Road to Coverup Is the Road to Ruin, by Senator Byrd
Source Michael Barrow
Date 03/06/25/11:21

Published on Tuesday, June 24, 2003 by
The Road to Coverup Is the Road to Ruin
by US Senator Robert Byrd
US Senate Floor Remarks - June 24, 2003

Mr. President, last fall, the White House released a
national security strategy that called for an end to
the doctrines of deterrence and containment that have
been a hallmark of American foreign policy for more
than half a century.

This new national security strategy is based upon
pre-emptive war against those who might threaten our

Such a strategy of striking first against possible
dangers is heavily reliant upon  interpretation of
accurate and timely intelligence.  If we are going to
hit first, based on perceived dangers, the perceptions
had better be accurate.  If our intelligence is
faulty, we may launch pre-emptive wars against
countries that do not pose a real threat against us.
Or we may overlook countries that do pose real threats
to our security, allowing us no chance to pursue
diplomatic solutions to stop a crisis before it
escalates to war.  In either case lives could be
needlessly lost.  In other words, we had better be
certain that we can discern the imminent threats from
the false alarms.

Ninety-six days ago [as of June 24], President Bush
announced that he had initiated a war to "disarm Iraq,
to free its people and to defend the world from grave
danger."  The President told the world: "Our nation
enters this conflict reluctantly -- yet, our purpose
is sure. The people of the United States and our
friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an
outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of
mass murder." [Address to the Nation, 3/19/03]

The President has since announced that major combat
operations concluded on May 1. He said: "Major combat
operations in Iraq have ended.  In the battle of Iraq,
the United States and our allies have prevailed."
Since then, the United States has been recognized by
the international community as the occupying power in
Iraq.  And yet, we have not found any evidence that
would confirm the officially stated reason that our
country was sent to war; namely, that Iraq's weapons
of mass destruction constituted a grave threat to the
United States.

We have heard a lot about revisionist history from the
White House of late in answer to those who question
whether there was a real threat from Iraq.  But, it is
the President who appears to me to be intent on
revising history.   There is an abundance of clear and
unmistakable evidence that the Administration sought
to portray Iraq as a direct and deadly threat to the
American people.  But there is a great difference
between the hand-picked intelligence that was
presented by the Administration to Congress and the
American people when compared against what we have
actually discovered in Iraq.  This Congress and the
people who sent us here are entitled to an explanation
from the Administration.

On January 28, 2003, President Bush said in his State
of the Union Address: "The British government has
learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought
significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
[State of the Union, 1/28/03, pg. 7] Yet, according to
news reports, the CIA knew that this claim was false
as early as March 2002.  In addition, the
International Atomic Energy Agency has since
discredited this allegation.

On February 5, Secretary of State Colin Powell told
the United Nations Security Council: "Our conservative
estimate is that Iraq today has a stockpile of between
100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons agent.  That is
enough to fill 16,000 battlefield rockets."  [Remarks
to UN Security Council, 2/5/03, pg. 12] The truth is,
to date we have not found any of this material, nor
those thousands of rockets loaded with chemical

On February 8, President Bush told the nation: "We
have sources that tell us that Saddam Hussein recently
authorized Iraqi field commanders to use chemical
weapons - the very weapons the dictator tells us he
does not have."  [Radio Address, 2/8/03] Mr.
President, we are all relieved that such weapons were
not used, but it has not yet been explained why the
Iraqi army did not use them.  Did the Iraqi army flee
their positions before chemical weapons could be used?
If so, why were the weapons not left behind?  Or is it
that the army was never issued chemical weapons?  We
need answers.

On March 16, the Sunday before the war began, in an
interview with Tim Russert, Vice President Cheney said
that Iraqis want "to get rid of Saddam Hussein and
they will welcome as liberators the United States when
we come to do that."  He added, "...the vast majority
of them would turn [Saddam Hussein] in in a minute if,
in fact, they thought they could do so safely."  [Meet
the Press, 3/16/03, pg. 6]  But in fact, Mr.
President, today Iraqi cities remain in disorder, our
troops are under attack, our occupation government
lives and works in fortified compounds, and we are
still trying to determine the fate of the ousted,
murderous dictator.

