Stories of torture and abuse of Guantanamo detainees circulate through White House; Rumsfeld quashes inquiries
- Late Summer: A senior CIA analyst, fluent in Arabic and familiar with the Muslim world, quietly visits the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay to determine how much useful intelligence has been gleaned from the detention and alleged torture of the over 600 detainees, most picked up on battlefields in Afghanistan. The analyst determines that the interrogations have been, by and large, "a bust," in journalist Seymour Hersh's words. Very little useful intelligence has been garnered, while prisoners continue to pour in and the facility constantly expanded. A close colleague of the analyst later tells Hersh, "He [the analyst] came back convinced we were committing war crimes in Guantanamo. Based on his sample [interviews with over thirty prisoners and a detailed examination of the facility and its records], more than half the people there didn't belong there. He found people lying in their own feces," including two aged captives clearly suffering from dementia. "He thought what was going on was an outrage." The analyst files a report bearing a grim conclusion -- the US was interrogating the wrong prisoners in the wrong way. An administration official says the report concludes, "we were making things worse for the United States, in terms of terrorism" by holding so many detainees in legal limbo for so long. The analyst also writes, according to the official, "if we captured some people who weren't terrorists when we got them, they are now."
- The report bounces around the upper echelons of the Bush administration until read by General John Gordon, the deputy national security advisor for combatting terrorism. The report deeply disturbs Gordon, a former deputy director of the CIA and a retired four-star Air Force general. Gordon tells colleagues that he thought the detentions were "totally out of character with the American value system," and "that if the actions at Guantanamo ever became public, it'd be damaging to the president." Gordon feels that the report details direct torture of prisoners, as well as illegal detention without probable cause or judicial review. Unfortunately for Gordon's sensibilities, the administration has already signed off on the acceptability of torture in a secret statement by Bush in February 2002, where he stated that the Geneva Conventions against torture do not apply to terrorism suspects. Gordon is warned by several White House officials that the prisoners in Guantanamo have been classified as "enemy combatants" and do not have any legal rights under US law or the Geneva Conventions, but Gordon perseveres in working the report up to Rice. Gordon's case is bolstered by the late 2002 allegations by an Army Reserve lawyer who had worked at Guantanamo, and accuses the military of violating the Geneva statutes. The lawyer's written complaints had received no hearing, but word of "problems" in Guantanamo was circulating around the White House. (Many people in and out of the military are unsympathetic with the potential victimization of the prisoners; Army general Michael Dunleavy, former commander of the task force responsible for setting up interrogations at Guantanamo, will liken the interrogation methods at Guantanamo to the punishments he received as a child: missing dinner if he came home late, spankings for talking back, being sent to his room without television. Dunleavy tells an Erie, Pennsylvania Rotary Club that "I guess [my mom] must be a war criminal." But even Dunleavy is frustrated by the convoluted methodology of dealing with the prisoners, and complains of the lack of results. He also notes that many of the prisoners were far too old and debilitated to be any physical threat to the US.)
- Gordon's immediate supervisor, Condoleezza Rice, hears Gordon's report in the fall of 2002. She calls a high-level meeting in the White House Situation Room, and invites Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to attend. Rumsfeld, who by this point is personally advising his officers in the field to "get tough" with detainees, says surprisingly little during the meeting, and at one point denies having any idea that there are any potential issues with either torture or with getting useful intelligence out of the prisoners. Rice's main concern seems to be in, as she says, the need to "get our story straight." A second White House meeting is called, and 31-year old junior NSC official Marshall Billingslea is detailed to prepare the briefing. Billingslea, a specialist on arms disarmament who readily admits to having little knowledge about prison operations or international terrorism, prepares a briefing that ignores the allegations of illegalities and focuses on the problems with sorting the "bad guys...the movers and shakers" from the majority of prisoners who know little or nothing of use. Even Billingslea's relatively innocuous presentation is received with rancor from some of the meeting's attendees; one of Dick Cheney's aides "wanted to take off Billingslea's head for talking about the issue" at all. Eventually, Rumsfeld assures everyone that he will "take care of the problem[s]" at Guantanamo -- and that is the end of the issue, and the report.
- Says a White House official involved in the meetings, "I was naive enough to believe that when a Cabinet member [Rumsfeld] says he's going to take action, he will." As late as June 2004, White House officials would still deny that any untoward actions were taking place in Guantanamo, and that plenty of useful, actionable intelligence was being gathered; both statements are lies. A Congressional delegation that visits Guantanamo during the year is given a carefully stage-managed tour of the base that shows them nothing besides a "Potemkin village" of freshly bathed and clothed prisoners, although they are not allowed to speak with any of the prisoners. (Seymour Hersh)
"The American people should now be told that we are at war with Saddam Hussein." -- National Review writer William F. Buckley, August, quoted by Frank Rich p.62
US withdraws from nuclear test ban treaty
- August: Bush announces his intent to pull the US out of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, allowing the US to resume testing of nuclear weapons. The treaty was signed by the first President Bush but never ratified by a Republican-controlled Congress, one of the Clinton administration's most stinging defeats. Bush says he will not submit the treaty for ratification again. The announcement follows a related announcement that the Bush defense policy for America will now include the possibility of a "pre-emptive nuclear strike" at any country which seems to pose a threat to the US. Proponents of nuclear disarmament believe that Bush is leading the way towards a resumption of global nuclear brinksmanship. (Guardian, Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose)
- August: Vice President Cheney says, "Many of us are convinced that Saddam Hussein will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon." He is contradicted by Republican senator Chuck Hagel, a member of the intelligence committee, who says that the CIA had "absolutely no evidence" that Iraq had, or would soon have, nuclear weapons. (David Corn)
- August: The "White House Iraq Group," or WHIG, is formed at the behest of President Bush. Made up of senior White House staffers and led by chief of staff Andrew Card, its mission is to "educate" the American public about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein to the United States; in reality, it is nothing more, or less, than a propaganda organ to promote war with Iraq. Systematic coordination begins with Card forming WHIG to set strategy for each stage of the confrontation with Baghdad. A senior official who participated in its work calls it "an internal working group, like many formed for priority issues, to make sure each part of the White House was fulfilling its responsibilities." (In a September 6 interview with the New York Times, Card does not reveal the existence of WHIG, but hints at the mission of the group by saying, "From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August.") The group meets weekly in the Situation Room. Among the regular participants are Karl Rove, the president's senior political adviser; communications strategists Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin and James Wilkinson; legislative liaison Nicholas Calio; chief speechwriter Michael Gerson; and policy advisers led by Condoleezza Rice and her deputy, Stephen Hadley, along with Lewis Libby, Dick Cheney's chief of staff. The group helps decide what to demand of the United Nations in Bush's September 12 address to the General Assembly, when to take the issue to Congress, and how to frame the conflict with Iraq in the midterm election campaign that began in earnest after Labor Day.
- A "strategic communications" task force under WHIG begins to plan speeches and white papers. There are many themes in the coming weeks, but Iraq's nuclear menace is among the most prominent. The group is the source of the administration's harping on the possibility of Iraq proving its nuclear capabilities with "a mushroom cloud," a phrase repeated over and over again by senior officials, including General Tommy Franks, Rice, Cheney, and Bush. The group also pushes the false claim that an IAEA report "proves" the existence of an Iraqi nuclear program.
- Though Bush pretends not to pay attention to polls -- "Don't tell me about f*cking polls," he explodes at Rove, "I don't care what the polls say" -- he is constantly seeking Rove's advice on the political ramifications of the impending invasion. "If there is a way to make the case more clearly, you tell me what it is," he demands of Rove. A White House official who was involved in the meetings between Bush and Rove later recalls that after Bush's demand, WHIG began ramping up its efforts. "They started stretching it," he says. "We were in a selling mode." One of WHIG's primary objectives is to pressure members of Congress to get behind the war, before attempting to sell the public as a whole on war with Iraq. Bush's political aims are aided by Congressional Democrats, who are largely afraid to listen to the polls showing that the public is not backing war with Iraq, and fear challenging a popular president on the issue. "Daschle was right," the official says about the Democratic Senate Majority Leader's fears that Bush is using the public relations push for war to help defeat Democrats in November. The campaign calendar is driving the timing of Congress's vote on Iraq. "The election was the anvil and the president was the hammer," the official later recalls. "That was when we had the most leverage."
- WHIG orders a series of white papers, the first of which is an unpublished paper entitled "A Grave and Gathering Danger: Saddam Hussein's Quest for Nuclear Weapons." (The phrase "grave and gathering danger" is another repeated time and again by White House officials, including Bush.) Wilkinson, White House deputy director of communications for planning, produces the paper from intelligence reports and press clippings, and after conferring with NSC experts and officials from Cheney's office. In its later stages, the draft white paper coincides with production of a National Intelligence Estimate and its unclassified summary. But the WHIG, according to three officials who followed the white paper's progress, wants gripping images and stories not available in the hedged and austere language of intelligence. The fifth draft of the paper will be obtained by the Washington Post, but will be dismissed by White House spokesmen because Rice decided not to publish it. Wilkinson says Rice feels the paper "was not strong enough."
