July 15, 2004

Truth in Reporting

First, Lord Butler, formerly Britain's top civil servant, said Britain had received information from "several different sources" to substantiate reports that Iraq sought to purchase uranium from Niger. The Senate report found that similar claims by American intelligence, which found their way into President Bush's State of the Union address last year, were based on a single set of forged documents.

-- Alan Cowell in the NYT

But the report defended as "well founded" the dossier's claim that Iraq had sought to obtain enriched uranium from African countries. The CIA has questioned the claim, saying it was based on forged papers, but the Butler panel said there were other sources for the assertion.

--Glenn Frankel in the WaPo

Guess whose reporting is more accurate?

Frankel's over at the WaPo.

The NYT has, writ large, "American intelligence" concluding the uranium story was based on "a single set of forged documents."

But this represents an erroneous reading of the SSCI report.

Here are the key passages:

On November 25, 2002, The Naval [redacted] issued a very brief report (Alleged Storage of Uranium Destined for Iraq [redacted] that a large quantity of uranium from Niger was being stored in a warehouse in Cotonou, Benin. The uranium was reportedly sold to Iraq by Niger's President.
(p. 59)

Now, just shy of a month later after publication of the Navy report, on December 17th 2002, the warehouses were finally visited:

On February 10, 2003, the U.S. Defense Attache in Abidjan...reported that its reports officer examined two warehouses in Benin suspected of storing uranium on route to Iraq on December 17, 2002. The visit was conducted almost a month after a Navy report indicated uranium destined for Iraq was transiting through the warehouses. The report indicated that the warehouses appeared to contain only bales of cotton. A CIA operations cable on the inspection noted, however, it was not possible to determine if the cotton bales concealed the uranium shipment and that no radiation detection equipment had been used during the inspection.
(p. 68)

Note too that the SSCI report states, at p. 71:

On June 12, 2003, the DIA sent an information memorandum to Deputy Secretary of State Paul Wolfowitz...The memo said, "while the Intelligence Committee agrees that documents the IAEA reviewed were likely 'fake,' other unconfirmed reporting suggested that Iraq attempted to obtain uranium and yellowcake from African nations after 1998"(the SSCI report says that said other reporting in question was the Benin warehouse story).

The SSCI report goes on to say:

On June 17, 2003, nearly five months after the President delivered the State of the Union Address, the CIA produced a memorandum for the DCI which said "since learning that the Iraq-Niger uranium deal was based on false documents earlier this spring, we no longer believe that there is sufficient other reporting to conclude that Iraq pursued uranium from abroad."

But keep in mind--this is merely the C.I.A.'s opinion.

The New York Times piece says that "American intelligence" writ large had concluded the Niger/uranium story was false because the information was based solely on the forgeries.

But, last I checked, the DIA is part of "American intelligence."

And, keep in mind too, the DIA is separate and apart from Doug Feith's controversial, stand-alone intel shop.

True, the Benin cotton warehouse angle didn't turn up uranium.

But the Navy report explicitly states that no radiation detection was used (how dumb, no!) during the inspection and that it remains possible the uranium was concealed within the cotton shipments.

Note too, the inspection of the warehouse occurred after the President's SOTU (look for investigative reporters on the left, fairly all told, to query why it took so long to get this inspection concluded--though there is no evidence revealed to date that the inspection was purposefully delayed post-SOTU for political reasons--as contrasted with, say, bureaucratic delays and such...)

So, now we not only know Bush didn't purposefully lie.

We also know, it would appear, that his statement was not solely based on "fruit of the poisonous" tree material tainted by the forgeries--and this solely per a reading of the American intelligence gathering effort (see more on the British angle below--which further bolsters Bush's SOTU statement).

So the New York Times is wrong to report, as it does today, simply: "The Senate report found that similar claims by American intelligence, which found their way into President Bush's State of the Union address last year, were based on a single set of forged documents."

That's just not true, is it?

