IF it weren’t tragic it would be a New Yorker cartoon. The president of the United States, in the final stop of his forlorn Latin America tour last week, told the world, “We do not torture.” Even as he spoke, the administration’s flagrant embrace of torture was as hard to escape as publicity for Anderson Cooper.
The vice president, not satisfied that the C.I.A. had already been implicated in four detainee deaths, was busy lobbying Congress to give the agency a green light to commit torture in the future. Dana Priest of The Washington Post, having first uncovered secret C.I.A. prisons two years ago, was uncovering new “black sites” in Eastern Europe, where ghost detainees are subjected to unknown interrogation methods redolent of the region’s Stalinist past. Before heading south, Mr. Bush had been doing his own bit for torture by threatening to cast the first veto of his presidency if Congress didn’t scrap a spending bill amendment, written by John McCain and passed 90 to 9 by the Senate, banning the “cruel, inhuman or degrading” treatment of prisoners.
So when you watch the president stand there with a straight face and say, “We do not torture” – a full year and a half after the first photos from Abu Ghraib – you have to wonder how we arrived at this ludicrous moment. The answer is not complicated. When people in power get away with telling bigger and bigger lies, they naturally think they can keep getting away with it. And for a long time, Mr. Bush and his cronies did. Not anymore. — Frank Rich, New York Times, November 13, 2005
It’s a shame the way that Frank Rich minces words. He should just come out and say what he thinks.
He goes on to say that the American people are not buying GOP talking points that the Libby-Rove-Plame investigation is all just politics; polls show that “roughly 8 in 10 Americans regard the leak case as a serious matter.” Further, “57 percent of Americans believe that Mr. Bush deliberately misled the country into war.”
Frank Rich continues,
The Bush loyalists’ push to discredit the Libby indictment failed because Americans don’t see it as a stand-alone scandal but as the petri dish for a wider culture of lying that becomes more visible every day. The last-ditch argument rolled out by Mr. Bush on Veterans Day in his latest stay-the-course speech – that Democrats, too, endorsed dead-wrong W.M.D. intelligence – is more of the same. Sure, many Democrats (and others) did believe that Saddam had an arsenal before the war, but only the White House hyped selective evidence for nuclear weapons, the most ominous of all of Iraq’s supposed W.M.D.’s, to whip up public fears of an imminent doomsday.
And then there was, IMO, the Mother of All Lies —
There was also an entire other set of lies in the administration’s prewar propaganda blitzkrieg that had nothing to do with W.M.D.’s, African uranium or the Wilsons. To get the country to redirect its finite resources to wage war against Saddam Hussein rather than keep its focus on the war against radical Islamic terrorists, the White House had to cook up not only the fiction that Iraq was about to attack us, but also the fiction that Iraq had already attacked us, on 9/11. Thanks to the Michigan Democrat Carl Levin, who last weekend released a previously classified intelligence document, we now have conclusive evidence that the administration’s disinformation campaign implying a link connecting Saddam to Al Qaeda and 9/11 was even more duplicitous and manipulative than its relentless flogging of nuclear Armageddon.
But…but…but…the White House says they never claimed Saddam Hussein had anything to do with 9/11! Or did they?
…the White House started claiming that Iraq and the group responsible for 9/11 were one in the same.
“The war on terror, you can’t distinguish between al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror,” said Bush on September 25, 2002.
“We’ve learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases,” said Bush a few days later on October 7. “He’s a threat because he is dealing with Al-Qaeda.”
In pushing the Saddam-Iraq-9/11 connection, both the president and the vice president made two crucial claims. First, they alleged there had been a 1994 meeting in the Sudan between Osama bin Laden and an Iraqi intelligence official.
After the Iraq war began, however, the 9/11 Commission was formed and reported that while Osama bin Laden may have requested Iraqi help, “Iraq apparently never responded.”
The other crucial pre-war White House claim was that 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta met with a senior Iraqi intelligence official in the Czech republic in April 2001.
Cheney stated, “It’s been pretty well confirmed that he did go to Prague and he did meet with a Senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service.”
Confirmed or unconfirmed by Vice President Cheney the 9/11 Commission said, “We do not believe such a meeting occurred.” Why? Because cell phone records from the time show Atta in the United States.
None the less, the White House strategy worked. In March of 2003, one poll found 45 percent of Americans believed Saddam Hussein was personally involved in 9/11.
On the eve of the Iraq war, the White House sent a letter to Congress telling lawmakers that force was authorized against those who, “aided the 9/11 attacks.”
Yet the Bush administration continues to say it never claimed Iraq was linked to 9/11.
“I think I made it very clear that we have never made that claim,” White House Press Secretary McClellan repeated on Sept. 17, 2003.
The brutal irony is that while implications, innuendo, or false claims if you will about a 9/11 connection helped take us into Iraq. The Iraqi war itself has created a real al-Qaeda/Iraq link that may keep us from getting out.
Do you remember the pre-flightsuit, “military” (cough) phase of the Iraq war? Do you remember that a flag that had flown at the Pentagon on September 11 somehow ended up in the hands of a U.S. Marine, who by coincidence was one of the Marines who pulled down the statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad? The Marines couldn’t actually raise the flag–wouldn’t have looked right, you know–but they could, with much publicity, cover Saddam Hussein’s bronze head with the flag before they pulled the statue down. If Karl Rove wasn’t behind that …
Let’s go back to Frank Rich.
… in October 2002, as the White House was officially rolling out its new war and Congress was on the eve of authorizing it – Mr. Bush gave a major address in Cincinnati intermingling the usual mushroom clouds with information from that discredited, “intentionally misleading” Qaeda informant. “We’ve learned that Iraq has trained Al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases,” he said. It was the most important, if hardly the only, example of repeated semantic sleights of hand that the administration used to conflate 9/11 with Iraq. Dick Cheney was fond of brandishing a nonexistent April 2001 “meeting” between Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague long after Czech and American intelligence analysts had dismissed it.
The power of these lies was considerable. In a CBS News/New York Times poll released on Sept. 25, 2001, 60 percent of Americans thought Osama bin Laden had been the culprit in the attacks of two weeks earlier, either alone or in league with unnamed “others” or with the Taliban; only 6 percent thought bin Laden had collaborated with Saddam; and only 2 percent thought Saddam had been the sole instigator. By the time we invaded Iraq in 2003, however, CBS News found that 53 percent believed Saddam had been “personally involved” in 9/11; other polls showed that a similar percentage of Americans had even convinced themselves that the hijackers were Iraqis.
The full story of how the Bushies managed to sell this whopper to so many Americans has yet to be told. Of course, that’s not the only story we don’t know in full. Rich writes,
There is still much more to learn about our government’s duplicity in the run-up to the war, just as there is much more to learn about what has gone on since, whether with torture or billions of Iraq reconstruction dollars. That is why the White House and its allies, having failed to discredit the Fitzgerald investigation, are now so desperate to slow or block every other inquiry.
The White House has launched a counter-offensive against its critics. Bushies are wounded and cornered, so they are going to be vicious. Our job is to keep the pressure on, to answer the lies, and to call loudly for investigations. The next few months could be pivotal.