Us Into War: Exposing Bush and His "Techniques of Deceit"
February 12, 2003
By Dennis Hans
George W. Bush and his foreign-policy team have systematically
and knowingly deceived the American people in order to gain
support for an unprovoked attack on Iraq.
Before I catalog the Bush administration's "Techniques of
Deceit," let me acknowledge that no U.N. resolution requires
the president to be honest with the American people. The fine
print of Resolution 1441 imposes no obligation to treat Americans
as citizens to be informed rather than suckers to be conned.
He may mislead, distort, suppress, exaggerate and lie to his
heart's content without violating a single sentence in 1441.
So if compliance with 1441 is all that matters to you, read
no further. Turn on the TV and tune in Brokaw, Rather, Jennings,
Blitzer or Lehrer, to name five of the journalistic imposters
who control what you hear and see, who seem psychologically
incapable of conceiving of Bush as a liar, and who wouldn't
have the guts to call him one even if they reached that conclusion.
But if you are an American citizen who believes in the bedrock
democratic principle of "the informed consent of the governed,"
The president and many of his top advisers have wanted to
invade and overthrow the government of Saddam Hussein for
a long time. But they knew they couldn't sell such a war against
Iraq to a majority of Americans and a majority in both houses
of Congress if they acknowledged just how pitifully weak and
unthreatening Iraq really is. If, however, the administration
could portray Iraq as an imminent, mortal threat to the United
States - and even a shadowy accomplice in the terrorist attacks
of 9/11 - then a majority of the population might come to
see an invasion of Iraq not as unprovoked U.S. aggression
but as a wholly justified response to what Iraq did to us.
That is precisely what the administration has done. In an
October poll by the Pew Research Center for People and the
Press, "66 percent believed [Saddam] was involved in the Sept.
11 attacks on the United States." Yes, two-thirds of Americans
had come to believe a horrible thing about Saddam that the
Bush administration knew for a fact was false, even as it
encouraged its lesser spokespeople to continue to promote
the connection. According to a Knight-Ridder
poll conducted in January, 41 percent of us believe Iraq
has a nuclear weapon right now and another 35 percent
are unsure or refused to answer the question. Only 24 percent
know what Bush knows for an absolute fact: Iraq has no nukes.
And even many in that 24 percent might not realize that Iraq
would still be several years away from developing a nuke even
if we did the unthinkable and allowed them to import the vast
array of high-tech equipment needed just to get started.
How do people get such ridiculous thoughts in their head?
A dishonest administration plants them there with a steady
drumbeat of exaggerations, distortions and lies. In a process
I call "lie
and rely", the administration relies on a cowed and craven
news media to present their lies to the American people as
fact - or at a minimum, as still-to-be-confirmed assertions
by respected officials with a reputation for truth-telling.
A handful of print reporters occasionally exposing the most
egregious lies can't begin to overcome the effect of the steady
drumbeat of lies reported as truth day after day on television.
If we factored out of the opinion polls all the people who
have internalized White House disinformation as fact, support
for the president's position would plummet. Without the support
of these misled millions, Bush wouldn't have been able to
ramrod through Congress a blank-check declaration. He wouldn't
have had that blank check to use as a bludgeon against the
U.N., and the U.S. wouldn't be on the verge of committing
an act of unprovoked aggression.
How Bush lies: The Techniques of Deceit
Although Bush presents himself to the world as a plain-spoken,
straight-shooting friend of the common man, he regularly employs
a variety of techniques to deceive the very people most inclined
to trust him.
So far, I have tallied 14 techniques. But there are more
to be uncovered, and there are far more examples than I can
include here. Consider this the tip of a deceitful iceberg.
1) Stating as fact what are allegations - often highly
a) "From three Iraqi defectors [we know] that Iraq, in the
late 1990s, had several mobile biological weapons labs. These
are designed to produce germ warfare agents and can be moved
from place to a place to evade inspectors. Saddam Hussein
[has not disclosed] these facilities. He [has given no evidence]
that he has destroyed them."