- The Post reports, "The document offers insight into the Bush administration's priorities and methods in shaping a nuclear message. The white paper was assembled by some of the same team, and at the same time, as the speeches and talking points prepared for the president and top officials. A senior intelligence official said last October that the president's speechwriters took 'literary license' with intelligence, a phrase applicable to language used by administration officials in some of the white paper's most emotive and misleading assertions elsewhere. The draft white paper precedes other known instances in which the Bush administration considered the now-discredited claim that Iraq 'sought uranium oxide, an essential ingredient in the enrichment process, from Africa.' For a speechwriter, uranium was valuable as an image because anyone could see its connection to an atomic bomb. Despite warnings from intelligence analysts, the uranium would return again and again, including the January 28 State of the Union address and three other Bush administration statements that month. Other errors and exaggerations in public White House claims were repeated, or had their first mention, in the white paper. Much as Blair did at Camp David, the paper attributed to UN arms inspectors a statement that satellite photographs show 'many signs of the reconstruction and acceleration of the Iraqi nuclear program.' Inspectors did not say that.
- "The paper also quoted the first half of a sentence from a Time magazine interview with UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix: 'You can see hundreds of new roofs in these photos.' The second half of the sentence, not quoted, was: 'but you don't know what's under them.' As Bush did, the white paper cited the IAEA's description of Iraq's defunct nuclear program in language that appeared to be current. The draft said, for example, that 'since the beginning of the nineties, Saddam has launched a crash program to divert nuclear reactor fuel for...nuclear weapons.' The crash program began in late 1990 and ended with the war in January 1991. The reactor fuel, save for waste products, is gone. ...A senior intelligence official said the White House preferred to avoid a National Intelligence Estimate, a formal review of competing evidence and judgments, because it knew 'there were disagreements over details in almost every aspect of the administration's case against Iraq.' The president's advisers, the official said, did not want 'a lot of footnotes and disclaimers.'"
- After inquiries and demands from Senate Democrats, the CIA prepares and releases an NIE in October 2002. According to the Post: Explicitly intended to assist Congress in deciding whether to authorize war, the estimate was produced in two weeks, an extraordinary deadline for a document that usually takes months. Tenet said in an interview that 'we had covered parts of all those programs over 10 years through NIEs and other reports, and we had a ton of community product on all these issues.' Even so, the intelligence community was now in a position of giving its first coordinated answer to a question that every top national security official had already answered. 'No one outside the intelligence community told us what to say or not to say,' Tenet wrote in reply to questions for this article." This is patently untrue. The NIE concludes, "Although we assess that Saddam does not yet have nuclear weapons or sufficient material to make any, he remains intent on acquiring them. Most agencies assess that Baghdad started reconstituting its nuclear program about the time that UNSCOM inspectors departed -- December 1998." According to former CIA deputy director Richard Kerr, the analysts had good reasons to say that, but the reasons were largely "inferential." In other words, proof was entirely lacking.
- It is also revealed that the assertions about the aluminum tubes, supposedly to be used in making nuclear weapons, comes from one person, a former Oak Ridge engineer called simply "Joe." (The CIA has refused to release his full name, but reporters Michael Isikoff and David Corn reveal in their August 2006 book Hubris his identity -- see below in this item.) Joe, who has nothing more than a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and left Oak Ridge for a position in export controls with the CIA in the early '90s, "made the issue his personal crusade," according to the Post. Few others in the CIA or in the nuclear industry believe Joe's assertions about the aluminum tubes. In late 2001, experts at Oak Ridge asked an alumnus, Houston Wood, to review the controversy. Wood, founder of the Oak Ridge centrifuge physics department, is widely acknowledged to be among the most eminent living experts. Wood says that "it would have been extremely difficult to make these tubes into centrifuges. It stretches the imagination to come up with a way. I do not know any real centrifuge experts that feel differently." As an academic, Wood says, he would not describe "anything that you absolutely could not do." But he says he would "like to see, if they're going to make that claim, that they have some explanation of how you do that. Because I don't see how you do it." Peter Zimmerman, a former chief scientist at the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, says, "In this case, the experts were at Z Division at Livermore [Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory] and in DOE intelligence here in town, and they were convinced that no way in hell were these likely to be centrifuge tubes." Yet the administration chooses to go with "Joe's" assessment over the opinions of an array of experts. In one of the most powerful public uses of "Joe's" assessment, Secretary of State Colin Powell will tell the United Nations that Iraq is planning to use the aluminum tubes in the production of nuclear weapons, an assertion he knew to be heavily contradicted and later proven to be an outright lie.
- "Joe" often deals directly with deputy CIA director John McLaughlin, circumventing the usual chain of command and analysis. The independent WMD commission later concludes that the intelligence community's failure on the Iraqi nuclear issue was perhaps the most damaging of any of its errors during the run-up to the Iraqi invasion. But whether the intelligence is solid or not is irrelevant. "One of the senior guys in the NE Division [the Near East Division of the Directorate of Operations] told me that it isn't going to matter once we go into Baghdad, we are going to find mountains of this stuff," according to a former CIA official who leaves the agency after the war. Joe is later discovered, by reporters Michael Isikoff and David Corn, to be a CIA analyst named Joe Turner. Turner, an official at the CIA's Center for Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control (WINPAC), alarmed an IAEA official in the summer of 2001 with a dogmatic presentation at the IAEA's headquarters in Vienna about his firm belief that Saddam Hussein was attempting to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons. Turner's analysis is so factually inaccurate that the IAEA official calls former nuclear weapons inspector David Albright and warns, "The people across the river [the CIA] are trying to start a war. They are really beating the drums, they want to attack." Turner has based his entire argument on a single piece of intelligence: intercepted faxes indicating that Iraq wants to buy 60,000 aluminum tubes from Hong Kong. The intent behind the purchases was unclear, but because the tubes were made from a particularly high-strength alloy, Turner decided that there could be only one reason for the purchase: for their use as rotors to spin in gas centrifuges that would produce enriched uranium. And the only reason to enrich uranium is to use for nuclear weapons.
- Turner's analysis is exactly what the White House has been pressuring the CIA to deliver, and the CIA's leaders have, in turn, been pressuring WINPAC to deliver. Without further examination, the CIA presents the analysis to the White House as solid evidence of Hussein's nuclear intent. In the spring of 2001, the analysis made it into a Presidential Daily Briefing. And on April 10, 2001, Turner's analysis was included in another sensitive intelligence briefing for top national security officials. The tubes, the brief said, "have little use other than for a uranium enrichment program." The fact that Hussein had tried before to build a nuclear weapon is established fact; the Israelis destroyed the Osirik nuclear reactor in 1981, and after the Persian Gulf War, US intelligence officials were shocked to find evidence that the Iraqis had been farther along in the production of nuclear weapons technology than they had realized, even though the Iraqis' capability to produce such a weapon had been obliterated during the war. But after the war, UN sanctions and UN/IAEA inspections had shut down the nuclear program. As late as 2001, the US intelligence community had concluded that Iraq had no capability to restart any nuclear weapons development. But Turner's analysis flipped that conclusion on its head. "The tubes were everything for the administration's case," recalls Albright. "They were something tangible that they could point to. Without it, they had nothing."
- But Turner's analysis is fatally flawed. The tubes could indeed be used for something else besides Iraqi gas centrifuges. As soon as the CIA's analysis began circulating through the intelligence community, Energy Department experts on nuclear weapons began challenging the analysis. A team of scientists headed by Jon Kreykes, the chief of Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Advanced Technology Division, reported on April 11, 2001 that the tubes were far too small to be used in the gas centrifuges used by the Iraqis in the 1990s, and were probably too small for any such use. A month later, the Energy Department reported that it had discovered another possible use for the tubes: for conventional rocket launchers. And DOE scientists noted that Iraq had been buying the tubes openly, without attempts at concealment, even advertising for them on the Internet. The purchase attempts didn't seem consistent with a top-secret nuclear program.
- Soon after, the CIA acquired some of the actual tubes. In the summer of 2001, Jordanian intelligence agents intercepted a shipment of the tubes as they crossed Jordan. One of the CIA officers assigned to liason with Jordanian intelligence was Valerie Plame Wilson. She examined the tubes herself, and expedited samples to CIA headquarters at Langley. Scientists for the CIA examined the tubes themselves, and Turner was forced to admit that the samples didn't match the dimensions of most gas centrifuges. He insisted instead that the tubes matched the design for a centrifuge developed by German scientist Gernot Zippe in the 1950s. Houston Wood, the nuclear scientist cited above, checked with Zippe himself, who confirms that the tubes aren't even close to the design specifications for his centrifuge. An August 17 Energy Department report says, "Rocket production," not nuclear weapons, "is the more likely end-use for these tubes."
- The State Department's own intelligence agency, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), also concludes that the tubes are not for nuclear use. We were talking to all these experts, and they were telling us, 'No, no, no, this is not the kind of [tubes] you use for centrifuges," recalls the then-director of proliferation for the INR, Greg Thielmann. A lengthy memo from the INR to Colin Powell strongly disputes Turner's analysis and the entire case for a resurgent Iraqi nuclear program. "The consistent message from INR," Thielmann recalls, "was that there is no good evidence" at all that Iraq had restarted its nuclear program.
