Remarks by U.S. Senator
Robert C. Byrd
Road to Coverup Is the Road to Ruin"
Mr. President, last
fall, the White House released a national security strategy
that called for an end to the doctrines of deterrence and
containment that have been a hallmark of American foreign
policy for more than half a century.
This new national security strategy is based
upon pre-emptive war against those who might threaten our
Such a strategy of striking first against
possible dangers is heavily reliant upon interpretation
of accurate and timely intelligence. If we are going to
hit first, based on perceived dangers, the perceptions had
better be accurate. If our intelligence is faulty, we
may launch pre-emptive wars against countries that do not pose
a real threat against us. Or we may overlook countries
that do pose real threats to our security, allowing us no
chance to pursue diplomatic solutions to stop a crisis before
it escalates to war. In either case lives could be
needlessly lost. In other words, we had better be
certain that we can discern the imminent threats from the
Ninety-six days ago [as of June 24], President
Bush announced that he had initiated a war to "disarm
Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave
danger." The President told the world: "Our
nation enters this conflict reluctantly -- yet, our purpose is
sure. The people of the United States and our friends and
allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that
threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder."
[Address to the Nation, 3/19/03]
The President has since announced that major
combat operations concluded on May 1. He said: "Major
combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of
Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed."
Since then, the United States has been recognized by the
international community as the occupying power in Iraq.
And yet, we have not found any evidence that would confirm the
officially stated reason that our country was sent to war;
namely, that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction constituted a
grave threat to the United States.
We have heard a lot about revisionist history
from the White House of late in answer to those who question
whether there was a real threat from Iraq. But, it is
the President who appears to me to be intent on revising
history. There is an abundance of clear and
unmistakable evidence that the Administration sought to
portray Iraq as a direct and deadly threat to the American
people. But there is a great difference between the
hand-picked intelligence that was presented by the
Administration to Congress and the American people when
compared against what we have actually discovered in Iraq.
This Congress and the people who sent us here are entitled to
an explanation from the Administration.
On January 28, 2003, President Bush said in
his State of the Union Address: "The British government
has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant
quantities of uranium from Africa." [State of the
Union, 1/28/03, pg. 7] Yet, according to news reports, the CIA
knew that this claim was false as early as March 2002.
In addition, the International Atomic Energy Agency has since
discredited this allegation.
On February 5, Secretary of State Colin Powell
told the United Nations Security Council: "Our
conservative estimate is that Iraq today has a stockpile of
between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons agent. That
is enough to fill 16,000 battlefield rockets."
[Remarks to UN Security Council, 2/5/03, pg. 12] The truth is,
to date we have not found any of this material, nor those
thousands of rockets loaded with chemical weapons.
On February 8, President Bush told the nation:
"We have sources that tell us that Saddam Hussein
recently authorized Iraqi field commanders to use chemical
weapons – the very weapons the dictator tells us he does not
have." [Radio Address, 2/8/03] Mr. President, we
are all relieved that such weapons were not used, but it has
not yet been explained why the Iraqi army did not use them.
Did the Iraqi army flee their positions before chemical
weapons could be used? If so, why were the weapons not left
behind? Or is it that the army was never issued chemical
weapons? We need answers.
On March 16, the Sunday before the war began,
in an interview with Tim Russert, Vice President Cheney said
that Iraqis want "to get rid of Saddam Hussein and they
will welcome as liberators the United States when we come to
do that." He added, "...the vast majority of
them would turn [Saddam Hussein] in in a minute if, in fact,
they thought they could do so safely." [Meet
the Press, 3/16/03, pg. 6] But in fact,
Mr. President, today Iraqi cities remain in disorder, our
troops are under attack, our occupation government lives and
works in fortified compounds, and we are still trying to
determine the fate of the ousted, murderous dictator.
On March 30, Secretary of Defense Donald
Rumsfeld, during the height of the war, said of the search for
weapons of mass destruction: "We know where they are.
They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west,
south, and north somewhat." [This Week,
3/30/03, pg. 8] But Baghdad fell to our troops on April 9, and
Tikrit on April 14, and the intelligence Secretary Rumsfeld
spoke about has not led us to any weapons of mass destruction.
