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- This page: http://www.globalissues.org/article/463/justifying-the-war-and-wmds.
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Various justifications were made for war, but on almost all grounds, those basis look increasingly flaky, with either exaggerated claims, or even lies.
This web page has the following sub-sections:
- Saddam Hussein Captured
- Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs)
- Iraq Study Group Does not Find WMD
- WMD Inspection Team is Not Neutral
- Donald Rumsfeld Concedes that WMDs May Not Exist
- Hints From Early On that WMDs May Not Exist
- Colin Powell Originally Claimed Saddam Hussein Not a Threat; Concedes WMDs Unlikely to be Found
- History Will Forgive Him If No WMDs Found, Blair Says, Because Dictator Removed
- 2006: Bush Admits no WMDs, and no link between Saddam and 9-11
- Accustations of Bush and Blair’s Intelligence Being Exaggerated or Outright Lies
- Pressuring Officials to State a Link Between 9-11 and Saddam Hussein
- The Legal Case for War Is Questioned, Again
- Pressure for Investigations into Intelligence and War Justification
- Should Bush, Blair, and Hussein all be tried for War Crimes?
Saddam Hussein Captured
Having managed to kill his two sons—who have been responsible for horrible crimes as various television footage has shown—the U.S. searched for Saddam Hussein for months.
On December 13, 2003, Saddam Hussein was finally captured, after months of eluding U.S. forces. He was found hiding in a hole-like underground hideout, near his home town of Tikrit.
The BBC also noted that while Saddam’s capture needed to be shown on television, showing part of his medical examination contravened Geneva Conventions, adopted in 1949, that require among other things that countries protect prisoners-of-war in their custody from “public curiosity”. This was an issue raised by Washington earlier this year when Iraq aired videotapes of captured American soldiers, the BBC noted, implying it didn’t care about this issue this time round. (Admittedly most of us probably don’t care too much about the state of Saddam Hussein and how he would be paraded after being captured, but the concern here is the double standards and propaganda opportunities.)
Before and since his capture people have been debating if he should be held on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC), or by local Iraqi judges.
The US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council recently announced that a court would be established to try former members of the Baathist regime, presided over by Iraqi judges. Saddam Hussein could be tried there.
Amnesty International, for example, said that whether it is a trial in Iraq, or in an international court, the issue of fairness and indepenence that meets international standards is paramount, and that the trial process must not be turned into a political revenge agenda. In addition, Amnesty also reiterated a suggestion that some non-Iraqi judges also be included in the process to help with impartiality and expertise in such complex cases:
Amnesty International urges that the option of including non-Iraqi expertise in the tribunal is fully explored. While Iraq has a strong legal tradition, there have not been prosecutions for complex crimes such as war crimes and crimes against humanity. While it would be important that such trials take place in Iraq, it is not clear that the independence and impartiality of prosecutors and judges can be guaranteed in a highly politicized context.
— Iraq: Only justice can serve the future of Iraq, Amnesty International AI Index: MDE 14/183/2003 (Public), News Service No: 283, December 15, 2003
(See this site’s section on the ICC for more information about the ICC.)
But some see the capture of Saddam Hussein as being also used as a propaganda opportunity to side-step the issue of the hunt for weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and the lack of progess on that front.
Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs)
Questions are being asked, even in the mainstream about the location of the weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Saddam Hussein’s alleged WMDs and their immediate availability and danger was central to the case for war in Iraq.
Months after the war has ended, the hunt for weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) still has not revealed anything that could justify war and match the scarey picture portrayed by the Bush and Blair administrations.
Iraq Study Group Does not Find WMD
The U.S.’s leading man in charge of this search for WMDs in 2003, David Kay, had signaled his intention to resign before the release of Iraq Study Group’s final autumn 2004 report. While citing personal reasons, many analysts took this as a sign to mean an end of major efforts to locate WMDs. Quoting NewScientist.com, for example:
Paul Rogers, at the Department of Peace Studies at Bradford University, UK, thinks [David] Kay’s planned departure is significant: “My reading is that it’s a serious part of downgrading the whole procedure. I think it’s highly unlikely that anything will be found.”
Iraq’s possession of banned WMD was one of the major justifications used by the US and UK for invading Iraq in March. The failure to find them is a political embarrassment to both governments.
Rogers believes the Bush administration is shifting its stance, and no longer sees finding the WMD as a priority. Instead, he says, officials are focusing on the atrocities carried out by Saddam Hussein as the key reason for going to war.
“They’ve made a transition with the truth and my guess is they’re pretty well convinced there’s nothing serious to be found,” he told New Scientist. “While that may be totally different to what we were told eight months ago, that is the new line.”