- But Turner refuses to back down. In meetings and videoconferences with Energy Department scientists, and later with IAEA officials equally skeptical of his conclusions, Turner arrogantly dismisses the dissents and refuses to debate his analysis. "He was very condescending," recalls Robert Kelley, an IAEA weapons inspector who took part in the meetings. "It was like he was on kind of a messianic mission. If you questioned him, he would just say, 'If you knew what I know.' Which is what intelligence people always say. It was like he didn't want to hear the right answer." Some scientists are appalled that Turner, who has neither the education nor the experience of the scientists he is cavalierly dismissing, has become the arbiter on such a highly technical, and critical, issue. "He was not an expert in the sense that he sold himself," recalls Wood. "I think he was in over his head." An intelligence analyst from the DOE's Lawrence Livermore Laboratories later notes the absurdity of Turner trumping the analysis of DOE experts, who spend their entire professional lives dealing with nuclear technology. "If they say an aluminum tube is not for a gas centrifuge, it's like a fish talking about water," the analyst says.
- But the CIA, knowing what the White House wants, continues to use Turner to pump out report after erroneous report on the tubes -- at least nine, according to Isikoff and Corn. Each report goes directly to senior Bush administration officials and directly to Bush. Dissenting opinions are not included. Energy Department scientists and INR analysts didn't even see the reports. Wood is astounded to read in the September 8 New York Times article (see below) that the tubes issue was still extant. He thought the entire issue "had been put to bed." A CIA official involved in the tubes debacle later calls it "a perfect coming together of arrogance, incompetence, and basic human error. These screw-ups happen all the time, just not with consequences this enormous." (Washington Post/CommonDreams, Frank Rich [PDF file], Paul Waldman, James Risen, Michael Isikoff and David Corn)
Proof of Iran's burgeoning nuclear weapons program emerges
- August: An Iranian dissident group provides public information, at a press conference in Washington, that proves Iran has constructed two new nuclear-weapons facilities in the desert south of Tehran. One had been depicted by Iranian officials as a desert-eradication program; the other was ostensibly producing conventional energy for civilian use. IAEA inspectors eventually follow up on the information, and it proves to be true. They also find that some of the technology and equipment has been provided by -- surprise! -- Pakistan. In October, Iran will abandon its denials and admit that it has been producing small amounts of enriched uranium and plutonium, and had been developing a pilot heavy-water reactor program, all in possible violation of the non-proliferation treaty. Some of the secret programs date back 18 years, officials say. Israeli intelligence eventually breaks a sophisticated Iranian code and finds that the cooperation between Iran and Pakistan on nuclear matters is far deeper than has previously been suspected. Israel notes that Iran, behind all the bluster and duplicity, is bent on securing cooperation with Europe and the US, and is ripe for diplomatic overtures; however, Iran has no intention of getting rid of its nuclear program, and seems to be heeding Pakistan's warning to "look out for your own interests" in dealing with the US and the international community. "The public story is still that Iran never really got there -- which is bullsh*t," says a former senior intelligence official. IAEA inspectors find in June 2004 that one of the reactors, in Natanz, is nearly ready to be completely concealed under the sand, away from satellite surveillance and possibly even inspections. Like so many other countries, Iran is playing a shell game with the IAEA, trying to keep its public image clean while stockpiling and producing as much nuclear technology and capability as it can get away with. And the IAEA is not sure that Iran is trying to build a weapon, though privately, at least one IAEA official says of the Iranians, "I know what they did. They've been lying all the time and they've been cheating all the time. The official is sure that Iran does not yet have a bomb (as of November 2003), but it may have enough enriched uranium to build one. (Seymour Hersh)
- August: Former senior US Defense Intelligence Agency officer Colonel Walter Lang tells the New York Times, "The use of gas [during the Iran-Iraq war] on the battle field by the Iraqis was not a matter of deep strategic concern.... We were desperate to make sure that Iraq did not lose." (Iran Chamber Society)
- August: Jim Jordan, the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, voices what will prove to be prescient concerns that the Republicans will gain ground with the electorate by manipulating the war on terror to appeal to fearful voters. He is asked if he thought the GOP might regain political dominance over the agenda with the issues of terrorism and war, and replies, "You mean when General Rove calls in the air strikes in October?" He adds, "I hope I'm wrong. Certainly, none of us want to think that the administration, for domestic political reasons, would use the war. But I think the temptation will be strong." Jordan is quite right, but the Democrats largely fail to hear his warning; Democrats are caught flat-footed by Karl Rove's "suddenly Saddam" strategy, and find themselves in the unenviable position of either supporting Bush's push for war against Iraq or being labeled traitors and appeasers. Most congressional Democrats choose to pass Bush's war resolution quickly, in hopes that they can get back to the discussion of the economy, where they feel they can make gains; the decision backfires, giving Rove and the GOP the legitimacy they need and corralling the Democrats, including future presidential candidate Senator John Kerry, into casting votes for the Iraq resolution that they will later have cause to bitterly regret. (James Moore and Wayne Slater)
- August: Preparing his aide, Paul Wolfowitz, for answering troublesome press conferences at the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld tells Wolfowitz, "Begin with an illogical premise and proceed, perfectly logically, to the illogical conclusion." (Lewis Lapham)
- August: Democrat Ted Kennedy authors a Senate bill to give unemployed workers extended benefits, in an attempt to rescue the more than 1 million Americans whose benefits are due to expire at the end of the year. House Democrat Paul Wellstone proposes a bill along the same lines. Senator Hillary Clinton joins Wellstone and Kennedy in their bill; later, Clinton and Republican senator Don Nickles craft a watered-down compromise bill. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay scotches the bill, saying that those unemployed workers just wanted to "stay out of work for the rest of their lives." Contrary to public belief, the Bush White House refused to back the bill. "None of the Senate bills had any backing from the White House," says a Kennedy staffer. "We even called the Department of Labor for help and got no response. The fact is that had the White House weighed in, this would have been taken care of before December." After the bill is passed in January 2003, Nickles amazes observers by declaring on the Senate floor that the Bush administration had been in favor of the bill all along. (Nickles's statement is later redacted from the Congressional Record.) (Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose)
- Early August: At dinner, Colin Powell talks a reluctant Bush into going to the UN with the Iraq issue. Since the question of whether or not to invade Iraq has already been made, the agenda is not whether to invade, but how to go about it. (New Yorker/Buzzflash)
- August 1: The FBI names Steven Hatfill as a "person of interest" in the anthrax attacks, the first person to be so named. On the same day, Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, one of the world's top anthrax specialists is interviewed by FBI agents who ask her whether a team of government scientists could be trying to frame Hatfill. Rosenberg has been very publicly critical of the FBI investigation. Though Hatfill is never charged with a crime, his employer, Louisiana State University, is directed to "immediately cease and desist" employing him by the Justice Department. He is placed on administrative leave; on September 4, he will be fired. Later, some senior law enforcement officials will express their embarrassment over the firing, saying that the the domestic preparedness office acted improperly because Hatfill has never been charged with any wrongdoing and has not been identified as a suspect. What evidence the FBI later manages to compile seems to point away from Hatfill as a suspect. (CCR)
Information Awareness Office goes public
- August 2: John Poindexter announces the formation of a new counterterrorism agency within the Defense Department. The agency is called the Information Awareness Office (IAO). IAO is part of DARPA, the DoD's high-tech research agency. Even as the agency is formed, questions about its operations are being asked. "[There] are significant privacy issues and significant public-right-to-know issues" about IAO, says one privacy advocacy group. While the agency's focus is on acquiring information about terrorists, IAO is not hesitant to compile information about US citizens that has nothing to do with terrorism investigations. Credit card transactions, medical prescriptions, Internet surfing, and magazine subscriptions are tracked, as is information about citizens or foreign nationals who obtain certain college degrees, pilot's licenses, and more. William Safire writes in November 2002, "To this computerized dossier on your private life from commercial sources, add every piece of information that government has about you -- passport application, driver's license and bridge toll records, judicial and divorce records, complaints from nosy neighbors to the F.B.I., your lifetime paper trail plus the latest hidden camera surveillance -- and you have the supersnoop's dream: a 'Total Information Awareness' about every U.S. citizen. ...Poindexter is now realizing his 20-year dream: getting the 'data-mining' power to snoop on every public and private act of every American." Poindexter is the former national security advisor to Ronald Reagan. In 1990 he was convicted of obstructing justice and lying to Congress about his involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal. (National Journal/Government Executive Magazine, New York Times/CommonDreams)
"If you think you're going to drop the 82nd Airborne in Baghdad and finish off the job, I think you've been watching too many John Wayne movies." -- Republican senator Chuck Hagel, August 4, quoted by Frank Rich p.61. Hagel will vote to authorize military force against Iraq.