On March 30, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld,
during the height of the war, said of the search for
weapons of mass destruction: "We know where they are.
They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and
east, west, south, and north somewhat." [This Week,
3/30/03, pg. 8] But Baghdad fell to our troops on
April 9, and Tikrit on April 14, and the intelligence
Secretary Rumsfeld spoke about has not led us to any
weapons of mass destruction.

Whether or not intelligence reports were bent,
stretched, or massaged to make Iraq look like an
imminent threat to the United States, it is clear that
the Administration's rhetoric played upon the
well-founded fear of the American public about future
acts of terrorism.  But, upon close examination, many
of these statements have nothing to do with
intelligence, because they are at root just sound
bites based on conjecture.  They are designed to prey
on public fear.

The face of Osama bin Laden morphed into that of
Saddam Hussein.  President Bush carefully blurred
these images in his State of the Union Address.
Listen to this quote from his State of the Union
Address: "Imagine those 19 hijackers with other
weapons and other plans - this time armed by Saddam
Hussein.  It would take one vial, one canister, one
crate slipped into this country to bring a day of
horror like none we have ever known."  [State of the
Union, 1/28/03, pg 7] Judging by this speech, not only
is the President confusing al Qaeda and Iraq, but he
also appears to give a vote of no-confidence to our
homeland security efforts.  Isn't the White House, the
brains behind the Department of Homeland Security?
Isn't the Administration supposed to be stopping those
vials, canisters, and crates from entering our
country, rather than trying to scare our fellow
citizens half to death about them?

Not only did the Administration warn about more
hijackers carrying deadly chemicals, the White House
even went so far as to suggest that the time it would
take for U.N. inspectors to find solid, 'smoking gun'
evidence of Saddam's illegal weapons would put the
U.S. at greater risk of a nuclear attack from Iraq.
National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice was quoted
as saying on September 9, 2002, by the Los Angeles
Times, "We don't want the 'smoking gun' to be a
mushroom cloud."  [Los Angeles Times, "Threat by Iraq
Grows, U.S. Says," 9/9/02] Talk about hype!  Mushroom
clouds?  Where is the evidence for this?  There isn't

On September 26, 2002, just two weeks before Congress
voted on a resolution to allow the President to invade
Iraq, and six weeks before the mid-term elections,
President Bush himself built the case that Iraq was
plotting to attack the United States.  After meeting
with members of Congress on that date, the President
said: "The danger to our country is grave.  The danger
to our country is growing.  The Iraqi regime possesses
biological and chemical weapons.... The regime is
seeking a nuclear bomb, and with fissile material,
could build one within a year."

These are the President's words.  He said that Saddam
Hussein is "seeking a nuclear bomb."  Have we found
any evidence to date of this chilling allegation? No.

But, President Bush continued on that autumn day:
"The dangers we face will only worsen from month to
month and from year to year.  To ignore these threats
is to encourage them.  And when they have fully
materialized it may be too late to protect ourselves
and our friends and our allies.  By then the Iraqi
dictator would have the means to terrorize and
dominate the region.  Each passing day could be the
one on which the Iraqi regime gives anthrax or VX -
nerve gas - or some day a nuclear weapon to a
terrorist ally." [Rose Garden Remarks, 9/26/02]

And yet, seven weeks after declaring victory in the
war against Iraq, we have seen nary a shred of
evidence to support his claims of grave dangers,
chemical weapons, links to al Qaeda, or nuclear

Just days before a vote on a resolution that handed
the President unprecedented war powers, President Bush
stepped up the scare tactics.  On October 7, just four
days before the October 11 vote in the Senate on the
war resolution, the President stated: "We know that
Iraq and the al Qaeda terrorist network share a common
enemy - the United States of America.  We know that
Iraq and al Qaeda have had high-level contacts that go
back a decade."  President Bush continued: "We've
learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in
bomb-making and poisons and deadly gasses.... Alliance
with terrorists could allow the Iraqi regime to attack
America without leaving any fingerprints."

President Bush also elaborated on claims of Iraq's
nuclear program when he said: "The evidence indicates
that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons
program.  Saddam Hussein has held numerous meetings
with Iraqi nuclear scientists, a group he calls his
'nuclear mujahideen' - his nuclear holy warriors....
If the Iraqi regime is able to produce, buy, or steal
an amount of highly enriched uranium a little larger
than a single softball, it could have a nuclear weapon
in less than a year." [Cincinnati Museum Center,
10/7/02, pg. 3-4]

This is the kind of pumped up intelligence and
outrageous rhetoric that were given to the American
people to justify war with Iraq.  This is the same
kind of hyped evidence that was given to Congress to
sway its vote for war on October 11, 2002.