— Lead Iraq weapons seeker “to quit”, NewScientist.com News Service, December 13, 2003
Another major concern at this point is that only American and British forces have been involved in this search, and currently not the U.N. inspections team.
- As Reuters reported, (April 17, 2003) “the United States does not want the U.N. inspectors back any time soon, saying it prefers to do the job itself.”
- As reported by the Sydney Morning Herald (April 24, 2003), both in Washington and in New York, the U.S. announced that “the United States will not permit United Nations weapons inspectors to return to Iraq, saying the US military has taken over the role of searching for Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction” and that “both the White House and the US ambassador to the UN said they saw no role in postwar Iraq for the UN weapons inspection teams.”
- AFP reported in December 2003, that the United Nations weapons inspection team (UNMOVIC) noted that it still hadn’t been given access to the US-organized Iraq Study Group’s interim report on weapons of mass destruction.
WMD Inspection Team is Not Neutral
Given the large number of lies, fabrications and exaggerations (many proven by the U.N. inspection team itself), and ignoring for a moment what right the U.S. has to make this imposition on the United Nations (for it is theoretically meant to work the other way) the concern that many have is if WMDs are supposedly found, what is the chance that it is a genuine find and not somehow a setup by the U.S. and U.K., as there is a lot at stake for them politically if nothing is found.
- It has been common knowledge that the U.S. has not liked Blix because his reports were not favorable to them. The above Sydney Morning Herald article also adds a possibility that the U.S. might allow the U.N. weaspons inspection team in after Blix has ended his term (in June) and a new head is in place.
- Without an independent (i.e. U.N.) inspection team, the credibility of any finds will be questioned, as Hans Blix himself had suggested.
- The U.N. inspection team had international credibility and was believed by most nations to be doing a good job, and just needed some more time.
- The weapons of mass destruction argument was the main thrust for military action initially. As that argument started to lead to dead ends, the U.S. and British shifted their propaganda tactics to also highlight the moral case, to justify a war of liberation.
- In addition, as the Associated Press reported (May 23, 2003), Hans Blix has questioned whether WMDs actually exist or not.
When asked if he believed that weapons of mass destruction exist in Iraq, [U.N. chief weapons inspector, Hans] Blix expressed cautious doubts. “I originally thought that the Americans began the war believing that they existed. Now, I believe less in that possibility. But, I do not know. Nevertheless, when one sees the things that the United States tried to do to show that the Iraqis had nuclear arms, such as the non-existent contract with Niger, one does have many questions.”
… If no weapons of mass destruction are found, the war in Iraq will mark the second failed military mission since the Sept. 11 tragedy. The first was the invasion of Afghanistan, ostensibly to destroy the Al Qaeda network and capture Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. Al Qaeda is resurgent in southern Afghanistan, and Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar remain at large.
It is perhaps for this reason that the White House has been so adept at converting both the Afghanistan and Iraqi conflicts into “wars of liberation.” This redefinition of their original purpose may play well with the American public, but it is causing the United States to lose all credibility with Middle Easterners, who see “liberation” as a well-worn code term for “conquest,” and the search for weapons of mass destruction as mere pretext for the extension of American hegemony over the region.
— William O. Beeman, The Elusive Weapons Of Mass Destruction, Pacific News Service, April 17, 2003 [link is to reposted version at Alternet.org]
Donald Rumsfeld Concedes that WMDs May Not Exist
As early as the end of May 2003, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld himself conceded that Iraqi WMDs may not exist:
Several US military officers involved in the hunt in Iraq have raised the possibility that the illegal arms might have been destroyed, but the official line in Washington has been that Saddam Hussein had artfully hidden them, and sooner or later they would be found.
But now, Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary and one of the leading hawks on Iraq, has admitted that the weapons may not exist. “We don’t know what happened,” he told the Council of Foreign Relations in New York. “It is also possible that [Saddam’s government] decided they would destroy them prior to a conflict.”
