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Ari Fleischer denies Bush administration lied about Iraq on 16th anniversary of invasion

Wednesday marked the 16th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The 2003 military action, authorized by President George W. Bush and supposedly predicated on the belief that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, ultimately resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, the displacement of millions more, and the rise of ISIS. […]

Wednesday marked the 16th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The 2003 military action, authorized by President George W. Bush and supposedly predicated on the belief that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, ultimately resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, the displacement of millions more, and the rise of ISIS.

Officials later said they initially had concerns regarding the intelligence used to justify the invasion, as well as the administration’s brash decision to move forward with the campaign regardless of that apprehension. A viral catchphrase, “Bush lied, people died,” was born after the public began questioning just how forthcoming the president and his cabinet members had been.

But in a series of tweets this week, former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer pushed back, claiming the Bush administration did not mislead the public during the buildup to the Iraq War, but was the victim of a “major intelligence failure.”

“There is a myth about the war that I have been meaning to set straight for years. After no WMDs were found, the left claimed ‘Bush lied. People died.’ This accusation itself is a lie. It’s time to put it to rest,” Fleischer tweeted.

He continued, “The fact is that President Bush (and I as press secretary) faithfully and accurately reported to the public what the intelligence community concluded. The CIA, along with the intelligence services of Egypt, France, Israel and others concluded that Saddam had WMD. We all turned out to be wrong. That is very different from lying.”

In a point by point thread, the former press secretary attempted to back up his claim, noting that a bipartisan panel of experts later concluded a “major intelligence failure” had occurred.

Fleischer did not explain why, after concerns about that intelligence were flagged for the administration, the president decided to move ahead with the invasion anyway.

As Mother Jones noted, both Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney claimed in 2002 that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s government was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction prior to the invasion.

However, in a February 2004 speech, almost a year after the U.S. military invaded Iraq, then-CIA director George Tenet explained that intelligence officials had initially informed the administration that Iraq did not have a nuclear weapon “and probably would have been unable to make one until 2007 to 2009.”

“Keep in mind that no intelligence agency thought that Iraq’s efforts had progressed to the point of building an enrichment facility or making fissile material. We said that such activities were a few years away,” Tenet said. “…We believe that Iraq had lethal biological weapons agents… but we said we had no specific information on the types or quantities of weapons, agent or stockpiles at Baghdad’s disposal.”

Additionally, chemical weapons that were discovered in Iraq after the invasion were found to have been produced decades earlier. “Saddam didn’t know he had it,” Charles Duelfer, former head of the Iraq Survey Group that searched for weapons of mass destruction during the Iraq War, told The Intercept in 2015. “This is stuff Iraqi leaders did not know was left lying around. It was not a militarily significant capability that they were, as a matter of national policy, hiding.”

A Senate Intelligence Committee investigation backed by multiple Republicans later determined that “the Administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent.”

Undeterred, Fleischer claimed Wednesday that Bush’s administration had been vindicated by a report that was written “after the war” in 2005 — even though U.S. troops remained in Iraq through 2011.

Notably, the Robb-Silberman report, which Fleischer proceeded to quote over several tweets, stated that the commission was “not authorized to investigate how policymakers used the intelligence assessments they received from the Intelligence Community.” Rather, the commission was solely instructed to examine the intelligence community’s findings.

Fleischer wrapped up his revisionist history by referring to the administration’s lies as a “liberal myth.”

In addition to their many false claims about weapons of mass destruction, Bush’s White House also attempted to link Hussein’s government to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 through a supposed meeting between 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence officer. However, the CIA and FBI — and later the 9/11 Commission — had already determined that the meeting never occurred when the White House made those claims.

The 9/11 Commission revealed later that Bush’s national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, had received a memo from counter-terrorism adviser Richard Clarke’s staff one week after the attacks. The memo stated there was no “compelling case” that Iraq had planned or perpetrated the attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

Bush’s administration also claimed Hussein procured aluminum tubes “only really suited for nuclear weapons programs.” The State and Energy Departments disagreed with that conclusion at the time, but their dissents were kept from the public until 2015.

Members of the Bush administration have spoken out over the years about the days leading up to the invasion.

Michael Morell, a former CIA analyst who served as Bush’s intelligence briefer during the buildup to the invasion of Iraq, has since stated that the administration misrepresented intelligence while advocating for military action. And former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill has said that removing Hussein from power was discussed during the first meeting of Bush’s National Security Council in early 2001.

“From the very beginning, there was a conviction that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go,” O’Neill said in an interview with CBS’ 60 Minutes in 2004. “[It was] all about finding a way to do it.”


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