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Events Leading Up to the 2003 Invasion of Iraq

Imminent Threat Allegations - Quotes

Project: Events Leading Up to the 2003 Invasion of Iraq
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Secretary of State Colin Powell, in testimony before the Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee, says that Saddam Hussein has been effectively contained by sanctions. He says, “The sanctions… have succeeded over the last 10 years, not in deterring him from moving in that direction, but from actually being able to move in that direction. The Iraqi regime militarily remains fairly weak. It doesn’t have the capacity it had 10 or 12 years ago. It has been contained. And even though we have no doubt in our mind that the Iraqi regime is pursuing programs to develop weapons of mass destruction—chemical, biological and nuclear—I think the best intelligence estimates suggest that they have not been terribly successful. There’s no question that they have some stockpiles of some of these sorts of weapons still under their control, but they have not been able to break out, they have not been able to come out with the capacity to deliver these kinds of systems or to actually have these kinds of systems that is much beyond where they were 10 years ago. So containment, using this arms control sanctions regime, I think has been reasonably successful. We have not been able to get the inspectors back in, though, to verify that, and we have not been able to get the inspectors in to pull up anything that might be left there. So we have to continue to view this regime with the greatest suspicion, attribute to them the most negative motives, which is quite well-deserved with this particular regime, and roll the sanctions over, and roll them over in a way where the arms control sanctions really go after their intended targets—weapons of mass destruction—and not go after civilian goods or civilian commodities that we really shouldn’t be going after, just let that go to the Iraqi people.” [US Congress, 5/15/2001; Mirror, 9/22/2003]

Entity Tags: Colin Powell

Category Tags: Alleged WMDs, Chemical & Bio Weapons Allegations, Imminent Threat Allegations

Uzi Arad.Uzi Arad. [Source: Jerusalem Post]Israeli officials tell Bush officials shortly after the president’s “axis of evil” speech (see January 29, 2002) that of the three countries on the list—Iran, Iraq, and North Korea—Iraq is a distant third as far as posing any threat to its neighbors. But Bush officials have a plan. According to former Mossad director of intelligence Uzi Arad, who served as Benjamin Netanyahu’s foreign policy advisor, those officials respond, “Let’s do first things first. Once we do Iraq, we’ll have a military presence in Iraq, which would enable us to handle the Iranians from closer quarters, would give us more leverage.” (Netanyahu, in the years following his term as Israel’s prime minister, will become an outspoken advocate for military strikes against Iran—see November 17, 2006). [Vanity Fair, 3/2007]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Benjamin Netanyahu, Bush administration (43), Israel Institute for Intelligence and Special Tasks (Mossad), Uzi Arad

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Category Tags: Motives, The Decision to Invade, Imminent Threat Allegations

Vice Admiral Thomas R. Wilson, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, submits a written testimony, titled Global Threats and Challenges, to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. He says that the agency’s “near-term concerns” include another terrorist attack, a major war between India and Pakistan; the worsening of civil unrest within Pakistan; and violence against US interests in Colombia, the Philippines, and Indonesia. Notably, he does not include Iraq as a near-term concern. Rather, in the section devoted to Iraq, he writes: “The on-going UN sanctions and US military presence continue to be the keys to restraining Saddam’s ambitions. Indeed, years of UN sanctions, embargoes, and inspections, combined with US and Coalition military actions, have significantly degraded Iraq’s military capabilities. Saddam’s military forces are much smaller and weaker than those he had in 1991. Manpower and equipment shortages, a problematic logistics system, and fragile military morale remain major shortcomings. Saddam’s paranoia and lack of trust—and related oppression and mistreatment—extend to the military, and are a drain on military effectiveness. Nevertheless, Iraq’s ground forces continue to be one of the most formidable within the region. They can move rapidly and pose a threat to Iraq’s neighbors. Baghdad’s air and air defense forces retain only a marginal defensive capability. The Air Force cannot effectively project air power outside Iraq’s borders. Still, Saddam continues to threaten Coalition forces in the No Fly Zones, and remains committed to interfering with Coalition military operations monitoring his military activities.” [US Congress, 2/6/2001]

Entity Tags: Thomas Wilson

Category Tags: Imminent Threat Allegations

Vice Admiral Thomas R. Wilson, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, submits a written testimony, titled Global Threats and Challenges, to the Senate Armed Services Committee. It is the same testimony that he submitted to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence six weeks earlier describing Saddam Hussein’s military ambitions as being effectively contained by UN sanctions (see February 6, 2002 for a fuller description of this testimony). [US Congress, 3/19/2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Thomas Wilson

