consortiumnews.com

All the President's Lies

By Robert Parry
October 30, 2006

Many Americans are cynical about what they hear from politicians – and often with good reason – but perhaps no U.S. political leader in modern history has engaged in a pattern of lying and distortion more systematically than George W. Bush has.

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 positions.

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 possible.

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 and disloyal.

“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 formal settings.

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 Consortiumnews.com’s “Bush & 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 totally false.

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 United States.”

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 substantive.

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 Zarqawi.

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 Consortiumnews.com’s “Al-Qaeda’s Fragile Foothold.”]

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 Mediterranean.

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.'

Back to Home Page