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935 Iraq Falsehoods

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By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, January 23, 2008; 1:00 PM

A nonprofit group pursuing old-fashioned accountability journalism is out with a new report and database documenting 935 false statements by President Bush, Vice President Cheney and other top administration officials hyping the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq in the two years after Sept. 11, 2001.

The Center for Public Integrity reports that its "exhaustive examination of the record shows that the statements were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses."

The database also documents how Bush and others had reason to know, or at least suspect, what they were saying was not supported by the facts.

John H. Cushman Jr. writes in the New York Times: "There is no startling new information in the archive, because all the documents have been published previously. But the new computer tool is remarkable for its scope, and its replay of the crescendo of statements that led to the war. Muckrakers may find browsing the site reminiscent of what Richard M. Nixon used to dismissively call 'wallowing in Watergate.'"

And yet there are plenty of reasons why the deceitful run-up to war is not old news. For one, the war goes on. For another, government credibility remains severely damaged. And then there's the fact that the president has never really been held to account for his repeated falsehoods.

Bush famously told The Washington Post, upon embarking on his second term, that he saw the 2004 election as his "accountability moment." Yet neither before nor since has he admitted mistakes or poor judgment. The closest he came may have been in December 2005, when he acknowledged intelligence failures -- by others.

Charles Lewis and Mark Reading-Smith write in the report's overview: "Bush and the top officials of his administration have so far largely avoided the harsh, sustained glare of formal scrutiny about their personal responsibility for the litany of repeated, false statements in the run-up to the war in Iraq. There has been no congressional investigation, for example, into what exactly was going on inside the Bush White House in that period. Congressional oversight has focused almost entirely on the quality of the U.S. government's pre-war intelligence -- not the judgment, public statements, or public accountability of its highest officials. . . .

"Short of such review, this project provides a heretofore unavailable framework for examining how the U.S. war in Iraq came to pass. Clearly, it calls into question the repeated assertions of Bush administration officials that they were the unwitting victims of bad intelligence."

The Findings

Lewis and Reading-Smith write: "President George W. Bush and seven of his administration's top officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, made at least 935 false statements in the two years following September 11, 2001, about the national security threat posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq. . . .

"On at least 532 separate occasions (in speeches, briefings, interviews, testimony, and the like), Bush and these three key officials, along with Secretary of State Colin Powell, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and White House press secretaries Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan, stated unequivocally that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (or was trying to produce or obtain them), links to Al Qaeda, or both. This concerted effort was the underpinning of the Bush administration's case for war. . . .

"President Bush, for example, made 232 false statements about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and another 28 false statements about Iraq's links to Al Qaeda. Secretary of State Powell had the second-highest total in the two-year period, with 244 false statements about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and 10 about Iraq's links to Al Qaeda. Rumsfeld and Fleischer each made 109 false statements, followed by Wolfowitz (with 85), Rice (with 56), Cheney (with 48), and McClellan (with 14).

"The massive database at the heart of this project juxtaposes what President Bush and these seven top officials were saying for public consumption against what was known, or should have been known, on a day-to-day basis. This fully searchable database includes the public statements, drawn from both primary sources (such as official transcripts) and secondary sources (chiefly major news organizations) over the two years beginning on September 11, 2001. It also interlaces relevant information from more than 25 government reports, books, articles, speeches, and interviews. . . .


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