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Sen. Byrd: Rice Responsible For “Most Overblown Rhetoric Administration Used to Scare the American People”

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In a Senate debate on the confirmation of Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State, some Democrats delivered a blistering public attack on her role as National Security Adviser on Iraq. Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) led the opposition to Rice’s confirmation. We hear an extended excerpt of his address. [includes rush transcript]

A number of Senate Democrats delivered blistering public attacks on Condoleezza Rice in her role as National Security Adviser Tuesday as the Senate prepared to confirm her to be President Bush’s next Secretary of State.

In a nine-hour debate, Democrats repeatedly accused Rice of misleading Americans about prewar intelligence in Iraq and the administration’s handling of the war, even though both parties expect her to be confirmed.

After Rice was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week, Senate Democrats forced a postponement of the confirmation vote. Republicans have since accused them of playing “petty politics.”

The Democrats attacks on Rice were led by Senators Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Barbara Boxer of California. Boxer was one of two senators on the Foreign Relations Committee to vote against Rice’s confirmation last week. John Kerry was the other senator. Byrd held the floor for almost an hour. At times, the Sebate’s oldest member clutched a pocket-sized copy of the US Constitution in his hand. This is Senator Robert Byrd.

  • Sen. Robert Byrd (D–West Virginia), United States Senate, January 25, 2005.
    Read transcript of Byrd’s address

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, among those who took to the floor yesterday were Robert Byrd of West Virginia. Robert Byrd spoke for an extended period of time, reserved a whole hour. Today we’ll play a part of his testimony.

SENATOR ROBERT BYRD: To put it plainly, Dr. Rice has asserted that the president holds far more of the war power than the Constitution grants him. This doctrine of attacking countries before a threat has fully materialized was put into motion as soon as the National Security Strategy was released. Beginning in September 2002, Dr. Rice also took a position on the front lines of the administration’s efforts to hype the danger of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. Dr. Rice is responsible for some of the most overblown rhetoric that the administration used to scare the American people into believing that there was an imminent threat from Iraq. On September 8, 2002, Dr. Rice conjured visions of American cities being consumed by mushroom clouds. On an appearance on CNN, she warned, “The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he (meaning Saddam) can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” That was Dr. Rice speaking. Dr. Rice also claimed that she had conclusive evidence about Iraq’s alleged nuclear weapons program. During that same interview, she also said, “We do know that he is actively pursuing a nuclear weapon. We do know that there has been shipments going into Iraq, for instance, of aluminum tubes that are really only suited for nuclear weapons programs.”

Well, my fellow senators, we now know that Iraq’s nuclear program was a fiction. Charles Duelfer, the Chief Arms Inspector of the CIA’s Iraq Survey Group, reported on September 30, 2004 as follows: “Saddam Hussein ended the nuclear program in 1991, following the Gulf War.” The Iraq Survey Group found no evidence to suggest concerted efforts to restart the program. But Dr. Rice’s statements in 2002 were not only wrong; they also did not accurately reflect the intelligence reports of the time. Declassified portions of the CIA’s National Intelligence Estimate from October 2002 make it abundantly clear that there were disagreements among our intelligence analysts about the state of Iraq’s nuclear program. But Dr. Rice seriously misrepresented their disputes when she categorically stated, “We do know that Saddam is actively pursuing a nuclear weapon.” Her allegation also misrepresented to the American people the controversy in those same intelligence reports about the aluminum tubes. Again, Dr. Rice said that these tubes were really only suited for nuclear weapons programs. But intelligence experts at the State Department and the Department of Energy believed that those tubes had nothing to do with building a nuclear weapon, and they made their dissent known in the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate. This view, which was at odds with Dr. Rice’s representations, was later confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency and our own CIA arms inspectors.

Well, Dr. Rice made other statements that helped to build a case for war by implying a link — a link — between Iraq and September 11. On multiple occasions, Dr. Rice spoke about the supposed evidence that Saddam and al Qaeda were in league with each other. For example, on September 25, 2002, Dr. Rice said on the PBS Newshour, “No one is trying to make an argument at this point that Saddam Hussein somehow had operational control of what happened on September 11. So, we don’t want to push this too far. But this is a story that is unfolding and it is getting clear, and we’re learning more, but, yes, there clearly are contacts between al Qaeda and Iraq that can be documented. There clearly is testimony that some of the contacts have been important contacts, and that there is a relationship there.” Well, what Dr. Rice did not say was that some of those supposed links were being called into question by our intelligence agencies such as the alleged meeting between a 9/11 ring leader and an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague that has now been debunked. These attempts to connect Iraq and al Qaeda appear to be a prime example of cherry-picking intelligence to hype the supposed threat of Iraq, while keeping contrary evidence away from the American people, wrapped up in the red tape of top secret reports.