What Mr Rumsfeld did not discuss was when the weapons might have been destroyed—immediately before the war, or long beforehand (as suggested by Iraqi defectors, who said as long ago as 1995 that they had been destroyed). Experts also doubt that, in the past few weeks or months, Iraq could have got rid of chemical and germ warfare stockpiles of the size alleged by Bush officials, without it being picked up by US and British intelligence. [Emphasis Added]
— Rupert Cornwell, Rumsfeld Concedes Banned Iraqi Weapons May Not Exist, The Independent, May 29, 2003
Hints From Early On that WMDs May Not Exist
The BBC also reported, September 24, 2003 that a Bush administration source has said that no weapons of mass destruction have been found by the group in charge of looking for them. This was to become the conclusion of the CIA-led Iraq Survey Group’s interim report. UK’s Downing Street was quick to dismiss this, though the BBC showed on television, a speech from Tony Blair some time back that this group’s finding is what he would wait for regarding the existence of WMDs. The interim report was just a draft, so things could change later. But it is interesting to note British foreign secretary Jack Straw’s response, as the BBC also reported. Straw said that people did not need the ISG report for evidence of that threat because it was already shown in volumes of reports from UN inspectors for 12 years. Yet, he failed to mention that many of the reports he refers to are from many years ago before it turned out that key sources were pointing out that WMDs were being or were eliminated. His arguments therefore appear to form part of the propaganda used to justify the invasion in the first place.
Colin Powell Originally Claimed Saddam Hussein Not a Threat; Concedes WMDs Unlikely to be Found
Colin Powell himself stated in February 2001 that Saddam Hussein was no threat. Journalist John Pilger reveals, back in February 24, 2001, at a conference in Cairo, video footage showing Colin Powell stating that, “He (Saddam Hussein) has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbours.”
A television report by Pilger aired on British screens overnight said US Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice confirmed in early 2001 that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had been disarmed and was no threat.
But after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on September 11 that year, Pilger claimed Rice said the US “must move to take advantage of these new opportunities” to attack Iraq and claim control of its oil.
Pilger uncovered video footage of Powell in Cairo on February 24, 2001 saying, “He (Saddam Hussein) has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbours.”
Two months later, Rice reportedly said, “We are able to keep his arms from him. His military forces have not been rebuilt.”
Powell boasted this was because America’s policy of containment and its sanctions had effectively disarmed Saddam.
Pilger claims this confirms that the decision of US President George W Bush—with the full support of British Prime Minister Blair and Howard—to wage war on Saddam because he had weapons of mass destruction was a huge deception.
… In his report, Pilger interviews Ray McGovern, a former senior CIA officer and friend of Bush’s father and ex-president, George Bush senior.
McGovern told Pilger that going to war because of weapons of mass destruction “was 95 per cent charade.”
— Paul Mulvey, Journo claims proof of WMD lies, News.com (Australia), September 23, 2003
History Will Forgive Him If No WMDs Found, Blair Says, Because Dictator Removed
As part of a visit around the globe, Tony Blair was in the U.S., and in a speech to Congress suggested that history might forgive him if WMDs are not found because he contributed to ridding the world of an evil dictator. Not only is this a weak admission that they might not exist, but, to be quite blunt, as stated above and elsewhere on this site’s section on Iraq, Tony Blair and the U.S. have not really cared about the plight of Iraqi civilians, else the sanctions policy which they had a lot of influence over would not have decimated and contributed to the deaths of so many people. Perhaps to achieve geopolitical aims (discussed further below), propaganda was used to convince citizens of U.K. and U.S.A. that it is right to wage war. Debates will no doubt go on for a long time on whether the war was worth it or not because Saddam Hussein was toppled, but issues such as whether or not people like Bush and Blair really cared about the plight of Iraqi citizens, the impacts of sanctions, which former top U.N. staff described as genocidal, etc. do not typically get as much analysis.
Interestingly, Tony Blair alleged that British and American weapons hunters had unearthed “massive evidence of a huge system of clandestine laboratories” in Iraq. Yet this was contradicted by an unlikely source—Paul Bremer, head of the occupation forces in Baghdad.
In an interview with London’s ITV-1, Bremer dismissed Blair’s allegation…. when the claim was put to Bremer, he said it was not true. Unaware that it had been made by Mr Blair, the American proconsul said it sounded like a “red herring” put about by someone opposed to military action to undermine the coalition. He said “I don’t know where those words come from, but that is not what David Kay has said. I have read his report, so I don’t know who said that … It sounds like someone who doesn’t agree with the policy sets up a red herring, then knocks it down.”
But when the interviewer told Bremer the statement was actually made by Tony Blair, he changed his tune, saying “There is actually a lot of evidence that had been made public,”, adding that the group had found “clear evidence of biological and chemical programs ongoing … and clear evidence of violation of UN Security Council resolutions relating to rockets”.
— Scott Ritter: How the British Spy Agency MI6 Secretly Misled A Nation Into War With Iraq, Democracy Now! December 30, 2003
Until the handover of power to Iraqis, Iraq was, in effect, being run by the Americans and the British. Even since the handover, critics claim the US does hold most influence. In the aftermath of the collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime, intelligence documents and other findings are coming to light. However, given the control by the U.S. and U.K., in the eyes of many around the world, any American and British findings may not be credible. Some reports may even be fabrications or the truth, but we would never be certain. For example, the CIA and Iraqi opposition groups claim to have found documents showing links between Al Jazeera and Saddam Hussein’s regime. Yet, as the previous link also highlights, given that the find was by the CIA, this might serve to further tarnish Al Jazeera’s image which has often been a thorn in the side of the American and British propaganda battle.