Whether or not intelligence reports were bent,
stretched, or massaged to make Iraq look like an imminent
threat to the United States, it is clear that the
Administration's rhetoric played upon the well-founded fear of
the American public about future acts of terrorism. But,
upon close examination, many of these statements have nothing
to do with intelligence, because they are at root just sound
bites based on conjecture. They are designed to prey on
The face of Osama bin Laden morphed into that
of Saddam Hussein. President Bush carefully blurred
these images in his State of the Union Address. Listen
to this quote from his State of the Union Address:
"Imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other
plans – this time armed by Saddam Hussein. It would
take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this
country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever
known." [State of the Union, 1/28/03, pg 7] Judging
by this speech, not only is the President confusing al Qaeda
and Iraq, but he also appears to give a vote of no-confidence
to our homeland security efforts. Isn't the White House,
the brains behind the Department of Homeland Security?
Isn't the Administration supposed to be stopping those vials,
canisters, and crates from entering our country, rather than
trying to scare our fellow citizens half to death about them?
Not only did the Administration warn about
more hijackers carrying deadly chemicals, the White House even
went so far as to suggest that the time it would take for U.N.
inspectors to find solid, 'smoking gun' evidence of Saddam's
illegal weapons would put the U.S. at greater risk of a
nuclear attack from Iraq. National Security Advisor
Condoleeza Rice was quoted as saying on September 9, 2002, by
the Los Angeles Times, "We don't
want the 'smoking gun' to be a mushroom cloud." [Los
Angeles Times, "Threat by Iraq Grows, U.S.
Says," 9/9/02] Talk about hype! Mushroom clouds?
Where is the evidence for this? There isn't any.
On September 26, 2002, just two weeks before
Congress voted on a resolution to allow the President to
invade Iraq, and six weeks before the mid-term elections,
President Bush himself built the case that Iraq was plotting
to attack the United States. After meeting with members
of Congress on that date, the President said: "The danger
to our country is grave. The danger to our country is
growing. The Iraqi regime possesses biological and
chemical weapons.... The regime is seeking a nuclear bomb, and
with fissile material, could build one within a year."
These are the President's words. He said
that Saddam Hussein is "seeking a nuclear bomb."
Have we found any evidence to date of this chilling
But, President Bush continued on that autumn
day: "The dangers we face will only worsen from
month to month and from year to year. To ignore these
threats is to encourage them. And when they have fully
materialized it may be too late to protect ourselves and our
friends and our allies. By then the Iraqi dictator would
have the means to terrorize and dominate the region.
Each passing day could be the one on which the Iraqi regime
gives anthrax or VX – nerve gas – or some day a nuclear
weapon to a terrorist ally." [Rose Garden Remarks,
And yet, seven weeks after declaring victory
in the war against Iraq, we have seen nary a shred of evidence
to support his claims of grave dangers, chemical weapons,
links to al Qaeda, or nuclear weapons.
Just days before a vote on a resolution that
handed the President unprecedented war powers, President Bush
stepped up the scare tactics. On October 7, just four
days before the October 11 vote in the Senate on the war
resolution, the President stated: "We know that Iraq and
the al Qaeda terrorist network share a common enemy – the
United States of America. We know that Iraq and al Qaeda
have had high-level contacts that go back a decade."
President Bush continued: "We've learned that Iraq has
trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly
gasses.... Alliance with terrorists could allow the Iraqi
regime to attack America without leaving any
President Bush also elaborated on claims of
Iraq's nuclear program when he said: "The evidence
indicates that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons
program. Saddam Hussein has held numerous meetings with
Iraqi nuclear scientists, a group he calls his 'nuclear
mujahideen' - his nuclear holy warriors.... If the Iraqi
regime is able to produce, buy, or steal an amount of highly
enriched uranium a little larger than a single softball, it
could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year."
[Cincinnati Museum Center, 10/7/02, pg. 3-4]
This is the kind of pumped up intelligence and
outrageous rhetoric that were given to the American people to
justify war with Iraq. This is the same kind of hyped
evidence that was given to Congress to sway its vote for war
on October 11, 2002.
