Monday, October 08, 2007

Bush Vowed in '03 to Defy Public Opinion to 'Get Rid of Saddam,' Secret Transcripts Reveal

President Also Rejected As 'Worthless' a CIA Report That Saddam Had No Stockpile of Weapons of Mass Destruction -- and Misled Congress and the Public by Keeping It Secret, According to a New Book Due Out Next Week

Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein waves to the crowd in this 1998 file photo. President Bush vowed in February 2003 to defy world opinion and go ahead with plans to invade Iraq, according to secret transcripts of a conversation Bush had with Spain's prime minister at Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas that were obtained and published last week by the Madrid daily El Pais. Bush also rejected a top-secret 2002 intelligence report that Saddam had no WMD stockpile -- and ordered it kept secret from Congress and the public in the run-up to the war. (Reuters file photo)

By Skeeter Sanders

As millions of people around the world staged massive anti-war rallies in the streets in February 2003, President Bush vowed to push ahead with plans to invade Iraq and "get rid of" dictator Saddam Hussein "by the end of March" -- no matter what the rest of the world thought, according to secret transcripts obtained and published by a Spanish newspaper.

The president made his decision five months after he rejected as "worthless" a top-secret intelligence report -- presented to him personally by then-CIA Director George Tenet -- that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction, instead relying on contrary information from a source who was later found to be unreliable, according to a new book scheduled to be published next week.

El Pais, the largest-circulation newspaper in Spain, published on September 26 what it said were previously secret transcripts of a conversation between Bush and then-Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar of Spain about the impending U.S. invasion of Iraq, while Anzar was on an official visit to the U.S. in February 2003.

The conversation took place on February 22 as Bush hosted Anzar at his Crawford, Texas ranch. The Madrid daily did not say how it obtained the previously-confidential transcripts, but did report that they were prepared by Javier Ruperez, the Spanish ambassador to the U.S.

Within hours of their publication in El Pais, the Spanish-language transcripts were translated by the English-language service of the French news agency Agence France-Presse and excerpts were posted on the Web site of Editor & Publisher, the American newspaper-industry magazine.

'We'll Be in Baghdad by the End of March,' Says Bush

According to the transcripts, Bush told Anzar that he planned to invade Iraq in March, regardless of whether "there was a United Nations Security Council resolution or not,"referring to a resolution that was being debated at the U.N. which would authorize the use of force to dismantle Saddam's alleged stockpile of weapons of mass destruction.

The resolution was never put to a Security Council vote, however, because of opposition by France and Germany -- with France, one of the council's five permanent members, threatening to veto it. "Saddam Hussein thinks that he's already escaped [judgment]," the transcripts quote Bush as telling Anzar. "[He] thinks that France and Germany have stopped the process of [the world meeting] their responsibilities."

Angered by France's veto threat, Bush made it clear that the U.S. was prepared to act unilaterally. "We have to get rid of Saddam," the transcripts quote the president as telling the visiting Spanish prime minister. "We will be in Baghdad at the end of March."

Bush Brushes Off Massive Global Public Opposition to the War

For his part, Aznar pleaded for patience, according to the transcripts, saying that it was vital to obtain a Security Council resolution, noting that public opinion in Spain was running strongly against the war. "We need for you to help us with our public opinion," he said.

Anzar's worry about public opinion came against the backdrop of massive public anti-war protests taking place in hundreds of cities around the world, with the largest -- a rally in Paris, drawing up to a million people -- taking place on February 15, just a week before Bush and Anzar's meeting in Crawford.

But Bush brushed aside Anzar's concerns. "My patience is exhausted," the president is quoted by the transcripts as saying. "I don't think I can wait beyond the first half of March. . .When history judges us years from now, I don't want people to say that Bush, or Aznar, or [then-Prime Minister Tony] Blair [of Britain] did not face up to their responsibilities."

That comment by Bush prompted Anzar, according to the transcripts, to turn to the president and tell him point-blank, "The thing about you that worries me is your optimism." Bush shot back, "I'm optimistic because I know that I'm certain about this thing. I'm at peace with myself."

Bush had something else on his side: While public opinion in the rest of the world was solidly against the invasion back in February 2003, it was a different story inside the U.S., where Americans -- still in shock, grief and anger after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks -- overwhelmingly backed the president.

