Bush’s Deceptions on Iraq Threaten Democracy at Home

Speech in the House of Representatives, June 10, 2003

Mr. Speaker, my service in this House has often shown me the profound tension between government secrecy and democratic decision-making. Rarely however, has that tension been as starkly posed as in the current revelations of divergence between President Bush’s assertions based on “secret information” about the alleged threat to America posed by Iraq and the actual assessment of that threat by America’s intelligence professionals.

I have seen the American people apparently deceived into supporting invasion of sovereign nation, in violation of UN charter and international law, on the basis of what now appear to be false assurances. The power of the Congress to declare war was usurped. The consent of the governed was obtained by manipulation rather than candid persuasion.

Instead of conducting a sustained all-out war against the genuine terrorists behind 9/11, President Bush chose to terrorize the American people. The President, Vice President Cheney and Secretary Rumsfeld painted lurid nightmares of al Qaeda’s attacking U.S. cities with insidious anthrax or clouds of deadly nerve gas. All of this was portrayed as coming courtesy of Saddam Hussein, unless we destroyed the Iraq regime. They also wielded the ultimate threat that Iraq would imminently endanger America and our closest allies with nuclear weapons. Members of Congress who voiced deep distrust of those claims were privately briefed with even more vivid descriptions of the deadly threats that Saddam posed to American security.

In public speech after speech, the President and his supporting players assured America’s anxious citizens that attacking Iraq was absolutely necessary to prevent the imminent threat of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction from harming them and their loved ones.

In addition, President Bush was determined to convince the public that Saddam was personally behind, or at least intimately involved in 9/11. He and Vice President Cheney repeated that mantra incessantly. No wonder that about half of the country still believes that Saddam was involved, although our intelligence community has emphasized that there is no credible evidence that is true.

The manipulation was massive and malicious. The motive was simple. The Administration wanted to attack Iraq for a variety of ideological and geopolitical reasons. But the President knew that the American people would not willingly risk shedding the blood of thousands of Americans and Iraqis without the immediate threat of deadly attack on the United States. As Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz recently admitted to an interviewer in an unguarded moment, when the threat of weapons of mass destruction was chosen as the banner to lead a march to war, it was chosen for “bureaucratic reasons,” not because the danger was imminent or paramount.

The President and his Cabinet were well aware that these claims either rested on flimsy projections or came from sources that most of our Intelligence Community disdained. The President and his Cabinet knew that in some cases those discredited sources’ assertions were flatly contradicted by the professional assessments of the intelligence Community experts at CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the State Department, and were only supported by a rogue special office established under Secretary Rumsfeld precisely to “find” or reinterpret intelligence in order to support the Administration’s determination to invade Iraq.

When war came, our own military field commanders were surprised by the fierce, often deadly, resistance that our troops faced from Saddam’s “militia.” We, and our British allies, were surprised when the Iraqi people in Basra and elsewhere did not rise up to welcome our troops with open arms. Most of all, our military commanders, the Congress and the American people all were surprised when no weapons of mass destruction (WMD) were found. Now, as each day passes, and no WMD has been found, that surprise has turned to suspicion, to concern and finally to outrage at the deception practiced by the Bush Administration.

In response, President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary Rumsfeld, and their spokespersons have offered one excuse after another. As reporters and whistle-blowers have exposed the flaws in each excuse, the White House has scrambled to create another, with the confusing speed of a kaleidoscope’s changing patterns. Law students are taught to plead in the alternative: “I never borrowed your pot.” “Besides, it wasn’t cracked when I returned it.” “Anyway, it was not cracked when I borrowed it in the first place.” The Bush Administration has learned that lesson well:

The Bush White House assures us that weapons of mass destruction will inevitably be found.

At the same time, the Bush White House argues that they never really said Iraq had such weapons in 2002, only that they had programs to develop those weapons.

Finally, the Bush White House argues that it doesn’t matter whether Iraq did or did not have such weapons posing a threat to the United States, because Saddam was a repressive ruler and its good that the world is rid of him.

They cannot succeed with this shell game because they cannot outrun the truth. There are too many previous contradictory statements, too many reports leaked by outraged veteran intelligence analysts, and too great a record of established facts. The Administration’s arrogantly crafted script is unraveling. President Bush and his courtiers now have learned the wisdom of the Scottish poet Robert Burns, who warned:

“Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.”

Now, the Administration’s final refuge is that the public thinks the war was justified even if no weapons are found. Obviously, those poll results reflect the American people’s relief that our military’s losses, and the loss of Iraqi civilians, regrettable as they are, have not been even greater. They reflect understandable revulsion at the horrors of Saddam’s regime. Nevertheless, continued ethnic conflict and violence, ambushes of American soldiers, political disarray, malnutrition and disease mount daily in the aftermath of this “easy war.” Also, the Bush White House is forced to acknowledge the re-emergence of al Qaeda’s terrorist threat. So the American people have begun to focus on how badly it appears that they, and their congressional representatives, may have been misled by a president anxious to stampede America into war.

In any event, regardless of the final tally on the war in Iraq, there is a growing awareness that this disturbing presidential conduct raises issues that transcend any particular hostilities in which America might engage. It raises the most profound constitutional questions. How can the separation of powers and checks and balances designed to protect our Republic continue to do, if the Executive can work its will through falsehood, deception and concealment?

Equally pressing is a determination of the appropriate remedy, should the Administration’s assurances to Congress and to the electorate prove to have been as knowingly false [*E1208] as now seems to be the case. In the days ahead, I shall consult with my colleagues, with legal scholars, political scientists and historians, in order to weigh the appropriate actions necessary to prevent this or any future Administration from usurping the power of Congress and the power of the people to decide public policy on the basis of accurate knowledge.

An accurately informed public is the essence of our democracy. It is most essential on the ultimate question of peace or war. To deceive the Congress and the public about the facts underlying that momentous decision is to transgress one of the president’s supreme constitutional responsibilities. I believe the House Committee on the Judiciary should consider whether this situation has reached that dimension.

That question is especially acute at this time because President Bush’s disturbing doctrine of “preventive war” means he plans to persuade the Congress and the electorate that additional “preventive wars” are necessary. Will that advocacy be based on deception and false statements, too? The prospect is frightening.

Finally, I note the provocative analysis on this point recently offered by former Counsel to the President John Dean, who has carefully analyzed the nature and context of the President’s many assertions about the threats allegedly posed by Iraq and the constitutional implications should they prove false upon further examination. It deserves wide dissemination.