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[casi] Soundbites of mass distraction

>From the Finnish Daily Helsingin Sanomat

Soundbites of mass distraction


By Sami Sillanpää

Last October I stood in the courtyard of the al-Furat
nuclear research facility in Iraq. The previous day,
President George W. Bush had accused the Iraqi regime
of pursuing the manufacture of weapons of mass

He offered evidence, for example the fact that there
was a new building at the al-Furat facility.

I wandered round the area and kept my eyes open. Only
old and run-down buildings. No new construction was

At al-Furat that day there was also a reporter from
the American Fox News channel. I listened as he
recorded his stand-up for the cameras. The gist of the
text was that here, too, the Iraqi authorities had
failed to present evidence that the country had
abandoned its efforts to threaten the West with WMDs.

Fox News is the most-watched nationwide channel in the
United States.

Opinion poll surveys carried out in the U.S. this
summer reveal that before the Iraq War, half of the
respondents believed that there were Iraqis among the
hijackers of the four planes involved in the 9/11
attacks on New York and Washington. After the war, one
in three believed that the United States had
discovered weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. One in
five knew that Iraq had used such weapons in the

If anyone has not been paying attention: there were no
Iraqis among the hijackers. Iraq did not use WMDs in
defending itself against the U.S.-led invasion. The
United States teams have to date found no weapons of
mass destruction in Iraq.

I suppose one should not be so astonished at the
result of the survey. If month after month one hears
people on the news bulletins saying something about
weapons of mass destruction, it makes it easy to
create an image that they exist.

The power of the White House to shape the world's
discussion agenda is quite frightening.

Put Secretary of State Colin Powell on the screen
today, put Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld up there
tomorrow, and give President Bush airtime the day
after. Make sure each one of them delivers a juicy
soundbite, and - presto! - the views of the United
States government wind up as the main news item around
the world, three days running.

Of course there were counterclaims presented in the
media, in the United States, too. But the news
landslide was more powerful. The mass message became a
weapon of its own Small things grew to colossal
proportions. Eleven empty chemical warheads discovered
at an ammunition storage depot!

While the words of mass distraction were revolving
around relatively small matters - whether a
high-specification aluminium tube was suited for use
as a centriguge for enriching uranium or not - there
was less rigorous inspection of the central U.S. and
British claim: that Iraq poses a global threat,
because it is working in partnership with the al-Qaeda
terrorist network.

The main piece of documetary evidence for this claim
was that Abu Zarqawi, possibly a member of al-Qaeda,
had paid a visit to Baghdad.

Let's assume for the purposes of argumment that he did
pay a visit. But if the visit of some terrorist
suspect in a given country is used as grounds, then we
can presume that countries such as Norway, Holland,
Germany - and both Britiain and the United States -
are planning a terror strike with al-Qaeda.

The last few weeks have indicated that neither
Washington nor London has much compunction about
lying, or being economical with the truth. This is
worth bearing in mind now when the United States and
Britain have a new slogan: the Iraq War was a success.

Success in this context would mean that the conflict
improved the security of the United States and Europe.

The conquest and liberation of Iraq has not increased
Britain's security or reduced the threat of
international terrorism, declared the cross-bench
Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons, in
a report published last Thursday on the foreign policy
aspects of the war on terrorism *. Indeed, the report
charged that the war in Iraq may in fact "have impeded
the war against al-Qaeda".

At roughly the same time, an American general in Iraq
admitted that foreign fighters had come into Iraq,
probably with al-Qaeda members among their number, to
oppose what they saw as the U.S. occupation.

Al-Qaeda was not operational in Saddam Hussein's Iraq,
but is now getting itself involved against the
U.S.-led administration.

This probably won't get across the Fox News threshold.

Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 2.8.2003

* House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee: Foreign
Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism (published
31.7.2003, .pdf file)

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