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Evaluating Congress

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Members of Congress were far less likely than the Bush administration to spread false statements about the need for war in Iraq, according to a new study. The study comes on the heels of the Center’s Iraq: The War Card project, which earlier this year documented the administration’s orchestrated deceptions on the path to war.

While The War Card focused on the administration, the new study, part of Lance Hampton’s dissertation Justifications for the Iraq War: An Analysis of the Government’s Public Case for War, 2001 to 2003 for the University of Pittsburgh, analyzed more than 2,200 public transcripts of speeches and statements from members of both the legislative and executive branches. He determined the executive branch was more likely to make false statements than was the legislative in the run up to the war.

The study looked at nine arguments that were used in favor of invading Iraq. In each case, the executive was at least one and a half times more likely to have used that justification. In certain cases the disparity was even larger: The executive was more than four times more likely to say that Iraq was working with terrorists and more than eight times more likely to reference Iraq having nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons to justify an invasion.

“I thought going into this that I would find that Congress dropped the ball,” Hampton said in an interview. “And I didn’t find that. In fact I found that Congress was pretty well involved.” Hampton points to the discrepancies between the executive and legislative branches in pushing the war as proof that the administration had to work to convince Congress to support the Iraq War Resolution.

“Congress wasn’t passive — they were just ill-informed,” Hampton said. “Well, if they were ill-informed, who was doing the informing for them?” The implication, of course, is that the executive branch’s false statements were aimed as much at Congress as they were at the American people. More than three dozen congressional offices contacted by the Center declined to comment.

The full study can be found here.