Let's remember. William Safire:
It isn't the crime that gets you it's the cover-up.
Defenders of Saddam Hussein demanded absolute smoking-gun proof of illegal Iraqi possession of terror weaponry. Contrary to U.N. Resolution 1441, which demanded active Iraqi cooperation in demonstrating disarmament, Saddam's protectors place the burden of proof on the U.S.
To their surprise, Colin Powell made the case, with a half-dozen smoking guns, of a huge Iraqi cover-up. In criminal law, that obstruction of justice would be called hiding incriminating evidence, spying on law enforcement officials and intimidating witnesses.
Prosecutor Powell laid out on tape and in photographs hard evidence that would convince any jury. A colonel is overheard telling his superior: "We have this modified vehicle. What do we say if one of them sees it?" The general, amazed at the stupidity of failing to remove equipment purchased from a known weapons-systems company, replies: "You don't have one of those, do you?" The panicked colonel, to reassure his boss, blurts, "We evacuated everything." Concealment of evidence. Cover-up.
Another tape from a different obstructor of inspectors: "We sent you a message yesterday to clean out all of the areas. . . . Make sure there is nothing there. . . . After you have carried out what is contained in this message, destroy the message. . . ." Destruction of evidence. Cover-up.
And then, contrary to all expectations, there was an "Adlai Stevenson moment": The U.S. secretary of state displayed to the world aerial photographs showing trucks next to a bunker storing what signs say are chemical munitions. Behind the truck is what he called "a signature item: It's a decontamination vehicle in case something goes wrong."
Then he showed a photograph of the same area just as U.N. inspectors are arriving. Gone were the trucks and the telltale decontaminators. The area had been sanitized for inspection, not only showing cover-up but also demonstrating that the U.N. team has been penetrated by Iraqi wiretaps and bugs.
The evidence he presented to the United Nations -- some of it circumstantial, some of it absolutely bone-chilling in its detail -- had to prove to anyone that Iraq not only hasn't accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them. Only a fool -- or possibly a Frenchman -- could conclude otherwise.
In estimating the impact of Colin Powell's U.N. presentation on persons who believe that there is no justification for a military response to Iraq's behavior, remember the human capacity for willful suspension of disbelief. Remember this: People determined to believe that a vast conspiracy assassinated President Kennedy believe that the absence of evidence of the conspiracy proves the vastness and cleverness of the conspiracy.
People committed to a particular conclusion will get to it and will stay there. So the facts that Powell deployed, and the pattern they form, will not persuade people determined to be unpersuaded. But Powell's presentation, its power enhanced by his avoidance of histrionics, will change all minds open to evidence.
Thus it will justify disregarding the presumptively close-minded people who persist in denying . . . what? What are people denying who still deny the need for force? That Iraq has weapons of mass destruction? Or that Iraq is resisting the inspections? No, they are denying only that force is needed. They say an enhanced presence of inspectors will paralyze Iraq's weapons programs.
To continue to say that the Bush administration has not made its case, you must now believe that Colin Powell lied in the most serious statement he will ever make, or was taken in by manufactured evidence. I don't believe that. Today, neither should you.
Washington Post editorial board:
AFTER SECRETARY OF STATE Colin L. Powell's presentation to the United Nations Security Council yesterday, it is hard to imagine how anyone could doubt that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction. Mr. Powell left no room to argue seriously that Iraq has accepted the Security Council's offer of a "final opportunity" to disarm. And he offered a powerful new case that Saddam Hussein's regime is cooperating with a branch of the al Qaeda organization that is trying to acquire chemical weapons and stage attacks in Europe. Mr. Powell's evidence, including satellite photographs, audio recordings and reports from detainees and other informants, was overwhelming. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., the senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, called it "powerful and irrefutable." Revealing those tapes and photographs had a cost, as Iraq will surely take countermeasures. But the decision to make so much evidence public will prove invaluable if it sways public opinion here and abroad. At a minimum, it will stand as a worthy last effort to engage the United Nations in facing a threat that the United States could, if necessary, address alone or with an ad-hoc coalition.