Not Only Did Bush Lie, But Fred Hiatt Lied, Too

Someone should tell Fred Hiatt that supporting your position by omitting crucial parts that undercut your point is lying. That’s what Hiatt did in this editorial defending the integrity of the Bush administration’s use of prewar intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq.

Hiatt writes:

There’s no question that the administration, and particularly Vice President Cheney, spoke with too much certainty at times and failed to anticipate or prepare the American people for the enormous undertaking in Iraq.

But dive into Rockefeller’s report, in search of where exactly President Bush lied about what his intelligence agencies were telling him about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, and you may be surprised by what you find.

On Iraq’s nuclear weapons program? The president’s statements “were generally substantiated by intelligence community estimates.”

On biological weapons, production capability and those infamous mobile laboratories? The president’s statements “were substantiated by intelligence information.”

On chemical weapons, then? “Substantiated by intelligence information.”

On weapons of mass destruction overall (a separate section of the intelligence committee report)? “Generally substantiated by intelligence information.” Delivery vehicles such as ballistic missiles? “Generally substantiated by available intelligence.” Unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to deliver WMDs? “Generally substantiated by intelligence information.”

I decided to look up the Rockefeller report and find those quotes. Here is the one about Saddam Hussein’s nuclear weapons program (substantive omission bolded):

Statements by the President, Vice President, Secretary of State and the National Security Advisor regarding a possible Iraqi nuclear weapons program were generally substantiated by intelligence community estimates, but did not convey the substantial disagreements that existed in the intelligence community.

Note also that Hiatt did not use ellipses in his quotes (any of them) to indicate that he had left out part of the quote.

On biological weapons, the report says that statements made by the president and others “were substantiated by intelligence information” and does not mention any substantive disagreements within the intelligence community. However, Hiatt omits the information, discussed in detail by the report authors, that much of the intelligence about Iraq’s biological weapons capacity was based on the testimony of three Iraqi defectors, two of whom were exposed as frauds before March 19, 2003. Most infamously, Curveball was the source for the “mobile biological weapons labs” claim that was brought up in numerous speeches by Bush administration officials — including Bush’s State of the Union address.

But Hiatt only wrote, “On biological weapons, production capability and those infamous mobile laboratories? The president’s statements were substantiated by intelligence information.’ ” — leaving out any mention of Curveball, or the fact that the existence of “those infamous mobile laboratories” was premised on the testimony of a mentally unstable liar.

On chemical weapons, Hiatt again: “On chemical weapons, then? ‘Substantiated by intelligence information.'” That’s what he picks out from the report — “Substantiated by intelligence information.” Here’s what he left out:

… Statements by the President and Vice-President prior to the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate regarding Iraq’s chemical weapons production capability and activities did not reflect the intelligence community’s uncertainties as to whether such production was ongoing.

The intelligence community assessed that Saddam Hussein wanted to have chemical weapons production capability and that Iraq was seeking to hide such capability in its dual use chemical industry. Intelligence assessments, especially prior to the October 2002 NIE, clearly stated that analysts could not confirm that production was ongoing.

The October 2002 NIE “was more assertive” in its judgments about Iraq’s chemical weapons program than assessments by the intelligence community had been before that time — but Pres. Bush’s public statements before October 2002 did not reflect that earlier lack of certainty.

Fred Hiatt quotes only the snippet, “substantiated by intelligence information” and ignores the report’s finding that Pres. Bush’s statements about Iraq’s chemical weapons capacity before October 2002 were not entirely substantiated by the intelligence information at that time.

Finally, on weapons of mass destruction, Hiatt writes:

On weapons of mass destruction overall (a separate section of the intelligence committee report)? “Generally substantiated by intelligence information.” Delivery vehicles such as ballistic missiles? “Generally substantiated by available intelligence.” Unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to deliver WMDs? “Generally substantiated by intelligence information.”

Here is what the report concluded:

Statements … regarding Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction were generally substantiated by intelligence information, though many statements made regarding ongoing production prior to late 2002 reflected a higher level of certainty than the intelligence judgments themselves.

The report then gives several examples of statements made by administration officials that did not convey the lack of certainty that existed in the intelligence community at that time. In the report, the entire paragraph above is bolded. I have retained the bolding beginning with “though many statements…” to indicate the portion Hiatt decided not to include in his op-ed.

At the beginning of the Rockefeller report, there is this statement:

In addition to examining the question of whether public statements were substantiated by the underlying intelligence, the Committee’s review also addressed the extent to which statements were incomplete and where relevant Intelligence Community assessments were not made part of the public discourse. A public statement that selectively uses only that intelligence that supports a particular policy position while ignoring or disregarding intelligence that either weakens or contradicts the position may be accurate on its face but present a slanted picture nonetheless.

In repeating that one phrase “substantiated by intelligence information,” and ignoring everything else in the report that qualified, weakened, or contradicted his certainty that Pres. Bush was only acting in accordance with the information he was given, Hiatt does exactly what Bush did when he looked at that intelligence: He saw only what he wanted to see.

Hiatt titles his piece, ” ‘Bush Lied?’ If Only It Were That Simple.” Looks like Hiatt is the one who is inappropriately simplifying.

6 Responses to “Not Only Did Bush Lie, But Fred Hiatt Lied, Too”

  1. Kilo says:

    You might also want to note that on statements about Iraq-Al Qaeda ties these were concluded to be either unsubstantiated by available intelligence or directly contradicted by it.

    Notably the claim that Saddam might give WMDs to terrorists was directly contradicted by the intel.
    This being the case for why Iraq was at all mentioned in any context in relation to the war on terrorism.