- August 5: After over a year in what he describes as "the refrigerator," unable to gain the president's ear with his concerns about the direction of the US's foreign policy, Secretary of State Colin Powell finally is asked to dinner with Bush and Condoleezza Rice. After dinner, Powell meets with Bush and Rice and is given a chance to express his more moderate views. According to Bob Woodward's April 2004 book Plan of Attack, "Powell's notes filled three or four pages. War [against Iraq] could destabilize friendly governments in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, he said. It could divert energy from almost everything else, not just the war on terrorism, and dramatically affect the supply and price of oil. What of the image of an American general running an Arab country, a Gen. MacArthur in Baghdad? Powell asked. How long would it be? No one could know. How would success be defined? War would take down Hussein, and 'you will become the government until you get a new government.' By the time they were in Bush's office, Powell was on a roll. 'You are going to be the proud owner of 25 million people,' he told the president. 'You will own all their hopes, aspirations and problems. You'll own it all.' Privately, Powell and Armitage called this the Pottery Barn rule: You break it, you own it. 'It's going to suck the oxygen out of everything,' the secretary continued. So as not to sidestep the politics of it, he added, 'This will become the first term.' The clear implication was: Did the president want to be defined this way? Did he want to run for reelection on an Iraq war? Powell thought he was scoring. Iraq has a history that is quite complex, he said. The Iraqis have never had a democracy. 'So you need to understand that this is not going to be a walk in the woods.' The president listened and asked some questions but did not push back that much. Finally he looked at Powell. 'What should I do? What else can I do?' Powell realized he needed to offer a solution. 'You can still make a pitch for a coalition or U.N. action to do what needs to be done,' he said. The United Nations was only one way, but some way had to be found to recruit allies, to internationalize the problem. Though the conversation was tense several times, Powell felt that he had left nothing unsaid. There were no histrionics. The president thanked him after two hours, an extraordinary amount of time for Powell without static from Cheney and Rumsfeld."
- Three weeks later, an angry Dick Cheney will give a speech at a VFW in Nashville laying out the administration's case for war with Iraq. Almost every one of Powell's concerns are either refuted, downplayed, or lambasted; Cheney asserts baldly that Iraq does indeed possess tremendous amounts of WMDs, and the administration is committed to dealing with the Hussein regime one way or another. Powell is "dumbfounded" by Cheney's speech, which he was not aware of until it made the news. It is a classic case of blindsiding. To make matters worse for Powell, excerpts of an interview he gave shortly before Cheney's speech are made public, where Powell asserts that Iraq has no WMDs. Powell is accused of disloyalty, of trying to undermine the president, and many media pundits call for his immediate resignation. Cheney adds pressure by working with former Reagan official Ken Adelman, who pens a Wall Street Journal piece calling for war with Iraq. At this point Cheney and Powell are in direct conflict with each other over Iraq, and it is Cheney, not Powell, who has Bush's ear. Though Bush will pay lip service to the United Nations, as per Powell's advice, Cheney's contempt for the UN is what ultimately sways Bush's decision to unilaterally invade Iraq. British PM Tony Blair's willingness to join the US in the invasion, if Bush makes some attempts to work with the UN first, is another element in the Bush decision.
- Powell observes the attempts by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Cheney's chief of staff Lewis Libby, and Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith and his "Gestapo" staff (Powell's characterization) to unearth links of any kind between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, and concludes that Cheney has an "unhealthy fixation" on Iraq. "Nearly every conversation or reference came back to al-Qaeda and trying to nail the connection with Iraq," Woodward writes. "He would often have an obscure piece of intelligence. Powell thought that Cheney took intelligence and converted uncertainty and ambiguity into fact." Powell dismissed Cheney's assertions that Hussein had met with 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta as "garbage," but Cheney will continue to use those alleged, and disproven, meetings as "evidence" of a link between Hussein and al-Qaeda, a link that Cheney was determined to either find or create. Powell will become convinced that Cheney is the driving force behind the administration's relentless push towards war with Iraq. (Washington Post)
"There's no telling how many wars it will take to secure freedom in the homeland." -- George W. Bush, August 5
- August 5: An Associated Press analysis of spending under Democratic and Republican control of Congress shows that, as expected, districts represented by the two parties get more money if their own party is in control. What is not expected is the groundswell of change led by the Gingrich-led Congress and culminating in the 2001 budget; while on average, Democratic districts got $35 million more than Republican ones, but in the 2001 budget, Republican districts got an average of $612 million more than Democratic ones. As Paul Waldman notes, quoting the AP report, "[I]t wasn't just pork politics. Rather, 'the change was driven mostly by Republican policies that moved spending from poor rural and urban areas to the more affluent suburbs and GOP-leaning farm country.'" (AP/Paul Waldman)
"Operation Southern Focus:" US and Turkish air and ground forces attack and occupy Iraqi military targets in preparation for upcoming invasion -- two months before Congress authorizes the use of military force in Iraq
- August 6: "Operation Southern Focus," a coordinated group of US air strikes against Iraqi targets, commences as part of the "softening up" of Iraq before the March 2003 invasion. In addition, US and allied ground troops already in northern and southern Iraq in preparation for the invasion begin operations. US special forces have been on the ground, unbeknownst to the mainstream media, since March 2002, working with Kurdish militias in the northern section of Iraq to train them for their involvement in the upcoming invasion. (CIA director George Tenet secretly paid these troops a visit in March, during a trip to Israel and Palestine.) In addition, "waves" of Turkish ground forces have entered northern and southern Iraq, coalescing around the large oil-producing cities of Mosul and Kirkuk. The US has also thrown extensive military resources into existing bases, and has built new military bases, in an attempt to essentially encircle Iraq. According to DEBKA, the US military "ha[s] since been pouring into those bases US armored ground units, tanks, air, navy and missile forces, as well as combat medical units and special contingents for anti-nuclear, biological and chemical warfare. According to our sources, the noose around Iraq extends from Georgia and Turkey in the north, Israel, Egypt and Jordan to the west, Eritrea and Kenya in the southwest, and Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain to the south. Furthermore, a large US armada, including aircraft carriers, has assembled at three points: the eastern Mediterranean, the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf." At this point, over 100,000 American and British troops have been deployed in and around Iraq, along with a small contingent of German Tornado fighters in western Turkey. (It should be noted that DEBKAFile comes from the far-right (Netanyahu) wing of Likud, so most of its information is skewed towards its relentless drumbeat of "attack Syria, attack Iran" agenda.)
- On August 6, airstrikes take out a number of key Iraqi military targets, destroying the Iraqi air command and control center at al-Nukhaib in the desert between Iraq and Saudi Arabia. The center is wired to fiber optic networks installed last year by Chinese companies; new and as-yet unseen precision-guided bombs all but destroyed the fiber optic system necessary for Iraq to conduct military communications. On August 8, Turkish commandos escorted by US, British, and Turkish warplanes seize the critical Bamerni airport in northern Iraq. Bamerni, just outside the area controlled by the Kurds, is just 50 miles north of Mosul and Kirkuk. The commandos, accompanied by a small contingent of US special forces, destroy a unit of Iraqi armored defenders; American and Turkish transports then begin delivering engineering units, heavy machinery, and electronic support equipment, and work immediately begins on readying the airport for US military usage. The Americans go on to capture two smaller Iraqi military airfields nearby. At latest count, some 5,000 Turkish ground troops currently are stationed in northern Iraq, along with support from Turkish air force contingents. The effect of this strike is to gain control over the northern oil-producing cities of Mosul and Kirkuk, along with disrupting the railroad connection between Syria and Iraq, which DEBKA calls "Saddam's back door" for accessing weapons caches some believe he has stored in eastern Syria. (DEBKA has long asserted that Hussein maintained caches of illegal weapons, possibly chemical and biological in nature, in the Syrian desert; no such caches have yet been found, to our knowledge.) Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani confirms to Turkish television that "The Bamerni airport is controled by Turkish soldiers," while the Turkish and British governments both deny that any military engagements have taken place. Meanwhile, in Kurdish Iraq, US Army engineers are working feverishly to build a series of six to eight airstrips to serve fighter planes and helicopters for air support of invading ground forces. Special Forces teams are involved in on-the-ground military target identification, mapping out Scud and anti-aircraft battery locations. They are also helping set up, equip and train Kurdish militias and are cooperating closely with Turkish counterparts engaged in the same activities in Turkoman regions. US and British aircraft probe Iraqi defenses beyond the no-fly zones close to Baghdad.
