The War That Cried Wolf
by Alison Thompson and Jesse Gordon
This week's anti-war protests included a new group of pro-war supporters who hold signs like "Bomb Saddam" and "USA vs. Evil." They argue with the anti-war protesters whenever the opportunity arises, and we witnessed several fistfights on the Boston Common this weekend as a result. We listened to their arguments and will refute them here, since we're very bad fistfighters.
The pro-war supporters claim that:
The primary basis of all of these arguments is that Saddam is a liar. We accept that Saddam is a liar -- we don't accept that there's a connection between lying and a security threat to the US. Saddam's lies should not be a cause for war, because that's what one does in a war. Bush is just as much a liar -- that's what WE do in a war too. Everybody lies in wartime -- it's called "wartime propaganda." The classic war strategist Sun Tzu says, "All warfare is based on deception." The US's history of lying about Saddam make the current US argument about security threats questionable at best. We'd like to examine the history of US wartime propaganda as it applies to Saddam, and how US propaganda weakens all of the rationales of the pro-war supporters.
Colin Powell's case to the UN encapsulated the four points above, as did President Bush's State of the Union speech. Bush and Powell presented evidence from satellite photos which purportedly demonstrated the existence of Saddam's weapons and that he actively lies to hide the weapons.
Powell and the senior President Bush presented evidence from similar sources in 1991. The Pentagon claimed satellite images showed 250,000 Iraqi troops and 1,500 tanks amassed at the Iraqi-Saudi border. Later, journalists attempted to corroborate that claim, and after the Pentagon declined to show their images, they purchased commercially available images from the same area at the same time. Expert analyses concluded there were no Iraqi troops nor tanks on the Saudi border. And yet this "photographic evidence" is still regularly cited as the best evidence for the 1991 Gulf War.
Did Powell lie to the UN in order to bolster a case for war as was done in 1991? We don't know, because the photos are "top secret." Powell's satellite evidence in 2003 gives the same feeling as the satellite evidence in 1991 -- they won't show us the details, so we can't disprove them (for now).
Powell presented taped testimonials of Iraqi government officials to the UN -- pretty persuasive stuff. But that same sort of persuasive stuff was used in 1990, in a case that has become a classic of wartime self-deception.
In November 1990, a 15-year old Kuwaiti girl testified before the US Congress that she had seen Iraqi soldiers at a Kuwaiti hospital tossing premature babies out of incubators onto the cold floor to die. The girl was identified only as "Nayirah," to protect her identity from the Iraqis. Her testimony was cited by seven senators as a crucial factor in their Iraq war vote -- a vote which passed by a margin of five. It later turned out that the girl, who had been coached by a US public relations company after focus groups vetted a fabricated story, was the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador and had never visited any Kuwaiti hospitals. The only reason to protect Nayirah's identity was to deceive the US Senate and the US public. Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser in 1990, later admitted that the Nayirah story was "useful in mobilizing public opinion."
Did Powell fabricate testimony as was done in 1990? We don't know, because the tapes' sources need to be protected from the Iraqis. Just like Nayirah. And just like the Senators who voted based on Nayirah's testimony, a lot of people support the war based on testimony from sources that cannot be verified.
War supporters cite CIA and FBI evidence for Saddam's connections with al-Qaeda, as well as for most of the other causes of war. Who can dispute the CIA? Well, sometimes the CIA makes mistakes, even when they're not intending disinformation.
Last week, the families and survivors of what is known as the Al-Amiriyah bombing filed suit against the US and the senior President Bush in international court. Al-Amiriyah refers to an air raid shelter in a residential suburb of Baghdad which was bombed by US pilots in February 1991. The Administration said they believed they were targeting a command-and-control center, but that they would not have attacked the facility had they known it was filled with civilians. More than 400 people died, including about 300 women and children.
Did the CIA provide bad evidence for Powell and Bush to present to the UN and the US public? We don't know, like we didn't know about Al-Amiriyah for several years. That's the "fog of war," where facts are unclear and mistakes are common. But now we're basing an invasion on similar "facts" -- which may eventually be proven mistakes.
The CIA and FBI are the sources for Bush's State of the Union claim that Saddam supports al-Qaeda. Many people within the CIA and FBI now openly question that claim. Bush "exaggerated the significance of some intelligence reports about Iraq, particularly about its possible links to terrorism," according to CIA officials cited in a New York Times article in February. And an FBI official said, "We've been looking at this hard for more than a year and you know what, we just don't think it's there."
President Bush claims that Saddam is the Hitler of our day, who lies like Hitler did, and therefore must not be appeased. Hitler indeed was the master of propaganda and manipulative brainwashing. Certainly the Iraqi government lies aplenty in wartime -- but so does the United States government. We did not invade Europe because Hitler lied -- we invaded because Hitler attacked his neighbors and threatened us tangibly and immediately. We should not invade Iraq because Saddam lies, as the pro-war supporters contend. The evidence for a tangible and immediate threat is provided only by the Bush Administration's own war propaganda efforts -- which likely are as much lies as Saddam's lies, and for the same reasons. Let's not fall for either side's propaganda.
Alison Thompson and Jesse Gordon are anti-war activists who reside in Cambridge. They are members of the anti-war organizations CPPAX and MassForDean.