It’s been seven weeks since the statue of Saddam Hussein toppled in Baghdad. And American forces have still found no nuclear weapons labs, no al-Qaida terrorist camps and no weapons of mass destruction.

An embarrassed Bush administration keeps changing its story: Give us 12 years, we’ll find ’em. Or: Saddam moved them all into Syria. Or, Donald Rumsfeld’s latest lame excuse: He destroyed them all, just as we were crossing the border. But nobody’s buying it.

So, unable to ignore the credibility gap any longer, the CIA has launched its own investigation of prewar U.S. intelligence. Good. It’s about time we got an honest accounting of what we were told before the war, compared to what we’ve learned since.

We remember the president’s case for going to war: Saddam Hussein was linked to al-Qaida and therefore tied to Sept. 11; he was developing an arsenal of nuclear weapons; and he possessed tons of biological and chemical weapons. We had no choice but to invade Iraq, Bush insisted. And most Americans believed him.

So far, not one of his claims has proven to be true. Consider the evidence, or lack thereof.

In his State of the Union speech on Jan. 28, President Bush warned the world: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” Days later, the International Atomic Energy Agency declared the supporting documents were forgeries.

Next the president declared: “Our intelligence sources tell us that he [Saddam] has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production.” Once again, the IAEA spoiled his story. The tubes had nothing to do with nuclear weapons production.

Then Bush dropped the big bomb: “The United Nations concluded in 1999 that Saddam Hussein had biological weapons sufficient to produce over 25,000 liters of anthrax.” That’s not all: “The United Nations concluded that Saddam Hussein had sufficient materials to produce 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin.” Still not convinced? “Our intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent.”

Flash forward. Having spent seven weeks searching, 1,400 specially-trained U.S. military personnel have so far found not one liter of anthrax, let alone 25,000. Not one liter of botulinum toxin, let alone 38,000. Not one ounce of sarin, mustard or VX nerve agent. Forget about 500 tons.

And then there’s the alleged link to Osama bin Laden, which President Bush repeated in his victory speech from the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln: “With those attacks [of 9-11], the terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States. And war is what they got.” In other words, Iraq helped sponsor the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 ? and we simply paid them back.

Only one problem: There is zero evidence of any link between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. No paper trail. No bank accounts. No training camps. No telephone logs. Yes, the al-Qaida network is still alive and still planning acts of terror ? from inside Afghanistan, Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia. But it apparently never was inside Iraq.

Of course, there are those who now say: So what? Look at the torture chambers, the prisons, the mass graves. The Iraqi people are a lot better off without Saddam Hussein.

Well, sure. The people of China, Iran, Syria, Libya and Cuba, to name but a few, would be better off without their current leaders, too. But that’s not why we went to war. We invaded Iraq to save the world from its weapons of mass destruction: weapons not yet found; weapons that may never be found; indeed, weapons that may have been destroyed 10 years ago, as Saddam Hussein claimed.

The shocking lack of evidence to support the president’s accusations raises serious questions, not only about the war in Iraq, but about whether his administration can be trusted to tell the truth. “It appears to this senator that the American people may have been lured into accepting the unprovoked invasion of a sovereign nation, in violation of long-standing international law, under false premises,” West Virginia’s Robert Byrd told the Senate.

Now the only question is: Did the president, trusting the intelligence he was given, unknowingly mislead the American people? Or did he deliberately mislead us?

Robert Byrd’s right. Let the CIA complete its investigation. Then President Bush owes the American people an explanation.

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