Editor's Note: There will be hell to pay for the lies we have been told. - wrpBy Louis Charbonneau
Wednesday 26 March 2003
A few hours and a simple internet search was all it took for U.N. inspectors to realize documents backing U.S. and British claims that Iraq had revived its nuclear program were crude fakes, a U.N. official said.
Speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, a senior official from the U.N. nuclear agency who saw the documents offered as evidence that Iraq tried to buy 500 tons of uranium from Niger, described one as so badly forged his "jaw dropped."
"When (U.N. experts) started to look at them, after a few hours of going at it with a critical eye things started to pop out," the official said, adding a more thorough investigation used up "resources, time and energy we could have devoted elsewhere."
The United States first made the allegation that Iraq had revived its nuclear program last fall when the CIA warned that Baghdad "could make a nuclear weapon within a year" if it acquired uranium. President Bush found the proof credible enough to add it to his State of the Union speech in January.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) official said the charge Iraq sought the uranium was to be the "stake in the heart" of Baghdad and "would have been as close to a smoking gun as you could get" because Iraq could only want it for weapons.
Once the IAEA got the documents -- which took months -- French nuclear scientist Jacques Bautes, head of the U.N. Iraq Nuclear Verification office, quickly saw they were fakes.
Two documents were particularly bad. The first was a letter from the president of Niger which referred to his authority under the 1965 constitution. That constitution has been defunct for nearly four years, the official said.
There were other problems with the letter, including an unsuccessful forgery of the president's signature.
"It doesn't even look close to the signature of the president. I'm not a (handwriting) expert but when I looked at it my jaw dropped," the official said.
Another letter about uranium dated October 2000 purportedly came from Niger's foreign minister and was signed by a Mr. Alle Elhadj Habibou, who has not been foreign minister since 1989.
To make matters worse, the letterhead was out of date and referred to Niger's "Supreme Military Council" from the pre-1999 era -- which would be like calling Russia the Soviet Union.
After determining the documents were fakes, the IAEA had a group of international forensics experts -- including people from the U.S and Britain -- verify their findings. The panel unanimously agreed with the IAEA.
"We don't know who did it," the official said, adding that it would be easy to come up with a long list of groups and states which would like to malign the present Iraqi regime.
The IAEA asked the U.S. and Britain if they had any other evidence backing the claim that Iraq tried to buy uranium. The answer was no.
IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei informed the U.N. Security Council in early March that the Niger proof was fake and that three months with 218 inspections at 141 sites had produced "no evidence or plausible indication" Iraq had a nuclear program.
But last week Vice President Dick Cheney repeated the U.S. position and said that ElBaradei was wrong about Iraq.
"We know (Iraqi President Saddam Hussein) has been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons, and we believe he has in fact reconstituted nuclear weapons," he said.
A Spurious 'Smoking Gun'
By Chris Smith
Wednesday 25 March 2003
Why has the news media ignored a Congressman's assertion that White House officials used evidence they knew to be false to build their case for war?
It was one of the White House's strongest arguments for war.
For months, administration officials had been touting a series of letters purporting to show Iraqi efforts to buy uranium from the African country of Niger. If the letters weren't exactly a smoking gun, Washington hawks contended, they were at least irrefutable proof that Iraq still had nuclear ambitions.
Then, two weeks ago, it all came crashing down. The letters, it was revealed, were hoaxes -- crude forgeries discredited by nuclear weapons experts and disowned by the Central Intelligence Agency. Further, the Agency asserted that it made its concerns known to administration officials in late 2001, shortly after telling the White House about the letters. For more than a year, Washington had used evidence repudiated by its own intelligence advisors to build a case for war.
The revelations could have delivered a damaging blow to the White House's political and diplomatic push for invasion. But the national media rapidly moved off the story, swept up in the administration's rush to war. And it all might have ended there, but for Congressman Henry Waxman. In a scathing letter sent to President Bush last week, the California Democrat demands an investigation into what Bush knew about the Niger forgeries and when he knew it. Waxman, who voted last year to give the administration authority to wage a war in Iraq, says there is reason to believe that he and other members of Congress have been misled.
