When the final report on the secret meetings between the British intelligence agency MI6 and Iraq’s former Chief of Intelligence, Tahir Jalil Habbush, was presented to George Bush bearing the conclusion that Saddam possessed no WMDs, Bush responded, “Fuck it. We’re going in.” This anecdote, along with other disturbing revelations from inside the Bush administration, is detailed in Ron Suskind’s new book, The Way of the World. In addition to revealing startling information about Benazir Bhutto, Guantanamo, and the threat of nuclear terrorism, this Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter gives us an alarming new account of the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq and the extent to which the White House was willing to deceive not just the public, but intelligence officers and government officials.
Suskind’s book, when put together with Scott McClellan’s What Happened, Barton Gellman’s Angler, and Bob Woodward’s The War Within, paints an extremely dark, deceptive, and frankly, evil picture of the Bush administration. While there have been many accusations over the past eight years, these books offer fairly definitive proof of Bush and Cheney’s two terms of illegal operations. Unfortunately, with the media completely fixated on the election, no one seems to care. Bush is hardly talked about anymore (with the exception of comparisons to McCain), and outrage at his presidency seems to be dwindling.
Suskind explains that there were two main Iraqi sources that provided the CIA with reliable inside information on Saddam’s WMD program: Naji Sabri (Saddam’s Foreign Minister) and the aforementioned Tahir Jalil Habbush (Saddam’s Chief of intelligence). Sabri was put in contact with the CIA through French Intelligence officials, who enjoyed a long-standing relationship with the Iraqi Foreign Minister. Sabri revealed to the U.S. that Saddam neither possessed WMDs nor was he trying to procure or develop them. Any vestige of a bioweapons program was negligible, and neither he nor his military possessed chemical weapons. This information was immediately passed up the chain of command to the Bush White House, where it was dismissed as misinformation. They sent it to the CIA station in New York, where a final report was concocted that completely contradicted Sabri’s actual claims.
The introductory paragraph of the report claimed that Saddam possessed biological and chemical weapons and that he was “aggressively and covertly developing” nuclear weapons. This false report was passed to the upper echelons of British Intelligence, and the real findings were immediately buried and never conveyed to Colin Powell before he gave his notorious presentation to the UN detailing Iraq’s attempts to purchase uranium from Niger.
The second source, Tahir Habbush, also revealed that Saddam had no WMDs or programs to develop them. As the head of Iraqi intelligence, he also had extensive access to Saddam and gave both the British and the American intelligence agencies unprecedented access to Saddam’s state of mind. Habbush detailed to the British that Saddam was worried his neighbors, especially Iran, would discover he had none of the weapons they most feared: “Saddam’s focus [was] on his own image and his regional enemies. That was key.”
None of this was of interest to the Bush administration because it didn’t fit the narrative they were trying to build. When George Tenet saw the report, he stated, “They’re not going to like this downtown.” He was correct: when Bush was briefed on Habbush, he asked, “Why don’t they ask him to give us something we can use to help us make our case?”
Habbush was ordered to be quickly silenced, and just before the invasion, he was slipped out of Baghdad into Jordan with the assistance of the CIA. Months later in January, when no WMDs could be found, “everyone was holding their breath, saying, ‘I hope Habbush doesn’t pop up on the screen.’” Habbush was then given $5 million to keep quiet on the issue of WMDs and provide the type of assistance the Bush Administration valued.
The White House concocted a fake letter from Habbush to Saddam, backdated to July 1, 2001. It said that the 9/11 ringleader Mohammed Atta had actually trained for his mission in Iraq, thus proving the Iraq-Al Qaeda connection. The letter also mentioned suspicious shipments to Iraq from Niger set up with Al Qaeda’s assistance. The idea was to take the letter to Habbush and have him transcribe it in his own writing on a piece of Iraqi government stationary, then take the finished product to Baghdad, discover it, and leak it to the media.
The honors of breaking the story were given to the conservative British paper, The Daily Telegraph, which released the story the same day Saddam was captured. This tactic directly contradicted a 1991 amendment to the CIA statute that stated, “No covert action may be conducted which is intended to influence U.S. political processes, public opinion, policies, or media.” Considering this violation was ordered by the White House, it seems to provide a very fair and specific case for impeachment.
Habbush is still officially “at large” and has the honor of being the Jack of Diamonds in Bush’s deck of Iraq’s Most Wanted. The British intelligence officer who was the contact with Habbush, Michael Shipster, told author Ron Suskind that if the British had not been deceived by the false Sabri report, “we would have never gone to war.” Unfortunately, the US was “like a runaway train. There was nothing that was going to stop this.”
If there is any lesson to be taken from all this, it is to never underestimate the extent that the United States government will lie to its allies, officials, and own people to achieve goals that only serve a handful of powerful individuals. More specifically, the Republican Party’s track record has been particularly astonishing: Nixon and Watergate, Reagan and H.W. Bush and Iran-Contra, and finally George W. Bush and Iraq. I think I know who I’m voting for this election.