Media using deception to build case for escalating war on Iraq

For weeks, politicians, ex-politicians, government officials, and the media, have been softening up public opinion for an escalated war on Iraq. It started with broad suggestions that Iraq was behind the anthrax attacks, and that Al-Qaeda and the Taliban couldn’t have engineered the Sept. 11 atrocities without Iraq’s help. And then, when the weight of evidence pointed to the US as the source of the anthrax used in the attacks, the story quietly faded.

Next followed a brief period in which Washington’s hawks were said to favour moving beyond the almost daily US and UK bombing raids on Iraq to finish the job left unfinished in the Gulf War — ousting Saddam Hussein and installing a US puppet regime in his place. This was a brief glimpse into Washington’s true motivations, before the veil of propaganda was drawn down once again, to mask the real aims of what appears to be a war in waiting.

And now the propaganda machine is being kicked into high gear anew, Washington’s geopolitical goals in Afghanistan nearly secured, and round two in Operation Enduring Justice about to begin. Paul Koring’s (Toronto) Globe and Mail article, Bush directs grim warning at Hussein, is a good example of how the media, either knowingly, or by dint of criminal stupidity, bamboozles the public. Koring’s article calls to mind H.L Menken’s famous quip about practical politics being the art of continually menacing the population with hobgoblins, most of them unreal, except Koring goes one step further, turning everything on its head, making the bully into a victim and the victim into a bully.

Koring’s Nov. 27, 2001 article is set around a photograph of a long standing hobgoblin, Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, shown in battle fatigues, wearing a baleful grimace, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher resting on his shoulder, finger on the trigger, the weapon aimed at the photographer, or rather, the reader. But not a recent photograph. This one, the caption tells us, was taken sometime in the 80’s, inviting the question, why, of an almost limitless supply of photographs taken of the Iraqi president since, was one chosen that’s some 15 years out of date, if not to get the right message across? Saddam Hussein is a menace. Look at him. Fatigues. Baleful grimace. Aiming death your way.

Of course, Koring buttresses with words, what the photograph conveys so well without words. He begins with an oft-repeated mistake, or is it a deliberate lie? “UN arms inspectors,” he writes, “were kicked out by the Iraqi regime in 1998.” As a veteran journalist, Koring should know that in 1998 the UN withdrew its inspectors from Iraq after US president Bill Clinton announced he would launch air strikes on Baghdad as punishment for Iraq failing to fully comply with arms inspections. Critics — indeed, at one point Clinton himself — argued that air strikes would be counterproductive. All that would be accomplished, they pointed out, was that arms inspectors would never be allowed back in once they were withdrawn. And indeed, that has happened.

Baghdad’s beef with the arms inspections — and Iraq complied with over 90 percent of them — was that some inspectors were working as spies on behalf of Washington. At the time, Baghdad’s charges were dismissed. Later, the charges were revealed to be true.

Having started with a lie, Koring moves to innuendo:

“Iraq is among a handful of states known to have attempted to develop anthrax spores for use as a weapon.”

“Mohamed Atta, supposed ringleader of the Sept. 11 hijackers, met with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Praque last spring.”

The case Koring is making is plain: Iraq could very well be involved in the Sept. 11 terror and subsequent anthrax attacks. But as evidence linking Iraq to the Sept. 11 attacks or establishing Iraq as a sponsor of terrorism, this is anaemic. Iraq being among a handful of states known to have attempted to develop anthrax spores is beside the point, since the weight of evidence now points to anthrax of domestic origin being used in the attacks that followed Sept. 11. Moreover, possessing anthrax is not by itself evidence of anything. If it were, you would have to accuse Russia (one such state that has anthrax) and the US itself (which has the largest stockpile of anthrax in the world) of engineering the attacks. On what grounds is Iraq singled out, if not the requirement to build a casus belli?

And as to Mohamed Atta meeting with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Praque, so what? Atta met with hundreds of people. Does that link all of them to the Sept. 11 attacks? On what grounds is an Iraqi singled out? You might as well say Saudi Arabia was behind the attacks because most of the hijackers were Saudi. Indeed, you can make a stronger case for a Saudi link, but Koring sticks with the approved story that singles out Iraq.

And how does Koring know Atta met with Iraqi intelligence? He only knows what sources inside the US government, not renowned for truth-telling, have said. Does he say the reports are unconfirmed? Does he ask, “What did Atta and Iraqi intelligence talk about, if, indeed, they met”? Does he acknowledge that it’s a large leap from “Atta and an Iraqi agent met,” to “Atta and an Iraqi agent met to plan Sept. 11”? For all of journalists’ self-congratulatory folderol about sifting through the chaff, asking tough questions, and scrutinizing carefully, Koring does none of those things. It’s as if Koring has said to US officials, “If you want to deceive the public, let me help you.”

