By March 2003, Bush had made his case. Congress voted to authorize the invasion of Iraq. But then a remarkable turnaround occurred. It seems once regime change in Iraq was no longer hypothetical, it was no longer Saddam Hussein who had to be stopped. Opponents were seeking ways that George W. Bush could be stopped. They found an opening in sixteen words from the 2003 State of the Union address.
The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.
A year and a half after traveling to the African nation of Niger on behalf of the CIA’s counter-proliferation experts, Joseph C. Wilson IV, former ambassador to Iraq, wrote an editorial column for the New York Times. He accused the Bush administration of ignoring his findings and twisting intelligence in order to justify the invasion of Iraq:
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.
The next day, I reminded a friend at the State Department of my trip and suggested that if the president had been referring to Niger, then his conclusion was not borne out by the facts as I understood them. …
The act of war is the last option of a democracy, taken when there is a grave threat to our national security. More than 200 American soldiers have lost their lives in Iraq already. We have a duty to ensure that their sacrifice came for the right reasons.
Media luminaries picked up the story. Tim Russert, in an appearance on Imus in the Morning, spoke in grave tones about the seriousness of such a thing — that a president might falsify intelligence to make a case for war. The media herd followed.
But the verbal report that Wilson had given to the CIA on his return from Africa bore little resemblance to the editorial he wrote for the Times. If anything, the ambassador’s report corroborated Bush’s charge. A July 11, 2003, statement by Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet said:
He reported back to us that one of the former Nigerien officials he met stated that he was unaware of any contract being signed between Niger and rogue states for the sale of uranium during his tenure in office. The same former official also said that in June 1999 a businessman approached him and insisted that the former official meet with an Iraqi delegation to discuss “expanding commercial relations” between Iraq and Niger. The former official interpreted the overture as an attempt to discuss uranium sales.
Ultimately the media had to admit that Wilson had not “debunked” the sixteen words from the 2003 State of the Union. A Senate Intelligence Committee report and the British Butler report concluded that accusations of Iraqi efforts to get uranium from Africa were “well founded.” But once the Wilson column was published, Democrats and their allies in the media began an all-out campaign to expose Bush duplicity. Bush tricked us into invading Iraq for the wrong reasons. Bush lied. Soldiers died. The intelligence had been twisted.
The organizer must first rub raw the resentments of the people …
– Saul Alinsky
In January 2004, the U.S. Army informed the media that allegations of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq were the subject of a criminal investigation that had been under way since late 2003. The military soon announced that 17 soldiers had been suspended and that charges had been filed against six. That investigation resulted in eleven criminal convictions of soldiers involved in the abuse.
In addition to the criminal investigation, the Army opened an Article 15-6 inquiry into the conduct of the 800th Military Police Brigade, the unit in charge of Abu Ghraib. The results of that inquiry were made public in May of 2004 in a report by Major General Antonio Taguba. Between January and March the media showed little interest in the reports.
In April 2004, CBS’s 60 Minutes II program made it the subject of a broadcast and a feeding frenzy was on. The New Yorker published an article by Seymour Hersh titled “Torture at Abu Ghraib,” which asked: “How far up does responsibility go?” Between late April and early June, the New York Times ran a front-page story about the abuse at Abu Ghraib on 34 out of 37 days.
Leading Democrats piled on. Senator Ted Kennedy had an answer for Hersh: “Shamefully we now learn that Saddam’s torture chambers reopened under new management, U.S. management.” By implication, the abuse was systemic and authorized at the highest levels of the administration.
During the summer of 2005, the media and Democrats were bent on proving systemic abuse. Speaking of American soldiers stationed at Guantanamo, Senator Dick Durbin compared them to Nazis. Stories of abuse reached worldwide audiences. Michael Isikoff published an item in Newsweek claiming that interrogators had desecrated the Koran by flushing it down a toilet. Somehow it never occurred to Isikoff that a book might not fit down a toilet. Newsweek formally retracted the story, but not before at least sixteen people were killed in rioting throughout the Middle East.