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Judge Silberman Lies about Bush's Iraq War Lies

February 10, 2015

Judge Laurence Silberman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has two primary claims to fame. First, in July 1990 the Reagan appointee was part of the 2 to 1 majority that overturned Oliver North's Iran-Contra convictions. Then in 2004, he co-chaired the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, more commonly known as the Silberman-Robb Commission on Iraq WMD.
But on Sunday, Judge Silberman took on a new role as an apologist for President George W. Bush's case for war with Iraq. He denounced "the dangerous 'lie' that Bush 'lied," calling the charge "defamatory" in the same way that the Nazi used the "stabbed in the back" canard in their quest for total power. Unfortunately for him, Silberman long ago admitted his commission "ducked" on the question of the Bush administration's uses--and misuses--of pre-war intelligence. Worse still, a mountain of subsequent analyses did not duck, instead cataloguing numerous cases where Team Bush lied about what it knew-and what it did not know--about Iraq and its WMD program.

As the 12 year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq approaches, it's worth remembering how that war was sold to the American people in the fall of 2002. (And it was "sold"; as Bush chief of staff Andy Card explained that summer, "From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August.") In an October 7 address in Cincinnati, President Bush warned, "Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud." That echoed the talking point National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice mouthed a month earlier, when she fretted, "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." Addressing the VFW nearly six months before Colin Powell would make his infamous presentation to the United Nations, Vice President Dick Cheney was unequivocal about the threat from Saddam Hussein:

"Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us. And there is no doubt that his aggressive regional ambitions will lead him into future confrontations with his neighbors -- confrontations that will involve both the weapons he has today, and the ones he will continue to develop with his oil wealth."

Of course, there were doubts on all these issues. But even after chief weapons inspector Charles Duelfer testified in October 2004 the White House's WMD claims were "almost all wrong," Americans did not learn of Bush's politicization of pre-war intelligence until he was safely reelected and on his way out of the Oval Office.
After the White House initially opposed calls to create an independent panel to probe the intelligence used to make the case for war, President Bush relented. On February 6, 2004, he named the members of the Silberman-Robb Commission which included, among others, Senator John McCain. But Bush's panel, led by Judge Silberman and Senator Chuck Robb (D-VA), did not include the subject of intelligence manipulation within its charter. The report concluded that the CIA had been "dead wrong" about Iraq WMD. Silberman himself acknowledged as much as to PBS Newshour about the 600 page report the commission delivered in 2005:

MARGARET WARNER: Let me finally ask you, Judge Silberman, about what you concluded. When you started this work were there a lot of charges being made by critics of the administration and Congress, about news reports, about politicization. And there were two elements to this: One was that in some way policy makers exerted pressure on intelligence analysts to come up with certain conclusions, and two, that the president and others did not accurately convey the caveats that were in the intelligence when they spoke publicly. What are your conclusions on those two points?
JUDGE LAURENCE SILBERMAN: Well, on the second point, we duck. That is not part of our charter. We did not express any views on policymakers' use of intelligence -- whether Congress or the president. It wasn't part of our charter and indeed most of us didn't want to get into that issue because it's basically a political question and everybody knows -- you can look at the newspaper and see what people said and make your own judgment. On the former question, as to whether or not there was any policymaker effort to influence the intelligence, we found zip...
[Emphasis mine.]

Meanwhile, an even more egregious farce was underway in the Republican-controlled Senate.
On June 20, 2003, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence began its own work. Led by Republican Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Democratic Vice Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), the SSCI promised a two-phase report on the march to war in Iraq. Phase 1 would examine the failings of the American intelligence community. Phase 2 would investigate the uses of pre-war intelligence and whether the administration had manipulated it to fabricate a causus belli. Conveniently for the Bush White House, the potentially damaging Phase 2 inquiry would not come until after the election.
Not surprisingly, the SSCI Phase 1 Report released in July 2004 sought to lay the blame for faulty intelligence all at the feet of the CIA. Chairman Roberts concluded that "what the President and the Congress used to send the country to war was information that was...flawed" and "most of the key judgments in the October 2002 national intelligence estimate on Iraq's WMD programs were either overstated or were not supported by the raw intelligence reporting." But Roberts also presumed the conclusion of the as-yet-uncompleted Phase 2 report, "The committee found no evidence that the intelligence community's mischaracterization or exaggeration of intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities was the result of politics or pressure."
But during that very same June 2004 press conference announcing their findings, Vice Chairman Rockefeller in response expressed his frustration and alarm over Roberts' unsupported statements:

"And I have to say, that there is a real frustration over what is not in this report, and I don't think was mentioned in Chairman Roberts' statement, and that is about the -- after the analysts and the intelligence community produced an intelligence product, how is it then shaped or used or misused by the policy-makers? So again there's genuine frustration -- and Chairman Roberts and I have discussed this many times -- that virtually everything that has to do with the administration has been relegated to phase two. My hope is that we will get this done as soon as possible."

