs “primarily for reconnaissance rather than delivery platforms.”
— In his Jan. 28, 2003, State of the Union address, Bush cited intelligence sources when he declared Iraq “attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons.” Three months earlier, the Office of Intelligence within the Department of Energy determined that the aluminum tubes were not intended for Iraq’s nuclear program.
— Vice President Cheney, during a Dec. 9, 2001, appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” said it was “pretty well confirmed” that Mohammed Atta, the ring-leader of the 9/11 hijackers, met with Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, an Iraqi government official, in Prague, Czech Republic, on April 8, 2001, providing evidence of a link between the terrorist group and the Baghdad government. Neither the CIA nor the FBI believes Atta left the United States that April.
Then there is the “yellow cake” controversy. In that 2003 State of the Union address, Bush noted the British government “has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” Before the speech, the CIA warned the administration on three different occasions that the claim shouldn’t be cited because it could not be confirmed. The State Department, in the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, declared that the uranium claim was “highly dubious.”
That open question led to the decision to send Ambassador Joseph Wilson to the Sudan to determine the veracity of the claim. Wilson reported it was unlikely that Iraq had made any purchase and subsequently wrote a piece for The New York Times criticizing the administration for continuing to circulate the claim.
In an apparent effort to discredit Wilson, it was revealed that his wife, Valerie, was a CIA agent. A special prosecutor was appointed to investigate the matter, leading to the indictment of Cheney’s now-former chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, for perjury and obstruction of justice.
(Contact Bill Straub at StraubB(at)shns.com)