Two final points.

Note the DIA report's language (quoted above) about unconfirmed reports that Iraq might have sought uranium and/or yellowcake after 1998 from African nations (plural).

In this vein, don't miss, via the Butler report, section 499:

There was further and separate intelligence that in 1999 the Iraqi regime had also made inquiries about the purchase of uranium ore in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In this case, there was some evidence that by 2002 an agreement for a sale had been reached.

That's more intel that isn't FOPT tainted, isn't it? (Note too this Congo intel perhaps calls into question the SSCI report's finding that the only non-forgery related intel meant to be referenced in the DIA report was the Benin story).

So Bush's SOTU statement is further bolstered.

And even the IAEA leaves the door open a bit!

Responding to queries from the Butler inquiry, they wrote:

Notwithstanding the information summarized above, and in view of the fact that the IAEA so far has not obtained any other related information than the forged documents, the IAEA is not in the position to demonstrate that Iraq never sought to import uranium in the past. This is the reason why the IAEA only concluded that it had "no indication that Iraq attempted to import uranium since 1990" but it would "follow up any additional evidence, if it emerges, relevant to efforts by Iraq to illicitly import nuclear materials." So far no such additional information has been obtained by the Agency.

Folks, the intelligence was often weak, to be sure.

But Bush and Blair didn't purposefully lie to their publics, in my view.

Here's the best comment I've seen on all this yet:

No one lied. No one made up the intelligence. No one inserted things into the dossier against the advice of the intelligence services. Everyone genuinely tried to do their best in good faith for the country in circumstances of acute difficulty. That issue of good faith should now be at an end ... But I have to accept, as the months have passed, it seems increasingly clear that at the time of invasion, Saddam did not have stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons ready to deploy ... I have searched my conscience, not in the spirit of obstinacy, but in genuine reconsideration in the light of what we now know, in answer to that question. And my answer would be that the evidence of Saddam's WMD was indeed less certain, less well-founded than was stated at the time. But I cannot go from there to the opposite extreme. On any basis he retained complete strategic intent on WMD and significant capability. The only reason he ever let the inspectors back into Iraq was that he had 180,000 US and British troops on his doorstep ... Had we backed down in respect of Saddam, we would never have taken the stand we needed to take on WMD, never have got progress on Libya ... and we would have left Saddam in charge of Iraq, with every malign intent and capability still in place and every dictator with the same intent everywhere immeasurably emboldened. For any mistakes made, as the report finds, in good faith, I of course take full responsibility. But I cannot honestly say I believe getting rid of Saddam was a mistake at all.

-- Tony Blair (Hat Tip: Sully)

Yes, it would be nice for Bush to step up to bat and say something like this too.

But it would also, wouldn't it, be nice for the New York Times and assorted obstinate commentators on the left (they know who they are) to grapple with the complexities of this story more honestly (rather than play cheap gotcha month after month after month)?

We're all adults here--we know it's an election year.

People are going to be partisan, tough, aggressive.

But if you are going to call people liars--or say the entire Niger story was based solely on the forgeries--well, at least where things stand today, you're simply not playing it straight.

You're, in a word, lying--or, at best, simply not fully analyzing information that is available, on both side of the Atlantic, to the public.

At least as and where the weight of the evidence sits today.

Posted by Gregory at July 15, 2004 10:00 AM
Comments

Robert Novak’s column today makes a point about partisanship in the US that I’ve not seen elsewhere. (The WaPo print edition has today's Novak column, but the on-line WaPo does not - I don't think that they ever do.) Today Novak (http://www.suntimes.com/output/novak/cst-edt-novak15.html ) examines the curious results that derive from the need to get the SSCI’s unanimous agreement to the report’s conclusions.

