As polls open in the nation’s first primary, nearly all the Democratic candidates are calling on President Bush to offer an explanation for his false claims about Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction. But five of the candidates made similar claims in the past. Correspondent Jeremy Scahill in NH confronts the candidates about the discrepancy between what they said then and now. [includes transcript]
Polls have opened in New Hampshire today the country’s first presidential primary. An estimated 184,000 voters are expected to vote. The latest Zogby poll shows Senator John Kerry narrowly beating former Vermont Governor Howard Dean by a margin of 33 to 28 percent. Senator Edwards and General Wesley Clark are polling third and fourth.
As part of a New Hampshire tradition polls opened in the state’s two smallest hamlets, Dixville Notch, population 33, and Hart’s Location, population 39, last night at midnight. Gen. Wesley Clark won in both locations with a total of 14 votes.
The seven contenders spent Monday in a last-ditch attempt to win over voters. Nearly all the candidates on the campaign trail are calling on President Bush to offer an explanation for his false claims about Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction.
After months of leading the U.S. search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, David Kay now says he believes stockpiles of such weapons never existed. In an interview with Tom Brokaw on NBC last night Kay said: "Clearly, the intelligence that we went to war on was inaccurate, wrong...If there weren’t stockpiles of weapons, there must have been a production process which required plants, required people and would have produced documentation. But we have seen nothing that would indicate large-scale production... No scientist, no documentation nor physical evidence of the production plants."
Although the Democratic presidential candidates are harshly critical of Bush’s claims of Saddam possessing weapons of mass destruction, five of the candidates made similar claims in the past.
Democracy Now! sent correspondent Jeremy Scahill in New Hampshire on the hunt for to find out what candidates had to say of the discrepancy between what they said before and now.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODDMAN: In the last rallies last night, at the same time that that was going on, NBC was conducting an interview with, or at least broadcasting it, with David Kay. After months of leading the U.S. search for weapons of mass destruction, this is what he had to say to Tom Brokaw.
DAVID KAY: The large stockpiles of weapon, there must have been a production process which required plants and people, and it would have produced documentation, but we have seen nothing that would indicate large scale production.
TOM BROKAW: And no scientist who testified to that.
DAVID KAY: No scientists, no documentation, nor physical evidence of the production plants.
TOM BROKAW: And no workers, no managers of those kinds of plants?
DAVID KAY: That’s absolutely true."
AMY GOODDMAN: That was David Kay speaking on NBC last night to Tom Brokaw. Well, today we’re going to take a look at the claims of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, not at what the Bush administration had to say, as much as what the Democratic contenders for President had to say over this past year. Jeremy Scahill is in New Hampshire with Jackie Suin and filed this report.
JEREMY SCAHILL: The Democratic Candidates wrapped up their campaigning in New Hampshire last night, and they were out on the stump in full force. They criss-crossed the state shaking hands, holding rallies and giving the same speeches for what seemed like the 100th time in under a week.
DEAN SUPPORTER: Howard Dean was against the war! Where was John Kerry before ’04? Howard Dean has always been against the war. Where was John Kerry before ’04?
JEREMY SCAHILL: From very early on, Howard Dean’s campaign has made opposition to the war in Iraq a premier issue in the race for the Democratic nomination. At a rally, Dean went on the offensive against the frontrunner, John Kerry, for his position on the war.
HOWARD DEAN: A lot of people would criticize my position on foreign policy and my experience. Let’s look at the experience. In 1991, I supported gulf war. I supported the first President Bush. Troops were on the ground, Iraqi troops in Kuwait, setting fire to the Kuwaiti oil fields, massacring Kuwaities and others. Senator Kerry who criticizes my foreign policy, he voted against that war. I supported the Afghanistan war, because I felt it was about our national defense. 3,000 of our people were killed. I supported President Clinton going into Bosnia and Kosovo, because I thought it was a matter of stopping genocide. This time the President said that Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda were just like that and implied that Saddam was involved in 9-11. Well, Secretary Powell last week said that wasn’t true, and there was no clear evidence of that. The Vice President said that Iraq had nuclear weapons. That turned out not to be true. The Secretary of State said they knew right where the weapons of mass destruction were, in Tikrit and Baghdad. Turns out there was no evidence of that. And last week, David Kay, the United State weapons inspector, resigned saying there never were any weapons of mass destruction. Senator Kerry voted in favor of that war and I said, no, that was the wrong thing to do.