Comment: What we "know" is that defectors make this
unproven claim. We don't know if they were paid or coached
to make the claim, or volunteered it on their own. For more
on this, see Point 9 of the analysis
of Powell's address by Dr. Glen Rangwala, Lecturer in
Politics at Cambridge University, an advisor to Labor Party
opponents of Tony Blair and perhaps the world's foremost authority
on U.S. claims about Iraq, which may explain why one never
sees him in the U.S. media. Rangwala notes that one defector
made no mention of the labs in his first press conferences.
It was several months later, after "debriefings" by the U.S.
and the Iraqi National Congress, that he started talking about
mobile labs. Hans Blix told the Guardian newspaper of Britain
has seen no evidence that these mobile labs exist. Acting
on tips from the U.S. about labs disguised as food-testing
trucks, he investigated. "Two food-testing trucks have been
inspected and nothing has been found," he said. That doesn't
mean that such labs don't exist, but at this point there simply
is no proof of that claim. It is not an established
b) "The British government [has learned] that Saddam Hussein
recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
Comment: Wrong verb. What he should have said is the
Brits assert this but have produced no evidence of its veracity.
The Brits have offered no date for these efforts, but "recently,"
in this case, may well mean "the 1980s." IAEA director Mohamed
Elbaradei has for weeks been asking - so far, in vain - for
the U.S. and Britain to provide "specifics of when and where."
He said in a Jan. 12 interview, "We need actionable information."
(Interview cited by Rangwala in his invaluable "Counter-Dossier
c) "We've [learned] that Iraq has trained Al Qaeda members
in bomb making and poisons and deadly gases." (Bush's televised
Comment: The L.A. Times reported a few days after
that speech that CIA director "Tenet's letter was more equivocal,
saying only that there has been 'reporting' that such training
has taken place. Unlike other passages of the letter, he
did not describe the reporting as 'solid' or 'credible.'"
2) Withholding the key fact that destroys the moral underpinning
of an argument (and, in Powell's case, reveals him to be a
"Iraq's weapons of mass destruction are controlled by a murderous
tyrant, who [has already used chemical weapons to kill thousands
of people.]" (Bush's October speech)
Comment: The problem here is that much of Bush's national-security
team aided and abetted those crimes. After the worst attack,
on Halabja in 1988 near the end of the Iran-Iraq war, the
Reagan team covered for Saddam by implicating Iran, then prevented
Congress from imposing tough sanctions on Iraq. Joost R. Hiltermann,
an official with Human Rights Watch, shows in a recent
column for the International Herald Tribune that
Saddam was likely emboldened to use ever more lethal concoctions
to polish off the Kurds because he knew from past gassing
experience in 1983, 1984 and 1987 that he could always count
on the support of Reagan, Powell and George H. W. Bush. The
latter's son has yet to mention this in any of his righteous
condemnations of Saddam. There are any number of governments
who have the moral standing to condemn Saddam's gassing of
the Kurds. The one headed by George W. Bush does not.
Powell, of course, is the current administration's knight
in shining armor, the trusted figure who commands the respect
even of the European leaders who cannot stomach Bush. But
a listen to Peter W. Galbraith, former U.S. ambassador
to Croatia and now professor of national-security studies
at the National War College in Washington, D.C.:
"the Kurds have not forgotten that Secretary of State Colin
Powell was then the national security adviser who orchestrated
Ronald Reagan's decision to give Hussein a pass for gassing
a) "I would remind you that when the inspectors first went
into Iraq and were denied - finally denied access, a [report]
came out of the Atomic - the IAEA that they were [six months
away from developing a weapon]. I don't know what more [evidence]
we need." (Bush speaking at a news conference Sept. 7 with
Comment: As Joseph Curl reported three weeks later
in the conservative Washington Times, there was no
such IAEA report: "In October 1998, just before Saddam kicked
U.N. weapons inspectors out of Iraq [actually, they were withdrawn],
the IAEA laid out a case opposite of Mr. Bush's Sept. 7 declaration:
'There are no indications that there remains in Iraq any physical
capability for the production of weapon-usable nuclear material
of any practical significance,' IAEA Director-General Mohammed
in a report to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan". To
this day, the administration has yet to produce a convincing
explanation for Bush's bogus assertion.
