Iraq: The Torrent of Deceit

March 16, 2003 (revised March 17)

The Bush team's campaign for war on Iraq would have made Nazi master propagandist Joseph Goebbels proud.

Fabrications are announced as facts. Lies are repeated until they displace the truth. Deception is the order of the day.[1]

And, in America, demagoguery supplants democracy.

Sadly, this deceit has born fruit: At least 60 percent of Americans think Iraq is close to having, or already has, nuclear weapons,[2] more than half believe Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the September 11 atrocities,[3], and between 55 and 80 percent of Americans see an organizational link between Iraq and Al Qaeda,[3a] although there's no significant evidence for any of these propositions.

Consequently, a full 80 percent of Americans think that, if the U.S. does not take military action against Iraq, Saddam Hussein will be "instrumental" in helping Al Qaeda terrorists carry out future attacks against the United States.[3b]

Even proof of the Bush team's duplicity doesn't derail the propaganda train.

Case in point: Administration spokespeople have characterized testimony by Hussein Kamal, the director of Iraq's weapons program prior to his 1995 defection, as proving that Iraq still possesses chemical and biological weapons.[4]

Now a transcript of Kamal's testimony has surfaced, and he actually said exactly the opposite--that he had personally ordered the destruction of all of Iraq's nonconventional weapons.[5]

But Bush, Powell and the rest didn't miss a beat.

Our government's propaganda began with the first Gulf War. Americans were told that Iraqi soldiers were pulling Kuwaiti babies from incubators to die, and that Iraq was massing hundreds of thousands of troops to invade Saudi Arabia.

Both stories were fabrications.

The "incubator babies" ruse, in particular, galvanized America. In October 1990 a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl, identified only as "Nayirah" and described as a "refugee," appeared at a congressional hearing. She claimed that Iraqi soldiers had pulled hundreds of babies from hospital incubators and left them "on the cold floor to die."

It was all a lie cooked up by public relations powerhouse Hill & Knowlton under a $12 million contract with the Kuwaiti aristocracy. "Nayirah" was actually the daughter of Kuwait's ambassador to the U.S. She had never been to the hospital she described.[6]

(Of course, real babies died during the Gulf War when U.S. bombing knocked out Iraqi electrical supplies.[7] And real babies die today in Iraq because U.N. sanctions prohibit importing necessary medical equipment.[8])

And as for the first Bush administration's dire warnings that Iraq had massed 250,000 troops preparing to invade Saudi Arabia?

Another lie. Jean Heller, an enterprising reporter for the St. Petersburg Times newspaper, persuaded her employer to buy two photographs from a Russian commercial satellite.

Massed Iraqi troops were notably absent from the photos' panoramic expanse.

The "intelligence photographs" allegedly showing the Iraqi formations remain "classified" to this day.[9]

Now, fast forward to the present.

(Pause briefly, though, to recall the "leaks" suggesting September 11 mastermind Mohammed Atta met an Iraqi agent in Prague.[10] Richard Perle, now deeply entrenched in Bush's circle, even claimed that Atta met Saddam Hussein himself in Baghdad: "We have proof of that, and we are sure he wasn't just there for a holiday."[11])

Today, the administration's torrent of deceit flows unabated.

Bush claims Iraq presents a nuclear threat, yet according to head U.N. nuclear weapons inspector Mohamed ElBaradei, three months of intrusive inspections have found "no evidence or plausible indication" of an Iraqi nuclear program--and documents allegedly describing Iraqi attempts to buy uranium in Niger were fabricated.[12]

Bush calls Iraq's disarmament a "charade," but Hans Blix, the chief chemical and biological weapons inspector who has found no evidence of either, insists that Iraq has undertaken "a substantial measure of disarmament."[13]

And South African disarmament experts visiting Iraq maintain it's doing its best.[14]

Bush asks America to go to war based on secret evidence, but weapons inspectors complain that the "intelligence" given them by the U.S. has been "garbage after garbage after garbage."[15]

Insisting that Resolution 1441 gives the U.S. authority to attack Iraq unilaterally, Bush seems to feel he can wish away the historical record: After that measure was adopted, the U.N. ambassador of every Security Council member--including the U.S. and U.K.--affirmed that it didn't provide for "automaticity"--the resort to force without a further vote.[16]

Nor does 1441 authorize member states to use "all necessary means," the accepted language for military force.[17]

(It should be unnecessary to observe that neither 1441 nor any prior resolution authorizes, or could authorize, forcible "regime change" in any country.)