We hear some voices say, but why should we care?
After all, the United States won the war, didn't it?
Saddam Hussein is no more; he is either dead or on the
run.  What does it matter if reality does not reveal
the same grim picture that was so carefully painted
before the war?  So what if the menacing
characterizations that conjured up visions of mushroom
clouds and American cities threatened with deadly
germs and chemicals were overdone? So what?

Mr. President, our sons and daughters who serve in
uniform answered a call to duty.  They were sent to
the hot sands of the Middle East to fight in a war
that has already cost the lives of 194 Americans,
thousands of innocent civilians, and unknown numbers
of Iraqi soldiers.  Our troops are still at risk.
Hardly a day goes by that there is not another attack
on the troops who are trying to restore order to a
country teetering on the brink of anarchy.  When are
they coming home?

The President told the American people that we were
compelled to go to war to secure our country from a
grave threat.  Are we any safer today than we were on
March 18, 2003?  Our nation has been committed to
rebuilding a country ravaged by war and tyranny, and
the cost of that task is being paid in blood and
treasure every day.

It is in the compelling national interest to examine
what we were told about the threat from Iraq.  It is
in the compelling national interest to know if the
intelligence was faulty.  It is in the compelling
national interest to know if the intelligence was

Mr. President, Congress must face this issue squarely.
Congress should begin immediately an investigation
into the intelligence that was presented to the
American people about the pre-war estimates of
Saddam's weapons of mass destruction and the way in
which that intelligence might have been misused.  This
is no time for a timid Congress. We have a
responsibility to act in the national interest and
protect the American people.  We must get to the
bottom of this matter.

Although some timorous steps have been taken in the
past few days to begin a review of this intelligence
I must watch my terms carefully, for I may be tempted
to use the words "investigation" or "inquiry" to
describe this review, and those are terms which I am
told are not supposed to be used - the proposed
measures appear to fall short of what the situation
requires.  We are already shading our terms about how
to describe the proposed review of intelligence:
cherry-picking words to give the American people the
impression that the government is fully in control of
the situation, and that there is no reason to ask
tough questions.  This is the same problem that got us
into this controversy about slanted intelligence
reports.  Word games.  Lots and lots of word games.

Well, Mr. President, this is no game.  For the first
time in our history, the United States has gone to war
because of intelligence reports claiming that a
country posed a threat to our nation.  Congress should
not be content to use standard operating procedures to
look into this extraordinary matter.  We should accept
no substitute for a full, bipartisan investigation by
Congress into the issue of our pre-war intelligence on
the threat from Iraq and its use.

The purpose of such an investigation is not to play
pre-election year politics, nor is it to engage in
what some might call "revisionist history."  Rather it
is to get at the truth.  The longer questions are
allowed to fester about what our intelligence knew
about Iraq, and when they knew it, the greater the
risk that the people - the American people whom we are
elected to serve - will lose confidence in our

This looming crisis of trust is not limited to the
public.  Many of my colleagues were willing to trust
the Administration and vote to authorize war against
Iraq.  Many members of this body trusted so much that
they gave the President sweeping authority to commence
war.  As President Reagan famously said, "Trust, but
verify."  Despite my opposition, the Senate voted to
blindly trust the President with unprecedented power
to declare war.  While the reconstruction continues,
so do the questions, and it is time to verify.

I have served the people of West Virginia in Congress
for half a century.  I have witnessed deceit and
scandal, cover up and aftermath.  I have seen
Presidents of both parties who once enjoyed great
popularity among the people leave office in disgrace
because they misled the American people.   I say to
this Administration: do not circle the wagons.  Do not
discourage the seeking of truth in these matters.

Mr. President, the American people have questions that
need to be answered about why we went to war with
Iraq.  To attempt to deny the relevance of these
questions is to trivialize the people's trust.

The business of intelligence is secretive by
necessity, but our government is open by design.  We
must be straight with the American people.  Congress
has the obligation to investigate the use of
intelligence information by the Administration, in the
open, so that the American people can see that those
who exercise power, especially the awesome power of
preemptive war, must be held accountable.  We must not
go down the road of cover-up.  That is the road to

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