As a result, it is hard to know for sure without independent verification if these are fabrications or truths, etc. In the previous page, about the build up to the war, more detail was provided about how the U.S. and U.K. (as well as others) had, in the past, supported Saddam Hussein’s murderous regime, for example, when he used chemical weapons on his own people. With British and American intelligence controlling the intelligence findings in Iraq now, it would be likely that the darker aspects of U.S., and British involvement could be ommitted. It is even possible that French and other less favourable nations’ involvements may be highlighted and “leaked” to reporters.
All this risks going down the avenue of conspiracy because control is by the occupying power. “History is written by the victor” is a common phrase and a much accepted part of war and culture. In modern times, such writing of history could involve sanitizing some aspects, and highlighting others, and result in “revisionist” history. For more on this angle and how propaganda has been used in various ways, and how history has been written by the victors, see for example, the Institute for Economic Democracy web site.
Accustations of Bush and Blair’s Intelligence Being Exaggerated or Outright Lies
Around the end of May, and the beginning of June, the mainstream started to ask more and more about the WMDs. The administrations of George Bush and Tony Blair started to come under more pressure about things like various leaks about possible exaggeration, lying and/or pressuring their intelligence services to produce favorable reports regarding the existence of WMDs, and so on. (Yet, as mentioned on the previous page about the build up to war, long before Iraq was invaded, intelligence services were being pressured to come out with more favorable reports, even when agencies such as the CIA itself had questioned the existence of WMDs or the likelihood that Saddam posed a threat to the U.S. or the world.)
Doubts from many top experts about intelligence quality
As Jime Lobe of Inter Press Service says (June 2, 2003), “When all three major U.S. newsweeklies—‘Time’, ‘Newsweek’ and ‘U.S. News & World Report’—run major features on the same day on possible government lying, you can bet you have the makings of a major scandal.”
A South African newspaper, Daily News noted (June 9, 2003) that “an intelligence report, which said there was no proof that deposed Iraqi president Saddam Hussein posed a growing threat to the West, was suppressed” by the British government. Similar reports came out on many British media outlets at the time.
Britain’s The Guardian newspaper also revealed (May 31, 2003), that Colin Powell and Jack Straw had serious doubts over their Iraqi weapons claims. For example, the newspaper article mentioned that, “The [British] foreign secretary [Jack Straw] reportedly expressed concern that claims being made by Mr Blair and President Bush could not be proved. The problem, explained Mr Straw, was the lack of corroborative evidence to back up the claims.” and that “Much of the intelligence were assumptions and assessments not supported by hard facts or other sources.”
USA Today reported on June 17, 2003, that former CIA director Stansfield Turner accused the Bush administration Tuesday of “overstretching the facts” about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction in making its case for invading that country. This criticism “adds the retired admiral’s name to a list of former intelligence professionals concerned that the CIA and its intelligence reports were manipulated to justify the war,” the article also notes.
The Sydney Morning Herald summarizes (June 21, 2003) how most of the intelligence that helped go to war was “garbage”. The article comments on the dossiers from British and American intelligence that “as three legislative bodies in the US, Britain and Australia review that intelligence, some of it is becoming shaky. In one instance it was manufactured. In others, the intelligence was hedged with qualifications that were somehow dumped once it appeared in political speeches or declassified reports.” The effect of this was that “‘There’s more and more evidence that public opinion in our three countries was manipulated by the Bush Administration with the fragments of intelligence that they had,’ said Jonathan Dean, a security analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington.”
While revealed back in March that claims of obtaining Uranium from Africa were lies and reported on this site’s previous page about the build up to war, further, a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq who was dispatched to Niger in 2002 to investigate these claims had reported that these claims had no substance (but the Bush Administration still decided to quote this as British intelligence). But as MSNBC and NBC noted, the ambassador, Joseph Wilson charged the Bush administration of wreklessly making the charge, knowing it was false:
Wilson published an article in July alleging, however, that the White House recklessly made the charge knowing it was false.
“We spend billions of dollars on intelligence,” Wilson wrote. “But we end up putting something in the State of the Union address, something we got from another intelligence agency, something we cannot independently verify, in an area of Africa where the British have no on-the-ground presence.”