- The air strikes are confirmed in July 2003 by Lieutenant General Michael Moseley, the chief allied war commander, who also confirms that the air strikes are carried out as preparation for the invasion, and confirms that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld authorizes the strikes. The cover story for the strikes, which hardly go reported in the mainstream media, is that they are retaliation for Hussein's violation of the no-fly zones established after the Gulf War of 1991. Over 600 bombs are dropped on almost 400 targets, including precision-guided bombs targeted at fiber-optic repeater stations throughout Iraq. Seven hours after Bamerni airfield is taken, Saddam Hussein goes on the air to threaten the United States, warning American troops that they will go home in flag-draped coffins. Most of the world's media assumes Hussein is merely blustering. More notably, Hussein is also directing his military to dig in around Baghdad, in obvious preparations for invasion. Journalist Mark Erikson writes on August 17 that the various ideas for any approaching war being kicked around in the media are irrelevant, and so are arguments about the timing of any such invasion: "In effect, the war has begun." (New York Times/Unknown News, DEBKAnet, Kurdish Media, Asia Times)
- August 7: Saudi Arabia announces that the US will not be allowed to mount an invasion of Iraq using bases inside that country. The US has already covered that contingency, moving large amounts of troops and equipment to the al-Udeid air base in Qatar, and finishing construction of a huge military base in Kuwait. On the Iraqi side, Hussein has approximately one-third of the forces he had during the Gulf War: around 375,000 ground troops, less than 100,000 of which have decent training, a decrepit air force of around 300 planes, around 2,200 Soviet-era tanks and armored vehicles, less than 2,000 artillery pieces, and no navy whatsoever. A large but aging and poorly maintained anti-aircraft defense system rings Baghdad, with some outlying stations elsewhere in central Iraq. Hussein has at most 36 aging and unreliable short-range Scud missiles, most of which are deemed "militarily useless." (Asia Times)
- August 7: Dick Cheney tells a California audience, "What we now know, from various sources, is that [Iraq]...continues to pursue a nuclear weapon." Nine days later Cheney asserts that the Iraqis already have a nuclear capability well able to directly threaten "anyone he chooses, in his own region or beyond," and adds that the Iraqis have continued to pursue the same nuclear program they mounted years before. On September 14, Bush tells the world in his weekly radio address that "Saddam Hussein has the scientists and infrastructure for a nuclear-weapons program, and has illicitly sought to purchase the equipment needed to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon." Not only are Bush and Cheney aware that no intelligence exists to confirm these claims, they know that the US intelligence community firmly believes Iraq has no such nuclear capability nor has attempted to acquire such. In other words, both are telling bald-faced lies. (Seymour Hersh)
- August 8: House GOP leader Dick Armey warns, "If we try to act against Saddam Hussein, as obnoxious as he is, without proper provocation, we will not have the support of other nation-states who might do so." Armey is just one of many Republicans, including Lawrence Eagleburger, Brent Scowcroft, and Trent Lott, to express doubts about the administration's intent to start a war in Iraq. Armey is reined in by the White House, and in September promises to stop speaking out about his misgivings over the invasion and stop "speaking against the president" in public. After that, Armey remains largely quiet about the Iraq invasion. (The New Republic, Michael Isikoff and David Corn)
- August 9: Britain warns the US against invading Iraq, saying that to do so risks intensifying the conflicts in Afghanistan, Israel, and Kashmir. We can infer that Britain's warning comes from the secretive military operation currently being conducted in Iraq by the US and Turkey. Russia, France, and Germany also express their "grave concerns" about a US invasion of Iraq. DEBKA, an Israeli-based news site with connections to Israeli intelligence, speculates that the British warning is a smokescreen designed to deflect attention from the air and ground attacks already occurring within Iraq, as are similar warnings from Jordan, Egypt, Turkey (which is involved in the military operation), and Saudi Arabia. (Independent/Common Dreams, DEBKAnet)
- August 9: Bush announces his compromise decision on stem-cell research on national television. Noting that "more than sixty genetically diverse stem cell lines already exist," Bush says that "we should allow federal funds to be used on those existing stem cell lines, where the life-and-death decision has already been made." The decision's key word is "existing." No new stem cells can be used; even existing embryos in fertility clinics must be discarded. Though the decision is touted as a major compromise for Bush, in reality, the decision involves very little compromise, and is a victory for the far right. (As detailed later, the actual number of viable stem cell lines is fewer than 10.) White House speechwriter David Frum says that the decision is "the biggest political victory the pro-life movement has had in years." More good news for the far right comes with Bush's later announcement that bioethicist Leon Kass will lead the President's Council on Bioethics. Kass is a hardline, recalcitrant opponent of almost every new reproductive technology and policy, including in vitro fertilization, birth control pills, and sex education, and calls abortion "feticide." (Eric Alterman and Mark Green)
- August 10: Speaking to the press at a country club in Waco, Texas, describes Iraq as "an enemy until proven otherwise." He then tells another of a series of bald-faced lies, saying he has "no timetable" for any policies regarding how he intends to deal with Iraq or Saddam Hussein. "We're in the process of consulting not only with Congress...but with our friends and allies. And the consultation process is a positive part of really allowing people to fully understand our deep concerns about this man, his regime and his desires to have weapons of mass destruction." In reality, as this site amply demonstrates, plans for the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and the overthrow of Hussein, are well underway. (US State Department)
- August 10: In response to an outcry from across the board, the Bush administration moves to table Operation TIPS (see above) for the time being. The web site is shut down, and the public is informed that plans to implement it on a pilot basis in 10 cities across America are being suspended. In late August, Attorney General John Ashcroft will move to tap a private firm to run the TIPS volunteer phone hotline. It is well known that the Bush administration still wants the program, but is now conducting its implementation much more slowly and much less publicly. Interestingly, almost all news stories concerning its suspension have disappeared from the Web. The TIPS project still lives, however, in the form of a "Terrorist Index" that contains the names of over 100,000 "known and suspected terrorists;" according to the Center for Constitutional Rights' Michael Ratner, "Everybody on that list is innocent. The question is, why is there a list at all, other than to basically say people are guilty until proven innocent." (Wikipedia, HavenWorks, The Memory Hole, Amy Goodman and David Goodman)
- August 11: A Newsweek article suggests that some of Bush's advisors advocate not only attacking Iraq, but also Saudi Arabia, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Egypt, and Burma. One senior British official says: "Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to tehran." Later in the year, Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle states, "No stages. This is total war. We are fighting a variety of enemies. There are lots of them out there. All this talk about first we are going to do Afghanistan, then we will do Iraq...this is entirely the wrong way to go about it. If we just let our vision of the world go forth, and we embrace it entirely and we don't try to piece together clever diplomacy, but just wage a total war...our children will sing great songs about us years from now." In February 2003, Undersecretary of State John Bolton says in meetings with Israeli officials that he has no doubt America will attack Iraq, and that it will be necessary to deal with threats from Syria, Iran and North Korea afterward. This is not reported in the US media. (CCR)
- August 13: The Bush administration holds an economic conference to discuss America's fiscal policies in Waco, Texas, and Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill is incensed. He proposed the idea in June (see earlier item), with the idea that it would bring together economists, CEOs, labor leaders, and others with widely disparate viewpoints, and in full view of the public and the media, have them openly hash out their ideas for America's economic progress. Instead, the conference was planned without O'Neill's input, largely by Bush's economic advisor, Larry Lindsey, and his political advisors, Karl Rove and Karen Hughes. The group of 240 executives and economists, with a few labor leaders salted in, was carefully vetted by the poltical/communications staff under Rove and Hughes, and virtually everyone involved is a committed Bush supporter. The conference will be little more than a cheerleading session for Bush's own policies. The entire conference is scripted and planned, with Bush to move, surrounded by his entourage of Hughes, Rove, chief of staff Andrew Card, and Card's deputy, Joshua Bolten. On a more personal level, O'Neill is insulted (his staff even more so) by his peripheral role in the conference. "It's a second-tier role," says staffer Tim Adams to fellow staffer Michele Adams. "It's not where a Treasury Secretary should be. It's an affront." Davis tells O'Neill that he should refuse to go, but such a step would almost require O'Neill to resign. He is contemptuous of the meeting, saying that he will be little more than "a prop." "It'll just be a lot of people reading from a script that says, 'I love the president.' Where, exactly, does that fit in the grand American ideal of free and honest inquiry?" Alarmed, Davis backpedals from her suggestion, and she and Adams fashion an agenda for O'Neill that will have him attempting to discuss his ldeas for pushing, among other ideas, his plan to increase US involvement in bringing water to parched regions in East Africa. Just before the meeting, the new White House director of communications, Dan Bartlett, tells O'Neill, "We're doing your idea." O'Neill replies sharply, "Give me a break, Dan -- nothing could be farther from my idea. I ordered a blue sedan, and you're giving me a green skateboard."
- The meeting takes place without Bush, who is once again vacationing on his "ranch" in Crawford, Texas, though Bush does manage to make a brief, highly scripted appearance to accept the kudos from the carefully selected participants. O'Neill recalls that he finds one exchange particularly nauseating, both on a professional and personal level: a beautiful, highly photogenic restaurant owner from North Carolina showers scripted praise on Bush for his "tax relief" policies and her pride in what he has accomplished; O'Neill knows that the restauranter, a woman named Van Eure, has, like the other participants, taken part in rehearsals with Bartlett's staff to go over exactly what she will and won't say during her time. But Eure, apparently overcome with hero-worship, goes off-script, turning to Bush and gushing, "I'm just honored to be sitting next to one of my heroes." Bush smirks and cracks, "Who, O'Neill?" Eure blushes and starts to speak, but Bush reaches around her to tap O'Neill and crow, "We found one, O'Neill!" The jibe sparks laughter among the group, but O'Neill gets the point.
