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News ::
Iraq War: Lies the Government Told Us (english)
27 May 2003
.
Iraq War
Lies the Government Told Us
Part 1: Hype About Iraq's Weapons

"Anyone who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit atrocities."
Voltaire, radical French philosopher, 1767

To build support for an attack on Iraq, the U.S. government insisted the war was needed to protect the people of the United States from a devastating future terrorist attack. And starting with a September 2002 speech by Vice President Dick Cheney, the heads of the U.S. government repeated and expanded a series of claims.

First, they insisted the Iraqi government was close to developing nuclear weapons and that Iraq already had massive battle-ready stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons.

Second, they said the Iraqi government had an alliance with "terrorist groups" (including specifically Al-Qaida) who were seeking all available means to attack the U.S.

Third, they said that the Saddam Hussein government was a special kind of "evil." Its record--including that it had "already used weapons of mass destruction against their own people"--proved (so it was said) that Iraq's government could not be trusted to negotiate and could not be contained by military threats.

Fourth, they said that since Saddam Hussein's government had not publicly produced all these weapon stockpiles to UN inspectors they must be violating various agreements and resolutions--and so the U.S. and Britain could claim a clear, legal "casus belli" (justification for launching war).

All of this was profoundly unjust and hypocritical: After all, no country on earth has more stockpiles of "weapons of mass destruction" (WMD) than the United States. And the U.S. is the only country in history that has actually used all three forms (nuclear, biological and chemical) in war--including killing civilians with atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and using "smallpox blankets" against Native people within U.S. borders.

Now, it has become clearer that these charges about Iraq's WMD were not only hypocritical--they were also largely untrue.

This government lied. And the media treated the government's lies as credible, while ignoring massive contrary evidence or burying it deep in the back pages. Now that Iraq has been occupied, the lies stand out even more starkly, because the U.S. government can't seem to produce the "evidence" they claimed they had.

Here in part 1, we examine the first claim: that Iraq's government had weapons of mass destruction and ways to deploy them against the United States.

Nuclear Weapons

Government claims about Iraq and nuclear weapons:

Sept. 7, 2002, President George Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair claimed that a new report from the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) showed Iraq was "six months away" from building a nuclear weapon. Bush said: "I don't know what more evidence we need."

Bush, in his January 28 State of the Union speech, said Iraq's government had "an advanced nuclear weapons development program, had a design for a nuclear weapon and was working on five different methods of enriching uranium for a bomb."

What the facts show:

There was no new IAEA report. After UN inspectors were withdrawn from Iraq in 1998, IAEA Director General Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei said: "There are no indications that there remains in Iraq any physical capability for the production of weapon-usable nuclear material of any practical significance."(October 1998 report to UN Security Council.)

Just before the U.S. invasion, Dr. ElBaradei told the UN Security Council: "After three months of intrusive inspections, we have to date found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq." (March 7, 2003)

Meanwhile the U.S. government claimed it had proof of such a nuclear "revival": purchases of Niger uranium and some aluminum tubes for the gas centrifuges that refine bomb materials.

Government claims about aluminum tubes:

George Bush, State of the Union speech, Jan. 28, 2003: "Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production.''

What the facts show:

Former U.S. weapons inspector David Albright said that " people who understood gas centrifuges almost uniformly felt that these tubes were not specific to gas centrifuge " for production of enriched uranium. (CBS 60 Minutes, Dec. 8, 2002)

Iraq said the tubes were for battlefield rockets (not banned by UN resolutions).

"A source close to the inspectors said the U.S. military uses similar tubes for a rocket known as the Hydra 70." (San Jose Mercury News , March 18, 2003)

Dr. ElBaradei said that "the IAEA's analysis to date indicates that the specifications of the aluminum tubes sought by Iraq in 2001 and 2002 appear to be consistent with reverse engineering of rockets. While it would be possible to modify such tubes for the manufacture of centrifuges, they are not directly suitable for it." (IAEA report, cited in New York Times , Jan. 10, 2003)

Washington Post reported: "Significantly, there is no evidence so far that Iraq sought other materials required for centrifuges, such as motors, metal caps and special magnets, U.S. and international officials said." (Jan. 23, 2002)

Even after all this evidence was made public, Colin Powell still insisted in his Feb. 5 UN speech that these tubes were proof that Iraq was stepping up nuclear weapons production.