— Alex Johnson with Andrea Mitchell, CIA Seeks Probe of White House, MSNBC and NBC, September 26, 2003
Hans Blix, according to the Washington Post (June 22, 2003) said he suspected that “Baghdad possessed little more than “debris” from a former, secret weapons program when the United States invaded the country in March.”
In addition, Blix lashed out at both Washington and Iraq “bastards” who had tried to undermine him in his three year post. While speaking to the Guardian (June 11, 2003) he accused the Iraqis of spreading lies about him being homosexual, and of Washington he accused
- The Bush administration of leaning on his inspectors to produce more damning language in their reports;
- “Some elements” of the Pentagon of being behind a smear campaign against him; and
- Washington of regarding the UN as an “alien power” which they hoped would sink into the East river.
Intelligence which was often qualified with uncertainty was presented as solid
Under pressure, in mid-July the Bush Administration released parts of an intelligence document from October that cited compelling evidence of reconsitution of a nuclear weapons program by Iraq. Yet, as MSNBC detailed, this document contained many claims, including that most of the main ones used by people such as Bush and Powel during important speeches were highly dubious. For example,
- Many important or serious accusations were qualified with words such as “moderate confidence”, even “low confidence”;
- Other sentences which marked uncertainty, or low confidence in the claims being true, were highlighted in boldface;
- In England, there are accusations about some dossiers being “sexed up” and being “dodgy”. Those claims and investigations have been constant news, yet, as the U.S intelligence document and MSNBC’s report on it highlights, regardless of whether documents themselves were “sexed up” or not, the information presented looks as though they were misportrayed through propaganda, and not mentioning how in many cases key claims had low confidence or were even highly dubious.
The Washington Post reported at the end of September 2003 that the U.S. House Committee on Intelligence had criticized intelligence about Iraq’s WMDs and ties to al Qaeda as being weak. The committe criticized the U.S. intelligence community for “using largely outdated, ‘circumstantial’ and ‘fragmentary’ information with ‘too many uncertainties’ to conclude that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and ties to al Qaeda,” the Post noted.
This came after some four months of investigation by top members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, going through 19 volumes of classified material used by the Bush administration to make its case for the war on Iraq. As the Post continues, the committe “found ‘significant deficiencies’ in the community’s ability to collect fresh intelligence on Iraq, and said it had to rely on ‘past assessments’ dating to when U.N. inspectors left Iraq in 1998 and on ‘some new ‘piecemeal’ intelligence,’ both of which ‘were not challenged as a routine matter.’” And, “The absence of proof that chemical and biological weapons and their related development programs had been destroyed was considered proof that they continued to exist” according to a letter written by a couple of these members in a letter to CIA chief, George Tenet.
In the U.S., there has been some debate about whether it is the intelligence community’s failings, or the politicization of intelligence information in both the case for the Iraq war, and the failings to address warnings about the September 11 terrorist attacks. This round of criticism would seem to add to that debate.
Former UN weapons inspector and critic of the war on Iraq, Scott Ritter, also added that the British Intelligence such as MI6 ran a campaign designed to exaggerate Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction in the late 1990s in order to shift public opinion.
This campaign was also aimed at the public of other countries, such as Poland, India, and South Africa, all non-aligned UN countries, against the U.S.-U.K. sanctions regime.
The government yesterday confirmed that MI6 had organised Operation Mass Appeal, a campaign to plant stories in the media about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.
A senior official admitted that MI6 had been at the heart of a campaign launched in the late 1990s to spread information about Saddam’s development of nerve agents and other weapons, but denied that it had planted misinformation. “There were things about Saddam’s regime and his weapons that the public needed to know,” said the official.
The admission followed claims by Scott Ritter, who led 14 inspection missions in Iraq, that MI6 had recruited him in 1997 to help with the propaganda effort. He described meetings where the senior officer and at least two other MI6 staff had discussed ways to manipulate intelligence material.
“The aim was to convince the public that Iraq was a far greater threat than it actually was,” Ritter said last week.
He said there was evidence that MI6 continued to use similar propaganda tactics up to the invasion of Iraq earlier this year. “Stories ran in the media about secret underground facilities in Iraq and ongoing programmes (to produce weapons of mass destruction),” said Ritter. “They were sourced to western intelligence and all of them were garbage.”
…Blair justified his backing for sanctions and for the invasion of Iraq on the grounds that intelligence reports showed Saddam was working to acquire chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. The use of MI6 as a “back channel” for promoting the government’s policies on Iraq was never discovered during the Hutton inquiry and is likely to cause considerable disquiet among MPs.
