Western Media Persists in Propaganda About Iraq’s Purported WMD

The mainstream media is reporting that former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein told his FBI interrogators after his capture that he lied about having weapons of mass destruction (WMD) because he feared Iran. But there’s just one problem with this claim: Saddam Hussein never claimed to have WMD, but , as everybody knows, repeatedly denied that this was so.

This propaganda line had its origins early on following the U.S. invasion of Iraq. David Kay, who early on headed up the CIA’s effort to find WMD, the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), suggested at the time that Saddam had “bluffed” about having WMD in order to deter Iran.

Donald Rumsfeld, special envoy for President Reagan, shakes hands with Saddam Hussein on December 20, 1983

The deception served to absolve the Bush administration of responsibility for having lied about the “threat” by making it seem as though it was reasonable to arrive at that conclusion since Saddam had claimed to possess WMD, even though he did not.

In actual fact, however, far from admitting possession, Iraq repeatedly denied having WMD in the months and years leading up to the invasion.

The “Saddam ‘bluffed'” claim, though, has lived on. It reared its ugly head again in January 2008 when Saddam’s interrogator, FBI agent George Piro, was interviewed for CBS 60 Minutes. Piro explained that he told Saddam he liked his poetry, and Saddam boasted that he wrote all his own speeches, too. Piro saw an opportunity and said he assumed some of his speeches had been written by someone else, because they had a different style. Piro recalled telling Saddam, “And in June 2000 you gave a speech in which you said Iraq would not disarm until others in the region did. A rifle for a rifle, a stick for a stick, a stone for a stone”.

The 60 Minutes report here inserted, “That June 2000 speech was about weapons of mass destruction.” And the interviewer, Scott Pelley, asked Piro why Saddam would put his nation at risk “to maintain this charade” of having WMD. Piro replied, “It was very important for him to project that because that was what kept him, in his mind, in power. That capability kept the Iranians away. It kept them from reinvading Iraq.”

The George Washington University National Security Archive released the FBI summaries of Saddam’s interrogation received through a Freedom of Information Act request this week, and the “Saddam ‘bluffed'” claim is again making the headlines.

The Associated Press reports, “The documents also confirm previous reports that Saddam falsely allowed the world to believe Iraq had weapons of mass destruction — the main U.S. rationale behind the war — because he feared revealing his weakness to Iran, the hostile neighbor he considered a bigger threat than the U.S.”

The USA Today blog “On Deadline” similarly reports, “Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, in 20 formal interviews and at least five casual conversations with the FBI, said he was bluffing publicly about having weapons of mass destruction because he feared showing weakness to Iran, according to newly released FBI summaries.”

The Christian Science Monitor’s “global news blog” , under a headline reading “Why Saddam Hussein lied about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction“, states that “Saddam Hussein encouraged the perception that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD) because he was afraid of appearing weak in Iran’s eyes, according to nearly two dozen declassified transcripts of an FBI agent’s conversations with the former Iraqi dictator released Wednesday.”

A London Telegraph headline reads “Saddam Hussein ‘lied about WMDs to protect Iraq from Iran‘”. The article states, “Saddam Hussein told the FBI that he misled the world into believing Iraq still possessed weapons of mass destruction because he feared revealing his weakness to Iran, according to declassified interview transcripts.”

The Israeli daily Haaretz carries a Reuters report headlined “FBI: Saddam told us he lied about having nukes to deter Iran“, which states that “Saddam Hussein believed Iran was a significant threat to Iraq and left open the possibility that he had weapons of mass destruction rather than appear vulnerable, according to declassified FBI documents on interrogations of the former Iraqi leader.”

The only quote from the documents used to support the assertion that Saddam “lied” about having WMD is a statement in the interrogation summaries that reads, “Hussein believed that Iraq could not appear weak to its enemies, especially Iran.”

But that statement says nothing about WMD.

The entire relevant section from the released summary of a June 11, 2004 interrogation reads: “SSA Piro then asked Hussein if he wrote his own speeches and they come from the heart, then what was the meaning of his June 2000 speech. Hussein replied this speech was meant to serve a regional and operational purpose. Regionally, the speech was meant to respond to Iraq’s regional threat. Hussein believed that Iraq could not appear weak to its enemies, especially Iran. Iraq was being threatened by others in the region and must appear able to defend itself.”

The only reference to WMD comes in the next sentence, which belies the assertion that the documents show Saddam “lied” about having WMD: “Operationally, Hussein was demonstrating Iraq’s compliance with the United Nations (UN) in its destruction of its Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)” (emphasis added).

The reference to Saddam’s June 2000 speech is also important. First, this was well before the move had begun under the Bush administration to implement regime change, an effort that began in earnest in 2002. U.N. inspectors returned under a resolution passed in November 2002.

