Today in 2002: Cheney first publicly claims Iraq has WMDs

August 26, 2011

Today in Legal HistoryOn August 26, 2002, in an address to the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, then-Vice President Dick Cheney said:

“Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.”

This statement marked the beginning of the Bush Administration’s making the case for an invasion of Iraq with arguments of its danger to the U.S. and its allies.

While Cheney suggested in March of 2002 that Saddam Hussein was “actively pursuing nuclear weapons at this time,” no one in the administration had publicly stated that Hussein was actually in possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) before Cheney’s August 2002 speech.

After that speech, many other prominent administration officials, including National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and President Bush himself, began publicly stating that Iraq had WMDs.

During the same time period, the administration also claimed the existence of strong connections between Iraq and al-Qaida.

With those two factors serving as the primary justification, U.S. Congress passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution (more widely known as the Iraq War Resolution) in October of 2002, which legally authorized the use of military force in Iraq.

Although the Resolution also cited several human rights concerns, it’s unlikely that the Resolution would have found the same backing with the public (and Congress) without any arguments of Iraq being a direct threat to the U.S.

As we all know (or should know), the U.S. eventually invaded Iraq in March of 2003.

Unfortunately for the Bush Administration, its statements were left unproven (and some might say disproven) by a 2005 CIA report concluding that Iraq, in fact, had no weapons of mass destruction.

Likewise, a plethora of reports by several foreign governments and several U.S. government bodies, including 2004’s 9/11 Commission Report and 2006’s Senate Report of Pre-War Intelligence, found no connection between al Qaida and Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Cheney visits troops at BaladWere Cheney’s August 2002 statement and subsequent ones by him and other administration officials made falsely?

Barring any admissions of guilt, there’s no real way to definitively answer that question, although the circumstances seem to suggest a positive answer to the question.

For example, less than a year prior to Cheney’s August 2002 statement, he stated in an interview that Saddam was “bottled up” and that the focus was not on Hussein, but on al-Qaida.

While new revelations could have changed that attitude, it seems unlikely, since CIA officials told journalist Ron Suskind that Cheney’s assertions went well beyond his agency’s assessments at the time.

For argument’s sake, let’s assume that Cheney and other administration officials knowingly made false statements about Iraq’s WMDs and ties to al-Qaida.

Are there any legal consequences?

In theory, because of the various forms of immunity granted to state officials while in office, the only applicable legal mechanism is impeachment.

In practice, though, there aren’t any legal consequences.

Aside from the fact that those individuals aren’t currently in office, impeachment requires a majority of the House of Representatives, who have extremely wide deference in determining exactly what constitutes an impeachable offense.

Furthermore, impeachment doesn’t necessarily equate to a removal from office; a conviction does.

However, a conviction can only be obtained with a two-thirds majority in the Senate, an extremely difficult feat under most circumstances.

So, while many are troubled or even outraged by an expensive and bloody war justified with unsubstantiated statements, legally, there’s nothing anyone can do about it.