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[casi] State-sponsored lies

>From Le Monde Diplomatique

State-sponsored lies


"I cannot tell a lie" - George Washington

IT'S LIKE the story of the thief who yelled "Stop,
thief!" The dossier against Saddam Hussein that
President George Bush presented to the UN General
Assembly on 12 September 2002 was called A Decade of
Lies and Deceit(See
And what did he offer for proof? Lies. He claimed that
Iraq had close links with the al-Qaida network and was
a threat to the security of the United States because
it had "weapons of mass destruction" (WMD) - a scary
phrase invented by his media advisers.

Three months after the victory of the US forces and
their British auxiliaries in Mesopotamia we now know
that these claims, widely challenged at the time, were
indeed false (1). It is obvious that the US
administration manipulated intelligence about the WMD.
The 1,400-strong inspection team of the Iraq Survey
Group under General Dayton has still not found any
evidence. And now we are told that at the moment when
Bush made these charges, he already had reports from
his security services proving them false (2).
According to Jane Harman, a Democratic congresswoman
from California, we have been the victims of the
"biggest cover-up manoeuvre of all time" (3). For the
first time in history the US public is asking
questions about the reasons for a war, although only
now that it is over.

A secret department at the heart of the Pentagon, the
Office of Special Plans (OSP), played a part in this
mass deception. As revealed by veteran journalist
Seymour M Hersh in the New Yorker (4), the OSP was set
up by Paul Wolfowitz, number two at the Defence
Department, and led by a noted hawk, Abram Shulsky.
OSP's job is to analyse data received from the
security services and to produce summaries to be
passed to the government. Relying on statements by
Iraqi exiles close to the Iraqi National Congress (an
organisation that was financed by the Pentagon) and
its president, Ahmad Chalabi, the OSP apparently
over-inflated the threat of the WMD and the links
between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida.

The US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, was
manipulated and his political future is now at stake.
He was reported to have resisted White House and
Pentagon pressures to distribute the most dubious
briefings. In his UN Security Council speech of 5
February 2003 Powell was obliged to read a draft
prepared by Lewis Libby, chief of staff to vice
president Dick Cheney. It contained such tenuous
information that Powell was said to have become angry,
thrown the sheets in the air and refused to read it.
Finally Powell asked to have the head of the CIA,
George Tenet, sit in view behind him to share
responsibility for what was being read.

In an interview in the June issue of Vanity Fair,
Wolfowitz admitted that governmental lies had been
told. He said that the decision to put forward the
threat of WMD to justify a preventive war against Iraq
had been adopted "for reasons that have a lot to do
with US government bureaucracy . . . We settled on the
one issue which everyone could agree on, which was
weapons of mass destruction" (5).

So Bush had lied. Searching for a casus belli to
appeal to the United Nations and recruit a few
accomplices (United Kingdom and Spain) to his project
for conquering Iraq, Bush did not hesitate to
fabricate a massive governmental lie.

He was not alone. On 24 September 2002 Tony Blair
stood before the House of Commons and announced: "Iraq
possesses chemical and biological weapons . . . Its
missiles can be deployed in 45 minutes." To the UN
Security Council on 5 February Powell said: "Saddam
Hussein has investigated dozens of biological agents
causing diseases such as gas gangrene, plague, typhus,
tetanus, cholera, camelpox and haemorrhagic fever." In
March, on the eve of war, the US Vice President, Dick
Cheney, said: "We believe he has reconstituted nuclear
weapons" (6).

Bush repeated the charges in many speeches. After a
meeting with Powell on 6 February he went so far as to
add erroneous details: "Iraq has sent bomb-making and
document forgery experts to work with al-Qaida. Iraq
has also provided al-Qaida with chemical and
biological weapons training. We know that Iraq is
harbouring a terrorist network, headed by a senior
al-Qaida planner."

These charges were amplified by the pro-war media,
which became the instruments of propaganda. They were
repeated by television channels Fox News, CNN and
MSNC, by the Clear Channel radio network (1,225
stations throughout the US) and even prestigious
newspapers, such as the Washington Post and the Wall
Street Journal. These accusations provided the main
argument for those who were pro-war around the world.
In France they were taken up by Pierre Lelouche,
Bernard Kouchner, Yves Rocaute, Pascal Bruckner, Guy
Millière, André Glucksman, Alain Finkelkraut and
Pierre Rigoulot (7).

They were also repeated by Bush's allies. The most
zealous, the Spanish prime minister, José Maria Aznar,
on 5 February told the Madrid Cortés: "We all know
that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction .
. . We also all know that he has chemical weapons"
(8). On 30 January, on an order from Bush, Aznar
produced a declaration of support for the US, the
Letter of Eight, which was signed by Blair, Silvio
Berlusconi and Vaclav Havel among others, claiming
that "the Iraqi regime and its weapons of mass
destruction represent a clear threat to world

To justify a preventive war that the United Nations
and global public opinion did not want, a machine for
propaganda and mystification (organised by the
doctrinaire sect around George Bush) produced
state-sponsored lies for more than six months, with a
determination characteristic of the worst regimes of
the 20th century.