But that was then. More than 4 1/2 years later -- and over 3,000 American soldiers killed -- Americans now overwhelmingly oppose the war, with a newly-relased ABC News/Washington Post poll showing a majority of Americans now favoring a reduction in funding for the war.

Bush: Nothing's Going to Stop Me From Going to War

But regardless of what the public thought -- either inside the United States or abroad -- Bush already had made up his mind: He was going to go to war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq and he wasn't going to allow anything to stop him.

Not even intelligence reports that Saddam -- contrary to what the White House had been saying publicly for months before the war began -- did not
possess stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, according to a new book that will be published next week.

Instead, Bush relied on information from an Iraqi chemical engineer who defected to Germany in 1999 and offered what the president believed to be "compelling testimony" of Saddam’s secret program to build WMDs -- including "germ factories" on trucks, "creating a deadly hell on wheels."

CIA Ignored Warnings By German Intelligence That Defector Was a Liar

There was one problem, though: In the final weeks before the Iraq invasion, Germany's top spy agency repeatedly warned the CIA that the Iraqi defector -- whom the CIA code-named "Curveball" -- wasn't a chemical engineer at all.

Rather, the Germans said Curveball was a pathological liar and an alcoholic con artist, whose claim of a massive Iraqi WMD program turned out to be false, according to award-winning Los Angeles Times reporter Bob Drogin, writing in his new book, Curveball: Spies, Lies, and the Con Man Who Caused a War, which will go on sale next Monday.

Drogin writes that the CIA ignored not only German but also French intelligence warnings about the informant’s credibility and allowed Bush to cite Curveball’s unconfirmed claims in his 2003 State of the Union address in January.

CIA Director Tenet also did nothing to prevent then-Secretary of State Colin Powell from highlighting Curveball's now-discredited “eyewitness” account during his presentation to the U.N. Security Council a month later, according to Drogin's book -- a presentation which Powell has since disavowed.

"The entire case [of Iraqi WMDs] is based on a fraud," Drogin's publisher, Random House, said in a written statement. "America’s vast intelligence apparatus conjured up demons that did not exist. And the proof was clear before the war."

Bush Rejected Evidence That Saddam Had No WMDs

Underscoring Drogin's new book, columnist Sidney Blumenthal, in a lengthy article posted September 13 on, reported that Tenet personally briefed Bush in the Oval Office in September 2002 on a top-secret intelligence report, based on documents supplied by a member of Saddam's inner circle, that Saddam's alleged WMD stockpile did not exist.

But Bush dismissed the report as "worthless" and insisted that Curveball's claims were accurate, according to Blumenthal. As it turned out, however, the information from Saddam's foreign minister, Naji Sabri, proved to be "accurate in every detail" -- backed up by Tyler Drumheller, the former CIA chief of clandestine operations for Europe, in an April 2006 interview on CBS's "60 Minutes" and by two other former CIA officials, who spoke with Blumenthal on condition of anonymity.

"We continued to validate him [Sabri] the whole way through," said Drumheller. "The policy was set. The war in Iraq was coming, and they [the Bush White House] were looking for intelligence to fit into the policy, to justify the policy."

Tenet never brought Sabri's documents up with Bush again, Blumenthal wrote. Nor were they included in the National Intelligence Estimate report that was made public in October 2002 -- a report that stated flatly that Iraq possessed WMDs.

The Sabri documents were even kept secret from Congress, Blumenthal writes. "No one in Congress was aware . . .that Saddam had no WMDs as the House of Representatives and the Senate voted, a week after the submission of the [NIE] report, on the resolution authorizing Bush to use military force in Iraq." Nor were they circulated within the CIA among those agents involved in operations to prove whether Saddam had WMDs.

The bottom line is that the justification for the war in Iraq was based on a pack of lies. Hobbled by internal and external turf battles and hypnotized by pet theories, the CIA -- including Tenet, whose reputation suffers another black eye in Drogin's book -- ignored skeptics and fell in love with a dubious source who told the agency and the White House what they wanted to hear.

Instead of connecting the dots, the Bush White House, the CIA and their allies made up the dots.

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Volume II, Number 51
Copyright 2007, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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