Dr. Rice pressed the point even further, creating scenarios that threatened tens of thousands of American lives, even when that threat was not supported by intelligence. On March 9, 2003, just 11 days before the invasion of Iraq, Dr. Rice appeared — where? — on “Face The Nation.” What did she say? She said, “Now, the al Qaeda is an organization that’s quite dispersed, and quite widespread in its effects be it clearly has had linked to the Iraqis, not to mention Iraqi links to all kinds of other terrorists. And what we do not want is the day when Saddam Hussein decides that he has had enough of dealing with sanctions, enough of dealing with, quote, unquote, containment, enough of dealing with America, and it is time to end it on his terms by transferring one of these weapons just a little vial of something, to a terrorist for blackmail or for worse.” Now, how scary is that? But the intelligence community had already addressed this scenario with great skepticism. In fact, the CIA’s National Intelligence Estimate from October, 2002, concluded that it had low confidence — quote, “low confidence,” close quote — that Saddam would ever transfer any weapons of mass destruction — weapons that he did not have, as it turned out — to anyone outside his control.

This is yet more evidence of an abuse of intelligence in order to build the case for an unprovoked war with Iraq. And what has been the effect of the first use of this reckless doctrine of preemptive war? In the most ironic and deadly twist, the false situation described by the administration before the war, namely that Iraq was a training ground for terrorists poised to attack the United States is exactly the situation that our war in Iraq has created. But it was this unjustified war that created the situation that the President claimed he was trying to prevent. Violent extremists have flooded into Iraq from all corners of the world. Iraqis have taken up arms themselves to fight against the continuing US occupation of their country.

AMY GOODMAN: West Virginia Democratic Senator Robert Byrd on the floor of the Senate yesterday, debating the confirmation of Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State.


AMY GOODMAN: We go back to Senator Robert Byrd on the floor of the Senate yesterday debating the confirmation of Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State. Senator Byrd at different times clutched a pocket-size copy of the U.S. Constitution in his hand. Byrd has reserved an hour for his opposition to Condoleezza Rice. He is the Senate’s oldest member. This is some of his address. Robert Byrd.

SENATOR ROBERT BYRD: There are also many unanswered questions about Dr. Rice’s record as National Security Adviser. Richard Clarke, the former White House counterterrorism adviser, has leveled scathing criticism against Dr. Rice and the National Security Council for failing to recognize the threat from al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden in the months leading up to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In particular, Mr. Clarke states that he submitted a request on January 25, 2001, for an urgent meeting of the National Security Council on the threat of al Qaeda. However, due to decisions made by Dr. Rice and her staff, that urgent meeting did not occur until too late. The meeting was not actually called until September 4, 2001. Mr. Clarke, who is widely acknowledged as one of the leading authorities on terrorism in government at that time, told the 9/11 Commission that he was so frustrated with those decisions that he had asked to be reassigned to different issues, and the Bush White House approved that request.

Dr. Rice appeared before the 9/11 Commission on April 8, 2004, but if anything, her testimony raised only more questions about what the president and others knew about the threats to New York City and Washington, D.C., in the weeks before the attacks and whether more could have been done to prevent them. Why wasn’t any action taken when she and the president received an intelligence report on August 6, 2001, entitled, quote, “Bin Laden determined to attack inside the United States”? Why did Dr. Rice and President Bush reassign Richard Clarke, the leading terrorism expert in the White House, soon after taking office in 2001? Why did it take nine months for Dr. Rice to call the first high level National Security Council meeting on the threat of Osama bin Laden?

As the Senate debates her nomination today, we still have not heard full answers from Dr. Rice to these questions. In addition to Mr. Clarke’s criticism, Dr. David Kay, the former C.I.A. weapons inspector in Iraq also has strong words for the National Security Council and its role in the run-up to the war in Iraq. When Dr. Kay appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee on August 18, 2004, to analyze why the administration’s prewar intelligence was so wrong, so wrong about weapons of mass destruction, he described the National Security Council as the dog that didn’t bark to warn the president about the weaknesses of those intelligence reports. Dr. Kay continued, and I quote, “Every president who has been successful, at least that I know of, in the history of this republic, had developed both informal and formal means of getting checks on whether people who tell him things are in fact telling him the whole truth. The recent history has been a reliance on the N.S.C. system to do it. I quite frankly think that that has not served this president very well.” Mr. President, that is the close of the quotation.

