According to the Los Angeles Times, the Senate Intelligence Committee is finally wrapping up its report on whether government statements on Iraq were supported by the underlying intelligence. The committee promised to do this over four years ago.
I don’t know anything about it beyond the article, but the reporting strongly suggests the Senate Intelligence Committee has failed to ask hard questions. Beyond the fact it’s taken them this long to do it, there are two obvious problems:
1. The committee already released a report on whether the intelligence agencies were pressured by the Bush administration. The report concluded they were not. However, they only managed this by ignoring the most glaring evidence imaginable.
The first report was issued when the Republicans controlled the Senate. The committee clearly should have reopened this question, but apparently has failed to do so.
2. The tiny bit of the report’s criticism that’s mentioned ignores one of the most flagrant and important lies of the entire buildup to war:
In many cases, statements that were later proven wrong — such as President Bush’s assertion in September 2002 that Iraq “possesses biological and chemical weapons” — were largely in line with U.S. intelligence assessments at the time.
Prewar assertions about Iraq’s nuclear program were problematic because they were supported by some intelligence assessments but not others.
“They were substantiated,” a congressional official said, “but didn’t convey the disagreements within the intelligence community.”
In August 2002, for example, Vice President Dick Cheney said in a speech that “Saddam [Hussein] has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.” But by that time, the State Department’s intelligence bureau was challenging the assumption that Iraq’s nuclear program had been reactivated.
But Cheney’s most important deception in that speech regarding the Iraq nuclear issue had nothing to do about “disagreements within the intelligence community.” It was the fact that what he said immediately after that sentence was completely false:
But we now know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. Among other sources, we’ve gotten this from the firsthand testimony of defectors — including Saddam’s own son-in-law, who was subsequently murdered at Saddam’s direction.
Cheney was referred to Hussein Kamel, who’d run Iraq’s WMD programs during the eighties and then fled to Jordan in 1995. But as the Washington Post later reported, “Kamel’s testimony, after defecting, was the reverse of Cheney’s description.” Kamel had not said Saddam had “resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons”; just the opposite. While the Clinton administration covered up Kamel’s statements, he actually told UNSCOM that Iraq had had no nuclear program since the Gulf War in 1991. Specifically, when asked “Were there any continuation of, or present nuclear activities, for example, EMIS, centrifuge?”, Kamel responded “No.” (Kamel also said Iraq retained blueprints from its pre-91 program, but these were surrendered after his defection.) The IAEA later confirmed what Kamel had said:
General Hussein Kamel’s [August 22, 1995] statement was compatible with statements made in the Baghdad talks, that all nuclear weapons related activities had effectively ceased at the onset of the attack on Iraq by the coalition forces.
Moreover, there is strong evidence Cheney must have known this was false. The WMD Commission report includes this citation:
429. CIA, Iraq’s Remaining WMD Capabilities (NESA IR 96-40101) (Aug. 26, 1996) at p. 5; see also Senior Executive Memorandum (Jan. 12, 2002) (discussing the value of Kamil’s information).
Senior Executive Memoranda are produced by intelligence agencies at the specific request of the executive branch. Thus, the White House wanted to know more about Kamel in January, 2002, at exactly the time their attention was turning toward Iraq.
Certainly this document would be examined and released as part of a serious Senate Intelligence Committee report. The evidence so far suggests it won’t be, because the report won’t be serious.