Justifying the Iraq War and WMDs

Author and Page information

  • by Anup Shah
  • This page last updated

Various justifications were made for war, but on almost all grounds, those basis look increasingly flaky, with either exaggerated claims, or even lies.

On this page:

  1. Saddam Hussein Captured
  2. Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs)
    1. Iraq Study Group Does not Find WMD
    2. WMD Inspection Team is Not Neutral
    3. Donald Rumsfeld Concedes that WMDs May Not Exist
    4. Hints From Early On that WMDs May Not Exist
    5. Colin Powell Originally Claimed Saddam Hussein Not a Threat; Concedes WMDs Unlikely to be Found
    6. History Will Forgive Him If No WMDs Found, Blair Says, Because Dictator Removed
    7. 2006: Bush Admits no WMDs, and no link between Saddam and 9-11
  3. Accustations of Bush and Blair’s Intelligence Being Exaggerated or Outright Lies
    1. Doubts from many top experts about intelligence quality
    2. Intelligence which was often qualified with uncertainty was presented as solid
    3. The Hutton Report and the BBC
    4. Powell Admits Mobile Lab Claims False—But This is an Old Story
  4. Pressuring Officials to State a Link Between 9-11 and Saddam Hussein
  5. The Legal Case for War Is Questioned, Again
  6. Pressure for Investigations into Intelligence and War Justification
    1. Bush and Blair Order Inquiries Beginning Of 2004
    2. The Butler Report Finds Serious Flaw in Intelligence on Iraq
      1. Serious Flaw in Butler Report: No Investigation of Political Accountability
      2. A number of these findings were known before the war
  7. 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 captured1, after months of eluding U.S. forces. He was found hiding in a hole-like underground hideout, near his home town of Tikrit.

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 Iraq3, Amnesty International AI Index: MDE 14/183/2003 (Public), News Service No: 283, December 15, 2003

(See this site’s section on the ICC4 for more information about the ICC.)

For many, the capture justified the war. The Bush Administration constantly claims he was a threat to the entire world, and so he has managed to get rid of this world, which is now a safer place. While it might seem appropriate to congratulate America for getting rid of this tyrant, it should be noted that he was an American ally in the past, (as previously mentioned5 on this site), and he was helped with weapons of mass destructions. Removing him can, in that context, be thought less of as a noble gesture, but instead, about time at least. Prize-winning author and Indian activist Arundhati Roy noted on the front page of the Indian daily, The Hindu Times:

Plenty of anti-war activists have retreated in confusion since the capture of Saddam Hussein. Isn’t the world better off without Saddam Hussein? they ask timidly.

Let’s look this thing in the eye once and for all. To applaud the U.S. army’s capture of Saddam Hussein and therefore, in retrospect, justify its invasion and occupation of Iraq is like deifying Jack the Ripper for disembowelling the Boston Strangler. And that—after a quarter century partnership in which the Ripping and Strangling was a joint enterprise. It’s an in-house quarrel. They’re business partners who fell out over a dirty deal. Jack’s the CEO.

Arundhati Roy, Do turkeys enjoy thanksgiving?6, The Hindu, January 18, 2004

Introducing a new global survery analyzing war and human rights, Human Rights Watch executive director, Kenneth Roth, noted:

The Bush administration cannot justify the war in Iraq as a humanitarian intervention, and neither can Tony Blair. Saddam Hussein’s atrocities should certainly be punished, and his worst atrocities, such as the 1988 genocide against the Kurds, would have justified humanitarian intervention then. But such interventions should be reserved for stopping an imminent or ongoing slaughter. They shouldn’t be used belatedly, to address atrocities that were ignored in the past.

Kenneth Roth, New Global Survey Analyzes War and Human Rights7, Human Rights Watch, January 26, 2004

In a key note speech, Roth concluded that the war on Iraq could not be regarded as humanitarian:

In sum, the invasion of Iraq failed to meet the test for a humanitarian intervention. Most important, the killing in Iraq at the time was not of the exceptional nature that would justify such intervention. In addition, intervention was not the last reasonable option to stop Iraqi atrocities. Intervention was not motivated primarily by humanitarian concerns. It was not conducted in a way that maximized compliance with international humanitarian law. It was not approved by the Security Council. And while at the time it was launched it was reasonable to believe that the Iraqi people would be better off, it was not designed or carried out with the needs of Iraqis foremost in mind.

