“Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised,” George W. Bush told the nation two days before he launched the war on Iraq. That definitive statement came after months of Administration assertions that Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat because he had weapons of mass destruction and could hand them over to Al Qaeda at any moment. “We know for a fact that there are weapons there,” Ari Fleischer declared in January. A month earlier Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, “It is clear that the Iraqis have weapons of mass destruction. The issue is not whether or not they have weapons of mass destruction.”

Two months after the fall of Baghdad, it is anything but clear. No WMDs have been found. The Pentagon has two trailers that the CIA says were manufactured as bioweapons labs, but no trace of biological agents has been detected in them (see Russ Baker’s “‘Scoops’ and Truth at the Times,” page 18). Former UN weapons inspectors say it would be virtually impossible to scour a bioweapons facility free of all residue–which means that even if those trailers were built to breed pathogens, they were not used. Speaking in Poland, Bush insisted, “We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories.” Those were the words of a desperate man.

In England Prime Minister Tony Blair has been rocked by claims that his government hyped the intelligence on Iraq’s weapons. Members of Parliament have announced they will investigate, and anger is running high. Labour MP Malcolm Savidge said in a CNBC interview from London that if allegations on both sides of the Atlantic that legislators and citizens were misled into war are true, “I would say…that would clearly be a more serious issue than even Watergate. It would be a graver charge” and “fit into the definition of high crimes and misdemeanors, which we in Britain used to have as a basis for impeachment, and which, of course, you still have as a basis of impeachment.”

In the United States, Bush and his team are also facing embarrassing questions. Before the war, Rumsfeld said the intelligence was solid; now he suggests there was much less certainty. At a recent public talk, he suggested that Iraq may have destroyed its chemical weapons before the war–in other words, the war may have been waged to rid Iraq of weapons it had gotten rid of. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said, “For bureaucratic reasons, we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on”–suggesting that Bush had mounted the WMD scare as a consensus-driven marketing device.

Congressional intelligence and armed services committees have announced their intention to investigate the Administration’s WMD claims. Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich will invoke a rarely used House procedure, a resolution of inquiry, to demand the release of intelligence that led to the war. All Americans–for or against the war–should welcome wide-ranging reviews. But an independent commission should also be created to operate outside the Republican-controlled Congress. Such a commission is needed to rebuild confidence in our democratic institutions. Sending Americans to fight in a war fueled by deceit and fabricated intelligence would be a betrayal of the trust between citizens and their government. A serious investigation–which should be carried out by established leaders who have displayed a willingness to cut against Washington’s grain–might also help restore America’s damaged international reputation.

The questions are obvious. Was intelligence adequate? Was it trumped up? Did the Administration have credible evidence to back up its charges? Was a new Pentagon intelligence review outfit set up to pursue the truth–or to produce dishonest reports to bolster the case for an attack? But the members of the Congressional committees–and all investigative bodies–must bear in mind that the ultimate question is a simple one: Did Bush use lies to mislead the nation into war?