Second, while 60 Minutes asserted that this speech “was about weapons of mass destruction”, this is merely a widely propagated and dubious interpretation. In that speech, Hussein noted that the U.S. has “used the United Nations as a cover” to “issue resolutions” against Iraq before saying, “However, we must protect our country because we will not give them Iraq. We do not like to collect weapons for the sake of collecting weapons. But we consider the provision of the necessary means to protect our country an ethical and moral responsibility that every Iraqi man and woman must shoulder.”

Hussein continued on to say that Iraq would be “most enthusiastic” to limit weapons. “We told President Husni Mubarak: You can go ahead and announce that the Arabs are prepared to join any treaty to rid the region of the so-called weapons of mass destruction. We told him: This does not mean only ballistic missiles, which are no more than artillery of a longer range”. His condition was “that the Zionist entity”, Israel, “is the first to sign such a treaty.”

The “weapons” Saddam was referring to were not WMD, but Iraq’s conventional weapons, including its ballistic missiles. Long-range ballistic missiles were proscribed for Iraq under U.N. resolutions. Saddam referred not to biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons in his speech, but to ballistic missiles and other conventional arms.

Hussein continued, clearly demonstrating that the “weapons” he was referring to were not WMD, but the conventional arms of Iraq’s military forces. “If the world tells us to abandon all our weapons and keep only swords,” Hussein said, “we will do that. We will destroy all the weapons, if the destroy their weapons. But if they keep a rifle and then tell me that I have the right to possess only a sword, then we would say no.”

The claim that Hussein was declaring in this speech to possess WMD is simply false, dependent entirely upon the dubious interpretation that his talk of rifles and swords was a metaphor for “anthrax” or “mustard gas”, and willfully ignorant of the fact that the only “so-called weapons of mass destruction” Saddam actually claimed to have in this speech were conventional ballistic missiles forbidden under U.N. resolutions, and not WMD.

The bottom line: It wasn’t Saddam Hussein, who lied about Iraq having WMD; it was the U.S. government.

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Jeremy R. Hammond

Jeremy R. Hammond is an award-winning political analyst, editor and publisher of Foreign Policy Journal, and author. His new book is Obstacle to Peace: The US Role in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Read the first chapter FREE at ObstacleToPeace.com! 

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    When I was in Baghdad during the war,US forces had taken over Baghdad and they had shifted their military operations to Takrit,home town of Saddam Hussain.
    A staffer of USA TODAY ,I will not place his name here for couple of reasons,was living in same hotel where me and my crew were housed.
    That Reporter of USA TODAY became very friendly with me.We would dine every evning and discuss the situation.
    One day he took me to the Headquarters of Saddam’s Intelligence Mukhabrat.I was infact bit nervous going.But he said,”I am trying to find out how many Iraqi generals have been detained here.
    Later my Driver Omar told me in broken English,”many Americans come here to find name of Donald Rumsfeld because his name was on Saddam’s agents’ list.I did not belive.Later a former Iraqi diplomat whom Saddam had jailed Professor Gailan,told me at Hotel Palestine,”yes Donald had received money from Saddam Hussain in exchange for the supply of Satellite imagery of Iran and Chemical weapons”.
    I was amazed to get twisting nature of world politics.
    Please get some info on this subject.

    • The U.S. supplied satellite imagery and other battlefield intelligence to both Iraq and Iran during the war. I don’t know if Iraq paid for the intelligence or not, but Rumsfeld went to Iraq twice to shore up relations with Iraq. The second time he was sent to ensure Saddam that President Reagan’s condemnation of his use of chemical weapons wouldn’t affect their relationship. The State Department approved the sale to Iraq of chemical precursors use to make CBW, including anthrax.