4) Delegated lying/Team lying:
Iraq was involved with 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta, via an
Iraqi agent who met him in Prague in the spring of 2001, and
thus the Iraqi regime may have participated in some fashion
in 9-11. (summary of major, long-lasting propaganda theme)
Comment: For the most outrageous, easily disproved,
yet highly effective lies, such as the Iraqi connection to
9-11, sometimes the wise course is to assign personnel far
removed from the president to push the lie. That way, the
president's credibility won't suffer when the facts - known
to the administration months before it stopped peddling the
lie - come out. And in a perverse fashion, the man at the
top of this disinformation pyramid, the president, gains
credibility for the disinformation in his own speeches,
because commentators will note what a cautious and careful
performance it was, given that he steered clear of the not-yet-confirmed
The farther out of the loop the designated lie-pushers are,
the better: The administration can more easily keep from them
the intelligence data that flat-out refutes the lie, which
helps those lie-pushers who are more convincing when they
think what they're saying might be true than when they
know for a fact it's not true. For our purposes, whether the
speaker believes what he says is irrelevant. What matters
is that the administration is consciously deceiving the public.
The most aggressive pushers of this story have been neoconservative
extremists Richard Perle, James Woolsey, Ken Adelman and Frank
Gaffney, who either serve on the Defense Policy Board or are
otherwise tangentially connected to the administration. (Gaffney
has even tried to link Iraq to the 1995 terror bombing in
Oklahoma City.) See this
article for details on how this myth stayed alive long
after intelligence pros definitely disproved it. Of course,
now that the Atta link has petered out, another al Qaeda "connection"
of comparable validity is being spread - this time by Powell
5) Straw man:
"The risks of doing nothing, the risks of assuming the best
from Saddam Hussein, it's just not a risk worth taking."
Comment: Notice that Bush doesn't name anyone who
advocates "doing nothing." The whole idea behind doing
inspections and containment is that everyone knows we can't
take Saddam at his word. Here,
for instance, is former President Jimmy Carter's eminently
sensible and non-violent "do-something" strategy to ensure
the security of Iraq's neighbors as well as the United States.
6) Withholding the key fact that would alert viewers that
the purported grave threat is non-existent:
"We've also discovered through intelligence that Iraq has
a growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles that
could be used to disperse chemical and biological weapons
across broad areas. We are concerned that Iraq is exploring
ways of using UAVs for missions [targeting the United States]."
Comment: Bush omits the fact that the vehicles have
limited range, thus requiring Saddam to transport the vehicles
to our coast line without being detected. The odds
of that happening start at a billion to one. (Dana Millbank
exposed this lie last October in the Washington Post. The
Post link has expired, but you can read this
summary of the lies Millbank exposed.
7) Using mistranslation and misquotation to plant a frightening
impression in the minds of trusting citizens that is the exact
opposite of what you know to be true:
"Saddam Hussein has held numerous meetings with Iraqi nuclear
scientists, a group he calls [his 'nuclear mujahedeen' - his
nuclear holy warriors]." (October speech)
Comment: Here Bush plays on two fears of the public:
of Islamist holy warriors and nuclear weapons. But Saddam
runs a secular state and has no ties to Islamist terrorists
such as al Qaeda (despite other lies to the contrary). As
for nukes, Iraq's production capabilities had been destroyed
completely by 1998, and today Elbaradei is in the process
of verifying that Iraq has not taken even the first baby steps
in what would be a mammoth effort to rebuild a nuclear infrastructure
- an infrastructure that would be virtually impossible to
Equally insidious on Bush's part is the mistranslation and
misquotation. In "Counter-Dossier
II", Dr. Glen Rangwala, observes that the speech Bush
is referring to was delivered by Saddam "on 10 September 2000
and was about, in part, nuclear energy. The transcription
of the speech was made at the time by the BBC monitoring service.