Kenneth Roth, War in Iraq: Not a Humanitarian Intervention8, Human Rights Watch World Report, January 2004

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.

Back to top

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 quit9, NewScientist.com News Service, December 13, 2003

Towards the end of January, David Kay did resign. He told Reuters that WMDs probably did not exist:

Undercutting the White House’s public rationale for the war on Iraq, Kay told Reuters by telephone shortly after stepping down from his post on Friday that he had concluded there were no such stockpiles to be found.

I don’t think they existed, Kay said. What everyone was talking about is stockpiles produced after the end of the last (1991) Gulf War, and I don’t think there was a large-scale production program in the '90s, he said.

I think we have found probably 85 percent of what we’re going to find, said Kay…. I think the best evidence is that they did not resume large-scale production and that’s what we’re really talking about, Kay said.

…The United Nations' top nuclear watchdog said on Saturday he was not surprised at Kay’s conclusion. I am not surprised about this, International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei told Reuters…. We said already before the war, that there was no evidence of this, so this is really not a surprise.

Tabassum Zakaria, Ex-Arms Hunter Says Iraq Had No Banned Stockpiles 10, Reuters, January 24, 2004 [Emphasis Added]

Furthermore, as reported by The Guardian, Kay noted that Iraq had abandoned its efforts to produce large quantities of chemical or biological weapons:

Further damage to Downing Street’s case for going to war came from Dr Kay, who said yesterday that the CIA and other intelligence agencies had failed to recognise that Iraq had all but abandoned its efforts to produce large quantities of chemical or biological weapons after the first Gulf war.

He told the New York Times that his team discovered that Iraq had plunged into what he called a vortex of corruption around 1997 and 1998.

Iraqi scientists realised that they could go to Saddam and present plans for weapons programmes and receive large amounts of money, without making good their promises.

David Leigh and Richard Norton-Taylor, Iraqi who gave MI6 45-minute claim says it was untrue11, The Guardian, January 27, 2004

In addition, as the above cited article also notes, the Iraqi exile group in London which claims to have supplied MI6 with the intelligence about Saddam’s 45-minute capability admitted that the information might have been completely untrue.

For some, Kay’s comments are devastating enough to suggest impeachment:

Can we now talk impeachment?

The rueful admission by the chief U.S. weapons inspector David Kay that Saddam Hussein did not possess weapons of mass destruction or the means to create them raises the prospect that the Bush administration is complicit in the greatest scandal in U.S. history. Yet, we hear no calls for a broad-ranging investigation of the type that led to the discovery of Monica Lewinsky’s infamous blue dress.

…. But a mere three days after the State of the Union Address, Kay quit and told the world what the Bush administration had been denying since taking office: That Saddam Hussein’s regime was but a weak shadow of the semi-fearsome military force it had been at the time of the first Gulf War; that it had no significant chemical, biological or nuclear weapons programs or stockpiles still in place; and that the U.N. inspections and Allied bombing runs in the 1990s had been much more effective than their critics had believed at destroying the remnants of these programs, which simply eroded into dust.

I’m personally convinced that there were not large stockpiles of newly produced weapons of mass destruction, Kay told the New York Times. We don’t find the people, the documents or the physical plants that you would expect to find if the production was going on. I think they gradually reduced stockpiles throughout the 1990’s. Somewhere in the mid-1990’s the large chemical overhang of existing stockpiles was eliminated. The Iraqis say the they believed that [the UN inspection system] was more effective [than U.S. analysts believed it was], and they didn’t want to get caught. [Emphasis Added]

The maddening aspect of all this is that we haven’t needed … David Kay to set the record straight. The evidence of the Bush administration’s systematic abuse of the facts and its own intelligence has been out there for all who wanted to see it for nearly two years. That’s why 23 former intelligence and foreign service employees of the United States government—including several who quit in disgust—have been willing to speak out in Robert Greenwald’s shocking documentary Uncovered. The story they tell is one of an administration that decided to go to war for reasons that smack of empire-building, and then constructed a false reality in order to sell it to the American people. Is that not an impeachable offense?

