Bush’s lies also aren’t about petty matters, such
as some personal indiscretion or minor misconduct. Rather his dishonesty
deals with issues of war and peace, the patriotism of his opponents, and
the founding principles of the American Republic.
They are the kinds of lies and distortions more
befitting the leader of a totalitarian state whipping up his followers
to go after some perceived enemy than the President of the world’s
preeminent democracy seeking an informed debate among the citizenry.
For instance, in an Oct. 28 speech in Sellersburg,
Indiana, Bush worked the crowd into a frenzy of “USA, USA” chants by
accusing Democrats of not wanting to “detain and question terrorists,”
not wanting to listen in on “terrorist communications,” and not wanting
to bring terrorists to trial – all gross distortions of Democratic
Bush has used this same gambit for many years. He
characterizes his strategies and actions in the most innocuous ways; he
then ignores honest reasons for disagreement with him; and he
characterizes his opponents’ positions in the most absurd manner
So, regarding the “war on terror,” Bush never
mentions the constitutional concerns about his strategies or the
questions about their effectiveness. According to him, his decisions are
always benign and obvious; those of his opponents border on the crazy
“When al-Qaeda or an al-Qaeda affiliate is making a
phone call from outside the United States to inside the United States,
we want to know why,” Bush told the cheering Indiana crowd. “In this new
kind of war, we must be willing to question the enemy when we pick them
up on the battlefield.”
Referring to the capture of alleged 9/11
conspirator Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Bush said, “when we captured him, I
said to the Central Intelligence Agency, why don’t we find out what he
knows in order to be able to protect America from another attack.”
Bush then contrasted his eminently reasonable
positions with those held by the nutty Democrats.
“When it came time on whether to allow the Central
Intelligence Agency to continue to detain and question terrorists,
almost 80 percent of the House Democrats voted against it,” Bush said,
as the crowd booed the Democrats.
“When it came time to vote on whether the NSA
[National Security Agency] should continue to monitor terrorist
communications through the Terrorist Surveillance Program, almost 90
percent of House Democrats voted against it.
“In all these vital measures for fighting the war
on terror, the Democrats in Washington follow a simple philosophy: Just
say no. When it comes to listening in on the terrorists, what’s the
Democratic answer? Just say no. When it comes to detaining terrorists,
what’s the Democrat answer?”
Crowd: “Just say no!”
Bush: “When it comes to questioning terrorists,
what’s the Democrat answer?”
Crowd: “Just say no!”
Bush: “When it comes to trying terrorists, what’s
the Democrat’s answer?”
Crowd: “Just say no!”
Bush vs. the Truth
Yet, Bush realizes that the Democrats are not
opposed to eavesdropping on terrorists, or detaining terrorists, or
questioning terrorists, or bringing terrorists to trial.
What Democrats – and many conservatives – object to
are Bush’s methods: his tolerance of abusive interrogation techniques;
his assertion of unlimited presidential authority; his abrogation of
habeas corpus rights to a fair trial; and his violation of existing
laws, such as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act which already
gives the President broad powers to engage in electronic spying inside
the United States, albeit with the approval of a special court.
Bush’s critics argue that all his “war on terror”
objectives can be achieved without throwing out more than two centuries
of American constitutional traditions or violating human rights, such
as prohibitions against torture.
While Bush says Democrats don’t want to try
terrorist, their real complaint about his Military Commissions Act of
2006 comes from its denial of habeas corpus for non-citizens and
its vague wording that could apply its draconian provisions to American
citizens as well. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Who
Is ‘Any Person’ in Tribunal Law?”]
Bush’s defenders may argue that the President
was just using some oratorical license in the Indiana stump speech. But
all the points he made to the crowd, he also has expressed in more
The distortions also fit with Bush’s long pattern
of slanting the truth or engaging in outright lies when describing his
adversaries, both foreign and domestic.
Yet Bush is almost never held to account by a U.S.
news media that seems almost as cowed today as it was when Bush misled
the nation into the Iraq War or – after the invasion – when he lied
repeatedly, claiming that he had no choice but to invade because Saddam
Hussein had barred U.N. weapons inspectors from Iraq. [See
& His Dangerous Delusions.”]