Saddam Hussein actually refers to 'nuclear energy mujahidin,'
and doesn't mention the development of weaponry. In addition,
the term 'mujahidin' is often used in a non-combatant sense,
to mean anyone who struggles for a cause. Saddam Hussein,
for example, often refers to the mujahidin developing Iraq's
medical facilities. There is nothing in the speech to indicate
that Iraq is attempting to develop or threaten the use of
Was Bush aware of the mistranslation and misquotation? We'd
have to inject him with truth serum to find out. Even if some
senior intelligence official did the deed and kept the accurate
quote and translation from Bush, it's obvious who is setting
the deceitful tone in the administration. The official would
have every reason to believe that this is just the sort of
dirty trick - played on the unsuspecting American citizenry,
not Saddam Hussein - that this president would love.
8) Putting the most frightening interpretation on a piece
of evidence while pretending that no other interpretation
"Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to
purchase high-strength aluminum tubes [suitable for nuclear
Comment: Those tubes, unaltered, happen to be a perfect
fit for a conventional artillery rocket program. For details,
see the tubes section in my essay "An
Open Letter to the U.N. About Colin Powell".
The Washington Post's Joby
Warrick adds this: "The tubes were made of an aluminum-zinc
alloy known as 7000-series, which is used in a wide range
of industrial applications. But the dimensions and technical
features, such as metal thickness and surface coatings, made
them an unlikely choice for centrifuges, several nuclear experts
said. Iraq used a different aluminum alloy in its centrifuges
in the 1980s before switching to more advanced metals known
as maraging steel and carbon fibers, which are better suited
for the task, the experts said. Significantly, there is no
evidence so far that Iraq sought other materials required
for centrifuges, such as motors, metal caps and special magnets,
U.S. and international officials said."
Following Powell's address, Susan
Taylor Martin of the St. Petersburg Times reported
this: "Powell's speech was 'not quite accurate' on two points,
according to the Institute for Science and International Security,
a nonpartisan organization in Washington that deals with technical
aspects of nuclear proliferation. Contrary to Powell's claim,
anodized tubes are not appropriate for centrifuges and the
anodization, designed to prevent corrosion, would have to
be removed before the tubes could be used, said Corey Hinderstein,
assistant director: 'It's not to say it would be impossible
to use anodized tubes for centrifuges but it adds an extra
step.' She also challenged Powell's comment that the tubes
must be intended for a nuclear program because they meet higher
specifications than the United States sets for its own rocketry.
'In fact, we found European-designed rockets that had exactly
this high degree of specificity,' Hinderstein said."
9) Withholding highly relevant information that would
weaken your case, because what you really want to obtain from
the citizenry is "the uninformed consent of the governed":
Comment: North Korea's "secret" nuclear-weapons program
wasn't a secret to the administration last fall. Yet it kept
the information to itself, waiting till very late in the congressional
debate over Iraq to inform not the entire public and Congress,
but merely a relative few members of Congress. Thus, the Bush
team didn't have to explain - well before each House even
began to debate the various Iraq resolutions - exactly why
the administration had no problem seeking a non-invasion solution
to a crisis far more grave and imminent than Iraq.
10) Bold declarations of hot air:
a) "[The only possible explanation], the only possible use
he could have for those weapons, is to dominate, intimidate
Comment: "Deterrence" is also a generally understood
reason to develop WMD. Just ask the leaders of North Korea,
Israel, Pakistan, India, Russia and the U.S. Deterrence and
regional "balance of power" considerations were obvious factors
in Saddam's efforts in the 1980s to develop nuclear weapons.
Not the only factors, but factors nonetheless.
b) "Every chemical and biological weapon that Iraq has or
[makes] is a direct violation of the truce that ended the
Persian Gulf War in 1991." (October speech, national television)
Comment: As Rahul Mahajan correctly
observes , "There are no credible allegations that Iraq
produced chemical or biological agents while inspectors were
in the country, until December 1998. The reason we don't know
whether they are producing those agents or not since then
is that inspectors were withdrawn at the U.S. behest preparatory
to the Desert Fox bombing campaign." Visit the Institute
for Public Accuracy website for detailed critiques of
Bush's major addresses on Iraq.
