"Sometimes I overstate for emphasis"
Part of an exchange between National Press Club President Tammy Lytle and U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld from seven days ago:
Lytle: On March 30th you said, referring to Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, quote, "We know where they are." Do you know where they are now? And will they be found?
Rumsfeld: When you quote me, as opposed to somebody else, I do remember the context. And in that instance, we had been in the country for about 15 seconds; sometimes I overstate for emphasis. The truth is, we'd been there about two weeks. And the forces were fighting up from the south -- maybe three weeks -- fighting up from the south, heading towards Baghdad. And we were besieged with questions: "You haven't found any weapons of mass destruction yet. Why not?" And I said, very simply: Because all of our information is that they are in the -- more -- closer to Baghdad, in the area from Baghdad north, and we were not physically on the ground in that area at the present time.
What we had, as Secretary Powell told the United Nations, is a long list of suspect sites. And they were sites that the inspectors had been in the process of looking at when they concluded that the inspection process really wasn't working, because of lack of cooperation on the part of Saddam Hussein's regime. And I said, "We know they're in that area." I should have said, "I believe we're in that area. Our intelligence tells us they're in that area," and that was our best judgment. And we were being pressed to find them while the war was still in its earliest, earliest days. And it seemed to me a somewhat unrealistic expectation.
And needless to say, here we are now, the major conflict ended May 1st. It's now September 10th. And the process is still going on. We've got hundreds and hundreds of people there under the leadership of Mr. David Kay, a former U.N. inspector, and they are proceeding in an orderly way, interviewing and interrogating people.
It was always pretty clear, to me, at least, that we were unlikely to just find something or discover something by going out and looking. It had to be because somebody told us where to look. And so, it's the interrogation process that is what's taking place, and that information is being accumulated, and they will make an interim report at some point, and then a final report at some point, and we'll have the outcome of it. But that is the -- I think the date on that was well before May 1st.
Lytle: But you do believe that they will be found at some point?
Rumsfeld: I do. I think that the U.S. intelligence and the intelligence services of the other countries were never perfect, and it was a closed society, but sufficiently good that we'll find the kind of evidence of programs that Secretary Powell presented to the United Nations.
When Rumsfeld takes questions from reporters he isn't engaging in an artistic exercise; the defense secretary is supposed to be giving honest answers to questions. It isn't an example of an "overstate[ment]" to say you know where something for certain when you in fact don't. It is a lie.
But even beyond that, Rumsfeld's story reveals that Team Bush didn't take the "threat" of weapons of mass destruction seriously. They were "being pressed to find them while the war was still in its earliest, earliest days" because to not find them was assumed to mean that the brave and great and wonderful U.S. military would continue to potentially face a threat from them. Why? Because the Bush Administration said they were a threat, a claim that appears to be false. Either that or the Bush Administration is incompetent.