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War of Aggression

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Excerpted from "Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law."



Although Bush marketed the war in Iraq as necessary to protect us from Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction (WMD), his decisions had less to do with self-defense than with dominating the oil-rich Middle East.    Some evidence for this conclusion can be found in a September 2000 report prepared by the neoconservative Project for a New American Century (PNAC).  The report, commissioned by Dick Cheney, outlines a plan "to maintain American military preeminence that is consistent with the requirements of a strategy of American global leadership." It notes that while "the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein." Another document produced for Vice President Cheney's secret Energy Task Force included a map of Iraqi oilfields, pipelines, refineries and terminals as well as charts detailing Iraqi oil and gas projects and "Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts." That document was dated March 2001, six months before 9/11 and two years before Bush invaded Iraq.

After 9/11, the Bush administration attacked Afghanistan and removed the Taliban from power. But the primary target all along was Iraq.  To sell the war to the American people, the administration made two claims and repeated them like a mantra.  First, Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.  Second, it had ties with al-Qaeda and was thus complicit in the 9/11 attacks.  Although the administration argued that both reasons justified the use of force against Iraq, it was advised repeatedly that neither claim was valid. 

No Weapons of Mass Destruction

An August 2006 report prepared at the direction of Rep. John Conyers, Jr. found that "members of the Bush Administration misstated, overstated, and manipulated intelligence with regards to linkages between Iraq and Al Qaeda; the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iraq; the acquisition of aluminum tubes to be used as uranium centrifuges; and the acquisition of uranium from Niger." The report also noted that "[b]eyond making false and misleading statements about Iraq's attempt to acquire nuclear weapons, the record shows the Bush Administration must have known these statements conflicted with known international and domestic intelligence at the time." Finding that the administration had also misstated or overstated intelligence information regarding chemical and biological weapons, the report concluded that "these misstatements were in contradiction of known countervailing intelligence information, and were the result of political pressure and manipulation." In short, the Bush gang misrepresented the WMD threat to justify its planned invasion of Iraq.

No Connection Between Iraq and al Qaeda

On September 21, 2001, Bush was told in the President's Daily Brief that the intelligence community had no evidence connecting Saddam Hussein's regime to the 9/11 attacks.  Furthermore, there was scant credible evidence that Iraq had any significant collaborative ties with al Qaeda. This was no surprise.  Al Qaeda is a consortium of intensely religious Islamic fundamentalists, whereas Hussein ran a secular government that repressed religious activity in Iraq. 

Undeterred, Bush and his people continued to tout the connection.  Although the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) determined in February 2002 that "Iraq is unlikely to have provided bin Laden any useful [chemical or biological weapons] knowledge or assistance," Bush proclaimed one year later, "Iraq has also provided al-Qaeda with chemical and biological weapons training." And although the CIA concluded in a classified January 2003 report that Hussein "viewed Islamic extremists operating inside Iraq as a threat," Cheney claimed the next day that the Iraqi government "aids and protects terrorists, including members of al-Qaeda."

To support their claims that Iraq was training al-Qaeda members, Bush, Cheney, and Colin Powell repeatedly cited information provided by Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an al-Qaeda prisoner captured shortly after 9/11. An ex-FBI official told Newsweek that the CIA "duct-taped [al-Libi's] mouth, cinched him up and sent him to Cairo" for some "more-fearsome Egyptian interrogations" in violation of U.S. law prohibiting extraordinary rendition. Al-Libi's account proved worthless.  The February 2002 DIA memo reveals al-Libi provided his American interrogators with false material suggesting Iraq had trained al-Qaeda to use weapons of mass destruction. Even though U.S. intelligence thought the information was untrue as early as 2002 because it was obtained by torture, al-Libi's information provided the centerpiece of Colin Powell's now thoroughly discredited February 2003 claim before the United Nations that Iraq had developed WMD programs.

The March to War

Bush poked his head into Condoleezza Rice's office and said, "f*ck Saddam.  We're taking him out."

In August 2002, Cheney cautioned that Saddam Hussein could try to dominate "the entire Middle East and subject the United States to nuclear blackmail."  He added, "There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction." The same month, the Bush administration quietly established the White House Iraq Group (WHIG) to lead a propaganda campaign to bolster public support for war with Iraq.

A week before WHIG began its work in earnest, the Sunday Times  of London   broke the story of the "Downing Street Memo," which contained the secret minutes of a July 2002 meeting with Tony Blair and Sir Richard Dearlove, chief of British intelligence.  Dearlove reported that Bush had already decided to go to war and was making sure "the intelligence and facts" about Iraq and WMD "were being fixed around the policy" of war on Iraq.

Shortly after WHIG convened, White House officials told the New York Times there was a meticulously planned strategy to sell a war against Iraq to the American people.  But the White House decided to wait until after Labor Day to kick off the plan.  The reason, as explained by White House chief of staff Andrew Card, seemed straight from the pages of George Orwell's 1984:  "From a marketing point of view," Card said, "you don't introduce new products in August." The new product was introduced the following month by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who warned, "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." The same week, on the anniversary of 9/11, Bush declared the United States would "not allow any terrorist or tyrant to threaten civilization with weapons of mass murder." The next day, in an address to the United Nations, Bush reiterated that Iraq was a "grave and gathering danger."

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Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and immediate past president of the National Lawyers Guild. She is author of  'The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse, and 
Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law and co-author of Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent. Her anthology, The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration and Abuse. Her articles are archived at

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