Friday, January 30, 2004

Dick Cheney Credibility Gap
Tricky Dick the 2nd?

Some of the other bloggers have already picked up on this, but I would like to pull together a few sources to elucidate further the recent concerns about Mr. Cheney's WMD statements. This most recent controversy began on 1/22/2004 when an interview between Mr. Cheney and Juan Williams was broadcast on NPR. Mr. Cheney repeated the assertion that two purported chemical weapons trailers had been found in Iraq. You may recall having heard that, back in March 2003. Then the story sort of disappeared. Daily Kos picked it up again in August 2003, pointing out that there were some troubling aspects about the report. Now we hear Mr. Cheney again referring to this supposed proof of WMD related program activities (WMDRPA). As detailed in the NPR Ombudsman's report, some listeners complained about the interview, that is was not tough enough on Cheney; others later raised questions about the accuracy of Mr. Cheney's statements in the interview. One such article is on William Bowles' site. He repeats an article published on the FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) site:

FAIR  Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting     112 W. 27th Street   New York, NY 10001

Cheney's Iraq Deceptions Leave NPR Speechless

January 23, 2004

...Cheney reiterated the long-discredited claim that military trailers found in Iraq were Saddam Hussein's so-called mobile bio-weapons labs: "We know, for example, that prior to our going in that he had spent time and effort acquiring mobile biological weapons labs, and we're quite confident he did, in fact, have such a program. We've found a couple of semi trailers at this point which we believe were, in fact, part of that program. Now it's not clear at this stage whether or not he used any of that to produce or whether he was simply getting ready for the next war. That, in my mind, is a serious danger in the hands of a man like Saddam Hussein, and I would deem that conclusive evidence, if you will, that he did, in fact, have programs for weapons of mass destruction."

In fact, the trailers are anything but "conclusive evidence" of an active unconventional weapons program. The London Observer newspaper (6/15/03) reported that "an official British investigation into two trailers found in northern Iraq has concluded they are not mobile germ warfare labs, as was claimed by Tony Blair and President George Bush, but were for the production of hydrogen to fill artillery balloons, as the Iraqis have continued to insist." A British biological weapons expert who examined the trailers told the Observer, "They are not mobile germ warfare laboratories. You could not use them for making biological weapons. They do not even look like them. They are exactly what the Iraqis said they were-- facilities for the production of hydrogen gas to fill balloons." The hydrogen-producing system, intended to fill balloons that help correct for the effects of wind on artillery, was originally sold to Iraq by the British firm Marconi Command & Control, the paper reported...

...Following up on Cheney's NPR appearance, the Washington Post (1/23/04) and Los Angeles Times (1/23/04) both raised questions about the accuracy of his comments.

I was not able to get the WaPo article to load properly, but I did view the LAT article.

LA Times Masthead

Cheney Is Adamant on Iraq 'Evidence'

Vice president revives assertions on banned weaponry and links to Al Qaeda that other administration officials have backed away from.

By Greg Miller
Times Staff Writer

January 23, 2004

...Cheney also argued that the main thrust of the administration's case for war — the claim that Iraq was assembling weapons of mass destruction — had been validated by the discovery of two flatbed trailers outfitted with tanks and other equipment.

"We've found a couple of semi-trailers at this point which we believe were in fact part of [a WMD] program," Cheney said. "I would deem that conclusive evidence, if you will, that he did in fact have programs for weapons of mass destruction."

That view is at odds with the judgment of the government's lead weapons inspector, David Kay, who said in an interim report in October that "we have not yet been able to corroborate the existence of a mobile [biological weapons] production effort."...

Now, one could argue that we have no proof that this was a deliberate deception. Maybe he just did not know the details about the trailers. This is possible, but I consider it to be unlikely. There are two reasons for this. One, the NPR interview was just eight minutes long.  He allowed Mr. Williams only 10 minutes for the entire interview; eight minutes made the final cut. Thus, Mr. Cheney should have been pretty well-prepared for the interview.  If something came up in the interview that he was unsure about, he should have said that he wasn't sure. Then he should have had his staff get back to Mr. Williams with the correct details. Now that the questions have been raised again, he should have come out with ta public statement of clarification, either correcting his earlier statement, or providing more evidence to back up the statement. Two, Mr. Cheney provided an almost compulsive amount of detail about other things. As quoted by Brad DeLong:

...Cheney... said "there's overwhelming evidence" of an Iraq-al Qaeda connection, citing "documents indicating that a guy named Abdul Rahman Yasin, who was part of the team who attacked the World Trade Center in 1993, when he arrived back in Iraq was put on the payroll and provided a house, safe harbor and sanctuary." Cheney added, "I'm very confident there was an established relationship there."...

If he had that kind of detail at his fingertips, he probably did prepare for the interview. Again, this is an inference on my part. I can't prove that Mr. Cheney was being misleading deliberately; but if not, he at least was negligent in not setting the record straight, later, in a public forum.  If there are aritlces in the LA Times and the Washington Post questioning his veracity, it is his duty to be aware of that.  The American People should not be left speculating about the veracity of the Vice President; if he has made a mistake, he should own up to it.