The Bush administration added to the US's long
historical tradition of lies. One of the most cynical
was about the explosion on the battleship Maine in the
Bay of Havana in 1898, which was used as the pretext
for the US to go to war with Spain, and for the
annexation of Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and
the island of Guam.

On 15 February 1898, at 9.40pm, the Maine sank in the
Havana straits, with the loss of 260 men, after a
violent explosion. Immediately the popular press
accused the Spaniards of having mined its hull: the
press denounced Spanish barbarism and "death camps".
It even claimed the Spanish were cannibals.

Two press barons vied in sensationalism: Joseph
Pulitzer of the New York World, and William Randolph
Hearst of the New York Journal. The anti-Spanish
campaign was supported by US businessmen who had major
investments in Cuba and were keen on ousting the
Spaniards. But the public was not interested, and
neither were journalists. In 1898 the Journal war
artist Frederick Remington wrote to Hearst from
Havana: "There is no war here. I demand to be
recalled." Hearst cabled: "Stay. You provide the
drawings, I'll supply the war." Then came the
explosion on the Maine, which allowed Hearst to
campaign for war, devoting pages of his news-papers
every day for months to the subject, calling for
vengeance: "Remember the Maine! To Hell with Spain."
Other papers copied. Sales of the Journal soared from
30,000 to 400,000, and then regularly topped a
million. Public opinion was inflamed. The atmosphere
became hallucinatory. Pressed on all sides, President
William McKinley declared war on Spain on 25 April
1898. But 13 years later a commission of inquiry
decided that the explosion had been an accident in the
Maine's engine room (9).

During the cold war in 1960, the CIA distributed to
journalists confidential documents showing that the
Soviets were about to get ahead in the arms race.
Immediately the media pressured candidates for the
presidency and clamoured for increased defence
spending. John F Kennedy promised to devote millions
of dollars to reviving the ballistic missiles
programme, wanted by both the CIA and the
military-industrial complex. Once Kennedy was elected
and the programme voted through, he discovered the US
already had a crushing military superiority over the

In 1964 it was claimed that two US destroyers had been
attacked by North Vietnamese torpedoes in the Gulf of
Tonkin. Immediately the media turned this into an
issue, describing it as a humiliation and demanding
reprisals. President Lyndon B Johnson used this as a
pretext to launch reprisal bombings against the North
Vietnamese. He called on Congress to pass a resolution
that allowed him to send in US troops, and began the
Vietnam war, which was only to end - in defeat - in
1975. Later the crews of the destroyers said that the
attack stories were fabricated.

In 1985 President Ronald Reagan declared a state of
emergency because of the "Nicaraguan threat" posed by
the Sandinistas in power in Managua, a government
democratically elected in November 1984 that respected
political liberties and freedom of expression.
Nicaragua, so Reagan claimed, was "two days' car drive
from Harlingen, Texas. We are in danger!" Secretary of
state George Shultz told Congress: "Nicaragua is a
cancer eating into our country, it applies the
doctrines of Mein Kampf and threatens to take control
over the whole hemisphere" (10). These lies were used
to justify massive aid to the anti-Sandinista Contras
and led to Irangate.

The lies of the Gulf war in 1991 have been extensively
analysed (11). Claims were frequently repeated that
Iraq had the fourth most powerful army in the world,
that maternity hospitals in Kuwait had been destroyed,
that there was an uncrossable defensive line, that
Patriot missiles were effective: all were proved

After George Bush Jr's election to the presidency in
November 2000, manipulation of public opinion was the
key preoccupation of the new administration. After the
attacks of 11 September 2001 it became an obsession.
Michael Deaver, a friend of Donald Rumsfeld and a
specialist in psychological warfare, advocated that
military strategy should be considered in relation to
television coverage, because if the public supported a
conflict it was unstoppable - without it government
was powerless.

On 20 February 2002 the New York Times revealed that
the Pentagon, on orders from Donald Rumsfeld and the
undersecretary for defence, Douglas Feith, had
secretly created the mysterious Office of Strategic
Influence (OSI), to generate false news to serve US
interests. It was coordinated by an air force general,
Simon Worden. The OSI was authorised to engage in
disinformation, particularly to foreign media. It had
a contract worth $100,000 a month with the Rendon
Group, a media consultancy already used in the Gulf
war, which had fabricated a statement by a Kuwaiti
"nurse" (12) who claimed to have seen Iraqi soldiers
looting the maternity department of a hospital in
Kuwait and killing the babies. This statement was
decisive in persuading members of Congress to vote for
the war. Although officially dissolved after these
revelations, the OSI must have remained active. How
otherwise can we explain the grossest manipulations of
the recent war in Iraq, especially the "rescue" of
Private Jessica Lynch?