A key figure in Operation Mass Appeal was Sir Derek Plumbly, then director of the Middle East department at the Foreign Office and now Britain’s ambassador to Egypt. Plumbly worked closely with MI6 to help to promote Britain’s Middle East policy.
The campaign was judged to be having a successful effect on public opinion. MI6 passed on intelligence that Iraq was hiding weapons of mass destruction and rebuilding its arsenal.
Poland, India and South Africa were initially chosen as targets for the campaign because they were non-aligned UN countries not supporting the British and US position on sanctions. At the time, in 1997, Poland was also a member of the UN security council.
— Nicholas Rufford, Revealed: how MI6 sold the Iraq war, Sunday Times, Decmber 28, 2003
The Hutton Report and the BBC
Award-winning journalist, John Pilger is worth quoting at length a commentary that ties in some broader aspects of media reporting in Britain and America, especially as it relates to this inquiry and the BBC:
Americans, says Time magazine, live in “an eternal present”. The point is, they have no choice. The “mainstream” media are now dominated by Rupert Murdoch’s Fox television network, which had a good war. The Federal Communications Commission, run by Colin Powell’s son Michael, is finally to deregulate television so that Fox and four other conglomerates control 90 per cent of the terrestrial and cable audience. Moreover, the leading 20 internet sites are now owned by the likes of Fox, Disney, AOL Time Warner and a clutch of other giants. Just 14 companies attract 60 per cent of the time all American web-users spend online.
The director of Le Monde Diplomatique, Ignacio Ramonet, summed this up well: “To justify a preventive war that the United Nations and global public opinion did not want, a machine for propaganda and mystification, organised by the doctrinaire sect around George Bush, produced state-sponsored lies with a determination characteristic of the worst regimes of the 20th century.”
Most of the lies were channelled straight to Downing Street from the 24-hour Office of Global Communications in the White House. Many were the invention of a highly secret unit in the Pentagon, called the Office of Special Plans, which “sexed up” raw intelligence, much of it uttered by Tony Blair. It was here that many of the most famous lies about weapons of mass destruction were “crafted”. On 9 July, Donald Rumsfeld said, with a smile, that America never had “dramatic new evidence” and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz earlier revealed that the “issue of weapons of mass destruction” was “for bureaucratic reasons” only, “because it was the one reason [for invading Iraq] that everyone could agree on.”
The Blair government’s attacks on the BBC make sense as part of this. They are not only a distraction from Blair’s criminal association with the Bush gang, though for a less than obvious reason. As the astute American media commentator Danny Schechter points out, the BBC’s revenues have grown to $5.6bn; more Americans watch the BBC in America than watch BBC1 in Britain; and what Murdoch and the other ascendant TV conglomerates have long wanted is the BBC “checked, broken up, even privatised…All this money and power will likely become the target for Blair government regulators and the merry men of Ofcom, who want to contain public enterprises and serve those avaricious private businesses who would love to slice off some of the BBC’s market share.” As if on cue, Tessa Jowell, the British Culture Secretary, questioned the renewal of the BBC’s charter.
The irony of this, says Schechter, is that the BBC was always solidly pro-war. He cites a comprehensive study by Media Tenor, the non-partisan institute that he founded, which analysed the war coverage of some of the world’s leading broadcasters and found that the BBC allowed less dissent than all of them, including the US networks. A study by Cardiff University found much the same. More often than not, the BBC amplified the inventions of the lie machine in Washington, such as Iraq’s non-existent attack on Kuwait with scuds. And there was Andrew Marr’s memorable victory speech outside 10 Downing Street: “[Tony Blair] said that they would be able to take Baghdad without a bloodbath, and that in the end the Iraqis would be celebrating. And on both those points he has been proved conclusively right.”
— John Pilger, The War on Truth, ZNet Commentary, July 31, 2003 [Emphasis Added]
Danny Schechter, mentioned by Pilger above, adds about the media and BBC:
As for the BBC on the war, I spoke recently with Jake Lynch who reports for BBC and runs Reporting the World about this for a documentary we are making on the coverage of the Iraq war. “I think we have to go back to before the war. And the crucial function the journalists should have carried out was to equip us to decide as a society, whether we wanted the war or not, whether it was the best thing for us,” he told me.
“Sadly, the coverage was at its worst, in the period when it mattered the most. The period bracketed by the worldwide demonstrations on February 15th and actually going to war was one in which British public opinion turned around from being approximately 60-40 against the war, to approximately 60-40 in favor of the war. I think that’s because critical perspectives, perspectives about alternatives to war, all the kind of efforts and discussion on the peace movement virtually disappeared from the media at that very point where notionally, a society was making up its mind as to whether to go to war or not.”