JEREMY SCAHILL: But, as most of the candidates vie to distinguish themselves as the firm anti-war candidate, there is one fact that none of them want to discuss. That is that before the invasion of Iraq, five of the Democratic Candidates promoted one of the Bush administration’s key justifications for the war, the allegation that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. Only Ohio Congress member Dennis Kucinich, the Reverend Al Sharpton and Ambassador Carol Moseley-Braun consistently called these allegations into question. Even, Howard Dean, the democrat who has gotten the most visibility as an anti-war candidate echoed the allegation put out by the Bush administration. On March 9, 2003, just days before the invasion began, Dean told Tim Russert, on NBC’s Meet The Press, "I don’t want Saddam staying in power with control over those weapons of mass destruction. I want him to be disarmed." At a campaign stop in Durham, we pushed our way through the crowds around Dean to ask him about his statement that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Governor Dean, why did you say in March 2003 that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction? Governor Dean? Why did you say —
HOWARD DEAN: I thought he did.
JEREMY SCAHILL: What intelligence did you base that on?
HOWARD DEAN: Talks with people who were knowledgeable, including a series of folks that work in the Clinton administration.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Were you wrong?
HOWARD DEAN: Maybe. I don’t know. Probably not the best time to talk about it.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Dean told us it wasn’t the best time to talk about this issue. While Dean says he maybe was wrong and made that statement based on information from what he called knowledgeable people, including former Clinton administration officials, Dean was not in a position to review intelligence, and he was not in an authoritative role in the U.S. Congress. Three senators were — John Kerry, Joe Lieberman and John Edwards. As a former member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, John Kerry’s word on these matters carried weight, particularly because he was a Democrat, and because he opposed the 1991 Gulf War. But in October of 2002, when Congress voted on whether to give Bush authority to attack Iraq, Kerry voted yes. In a speech on the Senate floor October 9, Kerry accused Saddam Hussein of attempting to develop nuclear weapons. He said, "According to intelligence, Iraq has chemical and biological weapons." He went on to say, "Iraq is developing unmanned aerial vehicles capable of delivering chemical and biological warfare agents." At a campaign rally in Nashua, in which Kerry spoke out against the Iraq war, Democracy Now! caught up with the Massachusetts Senator. Democracy Now! Host, Amy Goodman asked Kerry about his statements that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
AMY GOODDMAN: Senator Kerry — quick question. You said that Saddam Hussein was developing nuclear weapons when other nations wouldn’t try. What intelligence was that based on?
JOHN KERRY: I don’t know what report — I don’t know what you are talking about.
AMY GOODDMAN: You said Saddam Hussein was developing nuclear weapons.
JOHN KERRY: When did I say that? I don’t recall. I don’t know.
AMY GOODDMAN: You said he was developing chemical and biological weapons.
JOHN KERRY: I never said he was developing nuclear. I believe I said —
AMY GOODDMAN: You said, why is Saddam Hussein attempting to develop nuclear weapons.
JOHN KERRY: Attempting to, because he did. He did attempt to.
AMY GOODDMAN: According to intelligence, Iraq has chemical and biological weapons.
JOHN KERRY: Say it again?
AMY GOODDMAN: You said according to intelligence, Iraq has biological and chemical weapons.
JOHN KERRY: That’s what we were told. Right.
AMY GOODDMAN: Is that intelligence wrong? Do you think Bush —- you made a wrong statement, then? Because Kucinich at the time was saying no credible sources were there, but you are saying -—
JOHN KERRY: I’m sorry, we’re going to have to do —
JEREMY SCAHILL: Amy was then told by Kerry’s people to stop asking questions and the press could ask them later. But when she asked if there would be an avail after the event, press lingo for press availability, Kerry’s staffers conceded that there would be none. We persisted in our questioning of Kerry on this issue.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Senator Kerry, why did you say that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction?
