“The moment of truth has arrived and military operations to disarm Iraq have begun,” Secretary of State Colin Powell declared in a US State Embassy cable sent out to all diplomatic and consular posts on March 20, 2003 and published by WikiLeaks.
“More than 30 nations have joined with the United States to free the Iraqi people and defend the world from the grave danger posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. At this time of trial and danger, I want to commend and thank every member of the State Department family. Each day, you serve our country with pride, courage and sacrifice. In the days ahead, I know I can count on your continued dedication and devotion to country.”
By the time that cable was sent out, it had been months since invading Iraq had become a foregone conclusion. And Powell himself helped to ensure there would be little the world could do to stop the administration of President George W. Bush from going to war when he delivered a speech before the United Nations Security Council on February 5.
“Ladies and gentlemen, these are not assertions. These are facts corroborated by many sources, some of them sources of the intelligence services of other countries,” Powell declared. But, as BBC Panorama’s recent documentary, Spies Who Fooled the World, scrupulously presents, four of the administration’s key sources were not verified. Two sources were fabricators, one had provided forged documents and the other shared hearsay.
What the Bush Administration Wanted to Hear
The now infamous “Curveball,” who Dr. Hilal Al Dulaimi, a former colleague, calls a “congenital liar,” was the source of Powell’s descriptions of “mobile production facilities used to make biological agents.” He went to German intelligence. They knew “Curveball” was not telling the truth. Tyler Drumheller, CIA station chief in Europe, says, “[Curveball] was telling us information that people wanted to hear.” Drumheller warned the CIA he was a fabricator but the “intelligence” he provided was kept on file.
The “defector,” who Powell mentions in his speech, is Maj. Mohamed Harif. He told Nabeel Musawi of the Iraqi National Congress that it was “his idea to develop mobile biological laboratories.” Americans had doubts because his story was so “elaborate and unbelievable.” The Pentagon and CIA were not convinced and in spring 2002 a burn notice was issued saying Harif was a fabricator. Yet, his intelligence remained on file.
Rocco Martino, who had dealing with Italian and other intelligence agencies, met an intelligence officer. He handed over documents to an Italian journalist Elisabetta Burba and she handed those documents to the American embassy. The documents were to be the “smoking gun” as they described how “Iraq was planning to buy 500 tons of pure uranium from Niger.” The documents were found to be a sloppy forgery.
According to Seymour Hersh, senior CIA officials knew the documents on a Niger uranium purchase were fraudulent but they passed intelligence on to Powell anyway. They “bit their tongue and said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if the Secretary of State said this?’” Powell never saw the documents themselves.
Pierre Brochand, who was the French Foreign Intelligence Director, was unable to find evidence that Iraq had acquired uranium. French intelligence officers were dispatched to Niger uranium mines to see if the information could be corroborated. It could not. (The CIA sent Joseph Wilson, who found nothing and when he spoke out about his findings, officials in the Bush administration exposed the identity his wife, Valerie Plame, who was working undercover as a CIA agent.)
This kind of information was what Bush administration officials wanted to hear so information from the forged documents kept popping up even though, in the BBC documentary, CIA Paris Station Chief Bill Murray claims he tried to debunk “intelligence” based on the forged documents. This information remained on file like fabricated information from “Curveball” and the defecting major, and Vice President Dick Cheney used it multiple times to make the case for war.
A fourth souce, an Iraqi commander, shared a claim with MI6, which Prime Minister Tony Blair seized upon, that Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons that could be used within 45 minutes. It was “third hand” information that involved “battlefield weapons.” The commander assumed boxes contained chemical and biological weapons. He had not seen any such weapons.
As Murray says in the documentary, “There was a concerted effort to find intelligence that supported preconceived positions and desires.” Officials wanted a war in Iraq so it did not matter whether the “intelligence” was reliable or valid. Information, fabricated to an extent that Powell did not even realize, was being disseminated and spread by leaders and in the press for war.
Not Asking Whether Secret Government Information Was True
Fabricated information about Iraq and aluminum tubes appeared in the New York Times. Jonathan Landay of McClatchy said recently it was a “setup.” The story allowed Rice and Cheney to “talk about an issue that was top secret and highly classified” because the information had somehow appeared in the Times.
The Times published stories under headlines like, “An Iraqi Defector Tells of Work on at Least 20 Hidden Weapons Sites,” “US Says Hussein Intensified Quest for A-Bomb Parts,” “Illicit Arms Kept Till Eve of War, an Iraqi Scientist is Said to Assert.” Top-level administration officials were feeding the press propaganda and the papers like the Times were, without asking any questions about their veracity, publishing.
At least two journalists got it right. Landay and Warren Strobel of Knight Ridder Newspapers. CNN International correspondent Christiane Amanpour invited them to appear in a segment on how journalists were wrong. The two explained they talked to high-level officials, like the Times, but also to mid-level and lower-level intelligence, military and diplomatic officials—“the types journalists do not normally talk to or go after.” These individuals contradicted political appointees at the top of the administration, and Landay presumes these lower-level people were willing to speak about classified information because they were bothered by the drumbeats for war.