Government claims about Iraq buying uranium:

George Bush, State of the Union speech, Jan. 28: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.''

What the facts show:

Dr. ElBaradei said: "There is no indication that Iraq has attempted to import uranium since 1990." He pointed out that the documents offered by British and U.S. intelligence were obvious forgeries. (March 7, 2003)

Gary Samore of the International Institute of Strategic Studies added about the forged documents, "I understand they were crude...cutting and pasting of letterheads."

Hans Blix, head of UN weapons inspections, said: "Consider the case of the production of contracts for a presumed Iraqi purchase of enriched uranium from Niger. This was a crude lie. All false. The information was provided to the International Atomic Energy Agency by the U.S. intelligence services...When one sees the things that the United States tried to do to show that the Iraqis had nuclear arms, one does have many questions."( El Pais interview, April 9, 2003)

Biological and Chemical Weapons

Government claims Iraq had germs and nerve gas on hand:

George Bush, Jan. 7, 2003: "Our intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent ... upward of 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents ... materials sufficient to produce more than 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin."

Colin Powell told the UN that the Iraqi government had deployed rocket launchers and warheads containing biological agents to western Iraq, adding, "There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce many, many more." (Feb. 5, 2003)

As the war started, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told Parliament that his government was certain Iraq had "10,000 liters--one third of one petrol tanker" of anthrax on hand.

What the facts are:

No evidence has yet been produced that Iraq had kept any biological weapons.

Scott Ritter, former UN weapons inspector summed up: "Under the most stringent on-site inspection regime in the history of arms control, Iraq's biological weapons programs were dismantled, destroyed or rendered harmless during the course of hundreds of no-notice inspections. The major biological weapons production facility--al Hakum, which was responsible for producing Iraq's anthrax-- was blown up by high explosive charges and all its equipment destroyed. Other biological facilities met the same fate if it was found that they had, at any time, been used for research and development of biological weapons... No evidence of anthrax or any other biological agent was discovered. While it was impossible to verify that all of Iraq's biological capability had been destroyed, the UN never once found evidence that Iraq had either retained biological weapons or associated production equipment, or was continuing work in the field."( Guardian,Oct. 19, 2001)

Government claims about satellite photos:

Secretary of State Powell showed satellite pictures during his speech to the UN, Feb. 5, 2003: "This one is about a weapons munitions facility, a facility that holds ammunition at a place called Taji. This is one of about 65 such facilities in Iraq. We know that this one has housed chemical munitions.... Here, you see 15 munitions bunkers in yellow and red outlines. The four that are in red squares represent active chemical munitions bunkers. How do I know that? On the left is a close-up of one of the four chemical bunkers. The two arrows indicate the presence of sure signs that the bunkers are storing chemical munitions. The arrow at the top that says security points to a facility that is the signature item for this kind of bunker. Inside that facility are special guards and special equipment to monitor any leakage that might come out of the bunker. The truck you also see is a signature item. It's a decontamination vehicle in case something goes wrong." Powell went on in this vein in great detail, saying that his second picture showed that the vehicles were gone.

What the facts show:

Hans Blix: "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." (Briefing at the UN Security Council, February 14, 2003)

Government claims about mobile laboratories:

Colin Powell at UN, Feb. 5, 2003: "We have firsthand descriptions of biological weapons factories on wheels and on rails. The trucks and train cars are easily moved and are designed to evade detection by inspectors. In a matter of months, they can produce a quantity of biological poison equal to the entire amount that Iraq claimed to have produced in the years prior to the [1991] Gulf War."

What the facts show:

Before the war, UN inspectors investigated several U.S. "tips" about "mobile labs"--but they turned out to be food-testing trucks.

Raymond Zilinskas, microbiologist and former UN weapons inspector, says the whole idea of mobile labs producing bio-weapons is " far-fetched" since they can't dispose of the large quantities of highly toxic waste. ( Washington Post , Feb. 6, 2003)

Government claims about Iraqi medical and chemical factories

In October 2002, a declassified CIA report titled "Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs" said "Iraq has the capabilities to convert quickly legitimate vaccine and biopesticide plants to biological warfare production and may have already done so. ...The Amiriyah Serum and Vaccine Institution is an ideal cover location for biological weapons research, testing, production and storage."