- None of the ideas presented in the conference are anything but Republican evergreens, and the media reporting on the conference is desultory and focuses on the fact that Bush was obviously barely interested in the procedures. The only thing that sparks any interest is the proposal for eliminating taxes on stock dividends, a popular Republican idea that would save wealthy stockholders millions in taxes but would not help middle- and lower-income Americans hardly at all. (Ron Suskind)
"I promise you I will listen to what has been said here, even though I wasn't here." -- George W. Bush, at the President's Economic Forum in Waco, Texas, August 13
Justice Department plans to intern US citizens in camps
- August 14: Attoney General John Ashcroft's plans for internment camps for US citizens he personally deems "enemy combatants" are publicized, though mostly ignored by the American media. By declaring citizens "enemy combatants," they can be held indefinitely without trial or even charges and held incommunicado, denied access to lawyers and family. This is a blatant violation of Constitutional rights to due process and the assumption of innocence before proven guilt. The incarcerations of two Americans, Jose Padilla and Yaser Esam Hamdi, under Ashcroft's new guidelines are widely viewed as "test cases" for Ashcroft's plans. Constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley, a former advocate of Ashcroft's ascendancy to the position of attorney general, writes, "the proposed camp plan should trigger immediate Congressional hearings and reconsideration of Ashcroft's fitness for important office. Whereas al-Qaeda is a threat to the lives of our citizens, Ashcroft has become a clear and present threat to our liberties." And law professor Anita Ramasastry adds, "Americans don't seem to care, but they should care -- and care deeply. These are potential detentions of American citizens that can go on forever, according to the government, without judicial review, and without any charges being brought or trial conducted. The war on terrorism is a war without boundaries, belligerent nations and time limits. ...Why aren't Americans yet alarmed? Perhaps because they find it hard to believe that the Attorney General would propose such an idea. But he has. ...We need to stop and think before we allow the government to go this far, and before we have our own Gulag, right here in the US." (Los Angeles Times/CommonDreams, FindLaw/CNN)
- Mid-August: The National Council of Resistance of Iran, which considers itself an Iranian government in exile and whose dominant member is the violent guerrilla organization Mujahedin-E-Khalq, holds a press conference in Washington and states that Iran has a secret nuclear facility at Natanz, in central Iran, due for completion in 2003. The Iranian government claims that the nuclear facility is being built for peaceful energy production as part of Iran's efforts to reclaim desert lands, but the US and Israel fear that Iran is working towards building a nuclear bomb. Tehran will invite inspectors from the IAEA to look over the Natanz facility; these inspectors will find inconclusive evidence that the Natanz facility may be producing enriched, weapons-grade uranium for such a nuclear device. (Global Security)
- August 15: Deena Burnett speaks on behalf of the families of the 9/11 victims suing the Saudis. Over 600 relatives (later rising to over 2,500 out of 10,000 eligible) file a 15-count, $1 trillion lawsuit against various parties they accuses of financing al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The defendants include the Binladin Group (the company run by Osama bin Laden's family), seven international banks, eight Islamic foundations and charities, individual terrorist financiers, three Saudi princes, and the government of Sudan. Individuals named include Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan, former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal, Yassin al-Qadi, and Khalid bin Mahfouz. "The attorneys and investigators were able to obtain, through French intelligence, the translation of a secretly recorded meeting between representatives of bin Laden and three Saudi princes in which they sought to pay him hush money to keep him from attacking their enterprises in Saudi Arabia," says Burnett. The plaintiffs also accuse the US government of failing to pursue such institutions thoroughly enough because of lucrative oil interests. Ron Motley, the lead lawyer in the suit, says the case is being aided by intelligence services from France and four other foreign governments, but no help has come from the Justice Department. The plaintiffs acknowledge the chance of ever winning any money is slim, but hope the lawsuit will help bring to light the role of Saudi Arabia in the 9/11 attacks. A number of rich Saudis respond by threatening to withdraw hundreds of billions of dollars in US investments if the lawsuit goes forward. Saudi businesses withdraw more than $100 billion from the US in response to the suit, and the US government later threatens to block or limit the suit. Weeks later, victims' families are offered cash compensations from the US government if they agree not to sue; about a fifth of the families agree, and the others continue to sue. (CCR/Break On Through)
- August 15: Rena Golden, the executive vice-president and general manager of CNN International, claims that the press has censored itself over 9/11 and the Afghanistan war. "Anyone who claims the US media didn't censor itself is kidding you. It wasn't a matter of government pressure but a reluctance to criticize anything in a war that was obviously supported by the vast majority of the people. And this isn't just a CNN issue -- every journalist who was in any way involved in 9/11 is partly responsible." (CCR)
- August 16: Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's Defense Science Board 2002 puts together a special planning unit tasked, among other things, to oversee a military overthrow of Hussein's regime. The new planning unit would coordinate the non-military and political aspects of any campaign, as opposed to drawing up actual invasion plans. US government spokesmen continue to insist that Bush has made no decision about whether to use military force against Saddam; however, top US officials and members of the Iraqi opposition are planning the details of a post-Saddam government in Iraq, down to the number of seats in a future parliament. The board "recommends creation of a super-Intelligence Support Activity, an organization it dubs the Proactive, Preemptive Operations Group, (P2OG), to bring together CIA and military covert action, information warfare, intelligence, and cover and deception. Among other things, this body would launch secret operations aimed at 'stimulating reactions' among terrorists and states possessing weapons of mass destruction -- that is, for instance, prodding terrorist cells into action and exposing themselves to 'quick-response' attacks by US forces. Such tactics would hold 'states/sub-state actors accountable' and 'signal to harboring states that their sovereignty will be at risk.'" An editorial in the Moscow Times comments: "In other words -- and let's say this plainly, clearly and soberly, so that no one can mistake the intention of Rumsfeld's plan -- the United States government is planning to use 'cover and deception' and secret military operations to provoke murderous terrorist attacks on innocent people." It is further suggested terrorists could be instigated in countries the US wants to gain control over. (Knight Ridder/Truthout, CCR)
- August 16: In an interview for the New York Times, former Defense Policy Board chairman and neoconservative warhawk Richard Perle says bluntly, "The failure to take on Saddam after what the president said [will lead to] a collapse of confidence." Times columnist Frank Rich clarifies Perle's statement in 2006: "If Bush didn't get rid of Saddam after all this saber-rattling, he will look like the biggest wimp since, well, his father. If he didn't do it soon, after all these months of swagger, he would destroy his own credibility and hurt the country's." (Frank Rich p.62)
- August 20: The Bush administration plans on launching a huge public-relations offensive to counter the belief held by most foreign governments that a war with Iraq is unnecessary and objectionable. (Days before, Republican senator Trent Lott had phoned Dick Cheney to complain that the "predicate" for war had not been established. Cheney told Lott, "We're about to fix all that. Just hold on.") The Iraq Public Diplomacy Group, a US interagency task force, launches a widespread public relations campaign this fall, targeting newspaper editors and foreign policy think tank analysts in Western Europe and the Middle East. The IPDG includes representatives from the CIA, NSC, Pentagon, State Department, and USAID. It plans to publish a brochure documenting Saddam Hussein's ability to threaten Iraqis and other peoples in the region, which, according to one US official familiar with the group's planning, will "document and chronicle Saddam's transgressions against international norms." These include Hussein's use of mustard and nerve gas against Kurds in Northern Iraq in 1988 in the town of Halabja, as well as new information compiled from refugees fleeing the country on the state of Iraq's prisons. Last fall, the State Department released a similar brochure cataloguing the crimes of Osama bin Laden.
- Other plans include establishing interactive teleconferences between high-ranking US officials and foreign newspaper editors and think tank analysts, which one State Department official calls "opinion leaders." According to an analysis of foreign media conducted between March 15 and August 15 by the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, "little sympathy could be found in Arab or Muslim papers for a military campaign." The report goes on to say, "A common theme was that the campaign against Iraq was simply a way to gain control of Iraqi oil, help the US economy and boost the president's popularity." The report continues, "Many sources worried that a military campaign to oust Hussein would trigger a storm of indignation in the Middle East." Other editorials dispute US assertions of a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda, and many believe any US action against Iraq would violate the UN charter. Under the Bush doctrine, the United States reserves the right of a pre-emptive strike against countries that harbor international terrorists and seek weapons of mass destruction. Leading hawks close to the administration, such as Defense Policy Board Chairman Richard Perle, argue that the doctrine of pre-emption is justified as self-defense after the attacks of September 11. The Iraq Public Diplomacy Group was formed under former President Clinton to counter Saddam Hussein's public relations campaign against the UN sanctions regime. (UPI, Michael Isikoff and David Corn)
- August 21: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warns that a number of al-Qaeda operatives are working out of Iraq, but refuses to give specifics or provide evidence. A Defense Department official says, "There are some names you'd recognize." A senior US intelligence official admits there is no evidence that Hussein has formally "welcomed in or sheltered" the terrorists. "They aren't the official guests of the government," says another official, and describes them largely as still "on the run." Rumsfeld scoffs at the notion that al-Qaeda members are hiding in Iraq without the full knowledge of the government or its protection. "In a vicious, repressive dictatorship that exercises near-total control over its population, it's very hard to imagine that the government is not aware of what's taking place in the country," he says. Rumsfeld's assertions are disputed by Iraq's deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz, who yesterday told CBS News that there are members of al-Qaeda in Iraq, but they are in the northern part of the country, outside of Hussein's control, and are working with Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani, "an ally of Mr. Rumsfeld," Aziz notes. "It is not under the control of the government," Aziz says. The Bush administration has been working with Talabani and the leaders of other Iraqi opposition groups to build a united front against Hussein. Qubad Talabany, Washington representative of the Kurdish Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which operates in northern Iraq, says a group of about 120 Arabs with some links to al-Qaeda did arrive in the eastern town of Biyara last September. Their numbers have grown since the US military campaign in Afghanistan began, Talabany says. Al-Qaeda has often used northern Iraq to travel between Afghanistan and other countries. So, US officials say, they are not surprised to find some members taking shelter in Iraq. "Given that people dispersed in a variety of different directions, you would expect those with Iraqi ties or nationality to show up in Iraq," the intelligence official says.
