The Rachel Maddow Show | February 18, 2013
>>> by the end of 2002 , the u.s. military is headed to the gulf. congress is on board, as are british prime minister tony blair and most of the mainstream media . the stage is set for war. a new u.n. resolution has forced iraq to submit to tough new arms inspections. but president bush is growing impatient. the defense department tells him that if he is going to war, he's got to do it before the blistering desert summer.
>> we were moving along the path of getting a good inspection going that would probably come to fruition one way or the other, but once you start military forces flowing to the extent that we did for iraq , it's hard to pull them back.
>> as the inevitable moves closer, president bush reargues the case and ups the ante with 16 infamous words in a state of the union address .
>> the british government has learned that saddam hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from africa.
>> that would be yellowcake, again. but by referring to a six-month-old british white paper , the president does an end-run around a claim discredited by his own intelligence service .
>> it wasn't a matter of lying about this or lying about that, but rather through the artistry of speech writers and case presenters, conveying an impression to the american people that certain things were true.
>> it's a real sleight of hand . and i think it's kind to call that disengenous.
>> on the heels of the president's speech, the administration plays its ultimate trump card . it tasks colin powell , its most public trusted face, its most reluctant warrior to make the case against saddam hussein at the united nations . he is given a week to pull that presentation together.
>> he walked into my office with a sheaf of papers in my hand and he threw them down on the desk and said that's the script of my presentation at the united nations . it came from the vice president's office. it was junk. it was pure junk. i was in charge of putting it together.
>> powell and wilkerson tear up the original 48-page script and start over with a team from the state department and cia . director george tenet suggests they base their presentation on the national intelligence estimate , which unbeknownst to powell is a deeply flawed document. still, he is wary.
>> we went into a room. he slammed the door shut. he said "sit down." and he sat down. we were the only two people in the room. he looked at me and said this [ bleep ] of contacts with al qaeda has got to be taken out. it's [ bleep ]. and i said i agree with you. let's take it out. done. within a half an hour, tenet comes in and explosively tells about this high level al qaeda operative who has been interrogated and admitted to these contacts. whoa. and we put it back in.
>> that would be the dubious confession extracted from ibnal sheik all libbi.
>> both of us convinced ourselves if the intelligence community believed what they were presenting, then we had to believe it because they were the experts.
>> i wrote parts of this speech, what i saw over the course of week, up until the night before he gave that speech, and into the early morning is does this fit? is this compelling? who can pick a hole in this? i'm going to stand in front of a billion people. what i say better be the clearest and most credible information we have.
>> on february 5th , 2003 , the moment of truth arrives.
>> the 4,701st meeting of the security council is called to order.
>> the world witnesses colin powell deliver the ultimate argument for war against iraq .
>> what we're giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence. i will cite some examples, and these are from human sources.
>> i was at cia headquarters, and all of us sort of gathered around the tv in the office to watch his speech live from the u.n.
>> we have firsthand scriptions of biological weapons factories on wheels and on rails.
>> those would be descriptions by the discredited witness curveball.
>> as he is talking about this and showing vials of white powder and so forth, i turned to a woman next to me who had followed this whole case of curveball much more closely than i, i said what the hell is going on? and my colleague said i don't know. i don't know what is going on. what is this?
>> we did not know he was in germany. we did not know he had a code name, curveball. we did not know that no u.s. intelligence personnel had ever interrogated him.
>> based on defector information in ever interrogated him.
>> based on intelligence, saddam hussein had a massive clandestine program that developed uranium.
>> that would be the information provided, by the head of the iraqi national congress . the self-appointed ex-patriot iraqi shadow government .
>> we talked to shalabbi on multiple occasions, and we saw that they were hyping the type of information they put out.
>> he is so determined that he has made repeated covert attempts to acquire from 11 different countries, even after inspections resumed.
>> yet again, the aluminum tubes .
>> i was incredibly disappointed when he brought out comments about the aluminum tubes . i felt betrayed as an american and scientist.
>> i can trace the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how iraq provided training in these weapons to al-qaeda. fortunately, this operative is now detained. and he has told his story.
>> powell is referring to alibbi, the same detainee the cia labelled a fabricator. it takes 90 minutes to run through the persuauave litany.
>> there is too much certitude in the speech, that is not secretary powell , that is on us.
>> secretary of state powell set aside his personal misgivings and staked his global reputation for integrity, on this one moment, selling the case for war.
>> although nobody else from the state department team intentionally lied, we did participate in a