The US media splashed this story in April. Lynch was
one of a group of 10 US soldiers captured by Iraqi
troops. According to the approved narrative, she had
been ambushed on 23 March and captured after firing at
the Iraqis until her ammunition ran out. She had been
hit by a bullet, stabbed, tied up, and taken to a
hospital in Nasiriyah where she was beaten by an Iraqi
officer. A week later US special forces freed her in a
surprise operation: despite resistance from her
guards, they broke into the hospital, rescued her and
flew her by helicopter to Kuwait.

That evening, Bush, from the White House, announced
her rescue to the nation. Eight days later the
Pentagon supplied the media with a video made during
the mission, with scenes up to the standards of the
best action movies.

After the war ended on 9 April, journalists -
particularly from The New York Times, the Toronto
Star, El País and the BBC - went to Nasiriyah to find
the truth. They were surprised by what they found.
According to their interviews with Iraqi doctors who
had looked after Lynch (and confirmed by US doctors
who had later examined her), her wounds, a fractured
arm and leg and a dislocated ankle, were not due to
bullets but to an accident in the lorry in which she
had travelled. She had not been maltreated. On the
contrary, the Iraqi doctors had done everything
possible to look after her.

"She had lost a lot of blood," explained Dr Saad Abdul
Razak, "and we had to give her a transfusion.
Fortunately members of my family have the same blood
group: O positive. We were able to obtain sufficient
blood. She had a pulse rate of 140 when she arrived
here. I think that we saved her life" (13).

Taking considerable risks, these doctors managed to
contact the US army to return Lynch. Two days before
the special forces arrived the doctors had even taken
her in an ambulance to a location close to US lines.
But US soldiers opened fire and almost killed her.
The pre-dawn arrival of special forces equipped with
sophisticated equipment surprised the hospital staff.
The doctors had already told the US forces that the
Iraqi army had retreated, and that Lynch was waiting
to be claimed.

Dr Anmar Uday told the BBC's John Kampfner: "It was
like in a Hollywood film. There were no Iraqi
soldiers, but the American special forces were using
their weapons. They fired at random and we heard
explosions. They were shouting Go! Go! Go! The attack
on the hospital was a kind of show, or an action film
with Sylvester Stallone" (14).

The "rescue" was filmed on a night-vision camera by a
former assistant of director Ridley Scott, who had
worked on the film Black Hawk Down (2001). According
to Robert Scheer of the Los Angeles Times, these
images were then sent for editing to US central
command in Qatar, and once they had been checked by
the Pentagon they were distributed worldwide (15).

The saving of Private Lynch is one for the annals of
propaganda. In the US she may represent the most
heroic moment of the conflict, even if the story of
her rescue is as much a lie as Saddam Hussein's WMD or
the links between the Iraqi regime and al-Qaida.

Bush and his entourage have deceived Americans and
world public opinion. As Professor Paul Krugman says,
their lies are "the worst scandal in American
political history, worse than Watergate, worse than
Iran-contra" (16).


(1) See "Poles apart", Le Monde diplomatique, English
language edition, March 2003.

(2) International Herald Tribune, 14 June 2003 and El
País, Madrid, 1 and 10 June 2003.

(3) Libération, Paris, 28 May 2003.

(4) New Yorker, 6 May 2003. See as published

(5) Press Release : US Department of Defense,
Wolfowitz Interview with Vanity Fair's Tannenhaus.
Published on

(6) Time, 9 June 2003.

(7) See Le Monde, 10 and 20 March 2003 and Le Figaro,
15 February 2003. See also Anna Bitton, "Ils avaient
soutenu la guerre de Bush", Marianne, 9 June 2003.

(8) El País, Madrid, 4 June 2003.


(10) See "Entretien avec Noam Chomsky", Télérama, 7
May 2003.

(11) See La Tyrannie de la communication, Gallimard,
Folio actuel series, no 92, Paris, 2001.

(12) This "nurse" was the daughter of the Kuwaiti
ambassador in Washington, and her account was created
for the Rendon Group consultancy by Michael K Deaver,
formerly media adviser to Ronald Reagan.

(13) El País, 7 May 2003.

(14) John Kampfner, 'Saving Private Lynch story
'flawed', BBC, London, 18 May 2003

(15) Los Angeles Times, 20 May 2003. See also:

(16) The New York Times, 3 June 2003.

Translated by Ed Emery

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED © 1997-2003 Le Monde diplomatique

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