What Dr. Kay appears to state was his view that the National Security Council, under the leadership of Dr. Rice, did not do a sufficient job of raising doubts about the quality of the intelligence about Iraq. On the contrary, based upon Dr. Rice’s statements that I quoted earlier, her rhetoric even went beyond the questionable intelligence that the C.I.A. had available on Iraq in order to hype the threats of aluminum tubes, mushroom clouds, and connections between Iraq and September 11. In light of the massive reorganization of our intelligence agencies enacted by Congress last year, shouldn’t this nomination spur the Senate to stop, look, and listen about what has been going on in the National Security Council for the last four years? Don’t these serious questions about the failings of the National Security Council under Dr. Rice deserve a more thorough examination before the Senate votes to confirm her as the next Secretary of State?

Mr. President, accountability has become an old-fashioned notion in some circles these days. But accountability is not a negotiable commodity when it comes to the highest circles of our nation’s government. The accountability of government officials is an obligation, not a luxury. And yet accountability is an obligation that this president and this president’s administration appear loathe to fulfill. Instead of being held to account for their actions, the architects of the policies that led our nation down the road into war with Iraq, policies based on faulty intelligence and phantom weapons of mass destruction, have been rewarded by the president with accolades and promotions. Instead of admitting to mistakes in the war on Iraq, instead of admitting to its disastrous aftermath, the president and his inner circle of advisers continue to cling to myth — myths and misconceptions. The only notion of accountability that this president is willing to acknowledge is the November elections, which he has described as a moment of accountability and an endorsement of his policies. Unfortunately, after the fact of validation of victory is hardly the standard of accountability that the American people have the right to expect from their elected officials. It is one thing to accept responsibility for success. It’s quite another to accept accountability for failure. Sadly, failure has tainted far too many aspects of our nation’s international policies over the past four years, culminating in the deadly insurgency that has resulted from the invasion of Iraq.

With respect to this particular nomination, I believe that there needs to be accountability for the mistakes and the missteps that have led the United States into the dilemma in which it finds itself today, besieged by increasing violence in Iraq, battling an unprecedented decline in world opinion, and increasingly isolated from our allies due to our provocative, belligerent, bellicose and unilateralist foreign policy. Whether the administration will continue to pursue these policies cannot be known to senators today as we prepare to cast our votes. At her confirmation hearing on January 18, Dr. Rice proclaimed that our interaction with the rest of the world must be a conversation, not a monologue. But two days later, President Bush gave an inaugural address that seemed to rattle sabers at any nation that he does not consider to be free. Before senators cast their votes we must wonder whether we are casting our lot for more diplomacy or more belligerence, reconciliation or more confrontation. Which face of this Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde foreign policy will be revealed in the next four years?

Although I do not question her credentials, I do oppose many of the critical decisions that Dr. Rice has made during her four years as National Security Adviser. She has a record, and the record is there for us to judge. There remain too many unanswered questions about Dr. Rice’s failure to protect our country before the tragic attacks of September 11, her public efforts to politicize intelligence and her often-stated allegiance to the doctrine of preemption. To confirm Dr. Rice to be the next Secretary of State is to say to the American people and to the world that the answers to those questions are no longer important. Her confirmation will almost certainly be viewed as another endorsement of the administration’s unconstitutional doctrine of preemptive strikes, its bullying policies of unilateralism and its callus rejection of our longstanding allies.

Mr. President, Dr. Rice’s record in many ways is one to be greatly admired. She is a very intelligent lady, very knowledgeable about the subject matter, very warm and congenial, but the stakes for the United States are too high. I cannot endorse higher responsibilities for those who helped to set our great country down the path of increasing isolation, enmity in the world and a war that has no end. Oh, when will our boys come home? When will our men and women be able to sit down at the table with their families and their friends in their own communities again? For these reasons, I shall cast my vote in opposition to the confirmation of Condoleezza Rice to be the next Secretary of State.

AMY GOODMAN: West Virginia democratic senator, Robert Byrd on the floor of Senate yesterday.

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