STAFFER: We have to get the Apollo crew in here.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Answer the question, senator Kerry. Why did you accuse Saddam of having weapons of mass destruction?
JEREMY SCAHILL: As most of the democratic candidates tried to outflank each other on the Iraq war issue, there is one candidate in the pack who is actually going on a pro-war stance.
JOE LIEBERMAN: Hey, you know, to come here and stand out here in the cold, to me this is just another sign of this state-wide outbreak in New Hampshire of Joe-Mentum!
JEREMY SCAHILL: Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman has been running on the platform that he is the Democrat Bush doesn’t want to face in November. Lieberman says that’s because of his support for the war against Iraq. Lieberman is fond of pointing out that he sponsored the law that established the Department of Homeland Security. Indeed many of Lieberman’s positions are consistent with the Bush administration. In fact, there’s a joke going around that Lieberman is the right candidate to face Bush, but in a Republican Primary.
JOE LIEBERMAN: I’m the one candidate in this race who has been tough enough to not waver when it comes to what will protect the safety of the American people. I said it from the beginning, and I’ll say it again — we are safer today with Saddam Hussein in prison than in power.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Lieberman has called for the bombing of Iraq for years. He has made many allegations about Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction. In one statement on August 4, 2002, Lieberman told Fox news, "Every day Saddam remains in power with chemical weapons, biological weapons and the development of nuclear weapons is a day of danger for the United States." While we missed out on the morning cup of joe with Joe, we did catch up with Lieberman at a rally outside the state house in Concord, New Hampshire. You said Iraq had chemical and biological weapons. What intelligence did you base this on and were you wrong? Lieberman said he would come back to answer our question in a minute. But when it became clear he was heading quickly toward his campaign bus and not back toward us, we pushed through Lieberman’s security to ask him about his allegations that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
JOE LIEBERMAN: Great to see you.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Could you answer the question on Iraq?
JOE LIEBERMAN: I do remember that I — John McCain and I — we made it the law of the land to change the regime in Iraq in 1998. It was about Saddam Hussein being a weapon of mass destruction because he murdered a million of his people.
JEREMY SCAHILL: I’m talking about his possession of chemical and biological weapons. Was that wrong?
JOE LIEBERMAN: I wasn’t wrong to have us fight to overthrow him. Incidentally, he said he did in the 1990’s.
JOHN EDWARDS: We need to put an end to this war profiteering that’s going on in Iraq.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Of all candidates John Edwards stump speech touches least on Iraq, but like Lieberman and John Kerry, Edwards voted in favor of giving Bush the authority to attack Iraq. During the Senate debate in October of 2002, Edwards said, "We know that he, (meaning Saddam Hussein) has chemical and biological weapons." At Edwards final rally in Manchester, we attempted to ask him about his statement that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction JEREMY SCAHILL: Can I ask you a quick question. On the issue, you said — Edwards refused to address us, and was ushered away by his staffers. As for general Wesley Clark’s position on Iraq’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction, he told CNN last January, "He, (meaning Saddam Hussein) does have weapons of mass destruction." When Clark was asked if he could say that categorically, he responded absolutely. Before the invasion of Iraq began, the Reverend Al Sharpton said regularly that there was no evidence to suggest that Iraq had any weapons of mass destruction. Ohio congressman Dennis Kucinich has been most outspoken on this issue. He’s the candidate with the most comprehensive plan to end the U.S. occupation of Iraq. U.N. in, U.S. out. Of late, Kucinich has been attacking his Democrat opponents saying their statements on Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction or lack thereof is going to hurt the Democrats’ chances of beating Bush in the November elections. Some pundits are saying that Sharpton and Kucinich should not be allowed to participate in any more debates. For Democracy Now! This is Jeremy Scahill with Jacquie Soohen in Concord, New Hampshire.
AMY GOODDMAN: And you are listening to Democracy Now!.