- Of particular interest to US authorities, though, are what two officials characterize as a handful of "second- and third-tier" al-Qaeda operatives in Iraq. It is people of this rank in the network who have become a greater focus of US anti-terrorism efforts around the world as bin Laden and his top lieutenants have disappeared from view for months. These operatives are considered responsible for managing much of the terrorist group's activities and may possibly still be in a position to plan future attacks against the United States, officials say. (Washington Post)
- August 21: House Majority Leader Tom DeLay gives a passionate, nigh-jingoistic speech where he asserts, "The question is not whether to go to war, for war has already been thrust upon us...the only choice is between victory and defeat." DeLay's speech was planned in collaboration with National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. (In These Times)
- August 21: In preparation for a press conference from Bush's "working ranch" in Crawford, Texas, White House officials move stacks of hay bales behind Bush to conceal the propane tanks in the cameras' view, the better to give the impression that Bush is a true rancher. (New York Times/Paul Waldman)
- August 21: A familiar theme of Republican candidates is echoed by South Dakota's John Thune, who runs an ad against his Democratic opponent Tim Johnson that accuses Johnson of supporting "a Social Security privatization plan." Some Senate Democrats, including Johnson, have supported the limited investment of Social Security funds in the stock market, an idea that would pool the risk faced by the funds as opposed to Republicans' idea for completely private accounts. Like most Republicans, Thune does not admit that he and his GOP colleagues favor complete privatization. Thune is following the instructions from the National Republican Congressional Committee to distance themselves as much as possible from their own support of privatization -- not the concept, but the word itself. Journalist Paul Waldman writes, "Despite the fact that diverting Social Security funds to private accounts has for some time been Republican gospel, and up until 2002 everyone, Democrats and Republicans, called it 'privatization' or at the very least 'partial privatization,' the NRCC was now proclaiming that 'privatization' is a false and misleading word insofar as it is being used by Democrats to describe Republican positions on Social Security."
- NRCC spokesman Steve Schmidt all but admits that the GOP hopes to deceive voters on the issue in order to lambast Democrats and work to privatize Social Security later: "In order for there to be an honest debate on Social Security, Democrats have to lose this election. Only after they've lost another election where they've put all their chips on the Social Security issue will honest-minded Democrats step forward to work on the issue." Though Thune will lose in November, Republicans will take back the Senate in the midterm elections; on the advice of political advisor Karl Rove, Bush will not introduce the idea of privatization of Social Security -- which Rove will rename "personal accounts" -- until after his re-election in 2004. (CNN/Washington Post/Paul Waldman)
- August 22: The media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) predicts a modified "wag the dog" strategy for the Republicans as the 2002 elections approach. While a full-scale invasion of Iraq seems unlikely before the November elections, a large propaganda blitz is underway to convince the American public of the need to attack Iraq, and the related need for Republican leadership. "Before initiating vast new carnage abroad, the White House wants its propaganda siege to take hold at home," writes FAIR's Norman Solomon. "Countless hours of airtime and huge vats of ink are needed to do the trick. Like safecrackers trying first one combination and then another, the Bush team will continue to twirl the media dials till their war-making rationales click." Solomon notes that many in the media have all but accepted the idea of a coming invasion, and are more concerned with the hows and whens: "...many of the arguments marshaled in the mainstream media against a precipitous attack on Iraq appear to be accepting the need for the US government to afflict that country with massive violence. Whether on Capitol Hill or in media venues, most of the criticism seems largely concerned with style, timing and tactics." Solomon notes, accurately enough, that while the nation debates the pros and cons of military action against Iraq, little debate is going on about Social Security, the Wall Street scandals, or the corporate bankruptcy scandals which have entangled so many White House officials, beginning with Bush and Cheney themselves. And the stories about the tanking economy that one would expect to dominate the news are instead shuffled aside by what Bush terms the "healthy debate" about Iraq. Solomon notes, "Bush's advisers would hardly mind if a similar pattern held through early November."
- He continues: "For the next couple of months, the president has domestic political incentives to keep 'wagging the puppy' while floating a variety of unsubstantiated claims -- like references to wispy dots that implausibly connect the Iraqi dictatorship and al-Qaeda. Meanwhile, sending more ships and aircraft to the Persian Gulf region can be calculated to evoke plenty of televised support-our-troops spectacles. With Old Glory in the background as tearful good-byes are exchanged at US military ports and bases, how many politicians or journalists will challenge the manipulative tactics of the commander-in-chief? Even if the White House doesn't sic the Pentagon on Iraqi people before the November elections, its efforts to boost pre-war fever between now and then could have enormous media impacts with big dividends at the polls. This fall, our country may see something short of a 'wag the dog' extravaganza provided by leading officials of the Bush administration. But unless we can stop them, the full-grown dogs of war are not far behind." (FAIR)
- August 25: Former CIA agent Bob Baer says the US collects virtually no intelligence about Saudi Arabia nor are they given any intelligence collected by the Saudis. He says this is because there are implicit orders from the White House, "Do not collect information on Saudi Arabia because we're going to risk annoying the royal family." On the same MSNBC broadcast, Saudi millionaire Yassin al-Qadi says that despite being on a US terrorist list since October 2001, "I'm living my life here in Saudi Arabia without any problem" because he is being protected by the Saudi government. Al-Qadi admits to giving Osama bin Laden money for his "humanitarian" work, but says this is different from bin Laden's terrorist work. Presented with this information, the US Treasury Department only says that the US "is pleased with and appreciates the actions taken by the Saudis" in the war on terror. The Saudi government still has not given US intelligence permission to talk to any family members of the hijackers, even though some US journalists have had limited contact with a few. (MSNBC/CCR/Break On Through)
"My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times building." -- Ann Coulter, New York Observer, August 26, quoted in Intervention Magazine
- August 26: As the start of his drive to shape the administration's foreign policies by belligerent speeches, Dick Cheney tells the VFW Convention in Nashville, "The Iraqi regime has in fact been very busy enhancing its capabilities in the field of chemical and biological agents. ...[S]imply 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." He warns of a Saddam "armed with an arsenal of these weapons of terror" who could "directly threaten America's friends throughout the region and subject the United States or any other nation to nuclear blackmail." After raising the specter of a nuclear-armed Hussein, Cheney adds, "We now know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. ...Many of us are convinced that Saddam will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon. Just how soon we cannot gauge. [A] return of inspectors would provide no assurance whatsoever of his compliance with UN resolutions. On the contrary, there is a great danger that it would provide false comfort that Saddam was somehow 'back in his box.' ...[The US faces] as grave a threat as can be imagined. ...The risks of inaction are far greater than the risk of action." This is the beginning of an all-out effort to convince the American public that Hussein is building nuclear weapons, though as it turns out, none of the evidence is convincing. Moreover, Cheney is implying, the only option for dealing with Hussein is war. Journalist Doug Ireland notes that Cheney's speech, "mocking the notion of resumed inspections and all but declaring (without any supporting evidence) that Saddam has nukes -- made it crystal clear to any doubters that Dubya and his civilian cronies in the military-industrial complex have made up their minds" to go to war.
- Cheney told Bush he was giving the speech beforehand, but did not give him a copy of the speech; the incurious Bush merely said, "Don't get me into trouble." Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein observe, in 2006, "Considering the speech Cheney delivered -- and the disastrous war that followed -- Bush's lighthearted admonishment seems laughable." While Cheney's speech does not directly announce the upcoming invasion, it does provide much of the bogus rationale for the thrust into Iraq, particularly in his warning of the "devastating consequences" of not attacking Iraq, and says that to continue relying on the UN to inspect Iraq's forces for WMDs "merely enables Hussein to continue playing the game of cheat and retreat [and] denial and deceptions." In reality, the UN has been quite successful in finding and neutralizing what few weapons Hussein -- who indeed played a "cheat and deceive" game, but with little success -- had after the 1991 Gulf War. In Cheney's view, Iraq is on the brink of building nuclear weapons, and the only reasonable option is to attack Iraq before it can complete and deploy those weapons.
- Cheney is playing a double-edged game of his own: not only does he insist that Iraq has nearly completed building nuclear weapons, an assertion that is completely false but quite effective in whipping up "war fever" among American citizens and lawmakers, but in a bureaucratic backstabbing, he undermines Colin Powell's argument that the US should continue to rely on diplomacy and inspections. "The secretary was shocked" over the VFW speech, recalls Powell's then-chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson. "Here we were saying one thing out of one side of our mouth and here was the vice president speaking to what you might call a semi-official military audience and he was saying the exact opposite. Undercutting every bit of diplomacy before that diplomacy actually got off the ground. And I remember Powell coming back from a principals' meeting where he had made some remonstrance to the president about what's going on. And the president had said something which he was wont to say about most things like this. He said, 'Oh, that's just Dick.'"
