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U.S. lies exposed
The case against Powell's case for war

February 14, 2003 | Pages 6 and 7

WAS THAT the best they could do? Secretary of State Colin Powell marched into the United Nations (UN) Security Council last week to make the U.S. government's case for a war on Iraq--and served up a pack of distortions, wild speculation and outright lies.

Around the world, the speech was seen as a transparent frame-up--except in the fawning U.S. corporate media, which declared that Powell had delivered an "encyclopedic" indictment of Saddam Hussein's government. Yet in the days that followed, even U.S. newspapers were poking holes in Powell's claims.

In this special feature, ANTHONY ARNOVE, editor of the book Iraq Under Siege, and Socialist Worker's ERIC RUDER pick apart Powell's case for war.

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GEORGE W. BUSH said that Colin Powell would present the definitive case against Iraq at the UN. Did he do that?

Anthony: All that Powell did was to rehash a series of unproven, speculative and at times ridiculous accusations that did nothing to prove the case. The French newspaper Le Monde put it very well, when it said we were waiting for the "day of evidence," but it ended up being the "day of reiterated suspicions."

Eric: It was a fraud in so many ways. For all the photographic and recorded evidence that Powell used, absolutely none of it was direct evidence about chemical weapons or nuclear weapons. For example, Powell showed pictures of weapons factories where Iraq supposedly had weapons of mass destruction until December 22, but the weapons were moved before inspectors got to them.

With these satellite photos, Powell demonstrated that Iraq is under a telescope all the time. So why don't they know where those supposed weapons were taken? If they know that they were moved and hidden, why can't they say where?

The reason that Powell never really backed up anything is that this makes his claims unverifiable. The whole case has been kept at the level of speculation and accusation, rather than the presentation of hard evidence, so that it can't be disproved.

Anthony: The day after Bush gave his State of the Union address, Hans Blix--the chief UN weapons inspector--gave an interview to the New York Times. Blix said that there was no evidence of a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda. He said there was no evidence of any clear development of Iraq's nuclear program. He refuted the claim that there was any evidence that Iraq had infiltrated the inspections teams. He also said that no case had been made for going to war against Iraq.

Actually, it's the United States that has a history, which goes back years, of infiltrating the inspection teams in order spy on Iraq. And right now, with the U.S. threatening war daily, Iraq is expected to believe that the U.S. is no longer collecting information on targets and so on, via the inspectors. It really is remarkable that they're talking about trying to disarm a country at the same time as they talk about invading. It's hard to imagine what the incentives are for cooperation.

Eric: Another of Powell's claims that attracted a lot of attention was about Iraq's supposed mobile weapons laboratories or facilities. A lot of this was supposed to be based on the testimony of Iraqi defectors, which is completely unreliable, or al-Qaeda detainees--alleged statements from people who are being held in detention, denied access to lawyers and subjected to psychological pressure.

But even setting that aside, Powell then showed slides of these so-called weapons factories--except that they were just artists' renderings. And Powell presented this as if it were somehow obvious evidence of what Iraq possessed.

Then there's the document that Powell cited from British intelligence services that goes into all sorts of detailed allegations against the Iraqi government. But the document turned out to be at least half made up of information from old magazine articles that are available on the Web. All they did was cut and paste information that wasn't based on intelligence or any other sources. Any junior high school student with access to the Internet could have produced this thing.

Anthony: The Bush administration has come up with a clever strategy of presenting Colin Powell as the moderate--to show that even he has been compelled to support the case for a war. But Powell has been part of the strategy of selling this war all along.

This is a man who was not only the leader of the 1991 Gulf War and the devastation of Iraq in that war, but he was centrally involved in the expansion of U.S. imperialism as the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Bush administration.

This is a man who was a field commander in Vietnam, with authority and responsibility for the troops who carried out the My Lai massacre. And it will be Powell's doctrine of military force that we'll potentially see played out in Iraq--of using overwhelming military power to crush and devastate any U.S. enemy.

POWELL REPEATED allegations about aluminum tubes imported by Iraq as evidence of Iraq's nuclear weapons program. What's the truth about this?

Anthony: The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has repeatedly said that the aluminum tubing and equipment that Iraq has imported is used for short-range missiles. There's been no evidence of this material being used as part of a nuclear weapons program. Yet the Bush administration has continued to try to float these allegations, and Colin Powell did it again.

Eric: Powell presented himself as backing up the claims of Hans Blix and [IAEA chief inspector] Mohamed ElBaradei and adding evidence to their case, when in fact the things that Powell said were exact contradictions with respect to nuclear weapons capabilities. Their reports say that there's no evidence that Iraq has tried to restart its nuclear program from when it was dismantled in the early 1990s.

Meanwhile, last week, the Washington Times printed a document that says the United States is reserving the right to use nuclear weapons in a preemptive first strike against Iraq. I think that they're looking for an opportunity to use a bunker-buster nuclear weapon, as a way to push the envelope and cross what's really been an unthinkable threshold. It's really to put other countries on notice not to cross the will of the United States, because if you do, we will turn your country into a radioactive wasteland.

WHAT ABOUT the supposed link between the Iraqi government and al-Qaeda?

Eric: Iraq's Ba'athist Party regime is a secular regime, and al-Qaeda is made up of hard-line Islamists. These are people who've been bitter rivals. But ever since September 11, the administration has directed the FBI and CIA to devote a tremendous amount of effort to documenting a link.

