President Bush, Vice President Cheney, then Secretary of State Colin Powell, and other Bush Administration officials based many of their pre-Iraq War claims of ties between Iraq and al Qaeda on the testimony of a detainee who was known to be a fabricator.

Douglas Jehl writes in this Sunday’s New York Times,

A top member of Al Qaeda in American custody was identified as a likely fabricator months before the Bush administration began to use his statements as the foundation for its claims that Iraq trained Al Qaeda members to use biological and chemical weapons, according to newly declassified portions of a Defense Intelligence Agency document.

The newly declassified portions of the document were given to Jehl by Senator Carl Levin, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee. It appears this revelation had something to do with Senator Reid’s parliamentary move that closed the Senate last week. Levin and Senator John D. Rockefeller, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, made a request to declassify the two paragraphs on October 18. In its response, the CIA said it found “no reason for it to remain classified.”

The story in brief: Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi was captured in Pakistan at the end of 2001. In February 2002, the Defense Intelligence Agency reported in the two paragraphs that Libi’s statements were highly improbable. The report said he was “‘intentionally misleading the debriefers’ in making claims about Iraqi support for Al Qaeda’s work with illicit weapons,” writes Jehl.

Yet administration officials merrily went ahead and repeated Libi’s stories in their speeches.

Among the first and most prominent assertions was one by Mr. Bush, who said in a major speech in Cincinnati in October 2002 that “we’ve learned that Iraq has trained Al Qaeda members in bomb making and poisons and gases.’’ …

… Mr. Powell relied heavily on accounts provided by Mr. Libi for his speech to the United Nations Security Council on Feb. 5, 2003, saying that he was tracing “the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these weapons to Al Qaeda.’’

For more examples of Bush Administration statements based on Libi’s fabrications, see Think Progress.

At the time Powell made his speech, Jehl says, an unclassified statement by the CIA said Libi’s stories were credible. “But Mr. Levin said he had learned that a classified C.I.A. assessment at the time stated ‘the source was not in a position to know if any training had taken place.,’ Jehl writes.

One might conclude that someone in the CIA was being helpful to the White House cause and making sure that statements supporting the war made the rounds, while those not supporting the war were hidden out of sight.

And the DIA report would have circulated widely in government, Jehl says, and would have been available to the CIA, the White House, the Pentagon, and other agencies. However, neither the Senate Intelligence Committee report nor the September 11 Commission report, both issued in 2004, made any reference to the 2002 DIA report. “It remains unclear whether the D.I.A. document was provided to the Senate panel,” Jehl writes.

Libi recanted his stories in January 2004, which prompted the CIA to recall all intelligence reports based on his testimony. This fact was recorded in a footnote to the September 11 Commission report, but the original DIA report report is MIA from the 9/11 report.

Jehl continues,

The document provides the earliest and strongest indication of doubts voiced by American intelligence agencies about Mr. Libi’s credibility. Without mentioning him by name, President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Colin L. Powell, then secretary of state, and other administration officials repeatedly cited Mr. Libi’s information as “credible’’ evidence that Iraq was training Al-Qaeda members in the use of explosives and illicit weapons.

Senator Levin seems a tad miffed.

Mr. Levin said the new evidence of early doubts about Mr. Libi’s statements dramatized what he called the Bush administration’s misuse of prewar intelligence to try to justify the war in Iraq. That is an issue that Mr. Levin and other Senate Democrats have been seeking to emphasize, in part by calling attention to the fact that the Republican-led Senate intelligence committee has yet to deliver a promised report, first sought more than two years ago, on the use of prewar intelligence. …

… In an interview on Friday, Mr. Levin also called attention to a portion of the D.I.A. report that expressed skepticism about the idea of close collaboration between Iraq and Al Qaeda, an idea that was never substantiated by American intelligence but was a pillar of the administration’s prewar claims.

“Saddam’s regime is intensely secular and is wary of Islamic revolutionary movements,’’ the D.I.A. report said in one of two declassified paragraphs. “Moreover, Baghdad is unlikely to provide assistance to a group it cannot control.’’

Libi, who apparently has been in custody at Guantanamo since 2003, was of course not the only intelligence source later uncovered as a fibber. For example, an Iraqi exile code named “Curveball” was the primary source for the ephemeral mobile biological weapons labs. And there is Ahmed Chalabi, beloved of neocons, who has been accused of feeding the Pentagon all manner of misinformation.

So far, the White House has refused to comment, while Republicans are sticking to this weeks’ talking point that they weren’t the only ones to make mistakes in prewar assessments.