Even when acknowledging that Bush’s statements
often turn out to be false, his defenders say it’s unfair to call him a
liar. They say he’s just an honest guy who gets lots of bad information.
False Talking Points
But there comes a point when that defense wears
thin. The evidence actually points to a leader who wants his
subordinates to give him a steady supply of “talking points” that can be
used to achieve his goals whether the arguments are true, half true or
How else can anyone explain why the most expensive
intelligence system in history acted in 2002-03 like a kind of backward
filter in processing evidence about Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass
destruction and Saddam Hussein’s purported ties to al-Qaeda.
The CIA’s reverse analytical filter consistently
removed the nuggets of good information – when they undercut Bush’s
positions – and let through the dross of misinformation.
In September 2006, the Senate Intelligence
Committee issued a report that detailed how the U.S. intelligence
community surrendered its duty to provide the government with accurate
data and instead gave the Bush administration what it wanted to hear.
The committee concluded that nearly every key
assessment as expressed in the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate about
Iraq’s WMD was wrong:
“Postwar findings do not support the [NIE] judgment
that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program; … do not
support the [NIE] assessment that Iraq’s acquisition of high-strength
aluminum tubes was intended for an Iraqi nuclear program; … do not
support the [NIE] assessment that Iraq was ‘vigorously trying to procure
uranium ore and yellowcake’ from Africa; … do not support the [NIE]
assessment that ‘Iraq has biological weapons’ and that ‘all key aspects
of Iraq’s offensive biological weapons program are larger and more
advanced than before the Gulf war’; … do not support the [NIE]
assessment that Iraq possessed, or ever developed, mobile facilities for
producing biological warfare agents; … do not support the [NIE]
assessments that Iraq ‘has chemical weapons’ or ‘is expanding its
chemical industry to support chemical weapons production’; … do not
support the [NIE] assessments that Iraq had a developmental program for
an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle ‘probably intended to deliver biological
agents’ or that an effort to procure U.S. mapping software ‘strongly
suggests that Iraq is investigating the use of these UAVs for missions
targeting the United States.’”
The Senate Intelligence Committee also concluded
that the Bush administration’s claims about the supposed relationship
between the Iraqi government and al-Qaeda were bogus. Rather than
cooperating with Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, as the Bush
administration has claimed for the past four years, it turned out that
the Iraqi government was trying to arrest Zarqawi.
But the creation of the bogus Saddam Hussein-Osama
bin Laden link was not accidental. According to the committee report,
the misinformation came via an administration mandate to cast every
shred of information in the harshest possible light.
That systemic bias was revealed in the guidelines
for a CIA paper produced in June 2002, entitled “Iraq and al-Qa’ida:
Interpreting a Murky Relationship.”
The CIA study was designed to assess the Iraqi
government’s links to al-Qaeda. But the analysts were given unusual
instructions, told to be “purposely aggressive in seeking to draw
connections, on the assumption that any indication of a relationship
between these two hostile elements could carry great dangers to the
A former CIA deputy director of intelligence told
the Senate Intelligence Committee that the paper’s authors were ordered
to “lean far forward and do a speculative piece.” The deputy director
told them, “if you were going to stretch to the maximum the evidence you
had, what could you come up with.”
In other words, the CIA analysts set out to hype
any evidence of possible links between Iraq and al-Qaeda. So, if some
piece of information contained even a remote possibility of a
connection, the assumption had to be that the tie-in was real and
When Zarqawi snuck into Baghdad for medical
treatment, therefore, the assumption could not be that the Iraqi
authorities were unaware of his presence or couldn’t find him; it had to
be that Saddam Hussein knew all about it and was collaborating with
This practice of assuming the worst – rather than
attempting to gauge likelihoods as accurately as possible – guaranteed
the kind of slanted and even fanciful intelligence reports that guided
the United States to war in 2002-2003.