Bush continues to link Saddam with al Qaeda, even though the CIA, FBI and Britain's MI6 all disagree.[18]

Bush invokes the U.N.'s failure to prevent genocide in Rwanda while concealing the reason for that failure: Washington's own opposition.

(During his 2000 campaign, Bush expressly rejected the use of U.S. troops in Rwanda, even "to stop ethnic cleansing and genocide.")[19]

The "terrorist poison and explosive factory" denounced by Colin Powell turns out to be a dilapidated video studio.[20]

Iraq's "deadly" drone has wings held together with tin foil and duct tape, and two wooden propellers bolted to engines far smaller than those of a lawn mower.[21]

Iraq's Al Rafah missile testing site, called "top secret" by Powell, has in fact been inspected five times.[22]

U.N. inspectors have rejected administration claims that Iraq's fabled aluminum tubes were linked to nuclear weapons,[23] that Iraqi agents have impersonated scientists,[24] that Iraq has spirited weapons away as inspectors arrive,[25] and that Iraq has mobile biological weapons laboratories[26] or hidden underground research facilities.[27]

Even today, the administration has no "specific information" about Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction, according to the Washington Post.[28]

It's true that one party to this conflict has been playing a shell game.

And it's clear that the only limits on the administration's litany of lies are those imposed by the imagination.

What's less clear is why Americans continue to believe them.


1. For essential analysis of the U.S. and U.K. claims about Iraq's weapons, see the following documents by British academic and activist Glen Rangwala:
For more commentary on the administration's propaganda on Iraq, see:
2. A Washington Post/ABC News poll released on February 6 reports that 61% of Americans believe that Iraq "is trying to develop nuclear weapons." See " - ABC News Poll: Powell's U.N. Address," February 6, 2003.

An October 2002 poll from The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press pegged the figure at 79%. See "Americans Thinking About Iraq, But Focused on the Economy," The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, October 10, 2002

For polling results in general, see:
3. A poll released February 20 by The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found 57% agreed with this proposition. See "U.S. Needs More International Backing," The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, February 20, 2003. The question asked in the poll was "And what's your opinion, based on what you've heard or read: Do you believe that Saddam Hussein helped the terrorists in the September 11th attacks, or don't you think he was involved?"

However, a New York Times poll released on March 11 puts the figure at 45%. See Adam Nagourney and Janet Elder, "Growing Number in U.S. Back War, Survey Finds" ["The poll found that 45 percent of Americans said Mr. Hussein was 'personally involved' in the attacks, a number essentially unchanged from a month ago."]     Return to text

3a. See, for example:
3b. See Newsweek Poll conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates, March 13-14, 2003. (Scroll down.)

This is consistent with other polls showing that 80 percent of Americans are convinced that Iraq is a threat to the U.S. See: 4. See the statements collected in Glen Rangwala, "The Interview with Hussein Kamel."     Return to text

5. News of the transcript's existence was broken in John Barry, "The Defector's Secrets," Newsweek (March 3 issue).

For analysis, see Glen Rangwala, "The Interview with Hussein Kamel."

