The Lies of John Edwards


The apology of John Edwards, former Senator and 2004 Democratic vice presidential candidate, for voting for the Iraq war in 2002, has been widely praised. But his apology is based on a lie, one that other Democrats are likely to embrace and one which will serve their ambitions but hide the truth. We should have no illusions about this, for to believe otherwise is to set ourselves up for the continuation of Bush’s war by a Democrat.

Edwards declared in an op-ed column in the Washington Post on November 13, 2005: “The argument for going to war with Iraq was based on intelligence that we now know was inaccurate. The information the American people were hearing from the president — and that I was being given by our intelligence community — wasn’t the whole story. Had I known this at the time, I never would have voted for this war.” Sounds simple enough. “Had I known then what I know now, etc.” Poor John Edwards was deceived. But was he? How was it that 21 other Democratic Senators and 2 Republicans were not deceived and voted against the war?

Part of the answer arrived in another op-ed the Washington Post one week later, November 20, 2005, by another former Senator, Bob Graham, entitled: “What I knew Before the Invasion.” Like Edwards, Graham was a member, in fact the chair, of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee in the period leading up to the war and on October 11, 2002 when the vote on the war on Iraq was taken. In a nutshell, Graham tells us that everyone on that committee knew that Bush was lying about weapons of mass destruction. Graham begins like a good, loyal Democrat, telling us that his colleagues were deceived, at least “most” of them. But he then tells us that the Senate Select Intelligence Committee knew better. Here are some of Graham’s words:

“At a meeting of the Senate intelligence committee on Sept. 5, 2002, CIA Director George Tenet was asked what the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) provided as the rationale for a preemptive war in Iraq. An NIE is the product of the entire intelligence community, and its most comprehensive assessment. I was stunned when Tenet said that no NIE had been requested by the White House and none had been prepared. Invoking our rarely used Senatorial authority, I directed completion of an NIE.”

“Tenet objected, saying that his people were too committed to other assignments to analyze Saddam Hussein’s capabilities and will to use chemical, biological and possibly nuclear weapons. We insisted, and three weeks later the community produced a classified NIE”.

“There were troubling aspects to this 90-page document. While slanted toward the conclusion that Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction stored or produced at 550 sites, it contained vigorous dissents on key parts of the information, especially by the departments of State and Energy. Particular skepticism was raised about aluminum tubes that were offered as evidence Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program. As to Hussein’s will to use whatever weapons he might have, the estimate indicated he would not do so unless he was first attacked.”

“Under questioning, Tenet added that the information in the NIE had not been independently verified by an operative responsible to the United States. In fact, no such person was inside Iraq. Most of the alleged intelligence came from Iraqi exiles or third countries, all of which had an interest in the United States’ removing Hussein, by force if necessary.” (Note by jw: Who do you suppose those “third countries” were that were fanning the flames of war?)

“The American people needed to know these reservations, and I requested that an unclassified, public version of the NIE be prepared. On Oct. 4, Tenet presented a 25-page document titled ‘Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs.’ It represented an unqualified case that Hussein possessed them, avoided a discussion of whether he had the will to use them and omitted the dissenting opinions contained in the classified version. Its conclusions, such as “If Baghdad acquired sufficient weapons-grade fissile material from abroad, it could make a nuclear weapon within a year,” underscored the White House’s claim that exactly such material was being provided from Africa to Iraq.”

“From my advantaged position, I had earlier concluded that a war with Iraq would be a distraction from the successful and expeditious completion of our aims in Afghanistan. Now I had come to question whether the White House was telling the truth — or even had an interest in knowing the truth.”

“On Oct. 11, I voted no on the resolution to give the president authority to go to war against Iraq. I was able to apply caveat emptor. Most of my colleagues could not.”

John Edwards was a member of that Senate Select Intelligence Committee, and he voted for the war. Who were the other Democratic senators? They were Senators Bayh, Edwards, DURBIN, Feinstein, LEVIN, MIKULSKI, Rockefeller and WYDEN as well as Tom Daschle, then majority leader, an ex officio member. I have capitalized those who voted against the war resolution and who should be hailed as senators of integrity. But Bayh, Daschle, Edwards, Feinstein and Rockefeller, all of whom with the exception of Feinstein, have presidential ambitions, voted for the war despite the fact that they had good reason to know the administration was Bushies were lying. (And let’s not forget the Republicans on the committee: Dewine, Hatch, Inhoffe, Kyle, Lugar, Roberts, Richard Shelby, Fred Thompson and ex officio, Trent Lott.)