After all, the President misled Congress into approving his preemptive war on the grounds that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction threatened our very survival as a nation. If we hesitated and allowed the UN inspectors who were on the ground in Iraq to do their job, a mushroom cloud over New York—to use Condoleezza Rice’s imagery—might well be our dark reward. Now David Kay—who, it should be remembered, originally defended the war and dismissed the work of the UN inspectors—has spent $900 million dollars and the time of 1400 weapons inspectors to discover what many in the CIA and elsewhere had been telling us all along. Are there to be no real repercussions for such a devastating official deceit?

Robert Scheer, Kay Testimony Impeaches Bush 12, Alternet, January 26, 2004

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 13) 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, 200314), 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 15 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 exaggerations16 (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 suggested17.
  • 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 18 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 Destruction19, 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 20, 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 21. 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 place22.

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 23. 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 24, News.com (Australia), September 23, 2003

In September 2004, Colin Powell admitted that WMDs will probably never be found 25.

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 him26 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 27, Democracy Now! December 30, 2003

2006: Bush Admits no WMDs, and no link between Saddam and 9-11

Indeed, in August, 2006, at a press conference, President Bush admitted that Iraq had no WMDs and had nothing to do with the 9-11 terrorist attacks:

  1. President George W. Bush:

    … Now, look, I didn’t—part of the reason we went into Iraq was—the main reason we went into Iraq at the time was we thought he had weapons of mass destruction. It turns out he didn’t, but he had the capacity to make weapons of mass destruction.

    … imagine a world in which Saddam Hussein was there, stirring up even more trouble in a part of the world that had so much resentment and so much hatred that people came and killed 3,000 of our citizens.…

  2. Reporter:

    What did Iraq have to do with that?

  3. President George W. Bush:

    What did Iraq have to do with what?

  4. Reporter:

    The attack on the World Trade Center?

  5. President George W. Bush:

    Nothing, except for it’s part of—and nobody has ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack. Iraq was a—Iraq—the lesson of September the 11th is, take threats before they fully materialize, Ken. Nobody has ever suggested that the attacks of September the 11th were ordered by Iraq.

President Bush Admits Iraq Had No WMDs and Nothing to Do With 9/1128, Democracy Now!, August 22, 2006

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 links29 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 page30, 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 Democracy31 web site.

Back to top

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, 200332), 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 33 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 claims34. 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 35 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 garbage36. 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 war37, 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 38, 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 debris39 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 40 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.

MSNBC revealed that parts of intelligence used by the Bush Administration in October 2002 was highly dubious 41.

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 weak42. 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 43 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 44, Sunday Times, Decmber 28, 2003

The Hutton Report and the BBC

An apparent rift appeared between the BBC and the British government over such accusations, and a scientist called Dr. Kelly who had apparently claimed the sexing up of certain intelligence information allegedly committed suicide when his name was revealed to the public as the most likely source to the BBC reporter that revealed this.

In Britain, this dominated news during August, and in some respects has continued to be a distraction to other major issues about misinformation, weapons of mass destruction and the rebuilding/resistance in Iraq.

