Bush Uranium Lie Is Tip of the Iceberg("Or, The more you repeat a big lie, the more people will believe you."
Adolph Hitler, Bush Family Mentor)<--NLTCP.blog
Press should expand focus beyond "16 words"
July 18, 2003
Five months later, the truthfulness of one claim in George W. Bush's
State of the Union address has become the focus of growing media scrutiny.
The attention media are paying to this single assertion should be part of a
larger journalistic inquiry into other misstatements and exaggerations
that have been made by the Bush administration about Iraq.
In the January 28 speech, Bush claimed that "the British government has
learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of
uranium from Africa." That assertion was similar to claims made
previously by administration officials, including Secretary of State
Colin Powell (CBS Evening News, 12/19/02), that Iraq had sought to import
yellowcake uranium from Niger, a strong indication that Saddam
Hussein's regime was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program.
In fact, the Niger story, as documented by journalist Seymour Hersh
(New Yorker, 3/31/03) and others, was based on crudely forged documents. In
addition, the administration's own investigation in March 2002 concluded
that the story was bogus. As one former State Department official put it,
"This wasn't highly contested. There weren't strong advocates on the
other side. It was done, shot down" (Time, 7/21/03).
Bush's use of the Niger forgeries has received considerable media
attention in recent days. Much of this reporting has been valuable,
and some outlets have broadened the inquiry beyond one passage in a speech.
The Washington Post's Walter Pincus, for example, suggests (7/16/03)
that the uranium claim remained in the State of the Union address because
"almost all the other evidence had either been undercut or disproved by
U.N. inspectors in Iraq."
Much media coverage, however, has focused narrowly on the Niger
incident, putting the press is in danger of ignoring the most important question
the story raises: Does the uranium claim indicate a larger pattern of
deceptive claims made about Iraq? At minimum, the following assertions
made by the Bush administration also deserve media scrutiny:
--Aluminum tubes: In the State of the Union address and elsewhere, the
White House has claimed that Iraq was seeking to purchase high-strength
aluminum tubes to use in processing uranium, tubes Bush said would be
"suitable for nuclear weapons production." But a report in the
Washington Post (9/19/02) months before Bush's address noted that leading
scientists and former weapons inspectors seriously questioned the administration's
explanation-- pointing out that the tubes, which would be difficult to
use for uranium production, were more plausibly intended for artillery
rockets. The Post also noted charges that the "Bush administration is
trying to quiet dissent among its own analysts over how to interpret
the evidence." Commendably, some reporters, like NBC's Andrea Mitchell
(7/14/03), have questioned the aluminum tubes claim in recent reporting
about Bush's State of the Union address.
--Iraq/Al Qaeda links: When Bush announced the end of hostilities in
Iraq in a May 1 speech aboard the USS Lincoln, he said of the defeated Iraqi
regime: "We have removed an ally of Al Qaeda." While a Saddam
Hussein/Osama bin Laden connection was one of the administration's
early justifications for going to war, it has produced no evidence to
demonstrate this link exists. There is evidence, however, that the
administration was deeply invested in proving such a tie, as former
Gen. Wesley Clark attested recently on Meet the Press (FAIR Media Advisory,
6/20/03). Yet media accounts of Bush's USS Lincoln speech hardly raised
an eyebrow over this attempt to keep the Iraq/Al Qaeda link alive.
--The trailers: Bush presented the discovery of two trailers in Iraq as
proof that Iraq possessed banned weapons: "We found the weapons of mass
destruction. We found biological laboratories," he told Polish TV
(Associated Press, 5/31/03). "They're illegal. They're against the
United Nations resolutions, and we've so far discovered two. And we'll find
more weapons as time goes on. But for those who say we haven't found the
banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they're wrong, we found them."
But serious questions had been raised within the administration about
whether these trailers had anything to do with biological weapons--
doubts that soon emerged in a New York Times article (6/7/03). No evidence
has been put forward confirming that the trailers were designed for
anything other than the production of hydrogen for artillery balloons, as
captured Iraqis had said (London Observer, 6/8/03).
--Weapons Inspections: More recently, Bush has flagrantly
misrepresented the history of the prewar conflict with Iraq over weapons inspections,
telling reporters on July 14, "We gave him a chance to allow the
inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in." In fact, after a Security
Council resolution was passed demanding that Iraq allow inspectors in,
they were given complete access to the country. The Washington Post
(7/15/03), describing Bush's remarkable statement, could only say that
his assertion "appeared to contradict the events leading up to war this
Joe Conason (Salon.com, 7/15/03) took note of "the press
corps' failure to report his stunning gaffe. The sentence quoted above doesn't
appear in today's New York Times report, for example."
--Powell's U.N. address: Some of the current reporting over the Niger
uranium forgery notes that Colin Powell was less confident about the
story, as evinced by the fact that he did not include the claim in his
February 5 address to the United Nations. But Powell's speech had
problems of its own. As pointed out by Gilbert Cranberg (Washington
Post, (6/29/03), Powell embellished an intercepted conversation about weapons
inspections between Iraqi officials to make it sound more incriminating,
changing an order to "inspect the scrap areas and the abandoned areas"
to a command to "clean out" those areas. He also added the phrase "make
sure there is nothing there," a phrase that appears nowhere in the State
Department's official translation. Further, Powell relied heavily on the
disclosure of Iraq's pre-war unconventional weapons programs by
defector Hussein Kamel, without noting that Kamel had also said that all those
weapons had been destroyed (FAIR Media Advisory, 2/27/03).
--Other pre-war deceptions: Even when administration deceptions have
been exposed by prominent mainstream outlets, the media in general tend not
to recall them or draw connections. In October 2002, in a notable front-page
article titled "For Bush, Facts Are Malleable" (10/22/02), Washington Post
reporter Dana Milbank noted two dubious Bush claims about Iraq: his citing
of a United Nations International Atomic Energy report alleging that Iraq
was "six months away" from developing a nuclear weapon; and that Iraq
maintained a growing fleet of unmanned aircraft that could be used, in
Bush's words, "for missions targeting the United States." While these
assertions "were powerful arguments for the actions Bush sought," Milbank
concluded they "were dubious, if not wrong. Further information revealed
that the aircraft lack the range to reach the United States" and "there
was no such report by the IAEA." But recent media discussions of
Bush's credibility-- including in the Washington Post-- have rarely mentioned
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