WASHINGTON – The Bush administration waited a month-and-a-half to turn over evidence backing its uranium charge against Iraq to a U.N. nuke group that had requested it – and only after the president amplified the charge in his prewar State of the Union speech.

Just 10 days after finally receiving the evidence in February, the International Atomic Energy Agency discovered it was a fraud. The letters alleging a sales agreement between the African nation of Niger and Iraq for more than 500 tons of uranium were easily identified as forgeries.

IAEA, which was conducting nuclear inspections in Iraq, made its findings public in a report to the U.N. Security Council in early March. In a recent letter to Congress, the State Department, for one, acknowledges it learned the embarrassing truth at that time.

Yet it didn’t correct an Iraq “fact sheet” it put out in December that included the charge. The White House also remained silent.

The next week, President Bush gave the order to invade Iraq.

Not until a full four months later – on the day after a British parliamentary report revealed the CIA knew the documents were phony – did the White House come clean, admitting the allegation was based at least in part on forged documents and should never have been in the State of the Union.

Just eight days after the president’s address, Secretary of State Colin Powell mysteriously left the uranium charge out of his own speech on Iraq to the U.N.

It turns out that just the day before his speech, officials at IAEA had finally got their hands on the fake Niger letters.

Here is a chronology of what looks to be a cover-up:

October 2002: State Department receives copies of the Niger documents from Italy, which had also provided them to the British government.

Dec. 19: State releases a “fact sheet” on Iraq accusing it of hiding “efforts to procure uranium from Niger.”

Dec. 19: IAEA makes a formal request to State to see any “actionable information” underlying its uranium allegation.

Jan. 28, 2002: Bush repeats the allegation in his State of the Union.

Feb. 4: IAEA’s Iraq Nuclear Verification Office finally obtains the documents, which allege interactions between Iraq and Niger officials.

Feb. 5: Powell makes the case against Iraq to the U.N., but leaves out the uranium charge.

Feb. 14: IAEA officials makes a preliminary finding that the documents are forgeries, based on the identification of several crude errors overlooked by the Bush administration for months.

March 7: IAEA, in a report to the U.N. Security Council, announces the Iraq-Niger letters were faked.

March 19: The U.S. strikes Baghdad.

July 7: The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee releases the findings of an investigation into the merits of Britain’s dossier on Iraq, and among other things, they reveal that the CIA had tipped the British government off to the Niger forgeries.

July 8: The White House releases a prepared statement expressing regret for the State of the Union charge, and admitting for the first time: “We now know that documents alleging a transaction between Iraq and Niger had been forged.”

Why did the White House delay telling Congress and the American people that the president’s charge was spurious until after the war, when it knew it was underpinned by counterfeit documents before the war?

Why did the administration delay sharing the Iraq nuke documents with the IAEA until after the president’s State of the Union Address?

And why can’t White House and CIA officials get their stories straight regarding the mushrooming scandal? Exactly what did officials, including the vice president and president, know, and when did they know it?

Congress needs to find out by calling White House and CIA aides to testify in formal and open hearings – unless, of course, it intends to abdicate its oversight powers along with its power to declare war.

Note: Author voted for George W. Bush, and against Bill Clinton – both times.


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Previous columns:

The Brits busted Bush

Anatomy of a lie

Believing Boy Scout Bush

A very curious war indeed

While Nero fiddled in Baghdad …

Yellow is for politics

The royal families

The folly of ‘liberating’ Muslims

The Iraq echo chamber

Saddam bin Laden

My Picnic with Bill

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