There were 19 members of that committee, all of whom had to know that Bush was lying. Only the four in caps above voted against the war. But if 19, out of what is often called a small and intimate club of 100 Senators, knew that the war was based on a lie, can one believe that the rest did not know? And given the bloodletting that was about to be unleashed, why did none of these 19, including Graham, release the “confidential” NIE report? What sort of men and women are these?

Let us carry this one step further. There were 23 Senate votes against the war, only 4 of whom were on the Senate Select Intelligence Committee. If we add to that 23, the five Democrats (Bayh, Daschle, Edwards, Feinstein and Rockefeller), we have 28. It would have taken only 5 more to sustain a veto against the war. Let’s see who was available among the pro-war votes. There were Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Max Cleland (Yes, he voted for the war!), Christopher Dodd, Tom Harkin (Yes, he voted for the war!), Ernst Hollings, Harry Reid (now minority leader) and Charles Schumer. (That’s 8, bringing the total to 36.) So those Dems cannot say their votes did not matter. They cannot claim we would have gone to war anyway. If they had been willing to filibuster against the war or filibuster to allow the inspectors to complete their work, there would have been no war. These are Dems on whom progressives rely. They betrayed us, and they have blood on their hands since it was in their power to stop the war. But their ambitions came first. (Chuck Hagel who now professes to be anti-war and John McCain who wears his “integrity” on his sleeve would have made two excellent additions among the Republicans.)

Finally it is worth recalling that the Democrats were in the majority in the Senate at the time the war vote was taken on October, 11, 2002. So this is every bit as much a Democratic war as a Republican one.

And that brings us full circle. Why did Graham write his column which, if read carefully, so implicates Edwards and so many others? Actually Graham set out to do the opposite, to excuse his colleagues. He was trying to explain how he could vote against the war while 99 other Dems voted for it. He was trying to excuse them with his insiders knowledge. As he says in the opening to his op-ed:

“In the past week President Bush has twice attacked Democrats for being hypocrites on the Iraq war. ‘M]ore than 100 Democrats in the House and Senate, who had access to the same intelligence, voted to support removing Saddam Hussein from power,’ he said.”

“The president’s attacks are outrageous. Yes, more than 100 Democrats voted to authorize him to take the nation to war. Most of them, though, like their Republican colleagues, did so in the legitimate belief that the president and his administration were truthful in their statements that Saddam Hussein was a gathering menace — that if Hussein was not disarmed, the smoking gun would become a mushroom cloud.”

Bush is telling a lie, of course, when he says the Dems had “the same intelligence” as he had. But it contains a kernel of truth, which must be scaring the hell out of the Dems as they feel pressure to abandon the war. (Bush and Cheney finally say something with an element of truth!!!) The kernel is that enough Democrats had enough knowledge to know that we were being lied into war in October, 2002. And except for a courageous 21 Senators, along with 2 Republicans, they went along for the ride – with their careers in mind. So in attempting to excuse his colleagues, Graham’s op-ed leaves his fellow members of the Select Intelligence Committee hanging out to dry. (It couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of folks. And just perhaps, that very thought occurred to Graham as he penned his piece. ) And he raises suspicions about the rest of the Senate, with the exception of the 23. (And of course how is he to explain the votes of the 23; are they to be labeled traitors to save the reputations of Hillary, Kerry et al? That is a tough sell.)

Where does that leave us? The crisis that is the war in Iraq has become a crisis of Democracy. Right now it is crystal clear that there is no true opposition party, although there are minor elements (very minor ones) among the Left in the Democratic party and the Libertarians in the Republican party. These could constitute a genuine antiwar opposition. Until that happens, the war will go one, the neocons may drive us into further wars and our democracy will be further imperiled.

It is worthwhile looking back at the Senate membership of the 107th Congress and comparing the list to those Senators voting against the war on Iraq ( Pick your own favorite Judas.

JOHN WALSH can be reached at




John V. Walsh, until recently a Professor of Physiology and Neuroscience at the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School, has written on issues of peace and health care for the San Francisco Chronicle, EastBayTimes/San Jose Mercury News, Asia Times, LA Progressive,, CounterPunch and others.