Like Sherlock Holmes' dog that did not bark, the most remarkable aspect of last week's Senate Intelligence Committee report is what its Democratic members did not say. They did not dissent from the committee's findings that Iraq apparently asked about buying yellowcake uranium from Niger. They neither agreed to a conclusion that former diplomat Joseph Wilson was suggested for a mission to Niger by his CIA employee wife nor defended his statements to the contrary.
Wilson's activities constituted the only aspects of the yearlong investigation for which the committee's Republican chairman, Sen. Pat Roberts, was unable to win unanimous agreement. According to committee sources, Roberts felt Wilson had been such a ''cause celebre'' for Democrats that they could not face the facts about him.

This is a good a time as any to look back at what Novak wrote originally:
http://www.townhall.com/columnists/robertnovak/printrn20030714.shtml

With all that’s appeared here, in the SSCI report, and in the Butler report, this does seem to be a rather fair, even balanced, bit of reporting, no?

Posted by: The Kid at July 15, 2004 01:36 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Why doesn't the media go ask Joe Wilson his side of this story? Evan Thomas of NewsWeek explains why the dog doesn't bark. Also, this offers an interesting perspective.

Posted by: Joe at July 15, 2004 01:57 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Gregory,

Keep up the excellent work.

Who else will keep big media (somewhat) honest?

Thank God for Bloggers like you who keep fighting the good fight so that us unwashed masses have access to alternative views.

Posted by: Stacy at July 15, 2004 02:21 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The 16 words have always been technically accurate.

Here's a question.

Did anyone go do a process of elimination thing and make sure that Niger's and Congo's export numbers matched everyone else's import numbers?

Posted by: praktike at July 15, 2004 02:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Who will restore honesty to the Kerry campaign?

Who at The Nation will ask for the award back a la Milli Vanilli?

And most importantly, a la Judith Miller, when will the NYT print a mea culpa for starting all of this by printing Joe Wilson's op-ed, then letting it guide their news reporting? And which reporters who relied on Wilson as a source (anonymously and otherwise) will apologize?

Posted by: HH at July 15, 2004 03:10 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Links for above:

http://www.restorehonesty.com

http://www.fertel.com/causes/ridenhour_award/winners03/pressrelease_03.htm

Posted by: HH at July 15, 2004 03:12 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Ummm, do you think maybe Novak's column is a tinny tiny bit self serving, since he is the one who outed Wilson's wife?

Posted by: kiret at July 15, 2004 03:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

kiret -

Novak’s motives are immaterial, his facts are not.

Posted by: The Kid at July 15, 2004 03:25 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Of course it's self-serving, to a point. I imagine that I would write a self-serving column too if I'd been under withering attack from the Left for months and was then vindicated by investigations conducted by two independent sovereign governments. In the final analysis, Novak is 100% right: he reported that Plame had a role in getting Wilson on the Niger trip because he was otherwise unqualified, and the SSCI report proved that to be true.

Posted by: Jon at July 15, 2004 03:38 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

HH-

I think the Sue Schmidt article in WaPo was the mea culpa you're looking for. Unfortunately, it was wrong in a few places as well. Surprising, since it was largely a summary of the Wilson-related section of the report.

Posted by: praktike at July 15, 2004 03:53 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Hi Gregory,

Your concluding admonition of the NYT:

"You're, in a word, lying--or, at best, simply not fully analyzing information that is available, on both sides of the Atlantic, to the public."

is benefit-of-a-doubt language that is all too typical in the blogosphere when discussing misreporting by the NYT and BBCs of the world. If this is indeed the case, let me ask you and your readers a question:
If failure to "fully analyze information" (as opposed to outright lying) is indeed a/the source of misreporting by the NYT, why is it that this (mis)reporting ALWAYS, or at least overwhelmingly, serves to harm the Bush Administration, and conservatives in general?

If lazy reporting is truly the disease, one would expect harm occurring with relatively equal frequency to BOTH sides. Sorry, I do not see that. Therefore, I might concede that it STILL may not be lying per se that's going on, but it's NOT lazy reporting that's the alternative culprit. Perhaps "clouded judgment" on the part of NYT reporters can be my benefit-of-a-doubt substitute. And clouded judgment is just another way of saying ... B I A S.