Category Tags: Imminent Threat Allegations

In an interview broadcast by BBC Radio 4’s Today Program, Condoleezza Rice says: “This is an evil man who, left to his own devices, will wreak havoc again on his own population, his neighbors and, if he gets weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them, on all of us. There is a very powerful moral case for regime change. We certainly do not have the luxury of doing nothing…. Clearly, if Saddam Hussein is left in power doing the things that he is doing now, this is a threat that will emerge, and emerge in a very big way…. The case for regime change is very strong. This is a regime that we know has twice tried and come closer than we thought at the time to acquiring nuclear weapons. He has used chemical weapons against his own people and against his neighbors, he has invaded his neighbors, he has killed thousands of his own people. He shoots at our planes, our airplanes, in the no-fly zones where we are trying to enforce UN security resolutions…. History is littered with cases of inaction that led to very grave consequences for the world. We just have to look back and ask how many dictators who ended up being a tremendous global threat and killing thousands and, indeed, millions of people, should we have stopped in their tracks.” [Reuters, 8/15/2002; Guardian, 8/15/2002; Daily Telegraph, 8/16/2002; London Times, 8/16/2002] Interestingly, Rice does not say Iraq has chemical, biological or nuclear arms. Instead, she speaks of the danger Saddam would pose, “if he gets weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them.” [USA Today, 8/15/2002]

Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice, Saddam Hussein

Category Tags: Politicization of Intelligence, Propaganda, The Decision to Invade, Imminent Threat Allegations

During an interview with Fox News, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld mocks calls from Washington, Europe and the Arab world demanding that the Bush administration show them evidence to substantiate the hawk’s claim that Saddam Hussein is a threat to the US and its allies. “Think of the prelude to World War Two,” the Defense Secretary says. “Think of all the countries that said, well, we don’t have enough evidence. I mean, Mein Kampf had been written. Hitler had indicated what he intended to do. Maybe he won’t attack us. Maybe he won’t do this or that. Well, there were millions of people dead because of the miscalculations. The people who argued for waiting for more evidence have to ask themselves how they are going to feel at that point where another event occurs.” [Daily Telegraph, 8/21/2002; Guardian, 8/22/2002; Fox News, 8/20/2003] Rumsfeld also says during a news conference that according to “intelligence reports,” Saddam’s government is “hosting, supporting or sponsoring” an al-Qaeda presence in Iraq. Responding to a question about whether he has any evidence to support the claim that al-Qaeda is operating in Iraq, Rumsfeld states, “There are Al-Qaeda in a number of locations in Iraq…. The suggestion that… [Iraqi government officials] who are so attentive in denying human rights to their population aren’t aware of where these folks [al-Qaeda] are or what they’re doing is ludicrous in a vicious, repressive dictatorship…. [I]t’s very hard to imagine that the government is not aware of what’s taking place in the country.” [New York Times, 8/20/2002] Shortly after Rumsfeld’s remarks, a senior US intelligence official tells The Guardian that there is no evidence to back the defense secretary’s claims. “They are not the official guests of the government,” a second official says, adding that any al-Qaeda in the region are still “on the run.” [Guardian, 8/22/2002]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Politicization of Intelligence, Propaganda, Chemical & Bio Weapons Allegations, Imminent Threat Allegations, Iraq Ties to Terrorists Allegations

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld appears on CBS’ Face the Nation and talks about Iraq. He tells host Bob Schieffer, “[President Bush] has decided to go to the Congress and to the United Nations later this week and make the case of what Iraq has done for 11 years. It has invaded its neighbors; it’s violated almost every single UN resolution that relates to Iraq. And against the agreement they had to disarm, they proceeded to develop weapons of mass destruction—chemical, biological and nuclear.” When asked if the government has “smoking gun” evidence that Iraq is developing nuclear weapons, Rumsfeld responds: “The smoking gun is an interesting phrase. It implies that what we’re doing here is law enforcement, that what we’re looking for is a case that we can take into a court of law and prove beyond a reasonable doubt. The problem with that is, the way one gains absolutely certainty as to whether a dictator like Saddam Hussein has a nuclear weapon is if he uses it, and that’s a little late. It’s not late if you’re interested in protecting rights of the defendant in a court of law, but it’s a quite different thing if one thinks about it.” Schieffer then asks whether or not the administration has information that has not yet been shared with the public. Rumsfeld says: “The problem we have, of course, is a real one. Intelligence, we spend billions of dollars gathering intelligence. And to do it, you have to have methods of doing it and sources from whom you get this information. And to the extent you take that intelligence and spread it out in the public record, what you do is you put people’s lives at risk, the sources of that information, because people can connect the dots there and say, well, who knew that, and then they go out and they stop people from helping us learn that type of information, or if it’s a source, a satellite or some other thing. To the extent that we reveal the information and show our capability, we then lose that capability because they find ways to deceive and deny us from gaining access to it. So there’s a very good reason for not taking all the information.” [CBS News, 9/8/2002]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, White House Iraq Group

