MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris. President Bush traveled to California today speaking to soldiers at Fort Irwin in the high desert east of Los Angeles. There he said the current troop surge in Baghdad is working, and he again criticized the Democrats in Congress for attaching timetables for withdrawal to bills funding the war.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: Soon Congress will return from its break. I urge them to work on legislation to fund our troops but that does not tell our military how to conduct war and sets an artificial timetable for withdrawal.
NORRIS: President Bush will spend the rest of this Easter week at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, and NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr has a suggestion for what he might do with his downtime.
DANIEL SCHORR: On his spring break President Bush may choose to reflect on Elisabetta Burba and her version of what helped to propel him into a bloody, seemingly endless war in Iraq.
Burba is a reporter for an Italian news magazine who provided the American embassy in Rome with one of the forged documents that the president relied on in 2003 to assert that Iraq was buying uranium from the African country of Niger, although she didn't believe the claims herself.
Her detailed story, with pictures of the principal documents, is contained in a book titled "The Italian Letter: How the Bush Administration Used a Fake Letter to Build the Case for War in Iraq." From this book, excerpted in the Washington Post, it appears that the president had every reason to doubt the authenticity of the documents when he in the State of the Union address asserted that Iraq was buying significant quantities of uranium from the African country of Niger.
The principal document in question was a fake letter on the letterhead of the president of Niger. Burba had received it from a freelance source, Rocco Martino, whom she had used in the past. This time, however, she told Martino she'd only pay him if the documents turned out to be authentic.
She then took them to the American embassy in Rome but received no confirmation of their authenticity. Thereupon she flew to Niger to check for herself and returned to Milan dubious about the documents. She told her editor there was no story.
But documents not solid enough for an Italian magazine were apparently solid enough for the president and his ideological team bent on regime change in Iraq.
The rest you know. Former Ambassador Joseph Wilson sent to Niger. He concluded, as Burba had, that the documents were fakes. Then the move to discredit Wilson, the leak of the identity of Wilson's wife, the investigation and perjury conviction of Cheney aide Lewis Libby. And the denouement, the invasion of Iraq, based on a phony letter, among other things. And the big question now: Was Mr. Bush conned, or was he the con man?
This is Daniel Schorr.
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