Personally, I think they are flat-out lying in an election year. This crap is happening on an almost daily basis, and the intensity and frequency of these front page misreportings is just too great to be mere bias.

Three cheers for the Belgravia Dispatch's of the world for being right here right now!

Posted by: Eric at July 15, 2004 03:55 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I don't take issue with any of your analysis of the NYT/WaPo reports cited, but I think you frame the whole question incorrectly. The SOTU referred to a British assessment, not an American one. It was stated as early as last summer by Brit intel sources, sparked by the Wilson non-scandal, that their assessment relied in no degree on any forged documents. These sources also said they stood by the Africa (not Niger) report. Initial parliamentary reviews of the matter (I believe in the fall) pronounced the Brit assessment reasonable in language similar to Butler's.

It's not so much that Bush's SOTU statement was just bolstered by these (widely ignored) Brit statements nearly a year back, but that Wilson's charges were irrelevant from the outset. Wilson talked oranges (one country, one very limited take thereon, documents of dubious authenticity), Bush by citing the Brit report referred to apples (many countries, various sources, not including said documents).

I don't dispute that you're right and the NYT reporting is unsurprisingly lame -- it's just that the NYT's focus and your exegesis are on essentially a separate topic (American assessments re one potential uranium source revolving around documents and Benin warehouses, vs. Brit assessments about several potential uranium sources and in no part based on forged documents or Benin warehouses).

Posted by: IceCold at July 15, 2004 03:57 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Jon may want to check out this from the LA Times ...

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/iraq/complete/la-fg-uranium15jul15,1,4698277.story?coll=la-home-headlines


"The Senate committee report questioned Wilson's account on several issues. Wilson has maintained that his wife did not suggest him for the mission to Niger, but the committee found that she did, noting that another CIA official said Plame had "offered up his name."

"That's just false," Wilson said in a telephone interview Wednesday. He said he was preparing a written rebuttal to the Senate report.

A senior intelligence official said the CIA supports Wilson's version: "Her bosses say she did not initiate the idea of her husband going…. They asked her if he'd be willing to go, and she said yes," the official said.
"

By the way, does anyone remember that story about a aide to Powell who refuted that there was "anything new" to the WMD intelligence Powel presented at the UN (as the White House suggested)?

I do.

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/iraq/la-na-powell15jul15,1,4127976.story?coll=la-home-headlines

Posted by: kiret at July 15, 2004 04:02 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

On the matter of how the Dead Tree Times placed this story:

A little box below the fold in the front page left column tells me that:

"Report Spares Blair But Faults Spy Data

A highly anticipated British report harshly criticized extensive pre-war intelligence failures concerning Iraqi prohibited weapons but cleared PM Tony Blair of deliberately distorting the evidence to build a case forwar. Like a US Senate Intelligence Committee report issued last week, it also found no evidence that Saddam Hussein had significant, if any, stocks of illicit weapons or that Iraq had co-operated with Al Qaeda.

Article, page A6."


The story also is blurbed in thie "News Summary" section on A2.


And Bonus Bias from Wednesday - the James Risen piece was mentioned neither on the front page nor in the A2 news Sumary.

However, the front page did guide me to "Iraq Document is Withheld From Bush" - p. A15 The Risen story was nearby, on A14.

In (very limited) defense of the Times, if the Republicans want news coverage of this they need to talk about it.

That said, I don't think it took speeches from John Kerry to prompt their Judith Miller retrospective.

Posted by: Tom maguire at July 15, 2004 04:14 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

And while the NY Times is describing the conclusions of the US Senate report, they might want to pause on this, from p. 83:

"(U) Conclusion 26. To date, the Intelligence Community has not published an assessment to clarify or correct its position on whether or not Iraq was trying to purchase uranium from Africa as stated in the National Intelligence Estimate (ME). Likewise, neither the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) nor the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), which both published assessments on possible Iraqi efforts to acquire uranium, have ever published
assessments outside of their agencies which correct their previous positions. "

Just for the record.

