A study released days before tonight’s State of the Union address says President Bush and seven of his administration’s top officials made at least 937 false statements about the national security threat of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the two years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Those statements, the non-profit Center for Public Integrity concluded in the report, “were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses.”
Study authors Charles Lewis and Mark Reading-Smith counted at least 532 separate occasions where Bush or administration officials stated unequivocally that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or was trying to produce or obtain them, links to Al Qaeda or both. Numerous bipartisan commissions have since found beyond dispute there were no WMDs or meaningful ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda.
“In short, the Bush administration led the nation to war on the basis of erroneous information that it methodically propagated and that culminated in military action against Iraq on March 19, 2003,” the report said.
Top officials named in the study along with Bush were Vice President Dick Cheney, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and White House press secretaries Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan.
Bush made the most false statements, 259, the study found, 231 about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and 28 about Iraq’s supposed links to Al Qaeda.
The Center for Public Integrity combed through public statements from both primary sources like official transcripts and secondary mostly media sources over two years beginning Sept. 11, 2001. The findings are organized in a “False Statements Database” on the group’s Web site that allows users to search for specific phrases like “yellowcake uranium” or “aluminum tubes.”
Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics, welcomed the report.
“The Bush administration misled the nation into war and continues to this day to engage in untruthful talk about the war,” Parham said. “Consequently, we are locked into what appears to be an intractable failure. This database of truth will help to set our country free from the denials about what was said and to deepen the public’s demand for straight talk from pro-war candidates.”
Parham was an early and persistent critic of the war in Iraq based on principles of just war and overstatements and misstatements by national leaders. He has described the war in Iraq as “the preeminent moral issue of our time.”
Former Congressman Lee Hamilton, co-chair of the 9/11 Commission, called the study a “very valuable public service.”
“I hope the lesson that arises, that comes from all this report, is that all of us have to be more skeptical of statements made by our public leaders and scrutinize those statements with very great care,” Hamilton said in a YouTube interview with Bill Buzenberg, executive director of the Center for Public Integrity.
Hamilton said he thinks public opinion was manipulated in the lead-up to war. “A lot of statements were made by high-level officials which were not accurate,” he said. “That could have been intentional, or it might have been unintentional. There’s no doubt in my mind the president wanted to go to war, no doubt in my mind that his administration basically wanted to go to war.”
“I think probably many of these public officials believed what they were saying, but the fact of the matter is what they were saying was not true,” he said. “And in that sense they certainly manipulated public opinion towards support of the war.”
Hamilton said the media “became cheerleaders in support of the war” and Congress was “timid.”
“I don’t think the media performed their job well at all, because their job is to be skeptical,” he said. “Their job is to look at the statement any public official makes and tear it apart, find out if it’s true or not, and they didn’t do that.”
Hamilton said Congress also failed.
“I have been critical of the president for leading us into this war, but the criticism goes equally to the Congress,” he said. “They had the same information the president had. They didn’t ask the tough questions. They didn’t think about it, and the resolution that they passed was a resolution that said in effect, after citing all of the false evidence regarding weapons of mass destruction, the resolution said, ‘Mr. President, it’s your problem.'”
“It was a default on the part of the Congress of their responsibility as a co-equal, separate, independent branch of government,” he said. “The Congress just didn’t do its job.”
Bush Seeks Public Support for War, Skips Just War Theory (Oct. 8, 2002)
Bush Is Out of Step With Religious Leaders in Rush to War (Feb. 14, 2003)
War Fails Just War Test, No Hope of Reasonable Success (March 6, 2003)
President Bush Marches to War With Overstatement, Not Moral Clarity (March 16,
America Needs Straight Talk About Iraq (July 14, 2003)
Telling The Truth Is Preferable To Blaming The News Media (Sept. 25, 2003)
Nation Needs Truth to Trust Government at War (June 30, 2005)
Where’s the Progress in Iraq? (Aug. 19, 2005)
World Suffers Consequences of Bush’s Refusal to Heed Wisdom of Christian Leaders
(Sept. 29, 2005)
Thumbs Up to Dixie Chicks for ‘Not Ready to Make Nice’ (June 5, 2006)
Bush’s Claim of a Third Awakening Diminishes His Credibility (Sept. 16, 2006)
Bush Denies that Iraq Policy Is Stay the Course, Misleads Public (Oct. 23, 2006)
How Many Deaths in Iraq Before U.S. Churches Say Enough? (Jan. 1, 2007)
Bush Makes God an Argument for Iraq War (July 19, 2007)
Managing editor at EthicsDaily.com from 2003-2009, Allen wrote more than 1,500 news stories during his tenure.