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Propaganda, Aluminum Tubes Allegation, Chemical & Bio Weapons Allegations, Imminent Threat Allegations, Nuclear Weapons Allegations

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warns the House Armed Services Committee of the serious and imminent threat that Saddam Hussein poses to Western countries. He says: “No terrorist state poses a greater and more immediate threat to the security of our people and the stability of the world than the regime of Saddam Hussein.” He adds: “What has not changed is Iraq’s drive to acquire those weapons of mass destruction, and the fact that every approach that the United Nations has taken to stop Iraq’s drive has failed. This is a critical moment for our country and for the world. Our resolve is being put to the test. It is a test unfortunately the world’s free nations have failed before in recent history with unfortunate consequences.” [US Congress, 9/18/2002; Daily Telegraph, 9/19/2002; Agence France-Presse, 9/19/2002] Rumsfeld says of Iraq’s putative nuclear weapons program, “Some have argued that the nuclear threat from Iraq is not imminent—that Saddam [Hussein] is at least 5-7 years away from having nuclear weapons. I would not be so certain…. He has, at this moment, stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, and is pursuing nuclear weapons.” [Salon, 3/6/2004] The Secretary of Defense also says that Congress must authorize the president to use military force against Iraq before the Security Council votes on the issue. “Delaying a vote in the Congress would send a message that the US may be unprepared to take a stand, just as we are asking the international community to take a stand and as we are cautioning the Iraqi regime to consider its options,” argues Rumsfeld, adding, “Our job today—the president’s, the Congress’ and the United Nations’—is to… anticipate vastly more lethal attacks before they happen and to make the right decision as to whether or not it’s appropriate for this country to take action…. The goal is not inspections, the goal is disarmament.” [US Congress, 9/18/2002; Associated Press, 9/19/2002] He also tries to discredit Iraq’s September 16, 2002 (see September 16, 2002), offer to admit UN inspectors without conditions. He says: “There’s no doubt in my mind but that the inspection program that currently is on the books wouldn’t work because it’s so much weaker than the earlier one. The more inspectors that are in there, the less likely something is going to happen. The longer nothing happens, the more advanced their weapons programs go along.” [US Congress, 9/18/2002] Rumsfeld is drastically revising his own stance from over a year before, when he told an interviewer on February 12, 2001, that Iraq was “probably not a nuclear threat” (see February 12, 2001).

Entity Tags: US Congress, Saddam Hussein, Donald Rumsfeld

Category Tags: Legal Justification, Weapons Inspections, Imminent Threat Allegations

In his weekly radio address, President Bush tells the nation: “The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons, is rebuilding the facilities to make more, and, according to the British government, could launch a biological or chemical attack in as little as 45 minutes after the order is given. The regime has long-standing and continuing ties to terrorist groups, and there are al-Qaeda terrorists inside Iraq. This regime is seeking a nuclear bomb, and with fissile material could build one within a year.” Many Americans are shocked and frightened by Bush’s flat litany of assertions. What they do not know is that none of them are true. The CIA had reluctantly agreed to produce a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq less than three weeks before (see September 5, 2002); the result is an NIE packed with half-truths, exaggerations, and outright lies (see October 1, 2002). None of Bush’s statements are supported by hard intelligence, and all will later be disproven. [White House, 9/28/2002; Center for Public Integrity, 1/23/2008] In 2007, author Craig Unger will write that the conflict seems to have gotten personal with Bush. “There’s no doubt [Saddam Hussein’s] hatred is mainly directed against us,” Bush says during the address. “There’s no doubt he can’t stand us. After all, this is a guy that tried to kill my dad at one time.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 264]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Saddam Hussein, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Alleged Al-Qaeda Ties, Alleged WMDs, Legal Justification, Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence, Propaganda, Public Opinion on Iraqi Threat, The Decision to Invade, Chemical & Bio Weapons Allegations, Imminent Threat Allegations, Iraq Ties to Terrorists Allegations, Nuclear Weapons Allegations

