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Spinning Coverage

An Analysis of The New York Times' Reporting on the War in Iraq in Light of the U.S. Administration's Spin and Propaganda Efforts

Diploma Thesis 2008 118 Pages

Communications - Media and Politics, Politic Communications

Excerpt

TABLE OF CONTENTS

PREFACE

1. DEFINITIONS
1.1 MARKETING AND PUBLIC RELATIONS (PR)
1.2 SPIN
1.3 PROPAGANDA
1.4 COMPARISON

2. THE COMMUNICATION CAMPAIGN
2.1 INTRODUCTION TO THE CAMPAIGN
2.2 GENERAL LINE OF ARGUMENTATION
2.3 CLAIM 1: IRAQ HAS WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION
2.3.1 WMD: OPPOSING VOICES
2.3.2 WMD: WHITE HOUSE REACTION
2.4 CLAIM 2: IRAQ HAS A NUCLEAR PROGRAM
2.4.1 NUCLEAR PROGRAM: OPPOSING VOICES
2.4.2 NUCLEAR PROGRAM: WHITE HOUSE REACTION
2.5 CLAIM 3: IRAQ HAS TIES TO AL QAEDA
2.5.1 AL QAEDA: OPPOSING VOICES
2.5.2 AL QAEDA: WHITE HOUSE REACTION
2.6 EXCURSUS: IRAQ ON THE RECORD
2.7 SPIN AND PROPAGANDA TECHNIQUES
2.8. A BROADER PERSPECTIVE: THE CAMPAIGN’S ADDITIONAL STRATEGIES AND TACTICS .

3. METHODOLOGY
3.1 THE NEW YORK TIMES
3.2 RESEARCH QUESTION AND HYPOTHESES
3.3 EXAMINATION PERIOD
3.4 EXAMINATION SUBJECT
3.5 TYPE OF EXAMINATION
3.6 ANALYSIS COMPOSITION

4. EDITORIALS
4.1 ARGUMENTATION
4.1.1 STAGE 1: AUGUST TO MID-FEBRUARY
4.1.2 STAGE 2: MID-FEBRUARY TO START OF WAR
4.1.3 STAGE 3: COMMENCEMENT OF WAR TO JULY
4.2 ANALYSIS
4.2.1 PREWAR PHASE: CONTENT
4.2.2 PREWAR PHASE: RHETORIC
4.2.3 PREWAR PHASE: ASSESSING THE COVERAGE
4.2.4 WAR PHASE: CONTENT
4.2.5 WAR PHASE: RHETORIC
4.2.6 WAR PHASE: ASSESSING THE COVERAGE
4.3 FINAL ASSESSMENT OF THE EDITORIAL COVERAGE

5. FRONT PAGE
5.1 EVIDENCE
5.2 OPPOSITION
5.3 IRAQ
5.4 POLICIES
5.5 COMMUNICATION CAMPAIGN
5.6 WAR PERIOD
5.7 EXCURSUS: THE NEWS ANALYSIS
5.8 AUTHOR’S INFLUENCE
5.9 MISCELLANEOUS ASPECTS
5.10 FINAL ASSESSMENT OF THE FRONT PAGE COVERAGE

6. CONCLUSION
6.1 COMPARISON OF EDITORIALS AND FRONT PAGE ARTICLES
6.2 ANSWERING RESEARCH QUESTION AND HYPOTHESES

7. CLOSING REMARKS

APPENDIX

PREFACE

The ongoing war in Iraq was precipitated by a flurry of spin and propaganda originating from the White House. In September 2002, the U.S. administration kicked off a communication campaign almost unprecedented in its dimensions, in order to convince Congress and the public of a military strike in Iraq; a campaign so skillfully woven that a huge part of the U.S. media industry seemed to forget its ‘watchdog’-role and went out of its way to surpass the others in patriotism, critical coverage be damned.

The administration’s three main arguments for war were Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD), his ambitions to acquire a nuclear weapon, and Iraq’s supposed ties to the terrorist network al Qaeda1, all of which were embedded into an elaborate and still on-going campaign of half-truths, lies and deceit. Over months, White House officials used a plethora of spin and propaganda techniques to make the public believe the only option to retain peace was, in fact, war − and they were exceptionally successful with it.

In early 2003, however, many of Washington’s claims and assertions were slowly beginning to get publicly questioned or downright proven wrong by experts and the media, especially when no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq after extensive searches. A question surfaced that had not been explicitly asked in the months before the war: the question whether the administration might have misled the American people into war by exaggerating the threat Saddam Hussein posed to the world and, in order to do so, might even have manipulated evidence.

