In March 2003, the George W. Bush Administration led the United States to war in Iraq under false pretenses. The Bush Administration claimed that Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction.” It did not. The Bush Administration claimed that Iraq was threatening the United States. It was not. The Bush Administration claimed that Iraq was implicated in the 9/11 attacks. That was also a lie.
Consistent with Article I of the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution of 1973, the war had been authorized by Congress in October 2002. The authorization for the use of military force is here. The Senate roll call is here. The House roll call is here. Of course, the purpose of requiring Congress to vote - that the elected representatives of the American people decide in public view - is undermined if the vote is based on lies that were known by Members of Congress to be lies at the time.
Many Democrats still prominent in public political life voted against the war. Dick Durbin voted no. Bernie Sanders voted no. Robert Menendez voted no. Jack Reed voted no. Nancy Pelosi voted no. Ben Cardin voted no. Patrick Leahy voted no. Patty Murray voted no. Debbie Stabenow voted no. Ron Wyden voted no.
Many Democrats still prominent in public life voted for the war. Joe Biden voted yes. Chuck Schumer voted yes. Steny Hoyer voted yes. Eliot Engel voted yes. Adam Smith voted yes. Adam Schiff voted yes.
On April 25, 2007, Dick Durbin gave a remarkable speech on the Senate floor. He said that at the time of the vote, he knew as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee that the Bush Administration’s public case for war did not match the U.S. intelligence he was seeing as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
On the Senate floor, Durbin said:
“At the time of this debate [on the 2002 Iraq AUMF], I was a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. I would read the headlines in the paper in the morning and watch the television newscasts and shake my head because, you see, just a few hundred feet away from here in a closed room, carefully guarded, the Intelligence Committee was meeting on a daily basis for top-secret briefings about the information we were receiving, and the information we had in the Intelligence Committee was not the same information being given to the American people...
“I was angry about it. Frankly, I couldn’t do much about it because, in the Intelligence Committee, we are sworn to secrecy. We can’t walk outside the door and say the statement made yesterday by the White House is in direct contradiction to classified information that is being given to this Congress. We can’t do that. We couldn’t make those statements. So in my frustration, I sat on the floor of the Senate and listened to this heated debate about invading Iraq thinking the American people are being misled, they are not being told the truth. That is why I joined 22 of my colleagues in voting no. I didn’t believe at the time that the American people knew the real facts.”
When Durbin gave this speech, people asked: if you knew so at the time, why didn’t you say anything at the time? Durbin said in response - as he had in his speech - the U.S. intelligence was classified. As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, he was not supposed to share it - with the public or the media.
Durbin’s answer to this natural follow-up question needs to be revisited, because the natural follow-up question implicated other Democrats, many of them still in Congress or prominent in public political life.
Let's stipulate that it was not Durbin’s job to go to the New York Times like Daniel Ellsberg went to the New York Times when he leaked the Pentagon Papers, exposing Pentagon lies about the Vietnam War.
It was Durbin’s job to tell other Members of Congress. That is the point of having an Intelligence Committee. The intelligence may have been “classified” from the public and the press, but it was not classified from other Members of Congress.
Given Durbin's vote, given Durbin's speech, it is reasonable to infer that Durbin told other Members of Congress. If Dick Durbin told anyone, he told Senate Democrats. If he told any Senate Democrats, he told the Democratic chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
It is reasonable to infer that Joe Biden knew what Dick Durbin knew.
This matters now, because a key question on the table is: will we ever be allowed to change America so that crimes like this never happen again? There was never any real accountability for the Iraq war. And that’s a key reason why the crime was repeated in Libya, Syria, and Yemen.
Urge Dick Durbin to tell the American people about his conversation with Joe Biden before Biden voted for the Iraq war by signing our petition.
Thanks for all you do to help make U.S. foreign policy more just,
Sarah Burns, Hassan El-Tayyab, and Robert Naiman
Just Foreign Policy
Just Foreign Policy