  • PressWatch

    World press freedom in the eyes and ears of the beholder
    By Trish Schuh May 30, 2007 Mehr News
    UNITED NATIONS – On the 14th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day, which was celebrated in May, UNESCO hosted an event for journalists called “Press Freedom, Safety of Journalists and Impunity” at the United Nations headquarters in New York.
    Under Article 1 of its Constitution, UNESCO is the only United Nations agency with a mandate to defend freedom of expression and press freedom.
    United Nations Correspondent Association President Tuyet J. Nguyen spoke about the life-threatening danger faced by journalists covering such war zones as Rwanda and Iraq where the media is controlled by special interests or armed political parties.
    Mr. Georges Malbrunot of France’s neocon Le Figaro spoke of newsgathering under various “vicious surveillance” states. In contrast, Malbrunot’s embedding with American forces in Iraq was “not a bad solution”, but opened embeddees to paranoid Arab charges of being “a spy… It’s one of the major blames addressed to the foreign press today… Of course, this blame is 99.9% wrong, but in the minds of these people who suffer from ‘conspiracy theory’, this accusation is serious and can cost a journalist his life. “There is a lot of work to do to convince these groups that the journalist is not a spy.” Malbrunot added that it is the work of Muslim imams, scholars, leaders, etc., to persuade their Muslim flock of this fact… “Only then will the fate of the global war against terror be dramatically changed.” This writer asked the panel if journalists themselves could ever be partly responsible for such suspicions. Citing CNN’s Anderson Cooper, who admitted spending his earlier summers working for the CIA: “Doesn’t this kind of moonlighting put other journalists at risk?”
    No response from the panel.
    Representing half a million media professionals around the world on behalf of the International Federation of Journalists was Judith Matloff, a professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a member of the International News Safety Institute. Professor Matloff implored the international community to uphold UN Security Council Resolution 1738, which prohibits the killing and targeting of media personnel and protects free speech and freedom of the press globally. In a follow-up conversation by telephone on May 25, I asked Prof. Matloff for her opinion on how UN Security Council Resolution 1738 applies to Lebanon’s Al Manar TV and the LMG communications network — Lebanese media outlets bombed by Israel during the 2006 war, and officially censored as a “terrorist organization” by the U.S. Congress? Regarding this unprecedented, landmark free speech/censorship law, Ivy League academic Matloff said she was “unfamiliar with these situations” and refused to comment on Middle East issues. “I am an Africa specialist.” But wasn’t free speech protected equally around the world under Resolution 1738? In the Middle East, as well as in Africa? Being a media expert, could she comment on what a law equating the media with “terrorism” could mean for freedom of the press? Concurrent with Bush’s admitted deliberate bombing of Al Jazeera in Afghanistan and Iraq?
    “I never heard of that,” Matloff said. With her credentials, shouldn’t such Katrina-scale censorship have caught her eye? Or perhaps she could assess how the mainstream media’s advocacy of falsehoods promoted an illegal war in Iraq? “The New York Times has apologized,” she said, referring to a full page ‘mea culpa ad’. But isn’t the NYT repeating the same misleading tactics to promote the next war?
    With this and similar questions, Matloff responded like a true press “pro”: avoiding ethical implications, defending her product — the status quo, and referring most answers to “other supervisors” or experts. Her refrain of “I don’t know”, “don’t remember”, “can’t comment” captured the essence of a White House press briefing. As a trainer of America’s next generation of government “privatized propaganda contractors”, (tomorrow’s ‘mercenary press’) Matloff diverted the subject, passed the buck, and expertly earned her tenure…
    On Press Freedom Day, I spoke briefly to New York Times correspondent Warren Hogue about the media, Iraq, and World Press Freedom Day. Q: It’s World Press Freedom Day and I just wanted to ask if you have any comments about The New York Times and their reporting in the runup to the Iraq War, and if you feel any kind of responsibility?
    A: I can’t talk about that -– we’ve already said everything about that to be said in the paper, and I really don’t want to add to it. I mean, The New York Times — more than most newspapers — has absolutely admitted what we thought was faulty and what was not. There’s just nothing I can add to that at all. And I certainly don’t want to talk about that on Press Freedom Day when our thoughts are with Alan Johnston and other journalists that are being killed. Q: Well my thoughts are also with the Iraqis. There are half a million dead — thanks in part to your newspaper-
    A: Oh come on.
    Q: Your newspaper was one of the primary advocates for the war.
    A: Oh come on, I can’t talk to you.
    Q: Your newspaper was primary — yes it was — Judith Miller got a security clearance from Donald Rumsfeld, sir.
    A: The New York Times is not responsible for any dead Iraqis. I won’t listen to that. Q: None of the other American journalists but Judith Miller from your paper got a security clearance from the U.S. defense secretary himself. How is this different from working for the government?
    A: You are defiling Press Freedom Day — Shut up! This is about press freedom, this is not about defiling the press. We’ve just come back from a demonstration for Alan Johnston for journalists being killed and that’s what this day is about — press freedom. Perhaps BBC World News Editor Jon Williams best summarized the outcome of shutting up journalists: “We must not stand by and allow the intimidation of journalists — wherever it happens. If we do, we will pay a heavy price… There will be no eyes or ears telling us what’s going on. We won’t have the insight from those able to make sense of it.”
    But then, that may be just how the Powers That Be really want it.

  • Joe Gall

    Said it at the time: Bush was a fool or a liar (along with the rest of his regime).

    Take your pick.

    Then apologize to Iraq and the rest of the world . . . for murdering a million innocent human beings.

  • FingerBang

    Time to take out CNN.

  • tim mccarthy

    This is a story that I have been waiting on for some time. The story about Saddam’s interview seemed to me to be a plant to back up the many citations in the press about his posturings. The story line is always something about how we were fooled into thinking there were such weapons and so we invaded. All his fault. My recollections have always been that Iraq repeatedly denied any such weapons and I have never been able to understand how seemingly competent reporters could state otherwise. Thanks

    • Your recollections are accurate, Tim. This is sheer propaganda and utter nonsense, and nothing more.

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