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Context of 'January 19, 2003: Top Bush Officials Appear to Suggest that War with Iraq Might be Avoided'

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In Paris, Defense Department officials (including either Harold Rhode or Larry Franklin) meet with Iranian officials and Manucher Ghorbanifar, an Iranian arms trader who had been a central figure in the Iran-Contra affair. The meeting reportedly resulted from “an unplanned, unscheduled encounter” that took place without White House approval. An earlier meeting involving several of the same figures had taken place seven months earlier (See December 9, 2001). (Graham and Slevin 8/9/2003; Risen 12/7/2003) When Secretary of State Colin Powell learns of the meeting, he complains directly to Condoleezza Rice and the office of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. (Royce and Phelps 8/9/2003; Graham and Slevin 8/9/2003)

Top Bush administration officials appear to suggest that war can be avoided if Saddam Hussein steps down. Donald Rumsfeld, speaking on ABC’s This Week says, “I… personally would recommend that some provision be made so that the senior leadership in that country and their families could be provided haven in some other country, and I think that that would be a fair trade to avoid a war.” He also says that if Saddam goes into exile he might be granted immunity from prosecution for war crimes. (Rumsfeld 1/19/2003) Similarly, Colin Powell says on CNN, “I think the Iraqi people would be a lot better off, and this whole situation would be resolved, if Saddam Hussein… his sons and the top leadership of the regime would leave.” (Powell 1/19/2003) It is not clear, however, if Rumsfeld and Powell’s comments are sincere, or if they are just trying to appear as though they are providing Saddam Hussein with an alternative to military confrontation. Their comments are seemingly contradicted by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice who says on NBC’s Meet the Press, “I… think that it is unlikely that this man is going to come down in any other way than to be forced.” (Kessler 1/20/2003; Weisman 1/20/2003)

According to a unnamed aide to Secretary of State Colin Powell, at “various times throughout this period,” Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld relay the Red Cross’ concerns about the Coalition’s treatment of prisoners directly to President Bush. (Matthews 5/12/2004)

CIA officials ask for reauthorization of the controversial harsh interrogation methods (see April 2002 and After and August 1, 2002) that had been withdrawn (see December 2003-June 2004) after the revelation of abuse and torture at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison (see November 5, 2003). The CIA has captured a new al-Qaeda suspect in Asia, and top agency officials ask the National Security Council Principals Committee—Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, CIA Director George Tenet, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Attorney General John Ashcroft—for permission to use extreme methods of interrogation against the new detainee. Rice, who chairs the Principals Committee, says: “This is your baby. Go do it.” (Greenburg, Rosenberg, and de Vogue 4/9/2008) The name of the new suspect captured in Asia is not mentioned, but Hambali is captured in Thailand in August 2003 (see August 12, 2003), and he is the only prominent al-Qaeda figure arrested that summer. He is considered one of al-Qaeda’s most important leaders. There are some reports that he is one of only about four prisoners directly waterboarded by the US (see Shortly After August 12, 2003).


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