03/24/2008 (9:43 am)
I’m about 2 weeks behind this topic, because I was focusing on other things (like surviving bronchitis), but I brought myself up to speed this morning. What I discovered is that the US press has subjected the American public to one of the most thoroughly dishonest propaganda efforts of the Iraq War, adding to a disturbing legacy of deliberately misleading the public.
Ten days ago the Pentagon released a report concerning ties between pre-invasion Iraq and various terrorist groups, based on a review of 600,000 documents captured from Saddam Hussein’s government during the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Following is the part of the summary that I would focus on as a reporter. As an editor writing a headline, I’d say something like “Captured Papers Prove Saddam’s Terrorist Ties,” and follow the headline with the opening paragraph from the Executive Summary of the report (emphasis mine):
The Iraqi Perspectives Project (IPP) review of captured Iraqi documents uncovered strong evidence that links the regime of Saddam Hussein to regional and global terrorism. Despite their incompatible long-term goals, many terrorist movements and Saddam found a common enemy in the United States. At times these organizations worked together, trading access for capability. In the period after the 1991 Gulf War, the regime of Saddam Hussein supported a complex and increasingly disparate mix of pan-Arab revolutionary causes and emerging pan-Islamic radical movements. The relationship between Iraq and forces of pan-Arab socialism was well known and was in fact one of the defining qualities of the Ba’ath movement…
State sponsorship of terrorism became such a routine tool of state power that Iraq developed elaborate bureaucratic processes to monitor progress and accountability in the recruiting, training, and resourcing of terrorists.
Going beyond the headlines, the actual report, which is available online in PDF format, describes how, with UN sanctions weakening his ability to affect world events directly, Saddam Hussein developed an official policy of using both regional and international terrorists to achieve his policy goals. Hussein’s Iraq recruited and trained suicide bombers and planted them in foreign nations, obtained and stored weapons in foreign countries, trained foreign terrorists in Iraqi training camps, supplied passports and documents to international terrorists, supplied funding to numerous terrorist organizations for their operations against the West and Israel, targeted Western journalists for assassination, and made efforts to penetrate, conjoin, and/or cooperate with a variety of international terrorist organizations, including al Qaeda. While Saddam Hussein’s policy goals often focused on Iraqis overseas and on destabilizing neighbor countries (Saudi Arabia and Kuwait), many times the overlap between Saddam’s goals and those of terrorist groups with broader aspirations produced common bonds and cooperative ventures.
Now, here’s what the newspapers reported:
- McClatchy Newspapers: “Exhaustive review finds no link between Saddam and al Qaida” (March 10)
- ABC News: “Report Shows No Link Between Saddam and al Qaeda” (March 13)
- New York Times: “Oh, By the Way, There Was No Al Qaeda Link” (March 13)
- CNN: “Hussein’s Iraq and al Qaeda not linked, Pentagon says” (March 13)
- Yahoo News: “No link between Saddam and Al-Qaeda: Pentagon study” (March 13)
The McClatchy report was based on leaked information from inside the Pentagon, apparently focusing on a phrase from the second paragraph of the Executive Summary. Here’s the paragraph:
But the relationships between Iraq and the groups advocating pan-Islamic doctrines are much more complex. This study found no “smoking gun” (i.e. direct connection) between Saddam’s Iraq and al Qaeda. Saddam’s interest in, and support for, non-state actors was spread across a variety of revolutionary, liberation, nationalist, and Islamic terrorist organizations. Some in the regime recognized the potential high internal and external costs of maintaining relationships with radical Islamic groups, yet they concluded that in some cases, the benefits of association outweighed the risks.
The McClatchy article, released before the reporter had read the report, represented what it knew this way:
The new study of the Iraqi regime’s archives found no documents indicating a “direct operational link” between Hussein’s Iraq and al Qaida before the invasion, according to a U.S. official familiar with the report.
He and others spoke to McClatchy on condition of anonymity because the study isn’t due to be shared with Congress and released before Wednesday.
The key point here is that once again, some element within the Executive Branch of the government leaked information with specific intent to discredit Bush administration foreign policy. This may be the lasting legacy of the Bush administration, in retrospect; individuals from the opposition party actively attempting to undermine the policies of the elected representatives of the people, constituting something only just short of a coup d’etat in American government. We’ve seen several instances of this throughout the Bush years, including the Plame Game, the false NIE reports, and the leaks of CIA operation details to the press. I’ve written about several such instances (here, here, and generally here, for starters.)