Knight Ridder published stories under the headlines, “CIA report reveals analysts’ split over extent of Iraqi nuclear threat,” Some in Bush administration have misgivings about Iraqi policy,” “Lack of hard evidence of Iraqi weapons worries top US officials” and “Bush has decided to overthrow Hussein.” They stand in stark contrast to the stories the Times published.
Strobel believes the press did not want to appear to be disloyal. They followed a party line. They abandoned a key duty and obligation they had as journalists—the duty and obligation to ask if what the government was saying was true.
Mea Culpas from the Press
“Would you say that we as a profession are not really good at mea culpas? Are not really good at looking where we have gone and trying to set the record straight?” Amanpour asks.
Landay responds, “This episode in American history dealt a major, major blow to the credibility of the Fourth Estate.” The American media failed miserably, he adds.
Though it contained no explicit apology for enabling the Bush administration’s push to invade Iraq, the Times did publish a “mea culpa” of sorts on May 26, 2004, which noted the articles (mentioned above) had depended on a “circle of Iraqi informants, defectors and exiles bent on ‘regime change’ in Iraq,” people whose credibility was debatable.
…(The most prominent of the anti-Saddam campaigners, Ahmad Chalabi, has been named as an occasional source in Times articles since at least 1991, and has introduced reporters to other exiles. He became a favorite of hard-liners within the Bush administration and a paid broker of information from Iraqi exiles, until his payments were cut off last week.) Complicating matters for journalists, the accounts of these exiles were often eagerly confirmed by United States officials convinced of the need to intervene in Iraq. Administration officials now acknowledge that they sometimes fell for misinformation from these exile sources. So did many news organizations — in particular, this one…
The problem, however, is administration officials did not merely fall for “misinformation.” A number of hawks desiring war were in on the manufacturing of consent and knew well what was happening. They did not misread intelligence that suggested Iraq posed an “imminent threat.” They spent the period between the September 11th attacks and January 2003 searching for sources that could provide a foundation for launching an attack on Iraq. This was well over a year of time where officials were engaged in plotting to engage in war.
Justice & Healing for Iraqis
United States citizens should vigilantly guard against those, who will rewrite history to excuse an extraordinary and premeditated criminal act that was carried out by high-ranking individuals in government still at large.
Iraqi-American blogger Raed Jarrar was on “Democracy Now!” this morning to briefly address the impact of what the Bush administration did to the country. When asked if Bush should apologize, he responded:
…I think there should be an independent investigation in the United States to hold those who took the U.S. to war accountable, including President Bush and other politicians in his administration. The crimes that were committed and the fraud and the money that was spent and the lives that were destroyed deserve an apology and a compensation, and they deserve everyone who was behind these attacks to be held accountable…
The Iraqi people may never get any sort of meaningful investigation from the US government. What President Barack Obama said today shows how the government cannot acknowledge the cost to the Iraqi people because then it would require officials to take responsibility.
As we mark the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq war, Michelle and I join our fellow Americans in paying tribute to all who served and sacrificed in one of our nation’s longest wars. We salute the courage and resolve of more than 1.5 million service members and civilians who during multiple tours wrote one of the most extraordinary chapters in military service.
We honor the memory of the nearly 4,500 Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice to give the Iraqi people an opportunity to forge their own future after many years of hardship. And we express our gratitude to our extraordinary military families who sacrificed on the home front, especially our Gold Star families who remain in our prayers.”
There is no acknowledgment of the reality of what Iraqis are confronting in their country—how numerous Iraqis believe they are worse off than they were before the invasion.
A coalition of US veterans and service members and Iraqi human rights organizations, which launched the “Right to Heal” project to mark the tenth anniversary, reacted:
If the president really wants to mark the 10th anniversary of the start of the Iraq war, in addition to remembering the 30,000 US service members wounded or killed, he should also acknowledge the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives lost and ruined by the U.S. invasion, the poisoned land, the harm to human rights, women’s rights and worker’s rights in Iraq under the U.S.-backed government, and the generation of orphaned children with no one to care for them. And he should make concrete efforts to repair that damage and to provide proper care for not only the Iraqis still suffering from the trauma of the war but for U.S. veterans as well. The war is not over for any of us.
But, Obama did not only fail to acknowledge the human cost of the war in Iraq. His administration, through statements from press secretary Jay Carney, gave Bush “credit” for removing Saddam Hussein:
There is no question that Saddam Hussein was removed from power thanks to the military efforts of the U.S. armed forces and they were sent to Iraq by President Bush, so obviously there is a causal relationship and to the extent that credit is due, credit is due to him for that,” Carney said. “That does not change, I think, assessments made by this president as a candidate or by many others on this day 10 years after about the judgments made to go to war in Iraq and to invade a country.
The “credit” given to Bush may have been restrained, but the statement is enough to nonchalantly excuse ten years of war, where bombings, torture, night raids, detention, murder and policies that fomented sectarian violence greatly destabilized the country.
Iraqis, at minimum, deserve to see officials in the United States and United Kingdom who engineered the war and then waged empire for over eight years brought to justice. They deserve their own moment of truth. And, it may seem like such justice could never occur, but the people of the United States owe it to the people of Iraq.
Though I do not agree with the frame that these spies “fooled” the world, watch the full “Spies Who Fooled the World” documentary here.