Oct 1 2006

NYT Rewrites Iraq War History

To Bush—and the Times—WMDs were not just a possibility

In a September 5 New York Times online article on George W. Bush’s speech that day on terrorism and Iraq, reporters David Sanger and John O’Neil included a striking revision of Bush’s reasoning for going to war:

“The possibility that Saddam Hussein might develop “weapons of mass destruction” and pass them to terrorists was the prime reason Mr. Bush gave in 2003 for ordering the invasion of Iraq.”

This revision of the record, maintaining that Bush only presented Iraqi WMDs as a “possibility,” threatens to erase one of the most significant chapters of recent history, in effect clearing the Bush administration—and the Times—of their role in misleading the country into war. Referring to a Bush quote earlier in the piece that warned that “50 years from now, history will look back on our time with unforgiving clarity,” the blog A Tiny Revolution (9/6/06) noted, “I don’t know if there will be that much unforgiving clarity in 50 years, given that the New York Times can’t remember what happened three-and a-half years ago.”

In reality, of course, the drive to war rested firmly on Bush’s repeated and emphatic claim that Hussein had already developed WMDs, which he possessed and was prepared to use—a bogus claim that the mainstream media, led by the Times’ own Judith Miller, largely accepted as an article of faith and bolstered with credulous reports based on faulty information. (See Extra!, 7-8/03.)

Bush’s charges that Iraq concealed chemical and biological weapons were unequivocal. “Iraq has stockpiled biological and chemical weapons, and is rebuilding the facilities used to make more of those weapons,” Bush told the U.N. (9/12/02). “The Iraqi regime . . . possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons. It is seeking nuclear weapons,” Bush said in a speech in Cincinnati (10/7/02).

“Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised,” Bush said in the March 17, 2003 address to the nation that announced the imminent invasion of Iraq.

The New York Times’ editorial page unskeptically accepted these claims and incorporated them into the paper’s own arguments. In a September 18, 2002 editorial, the paper declared: “What makes Iraq the subject of intense concern, as Mr. Bush noted, is Mr. Hussein’s defiance of the Security Council’s longstanding instructions to dismantle Baghdad’s nuclear weapons program and to eliminate all its biological and chemical weapons and the materials used to make them.”

After the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution on inspectors returning to Iraq, the Times editorialized (11/9/02):

The unwavering goal is to disarm Iraq, enforcing a string of previous Security Council resolutions that Baghdad has contemptuously ignored. The cost of letting that happen has been diminished authority for the United Nations and a growing danger that Iraq’s unconventional weapons will be used in war or passed on to terrorists. Mr. Bush has galvanized the Security Council to declare that its orders must now be obeyed and those dangers eliminated.

When the inspectors returned, the paper stated (12/6/02), “Iraq has to get rid of its biological and chemical arms and missiles and the means to make them, and abandon its efforts to develop nuclear weapons.” When the inspectors failed to find any evidence of banned weapons, the Times insisted (2/15/03): “The Security Council doesn’t need to sit through more months of inconclusive reports. It needs full and immediate Iraqi disarmament. It needs to say so, backed by the threat of military force.”

As the invasion approached (3/13/03), the editorialists endorsed British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s six-point ultimatum to Iraq as the “last hope of forcing Saddam Hussein to disarm voluntarily.” The first point: “Mr. Hussein would have to acknowledge that he has hidden unconventional weapons and pledge to stop producing or concealing such weapons.”

After FAIR issued an Action Alert (9/8/06) pointing out the New York Times’ revision of recent Iraq War history, the Times published a correction (9/12/06) on its website. The correction read:

An article that appeared on NY Times.com for part of the day on September 5 incorrectly described President Bush’s statements about Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons programs at the time of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Mr. Bush said it was Iraq’s possession of those weapons that was the main justification for the invasion, not the possibility that the weapons could be developed.

FAIR is pleased that the Times corrected the record. The correction’s characterization of the article as appearing “for part of the day on September 5” is inaccurate; the article remained on the Times site in its uncorrected version even after the correction was published. A follow-up inquiry from FAIR alerted the Times to the error, and the article has now been removed from the website.

The correction, too, has been removed, under the Times’ curious policy of replacing its online corrections each day but providing no archive of the previous day’s corrections—let alone those of the previous week or month.