A major inquiry known as the Hutton Inquiry (named after Lord Hutton, who performed the investigation) into the allegations started revealing many interesting points, as the inquiry interviewed people all the way up to the British Prime Minister himself. The final report was damning for the BBC, and one of its reporters who made the claim of sexing up the document. Summarizing The Guardian, the report concluded many points45, including:

  • Gilligan [the BBC reporter making the claim] was wrong to say government knew its 45-minute claim was unfounded
  • The desire of the Prime Minister to have a strong dossier may have subconsciously influenced John Scarlett and the Joint Intelligence Committee to produce a strongly worded document
  • The Joint Intelligence Committee’s assessment was in line with available intelligence
  • BBC editorial and management system was 'defective'—governors of the BBC were also criticised

The damning verdict has led to resignations (or calls for more) at the BBC. See the BBC web site’s section on the David Kelly inquiry and Hutton Report 46. At the same time, there has been reaction throughout the press at how unscathed the government was, while the BBC was completely criticized. The enquiry’s verdict has therefore been described as a whitewash and some are even sceptical of the credibility of this because of such a tilt against the BBC. The inquiry itself has its own web site47 from where you can see the final report.

It would seem that the British government has been exonerated, but they have only been seen to have acted credibly in terms of the content of the dossier not apparently being an intentional lie. However, all the examples raised further above about other citations being exaggerations, or there being other forms of pressure to create support or justification for war still seem to hold or have not been investigated with such vigor, and it would seem that there is still a strong argument that the war on Iraq was not justified.

A.J. Doherty writes in The New Standard that the narrowness of Lord Hutton’s brief must not be obscured. The inquiry was neither an investigation into the supposed reasons for the illegal invasion of Iraq nor an investigation into the deceitful roles of the Blair administration and the intelligence services. In addition:

As well as diverting attention from the crimes of Blair and his administration, the fight between the BBC and the Government effectively masked the reality of the BBC’s war coverage. The public debate played out in the pages of the national press was between essentially two positions.

The first stance was that the BBC was virulently anti-war and biased against the Government. Media mogul Conrad Black, in a letter to his own newspaper, accused the BBC of being pathologically hostile to the government as well as to most British institutions and to American policy in almost every field. He remarked that it should not be the function of the BBC to assassinate the truth about the Iraq war.

The second position, which found its home in the Guardian and the Independent, was that the BBC’s coverage was fair and impartial and that the Government was bullying the BBC.

Curiously, it appears that the only systematic studies of the BBC and its coverage of the war support neither position. A study of British broadcasters carried out by Cardiff University concluded that the BBC had the most pro-war agenda of the lot. In a summary of his report, Professor Justin Lewis revealed that the BBC relied on government and military sources to a far greater degree than did other broadcasters. It was also more likely to relay false stories provided by official sources….

In an article for The Guardian, David Miller cited the findings of a second study, carried out by the Media Tenor group, which looked at broadcasters in five countries. According to Miller, it found that the BBC provided the least space to dissenting views of all the media outlets surveyed, with just two percent of airtime given over to anti-war opinion; this in a country where opposition to the war was around 40 percent during the invasion.

A.J. Doherty, The Hutton Diversion and the BBC’s Mythical Anti-War Bias48, The New Standard, January 28, 2004 [Emphasis Added]

Investigative journalist Greg Palast (who has had some of his reports aired by the BBC) also notes that the future of British journalism might be bleak49, On the other hand, The future for fake and farcical war propaganda is quite bright indeed, he notes, because based on the Blair government’s claim, headlines pumped the war hysteria: SADDAM COULD HAVE NUCLEAR BOMB IN YEAR, screeched the London Times. BRITS 45 MINS FROM DOOM, shrieked the Sun newspaper…. But these headlines were, in fact, false, and deadly because they helped create support for a war that is now questionable. Palast is therefore implying that while erroneous claims by a BBC reporter that raised questions about supporting the war were thoroughly examined in the public eye, other claims or headlines (but those that supported the war) have received less scrutiny. Furthermore, as Palast also adds, the U.S. and British governments bent the information (about the threat of Iraq) then hunted down the questioners.

The likely repercussions on the BBC could indeed be far-reaching, as various competing media empires and possibly the government could try to take advantage of this reduced credibility.