Jake also told me about the Cardiff University study that found that the BBC was actually more centrist than its competitors and less “anti-war.” He explained: “In other words, government or military sources from ‘our side’ were much more likely to dominate the BBC than any of the others. Now that’s interesting because since the war, the BBC’s been accused of having an anti-war stance in its coverage of the war. Not only by a senior government official, Alastair Campbell, the director of communications on Downing Street, but also by a kind of chorus, led by the Murdoch press. There’ve been regular reports beginning with reports that ministers, speaking off the record were dissatisfied with the BBC’s coverage and that they were now investigating the regulatory framework with which the BBC operates.”
— Danny Schechter, Another View on the BBC, Web Log, August 13, 2003
In addition, media research organization, Media Tenor also founded by Schechter, finds that BBC and ITV (another British mainstream media channel) reporting on the Iraq war and related issues on prime time, were quite similar, and revealed little evidence for an alleged BBC bias.
And as Jackey Ashley comments in the Guardian, (July 24, 2003), an attack on the BBC is not just from the British government that have long-wanted to do this, in order to dumb down BBC content (borrowing a phrase from Schechter in the link above), but has also come from Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, so that he can more easily challenge the popularity of the BBC. In sum, as Ashley says, this is not an issue about sources, but an issue about power.
Powell Admits Mobile Lab Claims False—But This is an Old Story
Pressuring Officials to State a Link Between 9-11 and Saddam Hussein
As mentioned in the previous page about the build up to the Iraq war, the CIA and others had been pressured to show a link between the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and Saddam Hussein, even though they had said that they could not find any credible links, some of this being mentioned as far back as September 2002.
In the middle of June 2003, General Wesley Clark, former Supreme NATO Allied Commander in Europe and Commander-in-Chief of the United States European Command, revealed that he was pressured to identify a link even when there was no evidence. On NBC’s Meet the Press show, the following was part of an exchange with anchor Tim Russert:
CLARK: “There was a concerted effort during the fall of 2001, starting immediately after 9/11, to pin 9/11 and the terrorism problem on Saddam Hussein.”
RUSSERT: “By who? Who did that?”
CLARK: “Well, it came from the White House, it came from people around the White House. It came from all over. I got a call on 9/11. I was on CNN, and I got a call at my home saying, ‘You got to say this is connected. This is state-sponsored terrorism. This has to be connected to Saddam Hussein.’ I said, ‘But—I’m willing to say it, but what’s your evidence?’ And I never got any evidence.”
— Part of a transcript between General Wesley Clark and Tim Russert, Meet the Press, NBC, June 15, 2003 (cited from Media Silent on Clark’s 9/11 Comments, Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting, June 20, 2003)
Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting, quoted above, also noted that
Clark’s assertion corroborates a little-noted CBS Evening News story that aired on September 4, 2002. As correspondent David Martin reported: “Barely five hours after American Airlines Flight 77 plowed into the Pentagon, the secretary of defense was telling his aides to start thinking about striking Iraq, even though there was no evidence linking Saddam Hussein to the attacks.” According to CBS, a Pentagon aide’s notes from that day quote Rumsfeld asking for the “best info fast” to “judge whether good enough to hit SH at the same time, not only UBL.” (The initials SH and UBL stand for Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.) The notes then quote Rumsfeld as demanding, ominously, that the administration’s response “go massive…sweep it all up, things related and not.”
Despite its implications, Martin’s report was greeted largely with silence when it aired. Now, nine months later, media are covering damaging revelations about the Bush administration’s intelligence on Iraq, yet still seem strangely reluctant to pursue stories suggesting that the flawed intelligence—and therefore the war—may have been a result of deliberate deception, rather than incompetence. The public deserves a fuller accounting of this story.
— Media Silent on Clark’s 9/11 Comments, Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting, June 20, 2003
And back in March, 2003, in an interview with Salon magazine, General Clark also noted that
Subsequent to 9/11, there was a decision then made, “Let’s go attack Iraq”—apparently that decision was made—and the framework of the decision wasn’t “Gee, we’ve got a terrible problem with Iraq, what are we going to do, let’s talk about the problem.” Instead, they apparently moved in their own private counsel and said simply, “We’ve got to have regime change in Baghdad.”
… I don’t think the president built the case and developed the coalition. I’ve always been concerned—and you know from my writing—that there wasn’t evidence to justify the urgency to justify moving against Saddam Hussein right now. Rather than presenting the international community with a problem and asking its assistance in helping to resolve it, the United States government effectively presented the solution and asked for countries to agree with its views. And too many didn’t.