Posted by: Tom Maguire at July 15, 2004 04:32 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Even as everyone is running around correcting past mistakes some people still haven't quite understood the subject they are talking about. Glenn Frenkel in the WaPo:
"But the report defended as "well founded" the dossier's claim that Iraq had sought to obtain enriched uranium from African countries."
From above.
Enriched uranium? Really? Someone thinks there is an enrichment plant in Africa (outside S Africa of course) ?
I know, I know, he means yellowcake which is a form of enriched ore. But after this thing has been chewed over for a year or more can't they actually, by now, use the words properly? Is that really too much to ask of the US media's finest?

Posted by: Tim Worstall at July 15, 2004 04:34 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

kerit
if you expect me to follow a link with
latimes.com in it and take it seriously,
you are dreaming.
As far as I am concerned the la times
is fiction - a big black and white comic book!

Posted by: Serendipshity at July 15, 2004 04:34 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Just for the record, Bush did step up and say something like what Blair said.

You can find the Bush quote at the end of the post.

Posted by: John Cole at July 15, 2004 06:03 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

john, where is this Dubya quote?

Posted by: greg at July 15, 2004 06:09 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Yes, it would be nice for Bush to step up to bat and say something like this too."

I think he has; I watched some of the live coverage of his tour of Pennsylvania last week and I believe he did say what you're looking for (not sure it was in the press so much, tho):

"Remember I went to the United Nations and said, we got a problem here. As a matter of fact, it's such a problem that I think you probably have passed over a dozen resolutions saying he's a problem, and yet nothing has happened. And so I said, why don't we pass one and really mean what we say. And so with a 15 to nothing vote, the United Nations Security Council did just that. Fifteen to nothing said, he's a threat. Disclose, destroy, or face serious consequences, is what the United Nations said, a collection of nations."

"So we all felt the same thing back there. And, of course, Saddam Hussein defied. And he just ignored what the free world had to say once again. ...The Senate is looking at intelligence failures, and should. We all ought to welcome an investigation about where we went right and wrong with our intelligence-gathering. You know why? Because it's important for a President and the Congress to get the best intelligence possible in this war against these terrorists. One of the key components of finding out who is going to hurt us is good intelligence. And there are a lot of really good people working in our intelligence-gathering, by the way -- dedicated, solid, fine Americans. They, too, want the intelligence services to be as effective as possible. So I welcome their investigation. I really do."

I got the text from the White House website (link above). I think he mentioned it at other stops in PA, but I haven't looked (I wish they'd get a better search engine for the webpage - it's so difficult to use the one they have that I want to give up).

Posted by: GarnetGirl at July 15, 2004 06:12 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Bush said "something like" what Blair said only in the sense that they both spoke in English.

Blair, facing a public much more skeptical of the case for war than America's is, acknowledged responsibility for mistakes made as well as the nature of the mistakes themselves. Bush never acknowledges responsiiblity for anything. If things go wrong they are either someone else's fault or no one's fault. Many people are tempted to excuse this in consideration of the difficult life Bush has had and all the hardships he has overcome, but to me he falls short of what a "war President" ought to be.

Posted by: Zathras at July 15, 2004 06:21 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

On the matter of the "16 words" - with the findings of the Senate and Butler reports and the apparent collapse of Joe Wilson's credibility, can "they” still be described as a lie? I think so. In a comment on this blog yesterday Tom Maguire wrote:

"…the 16 Words were a Clintonian, cleverly phrased bit of information (should that be Wilsonian, as in old Joe?). If he had spoken 20 Words - the Brits have learned, but we can't verify, that... - the phrase would have been dropped altogether."