"It is unfathomable how we could be in a situation where the CIA knew information was not reliable but yet it was cited by the President in the State of the Union and by other leading Administration officials," he says. "Either this is knowing deception or utter incompetence and an explanation is urgently needed."
Waxman, who says he signed on to Bush's war initiative in part because he was concerned about Iraq's nuclear aims, wonders how the forgeries could have been used as evidence of Iraqi malfeasance for so many months after they were officially debunked. At the very least, he writes, the recent revelations have created a perception that facts were withheld to bolster the President's case for war.
"It appears that at the same time that you, Secretary Rumsfeld, and State Department officials were citing Iraq's efforts to obtain uranium from Africa as a crucial part of the case against Iraq, U.S. intelligence officials regarded this very same evidence as unreliable," he writes in his letter to the president. "If true, this is deeply disturbing: it would mean that your Administration asked the U.N. Security Council, the Congress, and the American people to rely on information that your own experts knew was not credible."
So far, however, neither the White House nor the national media seem inclined to give Waxman's questions serious consideration.
The administration's response has been a deafening silence, and mainstream media outlets have all but ignored Waxman's missive. While the congressman's charges garnered a brief mention on ABC News, it was left to Tom Engelhardt to break the news in his web log, Tom Dispatch.com. Engelhardt, an editor, historian, teaching fellow at Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, and regular contributor to MotherJones.com, says that he is "staggered" by the media's silence -- especially given the prominence of Waxman, the House's Ranking Minority Member of the Committee on Government Reform.
"You might think that when, in the midst of war, a significant member of the minority party in Congress challenges the administration's explanation for why we acted, it might merit the odd line or two, somewhere or other," he wrote.
Waxman spokesperson Karen Lightfoot acknowledges the congressman has been disappointed by the indifferent reception.
"It definitely deserves more attention than it has received," she said.
Over the weekend, Waxman's letter finally made an appearance in the Washington Post, but only as a small item buried within a larger story on the CIA's handling of the Niger letters.
Norman Solomon argues that the mainstream media's treatment of the story fits an established pattern. Noting that the forged letters are just the latest in a string of discredited White House claims, he argues that the mainstream media has frequently been "behind the curve" in reporting on the administration's shortcomings. Solomon, a fellow at the media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting and author of "The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media", faults the press for "waiting to be tossed perspectives and critiques from the administration."
The last few months have witnessed a "slow motion Gulf of Tonkin," he says, "and with very few exceptions, the press is swallowing it."
Eric Alterman agrees. The media critic and author of "What Liberal Media?" says he isn't surprised by the dearth of coverage.
"It's important, but not to the White House," he said. "That's not the kind of thing they care about. And if the White House doesn't care, then most of the media doesn't care either."
Media Gets a Bit Combative
By Tim Goodman
San Francisco Chronicle
Wednesday 26 March 2003
Questions become more pointed, but will coverage become more balanced?
Things are heating up on and off the battlefield.
On Tuesday, a fierce sandstorm slowed troops as they drew closer to Baghdad.
Another gathering storm centered on a suddenly skeptical press corps.
Anyone tuning in to the war in Iraq found Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld -- who normally dominates and berates reporters -- getting as good as he normally gives. This stiffening of the press corps was duplicated at the White House, where normally in-charge and dismissive Ari Fleischer was on his heels like he's never been since President Bush entered his presidency.
This emboldening among the press may be a little late for critics here and abroad who believe the American media is too soft on the administration and is not, in turn, giving American viewers a real look at the war.
Nevertheless, as the press increases its skepticism -- one reporter said to Fleischer, "That's a dodge!" -- and begins asking more pointed questions about what's going on in Iraq, it could go a ways to reducing the knock on alleged pro-war cheerleading and obfuscation of the brutality of what's under way.
Much more, of course, will have to occur to appease those who think the media is cleansing war. But anyone who's watching extended coverage on a variety of channels should come to the conclusion that bias (or not) is a fluid, ever-changing charge. For example, embedded reporters in the field are a varied lot, even on the same network. For every fluffy contribution from CNN's Kyra Phillips, there's something more solid (and interesting) from Jane Arraf.