What Bush Wanted
But what is equally clear from the Senate report is
that the U.S. intelligence community was giving Bush exactly what he
wanted so he could present a litany of alleged grievances that would
justify an unprovoked invasion.
Even after the falsity of the intelligence was
known, Bush gave CIA Director George Tenet, the bureaucrat who oversaw
this perversion of intelligence, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the
highest honor that can be bestowed on an American civilian.
This pattern of slanting information about Iraq
also has not stopped. It continues to the present day.
For instance, one of Bush’s favorite arguments in
his stump speeches is that the Democrats are playing into Osama bin
Laden’s hands by seeking a U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq.
“In Washington, the Democrats say [Iraq is] not a
part of the war against the terrorists, it’s a distraction.” Bush told
that crowd in Sellersburg, Indiana. “Well, don’t take my word for it –
listen to Osama bin Laden. He has made it clear that Iraq is a central
part of this war on terror. He and his number two man, Zawahiri have
made it abundantly clear that their goal is to inflict enough damage on
innocent life and damage on our own troops so that we leave before the
job is done.”
But that isn’t what the latest intelligence on al-Qaeda’s
goals shows. Indeed, U.S. intelligence has intercepted communiqués from
al-Qaeda leaders to Zarqawi in 2005 that actually reveal their alarm at
the possibility of a prompt U.S. military withdrawal and their goal of
“prolonging the war” by keeping the Americans bogged down in Iraq.
In a Dec. 11, 2005, letter, a senior al-Qaeda
leader known as “Atiyah” lectured Zarqawi on the need to take the long
view and build ties with elements of the Sunni-led Iraqi insurgency that
had little in common with al-Qaeda except hatred of the Americans.
“The most important thing is that the jihad
continues with steadfastness and firm rooting, and that it grows in
terms of supporters, strength, clarity of justification, and visible
proof each day,” Atiyah wrote. “Indeed, prolonging the war is in our
interest.” [Emphasis added.]
The “Atiyah letter,” which was discovered by U.S.
authorities at the time of Zarqawi’s death on June 7, 2006, and was
translated by the U.S. military’s Combating Terrorism Center at West
Point, also stressed the vulnerability of al-Qaeda’s position in Iraq.
“Know that we, like all mujahaddin, are still
weak,” Atiyah told Zarqawi. “We have not yet reached a level of
stability. We have no alternative but to not squander any element of the
foundations of strength or any helper or supporter.” [For details, see
Atiyah’s worries reiterated concerns expressed by
bin Laden’s deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri in another intercepted letter from
July 7, 2005. In that letter, Zawahiri fretted that a rapid U.S. pullout
could cause al-Qaeda’s operation in Iraq to collapse because foreign
jihadists, who flocked to Iraq to fight Americans, would give up the
fight and go home.
“The mujahaddin must not have their mission end
with the expulsion of the Americans from Iraq, and then lay down their
weapons, and silence the fighting zeal,” wrote Zawahiri, according to a
text released by the U.S. Director of National Intelligence.
To avert mass desertions, Zawahiri suggests that
Zarqawi talk up the “idea” of a “caliphate” along the eastern
What al-Qaeda leaders seem to fear most is that a
U.S. military withdrawal would contribute to a disintegration of their
fragile position in Iraq, between the expected desertions of the foreign
fighters and the targeting of al-Qaeda’s remaining forces by Iraqis
determined to rid their country of violent outsiders.
In that sense, the longer the United States remains
in Iraq, the deeper al-Qaeda can put down roots and the more it can
harden its new recruits through indoctrination and training. These
intercepted letters also fit with last April’s conclusion by U.S.
intelligence agencies that the U.S. occupation of Iraq has proved to be
a “cause celebre” that has spread Islamic radicalism around the globe.
Bush surely knows all this, but he also appears
confident that he can continue to sell a distorted interpretation of the
evidence to a gullible U.S. public. Basically, it appears that the
President believes that the American people are very stupid.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra
stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from
Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at
secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at
Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine,
the Press & 'Project Truth.'