See also:
6. On the "incubator babies" story, see:
The most detailed analysis of this episode can be found in John R. MacArthur, Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War, N.Y.: Hill and Wang, 1992, pp. 37-77.     Return to text

7. Suzanne Goldenberg, "Iraq's Vital Services Balance on a Knife Edge ... Even Without a War," The Guardian, February 11, 2003 ("During the last Gulf war, when hospitals went dark, patients died on the operating table, or in intensive care units when the electricity ran out.").     Return to text

8. Kathy Kelly, "What About the Incubators?" Voices in the Wilderness, April 13, 2000.     Return to text

9. On the "massed troops" hoax, see:
10. See the "Mohammed Atta in Prague FAQ."

Right-wing columnists devoured this story; see, for example, William Safire, "Mr. Atta Goes to Prague," New York Times, May 8, 2002.     Return to text

11. Perle's claim was reported by the Agence France-Presse in a story distributed on September 8, 2002:

Mohammed Atta met Saddam prior to September 11: US official
Sunday, 08-Sep-2002 4:40AM

MILAN, Sept 8 (AFP) - Mohammed Atta consulted Saddam Hussein prior to leading the suicide attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, according to Richard Perle, an advisor to the US defense secretary.

"Mohammed Atta met Saddam Hussein in Baghdad prior to September 11. We have proof of that, and we are sure he wasn`t just there for a holiday," Perle told Italy's business daily "Il Sole 24 Ore".

"The meeting is one of the motives for an American attack on Iraq," added Perle, who is chairman of the Defense Policy Board and consultant to US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, a leading advocate of an attack on Iraq.

"The main objective of the American administration is to avoid weapons of mass destruction falling into the wrong hands," said Perle.

A copy of the AFP story is available here.

For commentary, see:
12. For a transcript of Dr. ElBaradei's March 7 report to the Security Council, see Mohamed ElBaradei, "Statement to the United Nations Security Council; The Status of Nuclear Inspections in Iraq: An Update," March 7, 2003. For other documents concerning his mission in Iraq, see the IAEA Website.     Return to text

Dr. ElBaradei reached the same conclusion in his prior reports. See:
As to the latter report, see Colum Lynch, "U.N. Finds No Proof of Nuclear Program; IAEA Unable to Verify U.S. Claims," Washington Post, January 29, 2003.

For more on the faked uranium purchase documents, see:
The IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) apparently was given the fabricated documents in early February, as in his February 14 oral report Dr. ElBaradei stated "The IAEA recently received some additional information relevant to this issue, which will be further pursued," while in his January 27 oral report he had said that "A fourth focal point has been the investigation of reports of Iraqi efforts to import uranium after 1991. The Iraqi authorities have denied any such attempts. The IAEA will continue to pursue this issue. At this stage, however, we do not have enough information, and we would appreciate receiving more."

See also Linda Gerber, Karl Shelly, Alistair Millar, David Cortright, and George A. Lopez, "Grading Iraqi Compliance," Fourth Freedom Forum and the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, March 6, 2003.     Return to text

13. For a transcript of Dr. Blix's testimony, see Hans Blix, "Oral Introduction of the 12th Quarterly Report of UNMOVIC," March 7, 2003.

All of Dr. Blix's statements, and much other related information, may be accessed at the UNMOVIC website.

See also Linda Gerber, Karl Shelly, Alistair Millar, David Cortright, and George A. Lopez, "Grading Iraqi Compliance," Fourth Freedom Forum and the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, March 6, 2003.     Return to text

14. Niko Price, "Experts Say Iraq Doing Best to Disarm," Associated Press, February 27, 2003.     Return to text

15. See the following, which appear to be two versions of the same story:
16. On Resolution 1441, see:
17. U.N. Security Council resolutions authorizing the use of force always use this language. For example. Resolution 678 of November 19, 1990, authoring military action to expel Iraq from Kuwait, "authorizes Member States ... to use all necessary means ... to restore international peace and security in the area." Resolutions authorizing force in Bosnia and Herzegovina were equally straightforward. Resolution 816, issued on March 31, 1993, "authorizes Member States" to take "all necessary measures" to enforce a ban on flights over Bosnia. And Resolution 1031, issued on December 15, 1995, "authorizes the Member States" to "take all necessary measures" to enforce the Dayton Accords.     Return to text