The leaked information has that irritating characteristic of leftist propaganda: true on the surface, but misleading or irrelevant in more ways than can easily fit into a sound bite. The words they used were true in a Clintonian sense (there was no direct operational connection found) but utterly false in intent. Aside from the fact that the war in Iraq has never specifically been about al Qaeda, and aside from the fact that al Qaeda is only one of dozens of relevant adversaries in the global War on Terror, the report documented extensive, indirect cooperation between Hussein and al Qaeda in several areas.
From page 34 of the report:
Captured documents reveal that the regime was willing to co-opt or support organizations it knew to be part of al Qaeda — as long as that organization’s near-term goals supported Saddam’s long-term vision.
From page 42 of the report:
Saddam supported groups that either associated directly with al Qaeda (such as the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, led at one time by bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al Zawahiri) or that generally shared al Qaeda’s stated goals and objectives.
And from the Pentagon’s abstract of the report:
Because Saddam’s security organizations and Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network operated with similar aims (at least in the short term), considerable overlap was inevitable when monitoring, contacting, financing, and training the same outside groups. This created both the appearance of and, in some way, a “de facto” link between the organizations. At times, these organizations would work together in pursuit of shared goals but still maintain their autonomy and independence because of innate caution and mutual distrust.
Ed Morrissey at Hot Air offered a more thorough and well-informed analysis of the al Qaeda links that appear in the report, and reporter Eli Lake of the New York Sun provides an example of how an objective reporter would report the Pentagon study, under the accurate headline “Report Details Saddam’s Terrorist Ties.” His article includes this assessment from page 3:
The report also undercuts the claim made by many on the left and many at the CIA that Saddam, as a national socialist, was incapable of supporting or collaborating with the Islamist al Qaeda. The report concludes that instead Iraq’s relationship with Osama bin Laden’s organization was similar to the relationship between the rival Colombian cocaine cartels in the 1990s. Both were rivals in some sense for market share, but also allies when it came to expanding the size of the overall market.
Of course, McClatchy offered no retraction or clarification after the actual report was released, and the headlines of the rest of the newspaper world cannot be excused for a millisecond. They wanted the report to say the opposite of what it actually said, so they read selectively, and reported only those factoids that fit their favored narrative, no matter how badly out of context. They lied.
This is becoming routine. That’s a shame; it’s an outrage, and concerns every citizen of a free society. Writers from the American revolutionary period note the importance of a free press to protect liberty, but several noted a more foundational need — a virtuous population, devoted to acting righteously. If we can’t count on a free press to tell the truth, then a free press cannot defend our liberties, but can only act as an agent of tyranny. Lies and liberty cannot coexist.
“We have no government armed with the power capable of contending with human passions, unbridled by morality and true religion. Our constitution is made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” John Adams, to the Officers of the First Brigade, Third Division, Massachusetts Militia, October 11, 1798.
Certain news organizations should be driven out of business because of sheer, gross incompetence, or worse, ill will resulting in misleading propaganda.
Stephen Hayes, the reporter who has spent the most effort over the years reviewing and reporting on the contents of documents captured from Hussein’s Iraq, offers the most complete analysis of the report available, and a generous interpretation of how the newspaper world got the story wrong. Thanks also go to The Unalienable Right, the blog from the editors of The Federalist Journal, for providing links to the most relevant facts.
7 Comments »
Comment by reality bite
It seems like what your’re saying here is that papers that YOU don’t agree with are telling LIES and those that don’t tow the party line should be driven out of business. Doesn’t sound like freedom to me, Phil.
And your Adams quote is HIS opinion. I’m sure some of my favorite founders would have vociferously disagreed with him. Good thing they kept language like that out of the constitution.
Oh, and when did I hear the President say we must rush into a disastrous war because Saddam has “ties” with terrorists? In that case, there are several other middle eastern countries we should have invaded and occupied, and Iraq would have been maybe fourth or fifth on the list.
Comment by Phil
The contents of the report are not a matter of opinion, they’re a matter of fact. The maxim for reporters is, you’re entitled to your opinions, but you’re not entitled to your facts. Facts are facts.
The fact is that the report documents irrefutably, from documents captured from the Iraqi government, that the Saddam Hussein regime was actively engaged in international terrorism, in cooperation with a number of international terrorist organizations. The claim that there was no link to al Qaeda is a misrepresentation of the report; there were links to al Qaeda, they were indirect; and there were links to dozens of other terrorists as well.