Indeed, none of the facts Koring presents points to Iraq any more strongly than they point to the US military orchestrating the anthrax attacks (because the strain of anthrax used in the attacks is US military in origin) or implicate Saudi Arabia in the terror attacks on New York and Washington (because most of the hijackers were Saudi.)

Still, while you can use conjecture, leaps of logic, guilt by association, and sophistry to build equally weak cases for dozens of other countries being implicated, including the US government itself, Koring settles on Iraq.

The photograph reminds us that Saddam Hussein is menacing. We’re told he kicked UN arms inspectors out of the country, and then this, with the lie about Iraq sending UN arms inspectors packing repeated for a second time for emphasis: “Former UN inspectors believe Baghdad re-launched its weapons-of-mass-destruction program as soon as the last inspectors were forced out.” Koring should have asked, as journalists are supposed to, “How do they know? If they’re not on the ground, how could they possibly tell?” Instead, he tells us what “most” former inspectors “believe,” without scrutinizing the claim.

His defense might be that he’s just reporting what most former inspectors believe, but he never would have said, “The Taliban says one hundred civilians were killed in the US attack,” without attaching the rider, “but the Taliban claims are unconfirmed.” So why doesn’t he say, “Most former inspectors believe Iraq is rebuilding its weapons of mass destruction” without adding “but this claim is unconfirmed and can’t be verified”?

Nor would Koring let a Taliban claim of civilian deaths go without adding the Pentagon’s counterclaim. Yet, while he tells us “most” arms inspectors believe Iraq is rebuilding its arsenal, he doesn’t say anything about the arms inspectors who doubt the claim or their reasons for dismissing it. Nor does he ask the question, “How could Iraq possibly build weapons of mass destruction when the US enforced sanctions regime prevents all military-use goods, including those also used for civilian purposes, from entering the country?” It would be truly a feat of astonishing proportions to be able to rebuild an arsenal of weapons over the last three years when Iraq has been in the grips of a devastating embargo for over a decade.

Nevertheless, this is what we’re to believe: Saddam Hussein, a menacing man, who we’ve just seen holding a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, kicks inspectors out of Iraq so that he can build weapons of mass destruction. Iraq had stockpiles of anthrax and anthrax was used in terror attacks against the US. Mohamed Atta, the presumed hijacking ringleader, met with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague in the spring. Therefore, Iraq needs to be attacked, because it’s probably behind the Sept. 11 and subsequent anthrax attacks in some way, and even if it isn’t, Saddam Hussein is a menace, and one day he may launch a terrorist attack on the US or its allies.

Let’s try this again. Saddam Hussein, a menacing man, who we’ve just seen holding a rocket-propelled grenade launcher (from a photograph that’s some 15 years old), kicks inspectors out of Iraq (inspectors were withdrawn by the UN so they wouldn’t become casualties in US bombing raids on Baghdad) so that he can build weapons of mass destruction (there’s no evidence that Iraq has reconstituted its program of building weapons of mass destruction, and, given the embargo on military use goods entering Iraq, it’s highly unlikely Baghdad has.) Iraq had stockpiles of anthrax and anthrax was used in terror attacks against the US (the type of anthrax used was not the type Iraq once had.) Mohamed Atta, the presumed hijacking ringleader, met with an Iraqi intelligence agent (and with hundreds of other people, too, of various nationalities. What he talked about is unknown, and indeed, whether he actually met the Iraqi agent, is unconfirmed.)

Koring’s only mention of sanctions, which the UN says have killed over a million Iraqis, is that “Washington has long demanded that the sanctions against Iraq be toughened.” Nothing about the cruel embargo having been branded a biological weapon of mass destruction. Nothing about sanctions having consigned to the grave many times more people than have died in all terrorist attacks since the end of WW II, including the Sept. 11 atrocities. Nothing about Baghdad’s offer to allow inspectors to return if the sanctions are removed. Nothing that in any way shows Iraq and ordinary Iraqis to be victims of a grim, belligerent and genocidal US policy. Nothing in any way that acknowledges that arms inspectors could return to Iraq and the ongoing misery of ordinary Iraqis be brought to an end today if not for an American arrogance that insists negotiation be reduced to the other side capitulating to all US demands.

But then that’s what makes Koring’s article such a fine piece of propaganda. It turns reality on its head. Iraq, its water treatment facilities, pumping stations, damns, electrical power plants, pulverized by coalition forces in the Gulf War, its people battered by over a decade of sanctions, its population menaced by US and UK bombing raids on an almost daily basis (rarely mentioned by the media), is very much a victim of the United States, and yet, through omission, that story is never told. Instead, through the clever use of innuendo and image another story is told: the US has been, or may become, a victim of Iraq.

Nazi Germany always presented itself as a victim too, as has almost every other country that has launched wars of aggression. The media willingly makes the case.

Mr. Steve Gowans is a writer and political activist who lives in Ottawa, Canada.

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