Fox News, which gets knocked for what some deem its flag-waving pro- administration stance (it got Brit Hume an exclusive with Colin Powell, at least), is airing reports from the battlefield that aren't much different from CNN or CBS (Geraldo and Oliver North excluded). In many ways, embedding levels the playing field because every firefight is breaking news for that in-unit reporter. This bias idea is gray territory, not black and white. There's no escaping the fact that Fox and, more surprisingly, MSNBC (which has adopted the government-issued "Operation Iraqi Freedom" as its tagline) seem to be in a race to be most patriotic. And yet, their field reporting for the most part hasn't taken on the same flavor.
That said, fretting about the journalism coming from embedded reporters is a legitimate concern -- but again, it's not a black and white issue. Of the hordes of embedded reporters, there are enough who are enthralled by the machinery they're traveling in and the artillery fired around them -- not to mention the camaraderie they are enjoying -- to raise eyebrows and lots of ethical questions. On the other hand, there are plenty of others doing their job and doing it well -- and at considerable personal risk.
It's not fear mongering to suggest there's a good chance we will see journalists killed in action -- perhaps live on television. Before flippantly dismissing embedded reporters as somehow co-opted by the Pentagon, critics of the coverage should make judgments report-by-report, then separate in-studio chatter -- where bias and stupidity are easier to identify -- from battlefield reporting that sends back video images we'd never see if they weren't there.
NO ANTI-WAR VOICES
Where American TV news falls down, without question, is the almost complete lack of anti-war voices or in-studio "experts." With paid military advisers dominating maps and thrilling anchors with their battle analysis, there's apparently no room for dissent. Until that issue is addressed, more people will seek out British or Canadian news options.
These are dicey times, and judging from letters and e-mail, viewers are watching every piece of news footage or reading every written word filtered through their own political bias. The networks and cable channels are probably being inundated with people looking for more flag-waving and less emphasis on battlefield death tolls. That might be one reason there's been very little reporting from American news organizations on Iraqi civilian deaths.
A FOREIGN VIEW
How the war is being played out around the globe and through foreign media has become one of the most interesting side topics to the war. Monday night on CNN, anchor Aaron Brown interviewed three print journalists -- Bret Stephens from the Jerusalem Post, Baria Alamuddin from the Arab-language paper Al-Hayat and Sylvie Kauffman of Paris-based Le Monde. It was a fascinating roundtable from people centered in three key regions as they relate to the war.
Each, however, indicated that coverage is not drastically different from what Americans are getting. The difference, and it's as predictable as it is expected, is that the conflict if filtered through what it means for them. Are American news organizations fixated on "coalition" deaths and military advances? Absolutely. To think they wouldn't be is to imagine an objective, worldview media that didn't exist even before the war.
In the Arab world, Alamuddin told Brown, "the war is not looked (upon) as a war of liberation. Quite the contrary. It's looked upon as a war of invasion."
Would you be surprised if it wasn't? Stephens said Israelis are interested in the issue of weapons of mass destruction, as expected. And Kauffman said the French, far from impassive despite being against the war, are spending much of their time on it both on TV and in print. "There is really a feeling of surprise that they are meeting so much resistance," she told Brown, speaking of American and British forces. "And there was shock of course, as well, during the weekend when those pictures of the American prisoners of war were shown. . . . Whatever your feelings are about this war, I think people here are human, and your heart goes out to the families of these soldiers. Now when people are seeing body parts of wounded Iraqi civilians, they have the same feelings."
Ah, so that's the difference. What wounded Iraqi civilians?
With criticism rising about coverage -- and fighting bound to become more deadly as troops approach Baghdad -- there may be pressure on networks here to strike a more objective, more global view. In fact, today at noon, peace groups planned to protest in front of the San Francisco offices of CNN, demanding "that the network dedicate air time to showing the human costs of war."
For some seeking a less-sanitized view than TV is giving them, hints at coming change are probably better late than never.
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