On May 29, 2003, 50 days after the fall of Baghdad, President Bush proclaimed a fresh victory for his administration in Iraq: Two small trailers captured by U.S. and Kurdish troops had turned out to be long-sought mobile "biological laboratories." He declared, "We have found the weapons of mass destruction."
The claim, repeated by top administration officials for months afterward, was hailed at the time as a vindication of the decision to go to war. But even as Bush spoke, U.S. intelligence officials possessed powerful evidence that it was not true.
A secret fact-finding mission to Iraq -- not made public until now -- had already concluded that the trailers had nothing to do with biological weapons. Leaders of the Pentagon-sponsored mission transmitted their unanimous findings to Washington in a field report on May 27, 2003, two days before the president's statement.
The three-page field report and a 122-page final report three weeks later were stamped "secret" and shelved. Meanwhile, for nearly a year, administration and intelligence officials continued to publicly assert that the trailers were weapons factories.
This wasn't a matter of the intelligence being in dispute:
The technical team was unequivocal in its conclusion that the trailers were not intended to manufacture biological weapons. ... "There was no connection to anything biological," said one expert who studied the trailers.
Yes, earlier, preliminary examinations by military intelligence did conclude that the trailers had biological applications. But those conclusions should have been trumped, or at least balanced, by this one. Instead, this report was ignored and the earlier reports played up and repeated with growing enthusiasm.
This was a postwar incident, so it doesn't speak directly about the intelligence situation during the runup to the war. But it's reasonable to conclude that postwar administration practices were similar to prewar practices -- in this case, trumpeting "evidence" that supported the administration case while ignoring evidence that contradicted it.
That may be human nature, but it's an inexcusable basis for going to war.
Bush, bioweapons, intelligence, WMD, trailers, Iraq, politics, midtopia