The newly released Chilcot Report on Iraq is British understatement, to a fault. In fact, it is understated so far as to miss the plain truth of the matter. Saying only that extremely questionable intelligence “was not challenged [by the Bush and Blair regimes] and it should have been” is failing to say plainly what the evidence so clearly shows: George W. Bush lied; so did Tony Blair.
To demonstrate that, let’s try a simple exercise: let’s compare what White House officials said about Iraq in the run-up to war with what they knew at the time — or at the very least, should have known, because the intelligence was available to them.
What they said: “We now know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. Among other sources, we’ve gotten this from the testimony of defectors — including Saddam’s own son-in law” (in the words of Dick Cheney).
What they knew: Testimony obtained by reporters in 2003 showed that Saddam’s son-in law told UN weapons inspectors that “all weapons — biological, chemical, missile, nuclear — were destroyed.” In other words, he said the opposite of what Cheney claimed he said.
What they said: Saddam Hussein is “aggressively seeking nuclear weapons” (Cheney). Iraq attempted to acquire aluminum tubes that were “only really suited for nuclear weapons development” (Condoleeza Rice). The US has “irrefutable evidence” that the tubes were destined for centrifuges (Cheney). “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud” (Rice).
What they knew: Department of Energy scientists had concluded that these tubes were the wrong size for centrifuges, but were the proper size for conventional, non-WMD rockets. Post-war CIA inspectors concluded that, indeed, the tubes had been used for this purpose and were, in inspectors’ words, “innocuous.”
What they said: There is a “sinister nexus between Iraq and the al Qaeda terrorist network (Colin Powell).
What they knew: A special UN committee on terrorism, in its report on al Qaeda, concluded, “Nothing has come to our notice that would indicate links between Iraq and al Qaeda.” The CIA had earlier come to the same conclusion, citing “critical gaps” in evidence and the “questionable credibility” of sources. The 9/11 Commission also found no link between Iraq and al Qaeda. At least one Commission member charged that the administration had delayed the Commission’s report in order to “get the war in Iraq in and over before it came out.”
What they said: “Intelligence leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised … I would remind you that … report came out of the IAEA that they were six months away from developing a nuclear weapon. I don’t know what more evidence we need” (George W. Bush).
What they knew: As the International Atomic Energy Agency stated at the time, no such report had ever been issued. Indeed, the IAEA did report that it had “found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq.”
This exercise could go on and on, featuring all of the prewar hobgoblins and bugbears: “Uranium from Africa,” “500 tons of VX nerve agent, a single drop will kill in minutes,” “terrorist training camp inside Iraq,” “25,000 liters of anthrax, enough to kill millions,” “500 tons of sarin,” and of course, the promise that might nowadays be funny if it were not so tragic: “They will greet us as liberators.” In all these cases, unambiguous pronouncements were based on very ambiguous intelligence, or worse, on intelligence that flatly contradicted the pronouncements.
Baghdad, “the city of peace,” has not seen a day without war since the US invaded, in March of 2003. Over a million Iraqi men, women and children have been killed in the conflict. That’s over a million — and still counting. Two million are refugees to other countries. Another 1.7 million have been displaced within Iraq. A million American veterans were injured there; 4,491 of them never came back. The Chilcot Report has done these victims of a US war no good. The dead and the wounded, the aggrieved and the displaced all cry out for something more than understatement. They, and we, need the truth.