Senators Richard Lugar and Joseph Biden circulate an alternative to Bush’s draft congressional resolution, which the two senators explain, “helps the president attract strong bipartisan support in Congress.” Their proposed resolution focuses on the use of force against Iraq as opposed to the entire region and specifies that the disarmament of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction would be the reason for using military force. Bush rejects the suggested alternative outright, complaining, “I don’t want to get a resolution which ties my hands,” instead insisting that Congress pass a resolution that “sends a clear signal that this country is determined to disarm Iraq and thereby bring peace to the world.” Bush says, “My question is, what’s changed [since the Congressional resolution passed in 1998]? Why would Congress want to weaken a resolution?” [Associated Press, 10/1/2002; Guardian, 10/2/2002; US President, 10/7/2002] Saddam Hussein, he continues, is “more of a threat four years later” and “[a]ll of us recognize that the military option is not the first choice, but disarming this man is, because he represents a true threat to the United States.” [Guardian, 10/2/2002; US President, 10/7/2002]

Entity Tags: Joseph Biden, Richard Lugar, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Legal Justification, Imminent Threat Allegations

Center for Public Integrity logo.Center for Public Integrity logo. [Source: Center for Public Integrity]The Center for Public Integrity (CPI), a non-profit, non-partisan investigative journalism organization, releases an analysis of top Bush administration officials’ statements over the two years leading up to the March 18, 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Significance - Analysts and authors Charles Lewis and Mark Reading-Smith state that the analysis proves that the Bush administration engaged in deliberate deception to lead the country into war with Iraq, and disproves the administration’s contention that its officials were the victims of bad intelligence. CPI states that the analysis shows “the statements were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses.” According to CPI’s findings, eight top administration officials made 935 false statements concerning either Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction or Iraq’s links to al-Qaeda, between September 11, 2001 and the invasion itself. These statements were made on 532 separate occasions, by the following administration officials: President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and former White House press secretaries Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan.
Foundation of Case for War - These deliberate falsehoods “were the underpinnings of the administration’s case for war,” says CPI executive director Bill Buzenberg. Lewis says, “Bush and the top officials of his administration have so far largely avoided the harsh, sustained glare of formal scrutiny about their personal responsibility for the litany of repeated, false statements in the run-up to the war in Iraq.” According to the analysis, Bush officials “methodically propagated erroneous information over the two years beginning on September 11, 2001.” The falsehoods dramatically escalated in August 2002, just before Congress passed a war resolution (see October 10, 2002). The falsehoods escalated again in the weeks before Bush’s State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) and Powell’s critical presentation to the United Nations (see February 5, 2003). All 935 falsehoods are available in a searchable database on the CPI Web site, and are sourced from what the organization calls “primary and secondary public sources, major news organizations and more than 25 government reports, books, articles, speeches, and interviews.” CPI finds that “officials with the most opportunities to make speeches, grant media interviews, and otherwise frame the public debate also made the most false statements.”
Breakdown - The tally of falsehoods is as follows:
bullet Bush: 260. 232 of those were about Iraqi WMD and 28 were about Iraq’s ties to al-Qaeda.
bullet Powell: 254, with 244 of those about Iraq’s WMD programs.
bullet Rumsfeld and Fleischer: 109 each.
bullet Wolfowitz: 85.
bullet Rice: 56.
bullet Cheney: 48.
bullet McClellan: 14.
The analysis only examines the statements of these eight officials, but, as CPI notes, “Other administration higher-ups, joined by Pentagon officials and Republican leaders in Congress, also routinely sounded false war alarms in the Washington echo chamber.”
An 'Impenetrable Din' - Lewis and Reading-Smith write that the “cumulative effect of these false statements,” amplified and echoed by intensive media coverage that by and large did not question the administration’s assertions, “was massive, with the media coverage creating an almost impenetrable din for several critical months in the run-up to war.” CPI asserts that most mainstream media outlets were so enthusiastically complicit in the push for war that they “provided additional, ‘independent’ validation of the Bush administration’s false statements about Iraq.” Lewis and Reading-Smith conclude: “Above all, the 935 false statements painstakingly presented here finally help to answer two all-too-familiar questions as they apply to Bush and his top advisers: What did they know, and when did they know it?” [Center for Public Integrity, 1/23/2008; Center for Public Integrity, 1/23/2008] The Washington Post’s Dan Froomkin approvingly calls the study “old-fashioned accountability journalism.” [Washington Post, 1/23/2008]

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