This CIA report also discussed Iraq's Fallujah II chemical plant and said that Iraq was renovating the al-Dawrah Foot-and-Mouth Disease Vaccine Facility.

The CIA "analysis" produced widespread media soundbites claiming that Iraq was expanding its biological and chemical weapons facilities "under the cover of civilian production."

What the facts show:

Like all such plants in the world, Iraq's medical and chemical factories have some potential to be "dual use"--that is, the ability to be converted for military use. No evidence was offered that this was being done in Iraq. UN inspectors visiting Amiriyah found no evidence of military work.

Fallujah II produced desperately needed chlorine--to maintain safe drinking water in a country where U.S. attacks have destroyed water treatment plants.

The al-Dawrah facility was re-inspected in November 2002 (a month after the CIA report became public), and inspectors found it in ruins--incapable of producing toxins or medicine. ( San Francisco Chronicle )

Meanwhile, U.S. charges of "dual use" were used before the war to punish Iraq's people. The U.S. government put Iraqi purchases of medical vaccines "on hold" under the sanctions program, saying the vaccines could be used to develop bio-weapons. Joy Gordon reported: "European biological weapons experts maintained that such a feat was in fact flatly impossible....preventing child vaccines from entering Iraq would result in large numbers of child and infant deaths."( Harpers Magazine, Nov. 2002)

Weapons Delivery

Government claims that Iraqi weapons could reach the U.S.:

Colin Powell, UN speech, Feb. 5: "Numerous intelligence reports over the past decade, from sources inside Iraq, indicate that Saddam Hussein retains a covert force of up to a few dozen Scud variant ballistic missiles. These are missiles with a range of 650 to 900 kilometers."

Powell said that Iraq's military had deployed rocket launchers and warheads containing biological agents to western Iraq.

George Bush, Oct. 7, 2003: "We've also discovered through intelligence that Iraq has a growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to disperse chemical and biological weapons across broad areas. We are concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using UAVs for missions targeting the United States." Aware that there was no evidence that Iraq had any long distance delivery systems, Bush also claimed Iraq didn't need any. "Of course, sophisticated delivery systems are not required for a chemical or biological attack--all that might be required are a small container and one terrorist or Iraqi intelligence operative to deliver it."

What the facts show:

Military use of anthrax or chemical agents require means of dispersal to reach large numbers of people. The 2001 anthrax incident in the U.S. shows that small containers of such weapons have very localized health effects.

The U.S. is many thousands of miles from Iraq. None of Iraq's missiles or drones could travel more than a few hundred miles. No Scud missiles and no biological or warheads with such agents have been found so far since the war.

Since the War

Government claims about weapons after the end of the war:

Chief Warrant Officer Richard L. Gonzales, the leader of the U.S. Defense Department weapons specialist team in Iraq: "We're not going to find just a smoking gun, but a smoking cannon. It's only a matter of time."( New York Times , April 16)

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, April 22, 2003: "No question, we remain confident that weapons of mass destruction will be found."

George Bush: "We'll find them, and it's just going to be a matter of time to do so." ( ABC News , May 3)

Donald Rumsfeld threatened to try and imprison any Iraqi scientist who did not cooperate with the occupation authorities in finding banned weapons. ( L.A. Times , April 20)

Colin Powell said "We are flooding Iraq with inspectors who will look in every place that one can look in to find documents and to get evidence of their programs of weapons of mass destruction. And we're quite sure we'll find it." (May 16)

At the same time, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice started to suggest that Iraq may not have actual weapons but only " chemical precursors " of " a just-in-time inventory, a just-in-time assembly" process. ( New York Times , May 3)

Bogus reports:

Over and over, since the war started, the media has breathlessly reported that U.S. troops found likely proof of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons. And over and over, the reports have turned out to be false.

On April 7, the U.S. military said two dozen drums had tested positive for sarin. The contents were pesticides.