  • On one hand the BBC has had a lot of credibility in the eyes of the public and is usually well regarded for quality (though, I would argue with still a western-based bias when it comes to issues of importance to the third world in general). As a result, other media companies such as Rupert Murdoch’s outlets in UK would want to take advantage.
  • On the other hand, possibly the government would also want to take advantage, perhaps to either decrease the powers and reach of the BBC, or perhaps journalism in general. While some media outlets indeed have been critical of the BBC (opportunism or not) leading up to the enquiry (as mentioned below), as the enquiry has come out and have been so heavy on the BBC only, many media outlets are now questioning the ramifications and asking if the enquiry was fair. It would seem that other media outlets are also worried about the implications to journalism (and therefore themselves) on the whole and what the government might do, and not just the BBC.

But these political games and apparent attempts at opportunism have been going on since the beginning of the accusations:

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 50, 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 51, 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 bias52.

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 power53.

Powell Admits Mobile Lab Claims False—But This is an Old Story

On April 2, 2004, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell admitted that claims about mobile labs he had dramatically highlighted in his speech to the United Nations in the build up to the war, used intelligence that was weak.

However, this was known before the war started. As noted on this site’s section on the build up to war, Hans Blix himself had said the evidence was weak. Quoting from that page again:

Powell had shown satellite photos of alleged movement of mobile biological weapons laboratories and highlighted concerns about Iraqi officers moving equipment before UN inspectors got to the sites. However, as the Guardian reported (February 5, 200354), Hans Blix said there was no evidence of mobile biological weapons laboratories or of Iraq trying to foil inspectors by moving equipment before his teams arrived.

Powell’s admission (and also his appearing to shift area of blame onto intelligence 55), in April 2004, has been met with media excitement as if this is a new revelation, but it seems few remember that Powell’s claims were regarded as dubious even before the war.

Back to top

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 56, 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 57, 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, unplugged58, Salon, March 23, 2003

It was also revealed by the British newspaper, The Independent at the beginning of April 2004, that Tony Blair had been told the U.S. was targetting Iraq just days after 9-1159, implying that Tony Blair himself was part of the propaganda campaign to wage war regardless of people’s opinion.

The Washington Post also noted (June 22, 2003) that U.S. intelligence community did not have concrete links between Iraq and Al-Qaeda 60.

As noted further above, President Bush admitted in August 2006 that Iraq had nothing to do with 9-11. Bush also said Nobody has ever suggested that the attacks of September the 11th were ordered by Iraq.

Back to top

The Legal Case for War Is Questioned, Again

When war was initially waged, the U.K. said they had legal justification because breach of prior U.N. resolutions allowed war.

Around February and early March 2004, there was pressure to reveal the full legal advice to the British government justifying war, especially given that many international experts disagreed, and that a Foreign Office memo, sent to the [British] Foreign Affairs Select Committee on the same day that Lord Goldsmith’s summary [saying there was a legal basis for war] was published, made clear that there was no automaticity in [United Nations] resolution 1441 to justify war. (The Independent, March 5, 2004.) U.N. resolution 1441 adopted in November 2002 was the resolution to get weapons inspectors in Iraq. A second resolution was required for war, as the U.K. and U.S. themselves had admitted in November 2002.

Also reported in that same Independent article, U.N. Chief Weapons Inspector Hans Blix declared the war on Iraq was illegal, 61 because a second U.N. resolution was required. Furthermore he added, no individual country had the right to legally decide to go to war, because the U.N. Security Council created the resolutions, so the Council had to decide on war or not, not individual nations.

And as noted near the beginning of the media part of this section on the Iraq crisis, even the U.S. and U.K. had initially admitted that war was not possible without a second U.N. resolution. Those quotes are reproduced here:

To those who fear this resolution is just an automatic trigger point, without any further discussion, paragraph 12 of the resolution makes it clear that is not the case.

Tony Blair, Tony Blair’s statement in response to the unanimous passing of UN resolution 1441, November 8, 2002. (You can see the full text62 at the Guardian newspaper web site, for example.)

And the comments by the British and American ambassadors:

[U.S. ambassador to the U.N., John] Negroponte (U.S.): As we have said on numerous occasions to Council members, this resolution contains no hidden triggers and no automaticity with respect to the use of force. If there is a further Iraqi breach, reported to the Council by UNMOVIC, the IAEA or a Member State, the matter will return to the Council for discussions as required in paragraph 12.