  2. David says:

    At least in the examples you cite, Hiatt didn’t omit text from within the middle of a quote, which is where the use of ellipses would be appropriate. That’s why they aren’t included.

    And while the rest of the report (including both the parts you add and, I should note, those Hiatt clearly references elsewhere in his article) are critical of the president, nothing he omitted or you added contradicts the point he is making, which is that the report does not support the idea that Bush lied–said things he believed were untrue. If you disagree, please quote the where the report demonstrates otherwise.

    On the contrary, as Hiatt notes, the record suggests that Rockefeller himself made statements that not only “did not convey the substantial disagreements that existed in the intelligence community,” he specifically stated we should not wait around to gather more. Read the Rockefeller quote again: “To insist on further evidence could put some of our fellow Americans at risk. Can we afford to take that chance? I do not think we can.”

    Finally, even if your contention that the president “saw only what he wanted to see” is accurate, that appears to be a widespread affliction. Not only do Republicans assert that “they were cut out of the report’s preparation, allowing for a great deal of skewing and partisanship”–a serious charge, if true–but the fact that you fail to refute yet refuse to acknowledge Hiatt’s basic point suggests you are doing the exact same thing.

    Look, I sympathize, I really do. It’s hard to let go of cherished notions when they prove to be mistaken, especially when they have been passionately declared in public. I suspect you’re secure enough to do it, though, and you readers will respect you for you intellectually honesty. So admit it. You think the president was more sure of himself than he should have been, and was wrong, but he didn’t lie, did he?

  3. Kathy says:

    David, you can parse words as much as you want, and debate the meaning of “lie,” and ask whether it’s really a lie if the person believes the false statements he’s making are the truth, but it doesn’t change reality. Pres. Bush and other senior officials in his administration consistently ignored dissenting views in the intelligence community, conveyed certainty about intelligence about which there was no certainty in the intelligence community, and selectively chose to emphasize intelligence that said what they wanted it to say while ignoring intelligence that did not.

    Is your point that Bush and his senior staff did not know they were doing this? If so, then you are suggesting Bush and his senior staff are either profoundly stupid or completely incompetent.

    When someone is more sure of himself than he should have been *because conflicting, inconsistent, and contradictory information and viewpoints were all around him,* and he chose to ignore them, that is called lying.

    And I have not even touched on the dissenting views outside of the administration, among various experts and knowledgeable observers. Scott Ritter, for example, and he is but one of many.

  4. Don Longava says:

    Kathy and David,

    I agree with Kathy, Fred Hiatt did not accurately quote the SSCI findings. Clearly, he is spinning the conclusions to support the title of his article “‘Bush Lied?”. David writes the supporting arguments for Hiatt and Bush. We can go back and forth on many points on the pre and post Iraq war intelligence and come to the conclusion which best fits us.

    Like Kathy, I believe Bush/Cheney knowingly lied the US into the disaster in Iraq. Can we prove it?…no. The SSCI, ISG and NIE reports and other documents are open to interpretations even though they are presented as facts. HOWEVER, what can we say about Bush/Cheney and this administration on the decision to go to war?

    They are extremely poor decision makers! When you read the recent SSCI report and compare it to the hastily put together 2002 NIE, you come away astounded. The leader of the free world, the most powerful man in the world, the president of the world’s only super power did not make the right decision to go to this war. He could not have been sure of himself, because he did NOT question the dissenting views. The CEO of our country must make careful and informed decisions, especially when they concern life and death. Bush did not, and you only need reference pages 24 and 84 of the October 2002 NIE. These pages reference the State Departments Bureau of Intellegence and Research (INR) alternative views that available intelligence did “not add up to a compelling case for reconstitution” of nuclear weapons and that the “claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa are, in INR’s assessment, highly dubious.”

    I will expect my president to question a report that contains these cautions. Bush blew it! Now, the talking point for David will be that Bush received a summary of the NIE. Be realistic, if he only read the summary, he was NOT doing his job as going to war must be the most important decision he, or any president will would ever make. HE SHOULD HAVE READ THE ENTIRE 2002 NIE, should have read the INR footnotes, and asked for clarification before his decision. That is why I believe he and his neo-conservative staff had already decided on this mistake.

    Poor and bad decisions have consequences. Bush is smiling his way into retirement and the speaking circuit with little consequence for his horrible decisions. Censure? Impeachment?

    Kathy is right, he did lie and when you read the NIE and SSCI reports, the more absurd Hiatt comments become! Now on to reading Kucinich’s 35 Articles of Impeachment of George Bush.


  5. George Fuget says:

    All of the folks commenting about this Hiatt opinion piece write as though the had an education.
    In my opinion that education must have been severely lacking in history. And an understanding of how intelligence estimates work. Intelligence estimates are just that, estimates. There are always going to be dissenting views in any intelligence estimate that is worthwhile. Someone will later be proved wrong. Where was the Japanese fleet on Dec 6, 1941? Somebody lied?
    Grow up folks!

  6. JHB says:


    Of course some dissenting views on intelligence will be proven right or wrong.

    But if you’re going to analogize with “Where was the Japanese fleet on Dec 6”, then for “level of wrongness” Bush & Co. were operating under the equivalent of “We know **exactly** where their fleet is, it’s a thousand miles from Pearl, and they don’t even have carriers!”, and offering some photos of fishing boats in Suruga Bay as ironclad proof.

    And as pointed out over on Making Light (,
    Rockefeller’s committee only examined five of Bush’s speeches, not the total body of the administration’s statements on these issues, some of which were pretty specific, far beyond what could have been considered reliable intelligence.


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