Rockefeller was wrong to have trusted his Republican colleague. Despite Roberts' July 9 promise that "It is a priority...I made my commitment and it will get done," on March 10, 2005 he reversed course and declared Phase 2 was now "on the back burner." Roberts' stonewalling for the Bush administration didn't end there. Upon the release of the Silberman-Robb Commission report which avoided the question of White House intelligence manipulation altogether, Roberts just three weeks later on March 31, 2005 instead concluded his work was done:

"I don't think there should be any doubt that we have now heard it all regarding prewar intelligence. I think that it would be a monumental waste of time to replow this ground any further. To go through that exercise, it seems to me, in a post-election environment--we didn't see how we could do that and achieve any possible progress. I think everybody pretty well gets it."

On November 2, 2005, Democrats had enough. Minority Leader Harry Reid forced the Senate into a rare closed session to demand Roberts and the Republicans "speed up an inquiry into the Bush administration's handling of intelligence about Iraq's weapons in the run-up to the war." When Larry King asked the next day," Is the Senate going to have a full investigation of what led up to Iraq?" John McCain said he didn't want to "waste a lot of time and energy."

'Well, Larry, I think that we have investigations going on and we have had investigations. I was on a commission of weapons of mass destruction where we reached several conclusions, including the obvious one that there was a colossal intelligence failure but also that every intelligence agency in the world believed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and he did a pretty good job of convincing his own generals that he had them.
The Intelligence Committee is supposed to report out by November 14th an investigation that they've been conducting and I think we ought to have a look at their conclusions and I'm not against investigations. I just want to make sure that we don't waste a lot of time and energy."

Of course, that November 14, 2005 deadline never happened. As ThinkProgress documented, GOP Chairman Pat Roberts delayed the Phase 2 analysis yet again, ensuring there was "virtually no chance of being completed before the fall [2006] elections."
But Democrats won those 2006 midterm elections in what President Bush called "a thumpin'." And finally, on June 5, 2008, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence now chaired by Senator Rockefeller published its Phase 2 report. As McClatchy reported, Republicans Chuck Hagel and Susan Collins joined the Democratic majority in concluding that "Bush knew Iraq claims weren't true."

"Statements by the President and the Vice President indicating that Saddam Hussein was prepared to give weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups for attacks against the United States were contradicted by available intelligence information," the report concluded.
Claims by President Bush that Iraq and al Qaida had a partnership "were not substantiated by the intelligence."
The president and vice president misrepresented what was known about Iraq's chemical weapons capabilities.
Rumsfeld misrepresented what the intelligence community knew when he said Iraq's weapons productions facilities were buried deeply underground.
Cheney's claim that the intelligence community had confirmed that lead Sept. 11 hijacker Mohammed Atta had met an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague in 2001 was not true.

These were not the only assessments concluding, as Chairman Rockefeller did, that the Bush administration "deliberately painting a picture to the American people that you know is not fully accurate." As the Baltimore Sun reported in September 2006, the SSCI "found no evidence that Saddam Hussein had ties to al-Qaida or provided a haven for one of its most notorious operatives, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi -- conclusions that contradict claims by the Bush administration before it invaded Iraq." In March 2008, an extensive Pentagon review of 600,000 captured documents similarly concluded there was "no evidence that Saddam Hussein's regime had any operational links with Osama bin Laden's al Qaida terrorist network." So much for Rumsfeld's 2002 claim that the case for such links was "bulletproof."
It's no wonder that as late as August 2006, half of Americans thought Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. As for the mythical link between Iraq, Al Qaeda and 9/11, Bush propagandists like Ari Fleischer tried to keep falsehood alive even his boss left office. As Fleischer put it in March 2009:

"After September 11th having been hit once how could we take a chance that Saddam might strike again? And that's the threat that has been removed and I think we are all safer with that threat removed."

Amazingly, just days later former Bush National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Charlie Rose, "No one was arguing that Saddam Hussein somehow had something to do with 9/11." Of course, Condi had done just that as late as September 2006:

"There were ties going on between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's regime."

Of course, there were no such ties. Yet more than a decade, a trillion dollars, 4,500 U.S. dead and over 30,000 wounded later, many Americans still believe the fabulists of the Bush administration.
As for Judge Laurence Silberman, truth--as he well knows--is an absolute defense against a charge of defamation. There are terms as well to describe his Wall Street Journal op-ed. "Smokescreen" or "myth-making" or "revisionism" come to mind. Truth does not.


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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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