Jehl concludes,

The Senate intelligence committee is scheduled to meet beginning next week to review draft reports prepared as part of a long-postponed “Phase II’’ of the panel’s review of prewar intelligence on Iraq. At separate briefings for reporters on Friday, Republicans staff members said the writing had long been under way, while Senate Democrats on the committee claimed credit for reinvigorating the process, by forcing the closed session. They said that already nearly complete is a look at whether prewar intelligence accurately predicted the potential for an anti-American insurgency.

Other areas of focus include the role played by the Iraqi National Congress, that of the Pentagon in shaping intelligence assessments, and an examination of whether public statements about Iraq by members of the Bush and Clinton administrations, as well as members of Congress, were substantiated by intelligence available at the time.

Steve Soto of The Left Coaster writes

When Harry Reid shut down the Senate earlier this week due to Pat Roberts and Bill Frist’s stonewalling of a Phase Two investigation over how the Bush Administration used intelligence in making its case for war, many of us wondered why now? What took you guys so long to use a procedural lever that you’ve had available to you all along that could have been employed before the election to raise the issue of Bush’s lies into a campaign issue? Was it a sudden re-growth of guts and balls that did this, or did the Democrats now come into possession of new information that was withheld from them before the election that gave them the club to force this issue out into the open now? We now know the answer, and it is the latter.

Moreover, Steve says, it puts Junior in a shitload of trouble.

… we now know that the Bush Administration also knew as far back as January 2003 that the Niger uranium claim was based on forgeries. We know that the Bush Administration was also told that the aluminum tubes story was bogus before the invasion as well. We now know that the claim that Saddam was assisting Al Qaeda was also a lie, and that the Administration knew this from Rummy himself as far back as February 2002. And we know that the IAEA was still on the ground in Iraq and had not confirmed any of Bush’s claims that Saddam had definitively stockpiled WMDs in violation of the two UN resolutions that Bush based his war upon.

And why exactly is this so important? Because take a look at the certification that Bush sent to Congress to start the war, which was required in the October 2002 war resolution, and then see that as we suspected over two and a half years ago, Bush has a big problem now …

This latest revelation means that at the time Bush justified the commencement of war against Iraq consistent with what was required under Public Law 107-243, he certified things not in evidence, and made claims to Congress (Saddam’s active operation of a WMD program and Saddam’s assistance to Al Qaeda) that he, Cheney, and Rummy already knew were false.

If Bush isn’t called to account for this, then there is no democracy in America any more.

[Cross-posted to The American Street.]

Reality Bites

Could an epidemic of second thoughts be spreading on the Right?

If so, it’s spreading slowly. Righties are still righties, and many’s the winger who will insist he still feels fine even as flesh is consumed and internal organs are shutting down. But reality can be catching, and nobody avoids it forever.

In Salon, Joe Conason reports that some righties are grudgingly acknowleding that, maybe, um, we need some government regulation after all.

On the day that avian flu reaches these shores, even the most conservative Americans may begin to understand why effective government and global cooperation are as important as “free markets” and national sovereignty. With millions of lives at stake, they may well wish that we had spent more to bolster public health agencies at all levels — including the United Nations — instead of entertaining the simple-minded demagogy of the right for the past two decades.

Indeed, the pandemic threat is already exposing the limits of “free market” rhetoric among Washington’s right-wing think tanks, which have remarkably little to say about the subject that now preoccupies officials and experts around the world. …

…After many years of undermining global and national efforts to combat the HIV/AIDS pandemic, organs of Republican propaganda like Heritage suddenly consider public health to be a pressing concern of the federal government, right next to national defense on the list of priorities. Conservatives tend to change their attitudes quickly when their own lives and families might be endangered.

Conason reminds us that another repository of conservative “thinking,” the Cato Institute, in the pre-Katrina past called for the abolishment of FEMA — “presumably because everyone should depend on free-market solutions in case of an earthquake or hurricane” — and wanted the U.S. to stop paying dues to the U.N., thereby defunding the World Health Organization.

“The withdrawal of American participation and support from world organizations has always been a matter of principle for the Republican right,” Conason says, “although conservative ideology has yet to explain how we can close our borders to bird-borne disease.”

Details, details.

“The Cato attitude toward bird flu is much like the libertarian solution to global warming: If the ‘free market’ can’t solve the problem, let’s pretend it isn’t happening,” Conason writes. But the free market is not cooking up the stockpiles of vaccines and Tamiflu we’re likely going to need.