The truth counts. The press lied.
Involvement with international terrorism was one of several reasons mentioned by the Bush administration in the run-up to the Iraq war; others included attempted genocide, flouting UN resolutions, destabilizing the region, and continued development of banned weapons and technology — all of which were true.
More to the point, we were at the end of a 15-year buildup of tensions with Iraq that had culminated in resolutions, passed by Congress and signed by the President, making regime change the official policy of the US government toward Iraq. This was accomplished in 1998; the 2002 resolution was a reaffirmation of existing policy and authorization to use military force, supported by both parties. We did not have this history with any other country.
Comment by reality bite
The truth is as you stated above, there was NO direct operational link between Saddam and Al Qaeda, and nothing to justify a pre-emptive invasion and ensuing occupation, no matter how you twist it. Facts are facts. So the papers chose to leave out a one word clarification of an otherwise true statement. Hardly a LIE, no matter how much you want it to be.
There was NO grave and imminent threat to the US, and they knew it. Bush was as desperate to rush to war as you are to justify it. The only other excuses imply either gross negligence or gross stupidity and recklessness, and most likely both. Followed by gross administrative incompetence, the hallmark of the Bush regime.
It’s your opinion vs the major newspapers of the world… wonder which one I’ll choose to follow.
Comment by Brent
You relly need to spend some time reviewing the pre war representations…compare them to all the reports/findings that have been prepared post war….and then apologize to your readers for being so monumentally partisan and/or uninformed.
Comment by Phil
I’m quite familiar with the pre-war representations, thank you, and the Bush administration was remarkably accurate, considering. About the only thing they were substantially wrong about was the quantity of chemical weapons, and even about those, we found some and there’s the possibility that the rest were moved. Oh, and they were wrong about mobile labs. Just about everything else they claimed in the run-up to the war turned out to be true — genocide, state sponsor of terror, anti-US activism, the works.
Of course, that we’re even talking about differences between the pre-war and post-war intel is the result of a DNC smokescreen, one of those imaginary indictments that Democrats are so fond of inventing. OF COURSE there are differences — there are ALWAYS differences between pre-war and post-war intel, just by the nature of the exercise, and I think you know it. If you really think that finding out after the fact that some of the run-up intel was wrong is a valid basis for opposing a war, then you must think there’s never, ever been a justified war fought in the history of the world, ’cause there’s no such thing as perfect intel.
But before we worry about the intel at all, you need to explain to us all why you’re so very, very intent on proving that the BUSH administration was “lying to get us into war,” when in fact the Iraq war is the natural culmination of an unbroken, 15-year build-up of hostilities with the Hussein regime in Iraq that spanned 3 Presidents and 7 separate sessions of Congress. The policy of regime change was voted into law by Congress and signed by the President two years before George Bush took office. Bush couldn’t possibly have lied us into war, if Clinton, Berger, Albright, et al hadn’t done so before him, and George HW Bush before him. Is that what you’re saying? They were ALL lying?
Nobody lied to get us into war. That’s vicious, fallacious propaganda concocted by Democrats after the fact so they could distance themselves from the war for partisan advantage. The people who are touting such nonsense were either lying when they started saying it, or were Demosheep, the mindless echo chamber that Democratic operatives count on; and the liars have by now repeated their lies so many times that they’ve come to believe them. I hold such people in utter contempt.
I will never, ever apologize for telling the truth.
[...] Bush administration had been saying about Iraq’s involvement in international terrorism. The extent of McClatchy’s sheer, outright lying on this subject has been documented earlier on… * The Bush administration failed to plan for the rebuilding of postwar Iraq, as we were perhaps the [...]
Comment by Debra Bkaer
I wrote a book on this report and guess what? Saddam had direct operational ties with al Qaida and had WMDs. I have done an exhaustive review of the IPP report. Someone at the Pentagon planted “no direct operational link on page one.” This is entirely a lie and my book proves it. It is currently self published under a fake name Louis Fairmont, but my book will be officially published shortly under my name Debra Baker. It is the most comprehensive review of the report and proves Saddam had direct operational ties with al Qaida. He gave the order for the 1993 WTC attack. His Fedayeen forces carried out operations with al Qaida and there were WMDs in Iraq.