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Tuesday, September 30, 2003
Notes on weapons of mass destruction and other things
John Pilger made some news last week with a report on how two senior members of the Bush Administration, Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, made statements in 2001 about how then Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was not a threat to the United States.
Since Pilger's largely engrossing 2002 collection of essays The News Rulers of the World featured a mistake or two, I figured it might be good to look at some of the key quotes that Pilger uses and whether or not they can be verified by searching the web.
Before doing that I think a word is necessary on Pilger calling Rice "[U.S.] President [George W.] Bush's closest adviser." While Rice is an important advisor to Bush, saying that she is his closest advisor is probably a stretch.
Now on with the quotes:
In Cairo, on February 24 2001, Powell said: "He (Saddam Hussein) has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbours."This checks with the State Department transcript of those comments:
...the sanctions exist -- not for the purpose of hurting the Iraqi people, but for the purpose of keeping in check Saddam Hussein's ambitions toward developing weapons of mass destruction. We should constantly be reviewing our policies, constantly be looking at those sanctions to make sure that they are directed toward that purpose. That purpose is every bit as important now as it was ten years ago when we began it. And frankly they have worked. He has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors. So in effect, our policies have strengthened the security of the neighbors of Iraq, and these are policies that we are going to keep in place, but we are always willing to review them to make sure that they are being carried out in a way that does not affect the Iraqi people but does affect the Iraqi regime's ambitions and the ability to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and we had a good conversation on this issue.Pilger also writes:
Powell even boasted that it was the US policy of "containment" that had effectively disarmed the Iraqi dictator - again the very opposite of what Blair said time and again. On May 15 2001, Powell went further and said that Saddam Hussein had not been able to "build his military back up or to develop weapons of mass destruction" for "the last 10 years". America, he said, had been successful in keeping him "in a box".These exact words don't show up in any of the official transcripts from May 2001, but Powell apparently was testifying before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations on that day, so I will assume that the comments happened there. (Why the full transcript rarely, if ever, appears in State Department transcripts is something I do wonder about.)
Pilger also writes:
Two months later, Condoleezza Rice also described a weak, divided and militarily defenceless Iraq. "Saddam does not control the northern part of the country," she said. "We are able to keep his arms from him. His military forces have not been rebuilt."Neither a search on whitehouse.gov -where the comments would most likely be archived- nor a similar search on google turns up this speech, so make of that what you will.
Assuming that all of the quotes are correct, Pilger is still making a leap when he says:
So here were two of Bush's most important officials putting the lie to their own propaganda, and the Blair government's propaganda that subsequently provided the justification for an unprovoked, illegal attack on Iraq.It is possible, although perhaps not probable, that intelligence changed and by the time the Bush Administration started talking about the threat posed by Iraq, they had reason to believe such a threat existed.
Of course Powell didn't help his case last Thursday in the following exchange:
QUESTION: Secretary Powell, in February 2001, you said that Saddam has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. What caused you to change your assessment?Well he didn't say the weapons of mass destruction weren't associated with "any significant capability." But I guess that is a mute point because of "9/11."
Pilger goes on to argue that the Bush Administration decided to invade Iraq shortly after September 11, 2001. This is something that I can neither confirm or deny, which is also the case for this:
[Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security John] BOLTON boasted to me that the killing of as many as 10,000 Iraqi civilians in the invasion was "quite low if you look at the size of the military operation."If true, this is huge.
In a story from Sunday's Washington Post Dana Priest writes:
Leaders of the House intelligence committee have criticized the U.S. intelligence community for using largely outdated, "circumstantial" and "fragmentary" information with "too many uncertainties" to conclude that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and ties to al Qaeda.
I suspect the new Doctor Who will be awful, if it ever comes to fruition.