I think this is mostly correct. There is a problem with the use of the word "learned" which is not accurate. "Suspects" would have been much more appropriate, though one could object that this is a technicality.

But the real trouble comes from the point Tom made - an accurate phrase likely would not have been used in the speech. Why not? Is it because an accurate statement would not have been "sexy" enough or would have sounded too tenuous to be included in the President's case for war? If this is the case, then the "cleverly phrased bit of information" was deliberately constructed to misrepresent the strength of the intel - it was misleading.

Since I have an obvious bias, perhaps a Bush defender can make an argument as to why the "16 words" were "cleverly phrased" so that the facts crucial to understanding the matter (i.e. the "often weak" nature of the "unconfirmed" evidence, speculations based on suspicions, not vetted by US intel, etc) were excluded - an argument that avoids the conclusion I'm about to draw.

I think we've seen most of the evidence we are likely to see on this - and I think the evidence shows that the "16 words" were constructed in a manner that would lead the audience to believe something that wasn't accurate - that the Brits had conclusive evidence that Iraq sought to buy uranium from Africa in violation of UN sanctions. A reasonable man can understand the motive behind "cleverly phrasing" a "bit of information" in a speech designed to convince the world of the prudence of the Bush agenda. Therefore, I think it is quite fair to conclude that the omission of relevant facts was a deliberate attempt to mislead - an act that constitutes a lie. A plausible counterargument should account for the omissions described above and explain why their exclusion was innocent or atypical of the Bush Administration's careful representation of evidence in other cases.

Posted by: Southpaw at July 15, 2004 07:35 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Seems like the NYT is a crappy paper and has been for a while.

Whitewater. Jayson Blair. Wen Ho Lee. The scandal of Augusta National hosting Master's golf but not admitting women (on Page One!). Judith Miller's breathless reporting on WMD rumors as fact.

I don't think anyone with any sense should consider them the "paper of record" any more.

Jack Shafer rips into them at Slate every so often, which is kind of fun.

I don't know what paper one ought to read for a non-agenda-driven view of things.

I like 'The Economist' because they are pretty objective except for their one hobbyhorse - free markets - and that bias is so obvious that you can absorb it or ignore it as you see fit.

the wesson

Posted by: TheWesson at July 15, 2004 08:06 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Gibby: learned or suspected? Which is more accurate?

Posted by: praktike at July 15, 2004 08:29 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Gibby-it was a SOTU address, not a campaign speech. The essence of the problem is that Bush applied those very campaign-sell formulations to a SOTU address.

But whatever. Stupid idealists. Honesty has no place in politics anyway.

Posted by: martin at July 15, 2004 08:36 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Southpaw, don't know what bias has to do with anything. I'm not a "Bush defender," but perhaps a logic defender, and I don't think you or Tom have made a sale on the importance of "learned". And the charge that there was a "lie" involved has no basis.

To see what the Sixteen Words would be like if the offending "learned" were removed, let's just substitute an obvious alternative ("reported"):

"British intelligence has reported that Iraq recently sought to buy uranium in Africa."

How is this any more accurate in a meaningful way, and how is it less supportive of the general case that Iraq remained interested in nuclear weapons? Just insert that in the speech, and it's unreasonable to say there's much difference in overall impact.

I don't see any "omission of facts" WRT the Africa/uranium issue that need to be accounted for. Contrary to what you wrote -- if we're talking about the whole WMD issue and not just uranium -- we're far from knowing all or even most of the story. So far, it's looking like the uranium matter was well-founded, and it was the other aspects of WMD where suspicions, speculation, and straight-line projections were unavoidably (and properly, given the stakes and the placement of the burden on the other side) relied on.

I can't see how you even get close to "lie". The audience was led to believe something completely accurate -- that the Brits believed they had discovered that Iraq had sought uranium in Africa. The difference in shades of meaning between "learned" and "reported" or "concluded", in the context of a speech unavoidably filled with intelligence findings of varying reliability, is not much on which to hang a charge of intentional deception.