However, a question just as important is, whether the American media lost sight of its obligations in the run-up to war, and by temporarily neglecting its standards of objectivity and neutrality gave the U.S. administration the platform it needed to actually convince the public of the necessity of military action.

In the United States, a special role as opinion leaders in the newspaper sector adheres to a handful of critically acclaimed publications with a high nationwide circulation. The New York Times (short: Times) is America’s third largest newspaper, and, therefore, has a special obligation to well-researched and unbiased coverage. As the acknowledged agenda-setter in its medium, it has the potential to influence a broad public, as well as other media, and for that reason was chosen as the subject of the following analysis.

This paper’s primary hypothesis will be that not even a critically acclaimed newspaper like the Times was able to evade the White House’s spin and propaganda, but that the coverage got more critical as time went by, even though there was little public selfreflection on behalf of the journalists and editors.

To analyze a possible shift in attitude and reporting, editorials and front page articles about Iraq that included references to the White House’s communication campaign and were published between August 2002 (the beginning of the communication campaign) and July 2003 (when most of the administration’s claims had already been questioned or had fallen apart), were quantitatively and qualitatively examined.

The first part of the paper will give a short overview of spin and propaganda, and any other terms needing clarification and definition. Since analyzing the whole campaign would go way beyond what this thesis can achieve, the paper’s second part will concentrate on the three major claims the White House based its case for war on. By means of speeches and public appearances made by senior U.S. administration officials between August 2002 and March 2003, an overview will be given about the different arguments used to substantiate the claims.

In a second step, opposing voices and opinions to the administration’s claims will be looked at, as well as the White House’s reaction to its assertions being contested. In an additional chapter, the major spin and propaganda techniques used by the administration will be highlighted. Lastly, the three claims will be put into a broader perspective by giving examples of additional strategies and tactics employed in the overall communication campaign.

Research question, hypotheses and methodology will be outlined in Chapter 3, while in the fourth part the results of the quantitative and qualitative analysis of front page articles and editorials will be discussed and compared. In a last step, it will be determined whether the assumptions made beforehand applied to the paper’s coverage.

Since the analysis of a single newspaper can only provide a glimpse into the media system, though, the subsequent study should not be seen as a representative analysis of the U.S. print media as a whole. However, it can offer an insight into how a respected and influential publication, that without a doubt affects other media, handled the U.S. administration’s communication campaign and the overall spirit of war in the country.

1. DEFINITIONS

The communication campaign initiated by the White House before the war in Iraq was given multiple different labels. Journalists called it a public relations, sometimes even a marketing campaign, but through independent authors and experts the terms propaganda and spin soon found their way into the descriptions. However, in a startling lot of cases all those terms were used virtually interchangeably. But while some aspects of the fields might be related or might even be used in concert, they all essentially convey very different concepts of communication.

Since this paper will deal mostly with the spin and propaganda aspects of the U.S. administration’s campaign, the next chapters will define those fields more closely. In order to fully grasp the above mentioned differences in the understanding of communication, though, a short definition of public relations and marketing will be given first.

1.1 MARKETING AND PUBLIC RELATIONS (PR)

Although the boundaries between marketing and public relations often overlap − both deal with an organization’s relationships and employ similar tools to reach their publics −, they actually serve two different purposes.

American marketing-coach Brian Norris probably summarized the essence of the various definitions of marketing best when he said “if it doesn't facilitate a ‘sale’ then it's not marketing."2 In other words, through marketing, an organization communicates with its consumer markets. Its major purpose is to increase the organization’s profit by increasing demand in its goods or services, for instance through advertising or promotion.

The goal of public relations, on the other hand, is to build long-lasting relationships with any public − including, but not limited to, consumers, employees, stockholders, and suppliers − that could constrain or enhance an organization’s ability to meet its mission. Though it can ultimately have an influence on sales, public relations is not about selling products, but about influencing the public’s images and opinions of a company. In its ideal form it is more than persuasion, that is to say a reciprocal process involving compromise, mutual understanding and a win-win situation for both the organization and its publics (meaning that both sides are willing to change their attitudes and behaviors in order to achieve the best result possible for both parties).

While spin and propaganda are often associated with public relations, their objectives vastly differ, as will be shown in the following chapters. Since both terms encompass a multitude of descriptions and applications, the subsequent definitions will concentrate on the political implementations of both propaganda and spin.