(Republican problem-solving amounts to denying there’s a problem until it bites their butts. Poverty, jobs, environment, health care, you name it — every time, Republicans will insist there is no problem until the crisis actually gets in their faces and threatens to hurt them in the next election. Then, of course, they will blame the problem on Democrats. On the other hand, Republicans are prone to manufacturing crises where none exist in order to enact some policy they know won’t sit well with the public.

Democrats on the whole will recognize problems shaping up down the road, although their solutions may or may not work as promised. However, I have to think back quite a while to remember a time when Democrats were in a position to enact much of anything that wasn’t compromised to death by Republicans before it became law. But if a Democratic remedy misfires, Republicans exploit the failure to expound their anti-government theories, never mind that the problem would not have evaporated had government not responded to it. )

Reality is settling over the GOP like a bad hangover. At the Washington Post, Shailagh Murray writes that some in the GOP regret they overindulged in pork when they wrote the highway bill.

The highway bill seemed like such a good idea when it sailed through Congress this summer. But now Republicans who assembled the record spending package are suffering buyer’s remorse.

The $286 billion legislation was stuffed with 6,000 pet projects for lawmakers’ districts, including what critics denounce as a $223 million “Bridge to Nowhere” that would replace a 7-minute ferry ride in a sparsely populated area of Alaska. Usually members of Congress cannot wait to rush home and brag about such bounty — a staggering number of parking lots, bus depots, bike paths and new interchanges for just about every congressional district in the country that added $24 billion to the overall cost of maintaining the nation’s highways and bridges in the coming years.

But with spiraling war and hurricane recovery costs, the pork-laden bill has become a political albatross for Republicans, who have been promising since President Bush took office to get rid of wasteful spending.

So why couldn’t they see this coming? Did the war thing just slip their minds? Did a ouija board tell them not to worry about natural disasters? Of course, part of the problem is that there used to be presidents who took the governing thing seriously and who would have refused to sign the bill. Murray continues,

President Ronald Reagan once vetoed a highway bill because it contained 152 pet projects. Despite the pork inflation, Bush had no complaints about the current package when he signed it on Aug. 10. “This bill upgrades our transportation infrastructure,” he declared. “And it accomplishes goals in a fiscally responsible way.”

Junior wouldn’t recognize fiscal responsibility if it bit his butt.

That was before Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, leaving tens of thousands homeless and requiring billions of dollars in unanticipated rebuilding costs. Trying to live within a tight budget, Republican leaders in the House and the Senate are in the process of pushing through politically difficult cuts in Medicaid, Medicare, food stamps, farm subsidies and student loans.

Making sure the poor and disadvantaged make all the sacrifices–that’s the Republican way. And since entrenched poverty so excacerbated the damage of Katrina, it’s so sensible to make the problems of poverty even more intractable. The Guardian observes,

If the budget cuts passed by the US senate on Thursday are anything to go by, the whole thing will end in tears. Republicans – disgracefully – targeted most of the cuts on the elderly and the poor through restructuring (ie cutting) some Medicare and Medicaid programmes. Worst of all, part of the cuts originally aimed (creditably) at cutting America’s ludicrously high agriculture subsidies was amended so the brunt would be taken by chopping $844m from food stamps for the poor rather than from farm subsidies. Meanwhile, Republicans are hoping to pass yet more tax cuts for the wealthy. An administration that can tackle a serious budget problem in this way deserves all that may be coming to it.

The Republicans may hope to pass yet more tax cuts for the wealthy, but there are signs the soak-the-poor crowd may be losing their edge there, too. Robert Kuttner writes in the Boston Globe,

AFTER HIS reelection, President Bush set two top domestic priorities — privatization of Social Security, and ”reform” of the tax system. Privatization ran into a wall of opposition once the public grasped that the price would be a big cut in guaranteed retirement checks.

On Tuesday, Bush’s blue-ribbon commission on tax reform issued its recommendations, and they are hitting with a similar, resounding thud. The political right wanted a flat tax, a consumption tax, or a national sales or value-added tax in place of the progressive income tax. Not only did the commission fail to support any of these, but it took on one sacred cow — capping the mortgage interest deduction that would raise taxes on the upper middle class. … it was far from what the drown-the-government crowd wanted, and one more sign that Bush is losing control of the agenda.

Damn those economists. They actually check their math.

And here’s the biggest jaw-dropper of the day: Jim VandeHei writes in WaPo that

President Bush has ordered White House staff to attend mandatory briefings beginning next week on ethical behavior and the handling of classified material after the indictment last week of a senior administration official in the CIA leak probe.

Bush? Ethics? The Apocalypse is at hand, I tell you …