[U.K. ambassador to the U.N., Sir Jeremy] Greenstock (U.K.): We heard loud and clear during the negotiations the concerns about automaticity and hidden triggers—the concern that on a decision so crucial we should not rush into military action; that on a decision so crucial any Iraqi violations should be discussed by the Council. Let me be equally clear in response, as a co-sponsor with the United States of the text we have just adopted. There is no automaticity in this resolution. If there is a further Iraqi breach of its disarmament obligations, the matter will return to the Council for discussion as required in paragraph 12. We would expect the Security Council then to meet its responsibilities.

Security Council 4644th meeting 63, Speeches delivered after adoption of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441, United Nations document S/PV.4644, November 8, 2002 (Emphasis Added)

In mid-September, 2004, U.N. General Secretary, Kofi Annan said the Iraq war was illegal64. Talking to the BBC he noted that the decision to go to war should have been made by the Security Council. It should not have been a unilateral decision. These comments were not new however, as he has said this repeatedly, though the U.S., British and Australian governments, predictably disagreed with his remarks (with a U.S. Defence advisor even accused Annan of political inteference by bringing this up 51 days before U.S. elections!) Annan’s comments also brought criticism from some media quarters such as that from CNN65, as Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting noted.

Back to top

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, 200366) and BBC (June 18, 200367)).

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 it68, 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 inquiry69, 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 70, 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 narrow71, as FAIR suggests.

Bush and Blair Order Inquiries Beginning Of 2004

At the beginning of 2004, with the U.S.'s then chief man for hunting weapons of mass destruction David Kay saying that he doesn’t believe there are any, there has been intense pressure on the Bush administration to launch an investigation about the intelligence that was used to justified the war.

In February 2004, President George Bush announced the launch of an investigation. The report will analyse where we stand and what we can do better as we fight this war on terror, Bush said, still trying to tie this into the wider war on terror, which has also been questioned.

Interestingly, when asked why a launch of the investigation and why its findings would be released after the U.S. elections, George Bush seemed to waiver and even implied that they had to be sure about the intelligence. What we don’t know yet is what we thought he also said. Yet, this would appear to be a lie or at least more spin.

  • During the buildup to the war, various members of the Bush Adminstration, including Bush himself asserted with absolute conviction that WMDS were definitely there.
    • Channel 4 News in U.K, for example, noted (February 2, 2004) that on September 24, 2002, in a television interview, Dick Cheney made claims in a way that did not betray any uncertainty.
    • A speech by George Bush on 26 September 2002 also made such strong convictions, while Donald Dumsfeld famously said that they knew Saddam Hussein’s WMDs are there, that they are somewhere North, South, East and West of Baghdad!
    • See this site’s section on the build up for the Iraq war72, which provides many more such examples, including details from Colin Powell’s speech at the U.N., assertions by others such as Jack Straw and Tony Blair, etc.
  • A question Channel 4 also noted was if Bush was this uncertain about a war, how could he have asked his servicemen to die for a war that may not have been justified? (The news report also failed to follow that theme and ask if the thousands of Iraqi civilian deaths could have been avoided as well.)

Under pressure to follow the U.S. example, UK’s Prime Minister, Tony Blair also announced an intelligence inquiry.

Robin Cook, the British minister in Tony Blair’s cabinet who resigned protesting the war, also noted that any investigation need not take too long because a lot of the evidence is already there, supposedly, and it needs scrutiny. The political decisions to go to war also needs analysing he added. (Interview on Channel 4 News, February 2, 2004). Cook reiterated that Bush and Blair’s attempts to use intelligence in a way to justify war implied blatant propaganda.

Initially, both Bush and Blair suggested investigations would be narrow in scope73, looking only at the intelligence used to justify the war, and not the political judgements based on that intelligence, which full accountability would surely require.