We hear some voices say, but why should we
care? After all, the United States won the war, didn't
it? Saddam Hussein is no more; he is either dead or on
the run. What does it matter if reality does not reveal
the same grim picture that was so carefully painted before the
war? So what if the menacing characterizations that
conjured up visions of mushroom clouds and American cities
threatened with deadly germs and chemicals were overdone? So
Mr. President, our sons and daughters who
serve in uniform answered a call to duty. They were sent
to the hot sands of the Middle East to fight in a war that has
already cost the lives of 194 Americans, thousands of innocent
civilians, and unknown numbers of Iraqi soldiers. Our
troops are still at risk. Hardly a day goes by that
there is not another attack on the troops who are trying to
restore order to a country teetering on the brink of anarchy.
When are they coming home?
The President told the American people that we
were compelled to go to war to secure our country from a grave
threat. Are we any safer today than we were on March 18,
2003? Our nation has been committed to rebuilding a
country ravaged by war and tyranny, and the cost of that task
is being paid in blood and treasure every day.
It is in the compelling national interest to
examine what we were told about the threat from Iraq. It
is in the compelling national interest to know if the
intelligence was faulty. It is in the compelling
national interest to know if the intelligence was distorted.
Mr. President, Congress must face this issue
squarely. Congress should begin immediately an
investigation into the intelligence that was presented to the
American people about the pre-war estimates of Saddam's
weapons of mass destruction and the way in which that
intelligence might have been misused. This is no time
for a timid Congress. We have a responsibility to act in the
national interest and protect the American people. We
must get to the bottom of this matter.
Although some timorous steps have been taken
in the past few days to begin a review of this intelligence
– I must watch my terms carefully, for I may be tempted to
use the words "investigation" or "inquiry"
to describe this review, and those are terms which I am told
are not supposed to be used – the proposed measures appear
to fall short of what the situation requires. We are
already shading our terms about how to describe the proposed
review of intelligence: cherry-picking words to give the
American people the impression that the government is fully in
control of the situation, and that there is no reason to ask
tough questions. This is the same problem that got us
into this controversy about slanted intelligence reports.
Word games. Lots and lots of word games.
Well, Mr. President, this is no game.
For the first time in our history, the United States has gone
to war because of intelligence reports claiming that a country
posed a threat to our nation. Congress should not be
content to use standard operating procedures to look into this
extraordinary matter. We should accept no substitute for
a full, bipartisan investigation by Congress into the issue of
our pre-war intelligence on the threat from Iraq and its use.
The purpose of such an investigation is not to
play pre-election year politics, nor is it to engage in what
some might call "revisionist history." Rather
it is to get at the truth. The longer questions are
allowed to fester about what our intelligence knew about Iraq,
and when they knew it, the greater the risk that the people
– the American people whom we are elected to serve – will
lose confidence in our government.
This looming crisis of trust is not limited to
the public. Many of my colleagues were willing to trust
the Administration and vote to authorize war against Iraq.
Many members of this body trusted so much that they gave the
President sweeping authority to commence war. As
President Reagan famously said, "Trust, but verify."
Despite my opposition, the Senate voted to blindly trust the
President with unprecedented power to declare war. While
the reconstruction continues, so do the questions, and it is
time to verify.
I have served the people of West Virginia in
Congress for half a century. I have witnessed deceit and
scandal, cover up and aftermath. I have seen Presidents
of both parties who once enjoyed great popularity among the
people leave office in disgrace because they misled the
American people. I say to this Administration: do
not circle the wagons. Do not discourage the seeking of
truth in these matters.
Mr. President, the American people have
questions that need to be answered about why we went to war
with Iraq. To attempt to deny the relevance of these
questions is to trivialize the people's trust.
The business of intelligence is secretive by
necessity, but our government is open by design. We must
be straight with the American people. Congress has the
obligation to investigate the use of intelligence information
by the Administration, in the open, so that the American
people can see that those who exercise power, especially the
awesome power of preemptive war, must be held accountable.
We must not go down the road of cover-up. That is the
road to ruin.