In his address to the United Nations, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Iraq poses “a threat to international peace and security.” But how solid is the evidence?
Powell told the world, “Iraq today harbors a deadly terrorist network, headed by Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, an associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda lieutenants.” This information, Powell said, came from “detainees.” But American officials have admitted those very detainees are subjected to torture, raising questions about the reliability of that information. An administration source explained to the Washington Post: “We don’t kick the shit out of them, we send them to other countries so they can kick the shit out of them.”
Meanwhile, someone at Britain’s Defense Intelligence Staff leaked a document to the BBC indicating that its agents doubt there is any link between al-Qaeda and Iraq. And the the New York Times reported that U.S. intelligence officials “said they were baffled by the Bush administration’s insistence on a solid link between Iraq and Osama Bin Laden’s network.” The Times quoted an unnamed intelligence official: “We’ve been looking at this hard for more than a year and you know what, we just don’t think it’s there … the intelligence is obviously being politicized.”
To further bolster his case that Iraq posed a threat, Powell highlighted an intelligence report presented in January by Prime Minister Tony Blair. “I would call my colleagues’ attention to the fine paper that the United Kingdom distributed … which describes in exquisite detail Iraqi deception activities.”
But this report, much ballyhooed when it was released, was not new intelligence, but information lifted from articles previously published in the Middle East Review of International Affairs and Jane’s Intelligence Review, and then edited to sound more ominous. A British intelligence officer told The Independent: “You cannot just cherry-pick evidence that suits your case and ignore the rest. It is a cardinal rule of intelligence. Yet that is what the PM is doing.”
Ditto for the U.S. president. An American intelligence official told The Independent, “We’ve gone from a zero position, where presidents refused to cite detailed intel as a source, to the point now where partisan material is being officially attributed to these agencies.”
Last summer, Sen. Bob Graham (D‑Florida), then chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, asked the CIA to assess the danger that Iraq would deploy weapons of mass destruction. Initially the CIA released only those portions of its report that supported going to war. Pressed by Graham, the CIA reluctantly acknowledged that the likelihood Iraq would use weapons of mass destruction, if it had them, was “very low” in the “foreseeable future.”
CIA Director George Tenet elaborated in an October 7 letter to Congress: “Baghdad for now appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or [chemical and biological weapons] against the United States. Should Saddam conclude that a U.S.-led attack could no longer be deterred, he probably would become much less constrained in adopting terrorist actions.”
Have we now reached that point? Investigative reporter Robert Parry’s Consortiumnews.com reports, “Since the CIA’s assessment, the Bush administration has received specific warnings from abroad that easily transportable stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons indeed have been moved outside Iraq so they can be deployed against Western targets as retaliatory weapons.”
If that is so, the war with Iraq now runs the danger of spiraling into a nuclear confrontation. On September 14, 2002, Bush issued a National Security Presidential Directive: “The United States will continue to make it clear that it reserves the right to respond with overwhelming force — including potentially nuclear weapons – – to the use of WMD (weapons of mass destruction) against the United States, our forces abroad and friends and allies.”
Are the administration’s warnings about Saddam in danger of become a self-fulfilling prophecy? Or are they exaggerated claims aimed at enlisting the U.S. public — now instructed in how to duct-tape their homes against a chemical or biological attack — in a war with Iraq? Either way, the Bush administration is playing a deadly game. Based on the past performance of the players involved, it doesn’t appear to be a game with any winners.
Joel Bleifuss, a former director of the Peace Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is the editor & publisher of In These Times, where he has worked since October 1986.