Tony Blair announced that the UK inquiry would be held in private with only some evidence possibly being published74. In addition to the secrecy, also controversial about this is that while ordering what will be known as the Butler Inquiry, he debarred the inquiry from examining the political and diplomatic decision to wage war, and the legal basis for doing so as The Guardian highlighted (February 4, 2004).

For many this will be seen as

  • Avoiding a look at the political judgements (i.e. looking at government accountability)
  • Using the intelligence services for scapegoating any controversial decisions

Yet, mentioned in various places on this section has been how top ministers and experts have felt and experienced the Bush and Blair administrations deciding long ago to go to war and looking for reasons to justify it. Furthermore, just as UK announced this new inquiry, The Independent in U.K. noted a former British intelligence official who gave crucial evidence to the Hutton inquiry claimed that (citing that news article)

  • Not a single defence intelligence expert backed Tony Blair’s most contentious claims on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction 75;
  • Downing Street’s dossier, a key plank in convincing the public of the case for war, was misleading on Saddam Hussein’s chemical and biological capability because the expert intelligence analysts of the (Defence Intelligence Staff) were overruled in the preparation of the dossier;
  • The whole of the Defence Intelligence Staff, Britain’s best qualified analysts on WMD, agreed that the claims should have been carefully caveated; and
  • Intelligence chiefs ignored warnings from their own leading experts that they could not be certain Iraq had chemical and biological weapons.

It was also revealed that around the time that Bush and Blair pressed for war, intelligence on Iraq’s WMDs was sparse and the British government knew this76. Furthermore, as it appears that both British and U.S. governments are looking to blame the intelligence communities, some of the intelligence communities are turning to the defensive, either pointing out that they never said threats were imminent, or to lay fault at intelligence agencies of other countries. George Tenet, head of the CIA is one example. In early February, Tenet reiterated that the CIA did not exaggerate threats from Iraq77. This should not be new information though. As pointed out in the building the case78 section on this site, during the lead up to war, the CIA had repeatedly downplayed the scare-mongering and even mentioned that it did not believe Saddam Hussein would strike unless struck upon first (and in the end, Iraq didn’t strike back, perhaps because it didn’t have anything to strike back with, in that respect).

In addition, it turns out that Tony Blair was under the impression that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction which could be launched against targets such as Israel and Cyprus in just 45 minutes. This has made headline news, yet top ministers, including the British Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, and others, such as Robin Cook, knew that the 45-minute claim only applied to battle-field weapons, and that was it (Robin Cook even mentioned this in his resignation speech). (Of course, the BBC has been given a heavy blow suggesting that using this 45 minute claim was sexing up, yet, even if Lord Hutton did exonerate Blair in a whitewash, that no-one would correct this until now, is a scandal. Indeed, it has dominated news in the first few days of February, in the U.K.) Hans Blix, chief U.N. weapons inspector up to the Iraq war has on many occassions criticized the U.S. and U.K. for lack of cooperation. Blix also described Bush and Blair as salesmen who exaggerated intelligence in an attempt to win support for war79.

However, such revelations are not really new though. The Building the Case for War on Iraq80 section on this site notes that many of these types of concerns had been raised many times by various sources during the build up to war.

The Butler Report Finds Serious Flaw in Intelligence on Iraq

The Butler Report was released mid July, 2004, reporting serious flaws in the intelligence used on Iraq in the build up to war81. While limited in nature (not looking at political accountability) it contained a serious blow to the intelligence that was used. Problems and findings included:

  • Intelligence sources not checked well by the MI6
  • MI6 sometimes relied on third hand reports
  • The 2002 dossier used to show the British people and the world the threat of Saddam should not have included the claim Iraq could use weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes without further explanation
  • The limitations of the intelligence in the September 2002 dossier were not made sufficiently clear, with important caveats removed
  • The 45 minutes claim was unsubstantiated and it should not have been included without clarification—doing so led to suspicions it was there because of its eye-catching character (or propaganda appeal)
  • Intelligence was pushed to its outer limits but not beyond—and there was no deliberate distortion by politicians, any blame was collective
  • JIC chairman John Scarlett should still take up post of MI6 chief—but future intelligence chiefs should be demonstrably beyond influence
  • Since the war key claims based on intelligence from agents in Iraq, including claims the Iraqis had recently produced biological agents, had had to be withdrawn because they were unreliable
  • There had been an over-reliance on dissident Iraqi sources and human intelligence in general
  • Language in the dossier and used by the prime minister may have left readers with the impression that there was fuller and firmer intelligence than was the case, Butler had said and added, It was a serious weakness that the Joint Intelligence Committees' warnings on the limitations of the intelligence were not made sufficiently clear in the dossier.
  • While Iraq may have had the desire to build WMDs, it didn’t have any, or any of significance, and no developed plan of using them
  • There was no intelligence to conclude that Iraq was a threat to the region or the world
  • No evidence of Britain going to war to secure oil supplies
  • No evidence of mobile labs

See the BBC summary of the Butler report82, which include links to the actual report, for more details.

Serious Flaw in Butler Report: No Investigation of Political Accountability

The claim in the Butler report that politicians were not deliberately distorting intelligence is interesting. One of the major political parties in Britain did not support the creation of this investigation in the first place precisely because its mandate was limited to intelligence enquiries only. That is, it was limited to technical issues, not political accountability, as mentioned further above. This would suggest that this particular report cannot make a full and valid judgement on political factors, even though it decided to.

The oil supplies comment was also interesting for similar reasons. While many people do suspect oil interests, it is not always that one goes to assure access in the most direct way. Puppet regimes, unequal trade agreements and all manner of political actions can help once the military has done its task. History is littered with such examples. Direct access would imply a colonial/imperial type activity common many decades ago. Similar effects (of control of superiority, etc) are often achieved today through other means, where the miliary can be used as a first step. (See the rest of this site’s geopolitics83 section for more on this aspect.) Butler’s limited mandate on this enquiry didn’t allow him to make a proper investigation on this.

A number of these findings were known before the war

The findings are not new. A number of these criticisms were noted before the war, during its build up. (See this site’s section on the build up to the Iraq war84 for more on that.) In a sense then, this report, after the invasion has happened, has meant nothing much has changed.

It is often accepted, especially in a democracy, that leading politicians ultimately should be held accountable for their decisions and political judgements especially on something such as going to war. It applies here because not only have their own troops lost lives, but so too have Iraqi civilians. Yet the inquiries risk being a way to brush off blame onto technicalities. Ironically this would have to also raise the question of whether or not Tony Blair is the right person to order the inquiry when he has so much at stake personally, because he has ensured it is limited in a way that he cannot be held accountable.

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.

Back to top

Should Bush, Blair, and Hussein all be tried for War Crimes?

OneWorld.net reported a conversation with Benjamin Ferenccz, who secured convictions for 22 Nazi officers for their work in orchestrating the death squads that killed more than 1 million people. Ferenccz, a chief prosecutor of Nazi war crimes at Nuremberg, said that both Bush and Hussein should stand for charges of war crimes, for their illegal aggressive wars85, Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, and Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Another question then should also be if Tony Blair should be included?

Back to top

0 articles on “Justifying the Iraq War and WMDs”:

Author and Page Information

  • by Anup Shah
  • Created:
  • Last updated:

Back to top

Document revision history

Bush admits Iraq had no WMDs, and no links to 9-11 attacks. A former chief prosecuter at Nuremberg says both Bush and Hussein should stand trial for war crimes.
Powell admits WMDs may not be found. Annan again claims Iraq war illegal.
Small update about the Butler Report investigating intelligence used to justify the war against Iraq
Updates regarding Powell’s false mobile lab admissions; How Blair apparently knew just days after 9-11 of Bush’s plans to invade Iraq;
Subsection on legal case added
Subsection on Bush and Blair ordering intelligence inquiries added
Using humanitarian reasons for war cannot be justified; A bit about David Kay resignation saying WMDs probably do not exist; Hutton report into BBC journalist’s claim of sexing up of intelligence