A new congressional report is belatedly confirming what many have long known: that the White House and in particular then White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, lied to Congress in 2004 when he told them the Bush administration was not repeatedly warned by the CIA not to make the claim that Saddam had tried to buy uranium ore from Niger.
What is astonishing about this report, which documents that the CIA at least four times tried to prevent Bush and other top officials from presenting that lie to Congress and the American public in the run-up to the Iraq invasion, is not that it documents what has long been known, but that Congress and the corporate media are still pretending that the claim itself was an acceptable justification for war.
Set aside for the moment the fact that the claim that Saddam Hussein had tried to buy uranium ore (so-called yellowcake) from the desert nation of Niger was based upon forged documents which were almost certainly the work of Defense Department hacks in the Rumsfeld/Cheney-created Office of Special Plans (see my book “The Case for Impeachment”). Even if this fraudulent deal had been real, how on earth could it have been used as it was by President Bush and Vice President Cheney to justify an invasion of Iraq?
Consider that what was being asserted was that Iraq had attempted (not even succeeded!) to buy 400 tons of uranium ore. This claim was used by President Bush, in his Jan. 20, 2003 State of the Union address, to argue that Iraq had a nuclear weapons program. But in the case of a country that does not have a nuclear weapon, a program is years away, perhaps a decade or more away, from the reality of having a usable weapon.
As we have seen in the case of Iran, which has been refining uranium ore now for at least five years, the mere fact of possessing uranium ore, and even of having a quantity of gas centrifuges to refine out the minute quantities of the fissionable isotope U-235 are only the first and, technologically speaking, the easiest, steps towards actually constructing a bomb. (Experts say that after all this time, even if it is actually trying to build a nuclear bomb, which the Iranian government denies, the country remains years from that alleged goal.)
If Bush and Cheney had not been lying through their teeth, and Saddam had actually been buying yellowcake for the purpose of making a nuke weapon, he would still have had to obtain large numbers of centrifuges, would have had to power them up and run them for years, and would have then had to obtain the technology to build and test a bomb, none of which steps he was even alleged to have taken.
Yet Bush was claiming that there was an imminent threat to America posed by Saddam Hussein’s yellowcake purchase effort, and that an invasion had to be launched almost immediately. He used the term imminent because that is the legal requirement in the UN Charter, to which the US is a signatory and which is based upon the Nuremberg Charter established at the end of the Second World War. It states that no nation may invade another nation unless that nation poses an imminent threat to the would-be invader.
The yellowcake story, now definitively shown to have been a deliberate lie, even if true, could not have constituted such an imminent threat.
Yet not once has this key point been addressed by any member of Congress who voted to authorize an invasion. Nor does the point get mentioned in mainstream journalistic reports on the matter.
Average Americans, nearly half of whom reportedly believe that the earth was formed just 6000 years ago and a fair proportion of whom believe that the sun revolves around the earth, might be excused for not understanding this point, but clearly intelligent members of Congress like former Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry and future secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who both claim they might not have voted for war “had they had known then what they know now,” are themselves caught in a lie.
They and other war backers clearly knew in 2002 and 2003 that the yellowcake story, even if true, was no justification for war. So did editors and reporters (like Judith Miller and Michael Gordon of the New York Times, for example).
I have yet to see a single US corporate media outlet explain that the yellowcake story was simply never a justification for war. It will probably never happen, and yet many analysts have said it was that claim by Bush, Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and others (remember her dark warnings about not wanting a “smoking gun” to be a “mushroom cloud”?), more than any other that stampeded the nation into a war that has cost over $1 trillion over five years, and over 4000 US lives and one million innocent Iraqi lives.
Bush, Cheney, Rice, Gonzalez, Rumsfeld and others in the outgoing administration should all be impeached, tried and jailed for their lying and treason in embroiling the US in the pointless and criminal Iraq War, with the yellowcake story a key element in any indictments. But there needs to be some kind of reckoning too, for the willful ignorance and deceit on the part of the majority of Congress and of the press in pretending that an alleged scheme to buy uranium ore was a justification for launching a war of aggression, which five years on, is still continuing.
The American people themselves also need to reflect deeply, not just on how ill served we are by our elected officials and by our media, but on how gullible we have become, and how ignorant.
DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2008 and now available in paperback). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net