New York Times headline (April 24): "U.S.-Led Forces Occupy Baghdad Complex Filled With Chemical Agents"

Associated Press (April 27): "BAIJI, Iraq--U.S. troops found about a dozen 55- gallon drums in an open field near this northern Iraqi town, and initial tests indicated one of them contained a mixture of a nerve agent and mustard gas, an American officer said Sunday."This turned out to be rocket fuel. ( Washington Times , May 2, 2003)

MSNBC News (May 11): "Military teams searching for biological and chemical weapons in Iraq found three trailers believed to be mobile biological weapons laboratories capable of producing deadly germs for weapons." This proved to be not true. MSNBC never re- tracted their account; the original claim is still on their website.

The U.S. military recently said they had found two trailers in Iraq. ABC News re- ported the claim that: "Biological weapons agent production is the only consistent, logical purpose for these vehicles."

Colin Powell claimed they were "certainly designed and constructed for that purpose." However he also had to admit: "We don't know whether they have been used for that purpose or not" and added "You can't find actual germs on them." (CNN, May 22)

Howard Kurtz, Washington Post,April 30: "My guess is that most Americans believe we have found WMD's. Each potential find gets blaring coverage on TV; how many people catch the later announcement--if it is ever announced --that it was a false alarm? It's a pattern of misinformation that recapitulates the way the war was sold in the first place."

What the facts show so far:

As this article is being written, nothing has been found.

The British Independent summed up: "Not one illegal warhead. Not one drum of chemicals. Not one incriminating document. Not one shred of evidence that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction in more than a month of war and occupation."(May 18)

Iraqi scientists and officials have not led the U.S. to any banned weapons. They still assert that Iraq hasn't had a chemical, biological or nuclear weapons program in years. (Associated Press, May 3)

To be clear: It is impossible to know if the U.S. forces may still find what they say are stockpiles of banned weapons. Iraq had such weapons a decade ago (just like the U.S. and Britain have them today).

However it seems quite clear that Iraq did not have the war-ready arsenals that the U.S. and British governments claimed. And it seems quite clear that all the supposed "firm intelligence" about specific sites and facilities was dishonest hype.

Already by the end of April, U.S. search teams had visited almost all of the top 100 suspected sites (Associated Press, April 23). A few weeks later, the announcement was made that these crews of U.S. inspectors were leaving, without having found anything ( Washington Post,May 11). Judith Miller, the New York Times reporter "embedded" with these teams, said in television interviews that they had given up on finding stockpiles. On May 14, Bush's National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice announced that the U.S. government would bring in a new, larger team that is "more expert in document exploitation and intelligence."

"Trust us, we have intelligence."

Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said, "The President of the United States and the Secretary of Defense would not assert as plainly and bluntly as they have that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction if it was not true, and if they did not have a solid basis for saying it." (Dec. 5, 2002)

Colin Powell at UN, Feb. 5, 2003: "My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we're giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence."

What the facts show:

ABC News: "To build its case for war with Iraq, the Bush administration argued that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, but some officials now privately acknowledge the White House had another reason for war--a global show of American power and democracy. Officials inside government and advisers outside told ABC News the administration emphasized the danger of Saddam's weapons to gain the legal justification for war from the United Nations and to stress the danger at home to Americans. `We were not lying,' said one official. `but it was just a matter of emphasis.' "(April 25, 2003)

John R. MacArthur, publisher of Harper's Magazine : "The success of `Bush's PR War' was largely dependent on a compliant press that uncritically repeated almost every fraudulent administration claim about the threat posed to America by Saddam Hussein." (Columbia Journalism Review)

The CIA has now announced that they are investigating themselves to see whether the U.S. spy agencies exaggerated their pre-war estimates of Iraq and its weapons ( NYT , May 21). A blame game has started.

But the truth is right there: Bush, Powell, Rumsfeld and Cheney lied. They presented this war as defensive and pre-emptive. They knew they were making hyped-up charges without real evidence. And they almost certainly knew that what they were claiming wasn't true.

The people of Iraq were killed and conquered under the cover of those lies.

Part 2 will deal with government claims that Iraq's government had ties to al-Qaida, was a "unique evil," and with on-going military coverup of civilian casualties during the war.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

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