The operative paragraphs of these resolutions are as follows:
18. As to intelligence agencies' rejection of a link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, see:
19. Gerald Caplan, "How Dare Bush Invoke Rwanda to Justify His War," The Globe and Mail [Toronto], March 12, 2003. Also available on Common Dreams.     Return to text

20. On the "terrorist poison and explosive factory," see:
21. On the "deadly" drones, see:
22. Regarding the Al Rafah missile testing site, see:
23. According to chief nuclear inspector Mohamed ElBaradei, "Extensive field investigation and document analysis have failed to uncover any evidence that Iraq intended to use these 81mm tubes for any project other than the reverse engineering of rockets." See Mohamed ElBaradei, "Statement to the United Nations Security Council; The Status of Nuclear Inspections in Iraq: An Update," March 7, 2003.     Return to text

Dr. ElBaradei previously expressed doubts about the the aluminum tubes' nuclear connection in both his February 14 oral report and his January 27 oral report.

As to the aluminum tubes, see also:
24. See Dafna Linzer, "Inspectors Dispute Bush Iraq Allegations," Associated Press, January 29, 2003, which states:

On the Iraqi scientists, ElBaradei said it was unlikely his inspectors "could be fooled in the nuclear area on who is a scientist and who is not."

"We know all the scientists from the past and I think our people could easily detect if that person is a scientist or not."     Return to text

25. Dr. Blix rejected this assertion in his March 7 oral report. See Hans Blix, "Oral Introduction of the 12th Quarterly Report of UNMOVIC," March 7, 2003, in which Blix stated: "As I noted on 14 February, intelligence authorities have claimed that weapons of mass destruction are moved around Iraq by trucks and, in particular, that there are mobile production units for biological weapons. The Iraqi side states that such activities do not exist. Several inspections have taken place at declared and undeclared sites in relation to mobile production facilities. Food testing mobile laboratories and mobile workshops have been seen, as well as large containers with seed processing equipment. No evidence of proscribed activities have so far been found."

As Dr. Blix observed, he had previously rejected this charge in his February 14 oral report to the Security Council, in which he stated: "Since we arrived in Iraq, we have conducted more than 400 inspections covering more than 300 sites. All inspections were performed without notice, and access was almost always provided promptly. In no case have we seen convincing evidence that the Iraqi side knew in advance that the inspectors were coming."

In that same report, Dr. Blix dismissed Colin Powell's surveillance allegedly showing chemical weapons being removed from one site: "The presentation of intelligence information by the US Secretary of State suggested that Iraq had prepared for inspections by cleaning up sites and removing evidence of proscribed weapons programmes. I would like to comment only on one case, which we are familiar with, namely, the trucks identified by analysts as being for chemical decontamination at a munitions depot. This was a declared site, and it was certainly one of the sites Iraq would have expected us to inspect. We have noted that the two satellite images of the site were taken several weeks apart. The reported movement of munitions at the site could just as easily have been a routine activity as a movement of proscribed munitions in anticipation of imminent inspection."

See also Dan Plesch, "US Claim Dismissed by Blix," The Guardian, February 5, 2003.     Return to text

26. See the sources cited in footnote 25, just above.     Return to text

27. Dr. Blix rejected this assertion in his March 7 oral report. See Hans Blix, "Oral Introduction of the 12th Quarterly Report of UNMOVIC," March 7, 2003, in which Dr. Blix stated: "There have been reports, denied from the Iraqi side, that proscribed activities are conducted underground. Iraq should provide information on any underground structure suitable for the production or storage of WMD. During inspections of declared or undeclared facilities, inspection teams have examined building structures for any possible underground facilities. In addition, ground penetrating radar equipment was used in several specific locations. No underground facilities for chemical or biological production or storage were found so far."      Return to text

28. See Walter Pincus, "U.S. Lacks Specifics on Banned Arms," Washington Post, March 16, 2003, which states: "Despite the Bush administration's claims about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, U.S. intelligence agencies have been unable to give Congress or the Pentagon specific information about the amounts of banned weapons or where they are hidden, according to administration officials and members of Congress."     Return to text

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