So far, they have the presence of one individual, Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, who was in northern Iraq mainly. That's basically outside the control of the control of Baghdad and Saddam Hussein. What's more, the faction of al-Qaeda that al-Zarqawi is connected to is called Ansar al-Islam. And the head of that faction lives in Norway--freely.

Of course, there's no discussion of bombing Norway for harboring terrorists. That's because for the United States, this isn't about a war on terrorism. It's about a war to extend the U.S. government's global reach and get a hold of Iraq's oil.

Anthony: There's a great cartoon that was in some newspapers of George Bush giving a presentation, in which he's written out the words "al-Qaeda" and "Iraq," and drawn a circle around the "q" in the two words. And he says, "See, I told you there was a connection." When it comes down to it, that's about the depth of the evidence.

A team of reporters went to the facility in northern Iraq connected to Ansar al-Islam that Powell called a "terrorist poison and explosives factory." And according to the New York Times, "They found a wholly unimpressive place--a small and largely underdeveloped cluster of buildings that appeared to lack substantial industrial capacity." So, for example, the "terrorist factory" didn't have plumbing.

In addition, the Times noted that Powell withheld a bit of information that the United States had on al-Zarqawi, which was that a member of the royal family in Qatar operated a safe house for al-Zarqawi when he was going in and out of Afghanistan.

So if you really want to look at the connections that this guy has, he comes out of the groups that the United States was supporting in Afghanistan against the ex-USSR during its occupation of the country in the 1980s. And he's now very closely tied to Qatar--which is the base of United States Central Command in the Middle East and a staging point for the attack on Iraq. But the United States won't talk about that connection.

EVEN IF there was any evidence of an Iraqi weapons program, is there any way that Iraq could be considered a threat to the U.S.?

Anthony: The complete opposite is the case. Iraq is a country that's suffered 12 years of siege warfare. Its economy has been destroyed by the most comprehensive embargo ever imposed on a country in history. It's a country whose infrastructure hasn't been rebuilt since the last Gulf War.

The New York Times reporters who visited the al-Rafah and al-Rashid sites that Powell talked about in his speech said both "were bombed extensively," either in the 1991 Gulf War or by U.S. and British warplanes patrolling the "no-fly" zones. These are attacks that have taken place over the last decade under the cover of protecting the Kurds or Shiites that have been used to further erode Iraq's military capacity.

Iraq's military is a shadow of what it was. Sanctions have kept out essential goods needed for the health care system, for the water and sewage system. This is a country that's in an absolute crisis. In fact, in anticipation of the U.S. bombing, doctors in hospitals around Iraq are having to withhold what limited supplies they currently have in order to prepare for what they'll face.

A number of humanitarian groups estimate that the consequences of a war on Iraq will be far greater suffering than even the 1991 Gulf War, precisely because the country is so much more vulnerable to a humanitarian crisis after the destruction of its infrastructure during the last 12 years of sanctions and bombing. Iraq poses no threat to its neighbors, let alone the United States.

THE HYPOCRISY of Powell's statements was incredible at times, wasn't it?

Anthony: One thing that was particularly galling was when Powell said: "We have an obligation to this body [the UN] to see that our resolutions are complied with." The hypocrisy of that statement is hard to describe.

Has Powell come to the United Nations to discuss the Israeli nuclear weapons program? Is he coming to the UN to discuss the lack of enforcement of numerous resolutions about Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories? About Israel firing on health workers and Red Cross ambulances?

Is the UN having special sessions to discuss U.S. violations of UN resolutions? The list goes on and on. They trumpet the rights of Kurds in Iraq, but they don't talk about Turkey's war on the Kurds. In fact, they're in conversations right now with Turkey, which is engaged in a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Kurdish population, about occupying parts of northern Iraq.

Turkey will be allowed to occupy this area to prevent Kurds from fighting either for autonomy within a new Iraq or an independent Kurdistan in the broader region, which would obviously mean a challenge to the Turkish government.

Eric: If you want to see a barbaric use of weapons of mass destruction, look at what the United States did to Iraq with the use of depleted uranium munitions during the first Gulf War. The use of depleted uranium continues to take victims throughout Iraq, particularly in the areas that were hard hit in the south. The cancer rates are through the roof, children are dying of leukemia, people are dying of pulmonary and bone diseases.

This is just horrific savagery. And yet the U.S. claims that Saddam Hussein and Iraq are the ones that have horrible weapons of mass destruction.

WHAT DO you think are the real motives behind this war drive?

Eric: At one point where he was summarizing his case, Powell said: "Saddam Hussein has pursued his ambition to dominate Iraq and the broader Middle East using the only means he knows: intimidation, coercion and annihilation of all those who might stand in his way. For Saddam Hussein, possession of the world's most deadly weapons is the ultimate trump card, the one he must hold to fulfill his ambition."

All you have to do is substitute for Saddam Hussein and Iraq, George W. Bush and the United States, and for the Middle East, substitute the world, and you have a perfect description of the way that the U.S. acts as a global bully.

Anthony: The New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd recently quoted one hawk who put it very clearly. "By setting up our military in Iraq," this source said, "we can set an example to other countries: 'If you cooperate with terrorists or menace us in any way or even look cross-eyed at us, this could happen to you.'"

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