- It was apparent that Cheney has prevailed as far back as March 2002, when Bush interrupted Condoleezza Rice's West Wing meeting with three Republican senators to blurt out, "F*ck Saddam, we're taking him out." (The New Republic, Washington Post, In These Times, David Corn, Peter Irons, Michael Isikoff and David Corn, Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein)
- August 27: In Beijing, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage announces the US will support the Chinese government's military actions against the indigeneous Muslim Uighur separatists in western China. Following China's lead, Armitage declares the Uighur separatists to be "terrorists." The Uighurs are actually anti-communist insurgents who have been battling China's Maoist leadership, with little success, for over a generation. Many Uighurs are picked up during "sweeps" by American troops and sent to Guantanamo. (Michael Scheuer)
- August 27: Author Gore Vidal prints an article in the British press accusing the Bush administration of complicity in the 9/11 attacks. Much of the evidence he cites is mentioned within this Web site. The article creates a firestorm of controversy in Europe, but is virtually ignored by the American media. Among other charges, Vidal writes that Osama bin Laden was chosen to be a villian for Americans to focus upon: "Osama was chosen on aesthetic grounds to be the frightening logo for our long-contemplated invasion and conquest of Afghanistan ... [because] the administration is convinced that Americans are so simple-minded that they can deal with no scenario more complex than the venerable, lone, crazed killer (this time with zombie helpers) who does evil just for the fun of it 'cause he hates us because we're rich 'n free 'n he's not." (Observer/9-11 Congress, Observer)
- August 28: The editor of Jane's Intelligence Digest, Alex Standish, says he has seen no evidence whatsoever of a link between Saddam Hussein's government and al-Qaeda. "They are trying to convince us of something that is highly unlikely," Standish says of the Bush and Blair administrations. "If they really believe that Saddam is feeding and sustaining bin Laden's men, then they can't possibly understand the fundamental difference between Iraq and al-Qaeda." A recent Time magazine article makes the administration's case for just such a link: "As the world's two most nefarious villains, bin Laden and Saddam ought to have reasons to work together. They share similar interests -- hatred of Israel, hostility toward the rulers of Saudi Arabia and, especially, enmity toward their common nemesis, the US...." Standish says that the Time article has it completely wrong. "[T]hey are diametrically opposed," he insists. "Absolutely, diametrically opposed. It seems the US State Department and others do not understand the basic, big difference in ideology between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Saddam's Ba'ath Party regime, despite its Islamic trappings, is a deeply secular and fundamentally socialist ideology. It is an Arab nationalist regime, which clearly resents Western influence anywhere in its backyard. But that doesn't mean it shares any of the Islamic extremism of al-Qaeda, because it doesn't."
- According to Standish, Hussein may be seen as mad by many in the West, but he'd have to be literally mad to offer support to bin Laden. "I can't see any reason why Saddam, coming from a Arab nationalist, fairly secular background, would have any interest in supporting or promoting an extremist and militant religious ideology that would ultimately be opposed to everything he has ever stood for." He continues, "You can think whatever you like about Saddam, but he's not so foolish that he would threaten his own region's stability by financing the extreme and violent likes of al-Qaeda. Yet in the face of a complete absence of serious evidence, intelligence officials are suggesting that Saddam might one day provide al-Qaeda with weapons of mass destruction." As for the claims that there are al-Qaeda members inside Iraq with or without Saddam's knowledge -- "possibly," says Standish. "But there are people in Britain who support al-Qaeda. That doesn't mean Tony Blair is in contact with Osama bin Laden." Standish takes the argument further: "[T]here is also much confusion and, I'm afraid, ignorance within US intelligence circles about parts of the Middle East and Central Asia," he says. "There is an invincible ignorance about what al-Qaeda is and how it functions, and a complete misunderstanding of the internal politics of the Islamic world." For Standish, the claims of an Iraqi/al-Qaeda link are further evidence that US policy "is in danger of lumping all anti-Western Muslim movements together, and viewing the Islamic world too simplistically. The Bush administration sees 'good Muslims,' like Jordan and Oman, and it sees 'bad Muslims,' the Syrians, the Iranians and, top of the list, the Iraqis. This black-and-white approach means they miss lots of nuances and end up misunderstanding a region that they are keen to influence."
- America and other Western nations' misreading of al-Qaeda has even helped to fuel support for al-Qaeda across the Islamic world, claims Standish. "The failure of the Western coalition to bring bin Laden to book has fuelled the myth of his invincibility. The coalition in the war against terror made this conflict personal from the outset, presenting it as a battle against one man. In the early days, rather than focusing on the broader al-Qaeda network we made bin Laden public enemy number one -- and because it was personalized it was picked up on in the Islamic world and they now have their latter-day hero. We gave bin Laden what Margaret Thatcher would call the 'oxygen of publicity'." As the editor of an authoritative digest on the ins and outs of modern warfare, Standish is no anti-war activist, but he expresses concern about the drift of US foreign policy. "One of the charges laid against Saddam is that he openly preaches anti-Americanism. Of course Saddam is not a democratically elected leader, but one wonders how many other countries might come in for regime change for not liking America -- even countries with democratically elected leaders, like Venezuela. It sometimes seems as if we're moving towards a new era of interventionism -- and that is potentially dangerous." According to Standish, the desire for regime change could backfire in the end. "In Iraq there is no guarantee that if we topple Saddam we will get the regime we want. There is likely to be great instability -- and possibly even an Iranian-style revolution in Iraq, which would have unquantifiable consequences." (Spiked)
Bush secretly approves invasion of Iraq
- August 29: After months of planning by the Pentagon, Bush secretly approves finalized war plans to invade Iraq. For the next six months, White House and Pentagon officials will deny that any such decision has been made, while secretly readying the military for the March 2003 invasion. (Washington Times/Paul Waldman)
- August 29: Vice President Cheney, in a speech to Korean War veterans in San Antonio, derides the UN's attempt to reintroduce weapons inspectors into Iraq: "A return of inspectors would provide no assurance whatsoever of [Hussein's] compliance with UN resolutions [compelling him to disarm]. On the contrary, there is great danger that it would provide false comfort that Saddam was somehow back in his box." He dismisses the work of UN inspectors between 1991 and 1998 as largely ineffectual, and claims that the US has learned more from Iraqi defectors such as General Hussein Kamel than from the inspections. Former UNSCOM head Rolf Ekeus tartly responds that UN inspectors, not information from defectors, led to the discovery of Iraq's burgeoning biological weapons program in 1995, and that UN inspectors had found and demolished huge stockpiles of chemical weapons as well as technology for uranium enrichment. Ekeus notes correctly that it was the UN inspectors who prevented Iraq from having the very WMDs and programs that the US currently claims Iraq possesses. Nevertheless, Bush officials continue to deride and dismiss the idea that more inspections may prove worthwhile, claiming falsely that such inspections depend solely on Hussein's "good faith" cooperation. David Corn writes, "such dishonest debate conveyed the impression that the only alternative [Bush] was willing to accept (at the end of the day) was war." Cheney also asserts once again that Hussein is developing weapons of mass destruction "for the purpose of inflicting death on a massive scale." His ultimate goal, says Cheney, is "to seek domination of the entire Middle East, to take control of a great portion of the world's energy supplies and to directly threaten America's friends throughout the region and subject the United States or any other nation to nuclear blackmail." Naturally Cheney gives no evidence to support his claims. (USA Today, David Corn)
- Late August: Bill Murray, the CIA station chief in Paris, believes he has a way to avert a war with Iraq. He has been in contact with a secret source on Iraq, a Lebanese journalist and a longtime, reliable asset for French intelligence. The journalist has been tantalizing Murray with information about an unnamed high-ranking Iraqi official who might be willing to work with the CIA. In late August, the journalist finally reveals the official's name: Naji Sabri, Iraq's foreign minister. The journalist and Sabri are lifelong friends, the Lebanese journalist reveals. Sabri hates Saddam Hussein and wants the dictator overthrown. He might be willing to defect, if his family's safety can be guaranteed. Sabri also wants to be involved in any future Iraqi government. But he primarily wants money. The journalist asks for $1 million, most of which will go to Sabri. Murray is wary but interested. Sabri's defection would be a crippling psychological blow to the Hussein regime, but turning him into a CIA informant might be more valuable. He might be able to confirm the agency's speculations about Iraq's WMD programs, or its supposed connections with al-Qaeda. And the journalist had already helped the CIA acquire purchase orders for the infamous aluminum tubes, supposedly for Iraq's nuclear program, and even helped secure two of the tubes themselves.
- Murray agrees to work with Sabri, but insists on meeting with Sabri himself. He gives the journalist a list of questions for Sabri, intended to validate Sabri's willingness to work with the CIA, along with $200,000 in cash. The journalist also notes that Sabri intends to go to New York for the upcoming UN General Assembly meeting. Murray asks the journalist to have Sabri signal his intentions to work with Murray by having Sabri purchase a few high-quality, hand-tailored suits while in New York. If Sabri intends to cooperate with Murray, he can signal his intention by wearing one of the suits. The journalist confirms that Sabri will journey to New York and will wear one of the suits to the UN meeting. Murray begins planning to fly to the US, first to confer with his superiors in Langley, and then to New York to rendezvous with Sabri and recruit the foreign minister as a CIA asset. See items below for further information about Sabri and the CIA. (Michael Isikoff and David Corn)