— Jake Tapper interview with General Wesley Clark, Gen. Wesley Clark, unplugged, Salon, March 23, 2003
The Washington Post also noted (June 22, 2003) that U.S. intelligence community did not have concrete links between Iraq and Al-Qaeda.
The Legal Case for War Is Questioned, Again
Pressure for Investigations into Intelligence and War Justification
Public pressure for public hearings into whether or not faulty information was used to justify war on Iraq mounted on both the Bush and Blair governments quite early on. Neither had public hearings, but closed-door sessions (see for example, Boston Globe (June 12, 2003) and BBC (June 18, 2003)).
While all information and findings won’t be available to the public, some information has come out such as how some officials felt pressured to produce favorable reports, and how some senior cabinet members in the UK government accused Blair of having decided to go to war regardless of evidence of WMDs or not. (Robin Cook, for example, former UK House of Commons Leader, who had resigned over the decision to go to war, said the British government had already decided on a policy of ousting Saddam and used intelligence to justify it, as reported by The Canadian Press (June 17, 2003). In addition, as the same article also continues, “Clare Short, the former [UK] International Development Secretary, said Blair 'pre-committed' Britain to conflict months before the war, even as the United Nations was working to resolve the crisis peacefully.”
Both Clare Short and Robin Cook were prominent cabinet members, and, as various British media outlets reported at various times, would have been privy to most (if not all) high level discussions by the Blair administration on issues related to going to war or not. Their resignations and comments have caused a bit of a stir in the British media. Blair denies such accusations. However, it is worth quoting the Canadian Press article further:
“I fear the fundamental problem is that instead of using intelligence as evidence on which to base a decision about policy, we used intelligence as the basis on which to justify a policy on which we had already settled,” [Robin] Cook said.
[Clare] Short told the committee that information was presented to make the threat appear “more immediate and imminent and requiring urgent action.”
Cook acknowledged that Western intelligence agencies had few sources of firsthand information on Iraq. “Iraq was an appallingly difficult intelligence target to break,” he said.
But both he and Short said they were told by security sources before the war that Saddam’s weapons probably were not an immediate threat to Britain.
Short said she had seen reports from the foreign intelligence service MI6 which said Iraqi scientists were still working on chemical and biological weapons programs, but did not support government claims that Saddam had weapons ready to use.
Cook said he had received a similar briefing.
Manufacturing such weapons requires substantial industrial plants and a large work force, he said, adding, “It is inconceivable that both could have been kept concealed for the two months we have been in occupation of Iraq.”
— British government exaggerated Iraq threat, former ministers tell inquiry, Canadian Press, June 17, 2003
The New York Times highlighted for example, that not only were some intelligence officials pressured to come out with favorable reports, but that the Bush Administration selectively used the worst case ones to raise the fear of imminent threat to the U.S. (implying there wasn’t one, and that the war was not justified on those grounds):
Pressure to politicize intelligence is often subtle and extremely difficult to corroborate or quantify. A number of analysts [who have privately complained over the past few months that they felt pressure from administration officials to write reports that they believe overstated evidence that Iraq had illegal weapons programs and terrorist links] have said that the pressure they felt came in the form of intensive questioning from senior administration officials, particularly about reports that concluded that there was little evidence of links between Iraq and Al Qaeda.
A number of analysts have suggested that they felt less direct pressure on reports concerning the status of Iraq’s unconventional weapons, but were angered that senior Bush administration officials selectively disclosed classified intelligence reports that supported the worst-case scenario concerning Iraq’s weapons programs, making it seem as if there was an imminent threat to the United States.
— James Risen and Douglas Jehl, Expert Said to Tell Legislators He Was Pressed to Distort Some Evidence, New York Times, June 25, 2003
Since about July 2003, the revelations and accusations on all sorts of intelligence, whether it was doctored or not, who influenced passages, where sources came from and so forth are, are to some extent being questioned in the mainstream. Yet, in some cases, the scope of questioning is narrow, as FAIR suggests.
Bush and Blair Order Inquiries Beginning Of 2004
The Butler Report Finds Serious Flaw in Intelligence on Iraq
But there are also wider geopolitical perspectives and ramifications this attack on Iraq may have, and they could be felt for a long time to come.
This article is part of the following collection:
- Iraq—2003 onwards; War, Aftermath and Post-Saddam
- Iraq - WikiLeaks - More Damaging Revelations for the US
- Iraq War Media Reporting, Journalism and Propaganda
- Aftermath and Rebuilding Iraq
- Iraq: Lack of Security and Deteriorating Conditions
- Justifying the Iraq War and WMDs
- Iraq War and Geopolitics
- Handover of Power to Iraqis
- Iraq Links for More Information