Posted by: IceCold at July 15, 2004 09:35 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I will pick up a copy of the NY Times and see where the story is placed, and post it here.

Posted by: Cog at July 15, 2004 09:41 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Ice Cold, Southpaw:

In fact "well founded" were precisely the words the Butler report used to describe the claims Bush and Blair made (they even quoted the SOTU speech specifically) with regard to African uranium attempted purchases. I'm not sure where Southpaw gets the idea that the intelligence here was shakey - it seems to be some of the best overall, and B&B limited their claim to attempted purchace, which is what the evidence indicated.

Posted by: GarnetGirl at July 15, 2004 09:55 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Why then did Bush back away from the statement, GarnetGirl?

Posted by: martin at July 15, 2004 10:57 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Martin: Couldn't tell you. Doesn't make it any less true. Read the Butler Report for yourself if you think I made it up.

Posted by: GarnetGirl at July 16, 2004 12:19 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

IceCold,

Thanks for the reasoned reply. I used the word "bias" to describe my own thoughts as I recognize that I may not be able at this point to clearly see a counterargument.

I wrote that one could dismiss my quibble with the word "learned" as a technicality. This is because the issue, as I see it, is broader than the substitution of one word that would make the statement "technically accurate." Thus I would say that the word "reported" would have been "more" accurate, but that the statement would still not meet an acceptable standard of veracity we should expect when presented (in essence) with a case for war. If we proceed on the assumption that it is important for a President's case for war to be made in good faith, then it follows that a scrupulous presentation of the evidence should include caveats where appropriate. People cannot make reasonable decisions about the necessity of war if weak or unconfirmed "evidence" is not described as such - that would be an outrageous abuse of public trust.

I don’t think it too controversial to describe the non-forged evidence related to Niger (such as the Benin warehouse) as quite tenuous. That leaves the evidence described in section 494 of the Butler report as the sole bit of intelligence that could justify the “16 Words” IF it was substantial and credible. That is quite a big “if” which can’t be evaluated since the UK refuses to provide any details that would allow such an endeavor. The uranium claims therefore fall into two categories – those that can be checked and those that can’t. The checkable claims do not yield impressive results and do not inspire confidence in the claims that cannot be checked.

Returning to the “16 words”, it may be useful to construct an acceptable, non-misleading variation to illustrate the deficient nature of the version used. Such an example:

“The British Government suspects that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. This suspicion is based on classified intelligence that cannot be shared in detail with the world and hasn’t been evaluated by the US intelligence community. In the interest of full disclosure, members of our intelligence community have expressed skepticism about other intelligence matters related to alleged attempts by Iraq to obtain uranium from Africa. Yet, we do know that we cannot allow a dictator like Saddam Hussein the benefit of the doubt…”

Had such caveats been included in the President’s case, there would be no doubt that a good faith attempt to convince the public without misleading them had been made. Without them, and in light of the depiction of intelligence in other matters, a different conclusion follows – namely that great care was taken to avoid describing the accurate context of the evidence that lay behind the “16 Words” - context that would be crucial to understanding the strength of the claim. The only reason to exclude this context would be to misrepresent the strength of the claim, an act that would “convey a false image or impression”, in other words a lie.

Posted by: Southpaw at July 16, 2004 12:34 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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DATE: 07/15/2004 08:14:04 PM
Southpaw's analysis is priceless: a rationalization so attenuated could only come from someone pitching from the left side. Bush made a correct factual statement about an intelligence report that has been corroborated (i.e., a truthful description of a truthful report), but because he didn't qualify it by reporting the CIA's uncertainty about it, he "lied."

One wonders whether Southpaw will apply the same standard of deception to the statements made by Kerry/Edwards in their campaign speeches. Are they also "lying" about the economy, the war, etc. because they fail to note that many of their assertions can't be verified?

Posted by: Gibby at October 26, 2004 03:28 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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