11) Creating in the public mind an intense but unfounded
"[Knowing these realities], America must not ignore the threat
gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot
wait for the final proof - the smoking gun - that could come
in the form of a [mushroom cloud]." (October speech)
Comment: Iraq cannot turn American cities into mushroom
clouds because it has no nuclear weapons and no long-range
missiles to fire the nukes it does not have. The world is
not about to let Iraq under Saddam resurrect its nuclear-weapons
program. But even if the world did, Iraq would still be several
years away from being able to develop that bomb.
12) Citing old news as if it's relevant today, while leaving
out the reason it's not:
a) "The International Atomic Energy Agency [confirmed] in
the 1990s that Saddam Hussein [had] an advanced nuclear weapons
development program, [had] a design for a nuclear weapon and
was working on five different methods of enriching uranium
for a bomb."
Comment: IAEA has also confirmed, that they shut the
program down and destroyed all the production facilities -
seemingly relevant facts: In October 1998, Elbaradei reported
to the U.N: "There are no indications that there remains
in Iraq any physical capability for the production of weapon-usable
nuclear material of any practical significance".
"[This nation fights reluctantly], because [we] know the
cost, and [we] dread the days of mourning that always come."
Comment: Bush is deliberately confusing the sensible,
compassionate American people with his bellicose, bullying
14) Hallucinatory lying:
Bush's assertion, based on absolutely no evidence, that Saddam
hopes to deploy al Qaeda as his "forward army" against the
West: "We need to think about Saddam Hussein using al Qaeda
to do his dirty work, to not leave fingerprints behind," he
told a Republican audience in Michigan prior to the congressional
elections. (See David
Corn's report at The Nation's website.)
Comment: "We need to think about" Bush using Adelman,
Woolsey, Perle and Gaffney to do Bush's dirty work, so as
to not leave presidential fingerprints on the hoariest lie
of all - that Iraq was an accomplice in 9-11.
15) Withholding the key fact that would show your principled
pose to be a pose devoid of principle:
"Saddam Hussein [attacked Iran in 1980] and Kuwait in 1990."
(U.N. speech, Sept. 12, 2002)
Comment: The Swedish government is entitled to condemn
Iraq for invading Iran. The current U.S. government - featuring
key players from the very Reagan administration that supported
Iraqi aggression through much of the 1980s - is not. If you
surround yourself with officials who supported the aggression
in real time, you're not entitled to be angered by it 20 years
Conclusion: What to do with a president who is trying
to lie us into a war
It is not one single lie that has an effect on the public.
It is the cumulative effect of dozens of lies, big and small,
reiterated daily and challenged rarely. That is the effect
that has brought us to where we are today.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, speaking
January 19 on ABC, offered the media splendid advice on
how they should handle in their broadcasts and articles a
leader that lies:
"Well, first, Saddam Hussein is a liar. He lies every single
day. . . . He is still claiming that he won the war. His people
are being told every day that they won. It was a great victory
in 1991 when he was thrown out of Kuwait and chased back to
Baghdad. Now, it seems to me that almost every time you quote
something from him, you should preface it by saying 'here's
a man who has lied all the time and consistently.'"
That's good advice for Brokaw and company, but what about
the citizenry? What should we do?
Do we as a nation want to follow our dishonest president
into an aggressive, unnecessary war? I say the wiser course
is to stop the war train in its tracks and intensify inspections,
which will give the American people the breathing space to
decide what exactly we should do with a leader who has sunk
Dennis Hans is a freelance writer whose work has appeared
in the New York Times, Washington Post, National Post (Canada)
and online at TomPaine.com, Slate and The Black World Today
(tbwt.com), among other outlets. He has taught courses in
mass communications and American foreign policy at the University
of South Florida-St. Petersburg, and can be reached at HANS_D@popmail.firn.edu.