Saturday, July 16, 2005

The Iraq/Niger Claims

The Daily Howler's Bob Somerby couldn't be wronger in his continuous assaults on Joe Wilson's credibility.

Take this link. Complaining about liberal "group think" Somerby writes:

"Few seem troubled by the fact that Wilson’s piece was deeply illogical, right to its core. Bush didn’t say a transaction took place; he only said a transaction was sought. Simply put, Wilson didn’t speak to what Bush said. But he never seemed to realize. Neither did his New York Times editor."

This is what Joe Wilson wrote in July of 2003 in his famous op-ed for The New York Times (link):

"The British government published a "white paper" asserting that Saddam Hussein and his unconventional arms posed an immediate danger. As evidence, the report cited Iraq's attempts to purchase uranium from an African country."

"Then, in January, President Bush, citing the British dossier, repeated the charges about Iraqi efforts to buy uranium from Africa."

Simply put, Wilson didn't say Bush said "a transaction took place." Bob Somerby is guilty of acting illogically to suggest otherwise.

But forget semantics (I know I'm sick of them).

There's much more to this, and much of it seems to have been forgotten to most of the journalists in the blogosphere, the alternative press, and the mainstream media.

It wasn't just Bush's January 28, 2003 State of The Union Address (link) which asserted that Iraq "sought signficant quantities of uranium from Africa."

In an op-ed published in The New York Times on January 23, 2003, former National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice also mentioned it ("Why We Know Iraq is Lying"):

"For example, the declaration fails to account for or explain Iraq's efforts to get uranium from abroad..."

The very next day, on January 29th, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld brought it up at a press briefing (link):

"His regime has the design for a nuclear weapon; it was working on several different methods of enriching uranium, and recently was discovered seeking significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

Perhaps if Bob Somerby did less howling and more Googling, he would have remembered the letter Ranking Minority Member Henry A. Waxman wrote on March 5, 2005 (pdf link), about the Bush Administration's insistence on withholding unclassified information from the public, which referred to a "fact sheet" that John Bolton had a hand in creating:

"In April 2004, the State Department used the designation "sensitive but unclassified" to conceal unclassified information about the role of John Bolton, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control, in the creation of a fact sheet distributed to the United Nations that falsely claimed Iraq had sought uranium from Niger."

"On December 19, 2002, the State Department issued a fact sheet entitled "Illustrative Examples of Omissions from the Iraqi Declaration to the United Nations Security Council." (9) The fact sheet listed eight key areas in which the Bush Administration found fault with Iraq's weapons declaration to the United Nations on December 7, 2002. Under the heading "Nuclear Weapons," the fact sheet stated:"

"The Declaration ignores efforts to procure uranium from Niger."

"Why is the Iraqi regime hiding their uranium procurement?"

The fact sheet is still online at the State Department Website: link. It still contains the same inaccuracy, but a blue asterisk is added which links to a July 14, 2003 Daily Press Briefing conducted by State Department Spokesman, Richard Boucher which touched upon the 16-word controversy:

MR. BOUCHER: "In retrospect, I would have worded it differently, but let's remember the function of that document. That document was to say that there were questions out there that the Iraqis had to answer --"

QUESTION: "Right."

MR. BOUCHER: "And that weren't answered in their 12,200 pages. If we're getting reports and others are getting reports that Iraq is trying to procure uranium, it's really for the Iraqis to explain at that point in their declaration that they didn't explain anything with, rather than for us to have to explain at that stage. So I think that we probably would have put something in there about Iraq's attempts to acquire uranium."

"I probably would not have mentioned Niger or might have even worded it differently."

QUESTION: "So you're saying that the Iraqis necessarily had to defend themselves from a false -- or not defend, but explain an accusation that turned out to be based on fraudulent evidence? I mean --"

MR. BOUCHER: "No. The accusation -- no, let's stop. The accusation that turned out to be based on fraudulent evidence is that Niger sold uranium to Iraq. Okay? The idea that Iraq was seeking to purchase is not -- is one that's still out there. And that you have, I think, in Ambassador Wilson's report and I think Director Tenet made a reference to this, some information that, indeed, Iraqis had shown up in Niger interested in something that the Nigerians believed to be purchasing uranium."

"So there were reports out there that Iraq was sending agents out to purchase uranium. Now, how solid those were, I think we've all said. It wasn't real solid stuff that rose to the level of putting it in the State of the Union, but the fact is that if Iraq had agents out here, there or somewhere else, it was really for Iraq to account for whether they did or not."

Again, the December 19, 2002 "fact sheet" specifically asks: "Why is the Iraqi regime hiding their uranium procurement?" This goes further than simply suggesting that Iraq "sought" uranium.

Yet, as Dana Priest and Dana Milbank reported for The Washington Post on July 15th, 2003 ("President Defends Allegation On Iraq"), the State Department were already aware that the Iraq/Niger claim was not a "slam dunk" fact:

"The charge that Iraq was seeking to buy nuclear material in Africa was based mainly on documents that the International Atomic Energy Agency concluded this March were forged. Before an October 2002 speech by Bush, the CIA succeeded in removing a reference to an Iraq-Niger connection because of doubts about the intelligence."

It's absolutely unbelievable that over two years later, the debate about what the Bush Administration said and didn't say about the Iraq/Niger claim is still ongoing. While it's expected that right wing partisans would continue to assert that Bush wasn't in the wrong, it's astonishing that a smart, reality-based blogger like Bob Somerby would insist upon it, as well.

(Hat tip to this World Net Daily Article written by Paul Sperry which helped me find most of my sources: "Questions deepen over Iraq-Africa claim.")


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