Lie #2: We Were Attacked … We Face a Grave Threat … There’s No Cover-up
Governments and politicians lie incessantly about war. They lie about the reasons for war, they lie about the progress of war and they lie about the costs of war. They lie without reason.
In just the last 50 years, the American people have been lied to about U.S. government wars from Vietnam to Iraq.
The Gulf of Tonkin incident, a purported attack by North Vietnam on U.S. ships off its coast, was used by President Johnson (an “unprovoked” attack he told the nation) to win legislative authority, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, for a war in Vietnam. But it was an incident that did not happen, and Johnson knew it even as he escalated Vietnam into a full-blown war. “Hell,” he told his secretary of state just a few days after the resolution passed, “those dumb, stupid sailors were just shooting at flying fish!”
Lying is so intrinsic to the nature of government, that even the truth about old lies is concealed to protect new lies.
In 2001, a National Security Agency report found that officials had actually doctored documents to cover up the truth that the Tonkin Gulf incident hadn’t really happened. But the report of that cover-up was itself delayed for years for fear that it’s release would cast doubt on the intelligence that the Bush administration was using to justify an invasion of Iraq.
In the case of the Iraq war, not only did defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld lie about knowing where the non-existent weapons of mass destruction were in Iraq (“We know where they are. They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.”), in a later exchange with my friend, former CIA Senior Analyst Ray McGovern, Rumsfeld even denied he had made such a claim.
Aside from reasons for war, the government can also be counted on to lie about the costs of war. George W. Bush administration economist Lawrence B. Lindsey was fired for suggesting in advance that the Iraq war would cost $100 billion to $200 billion. Although estimates in the trillions of dollars would have been closer, Rumsfeld called Lindsey’s estimate “baloney.”
The government tries to conceal war spending by keeping it off the budget books with supplements, appropriations and emergency measures. It even spreads war costs off the defense department budget and into the budget of other departments such as state and energy.
I have written more about the government’s war lies in my new book, Red and Blue and Broke All Over: Restoring America’s Free Economy, but I must finish the point here with a reminder of the government’s lies through the cases of Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman.
Private Lynch was a 19-year-old clerk when her company was ambushed in Iraq after taking a wrong turn. She suffered injuries when her Humvee overturned, and was taken by Iraqi soldiers to a nearby hospital. U.S. officials reported that Lynch had gone down fighting and had been shot, stabbed and slapped around as she was interrogated on her hospital bed. But Private Lynch had no such wounds, she had never fired her weapon, and, by her own account, was well cared for in the Iraqi hospital. And although, the doctor who had cared for her tried to turn her over to the Americans, the Pentagon instead staged a dramatic raid to “rescue” Lynch, all with cameras rolling.
Then there’s the story of Pat Tillman, who was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan and was posthumously awarded the Silver Star, a combat honor given for valor in action against an enemy. There was no encounter with the enemy, but you wouldn’t have known it from the fraudulent accounts of his demise: Senior commanders’ prints were all over the cover-up about Tillman’s death. General John Abizaid approved the Silver Star despite knowing within days of Tillman’s death that he had been shot by friendly fire.
Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal cited Tillman for actions “in the line of devastating enemy fire,” but the very next day, he sent a confidential memo about the fratricide to senior government officials including Abizaid, warning them to protect themselves and President Bush from embarrassment in the episode.
Tillman’s family charged the military with repeatedly lying to them about his death and about its investigation, delaying its account of his friendly fire death until after a nationally televised memorial service orchestrated by the Bush administration. By one account, his fellow soldiers were even told to lie to the family at Tillman’s funeral.
The government not only lies about war, it routinely lies about its lies about war.