1.2 SPIN

As “a distinctive point of view, emphasis or interpretation,”3 The American Heritage Dictionary describes spin in very neutral terms. However, neutral is the last thing spin usually is. Commonly used in the field of politics, it is still tightly connected to public relations and defines a “sometimes pejorative term signifying a heavily biased portrayal in one’s own favor of an event or situation. While traditional public relations may also rely on creative presentation of the facts, spin often, though not always, implies disingenuous, deceptive and/or highly manipulative tactics.”4

While in the early days spin was merely referring to “unethical and misleading activities of political campaign consultants”5 (often called spin doctors), nowadays it is used to describe virtually all attempts to influence public opinion by putting a favorable bias on information. However, the negative connotation the term carries remains, causing many public relations professionals to distance themselves from it.

In spin, facts are often selectively presented to support one’s position, or statements are phrased in a way that assumes unproven truths. Another technique includes the rejection of the validity of hypotheticals, which the U.S. administration employed, for instance, by never accepting the common opinion that American soldiers might not be greeted as liberators in Iraq and a civil war could be the result of military intervention.6

1.3 PROPAGANDA

“Propaganda is neutrally defined as a systematic form of purposeful persuasion that attempts to influence the emotions, attitudes, opinions, and actions of specified target audiences for ideological, political or commercial purposes through the controlled transmission of one-sided messages (which may or may not be factual) via mass and direct media channels,”7 Richard Alan Nelson describes propaganda in his book A Chronology and Glossary of Propaganda in the United States. However, just like spin, there is nothing neutral about propaganda. Merriam-Webster ’ s Online Dictionary gets more specific, defining propaganda as “ideas, facts or allegations spread deliberately to further one’s cause or to damage an opposing cause.”8

In the course of history, one such cause has often been promoting military action against a perceived enemy. In fact, propaganda has been used by countless governments in the past to gain support for wars by employing a multitude of tactics. Joseph Goebbels’ Propagandaministerium 9 played an important part in indoctrinating the German people in the run-up to World War II, rightfully bequeathing the term propaganda with an extremely negative connotation. Still, it has been a tool used repeatedly by governments all over the world to further their agenda since World War II,10 even though it conveys a concept at odds with today’s understanding of communication.11

The differences begin with the very way that communication itself is defined. Propagandists view communication as a set of techniques for indoctrinating a “ target audience ” , whereas the democratic concept of communication defines it as an ongoing process of dialogue among diverse voices. [ … ] Propagandists also tend to have a low regard for the rationality and intelligence of their audience. [ … ] Since propaganda is often aimed at persuading people to do things that are not in their own best interests, it frequently seeks to bypass the rational brain altogether and manipulate us on a more primitive level, appealing to emotional symbolism. 12

In other words, political propagandists try to appeal to people’s fears, beliefs, morality, or value system in general to gain support for their cause, instead of simply providing facts and outlining policy options. Complex problems are often overly simplified, and information is kept vague or misleading, while concepts like patriotism, freedom, and democracy are praised and put above everything else.13 Dialogue is not the goal − unquestioning belief in the propagandists and their promoted cause is.

1.4 COMPARISON

After defining spin and propaganda, it becomes obvious that even though both terms are connected to public relations, they actually convey different concepts of communication. This is stressed by a number of public relations professionals, who do not want their profession to be associated with the negatively colored term ‘spin’.

“I think the time has come for public relations professionals to condemn ‘spin’ and label ‘spin doctors’ for what they are,” demands Robert Dilenschneider, former chief executive and president of American public relations firm Hill & Knowlton, “purveyors of deception, manipulation, and misinformation. Spin is antiethical [sic!] to legitimate public relations, which aims to enhance the image of companies and individuals to generate public approval for the programs and policies they advance.”14

Of course, even if some PR professionals do not see spin as a part of public relations, making a clear secession between the two almost impossible. It is still associated with and vastly used as a synonym for political PR, especially by the media, and often supported by ‘legitimate’ PR activities and tactics. Therefore, it is not surprising that in a lot of today’s literature about the war in Iraq, the terms public relations, propaganda and spin are often used interchangeably. While all three concepts admittedly share similarities and in some form derive from each other, the change in the professional self-image of the public relations industry makes it necessary to re-evaluate this exchangeability.

As mentioned above, public relations in its ideal form is about relationships, mutual understanding and reciprocity − components both propaganda and spin are lacking. Propaganda “is the more or less systematic effort to manipulate other people’s beliefs, attitudes, or actions,”15 foremost by trying to hide or discredit opposing beliefs and portraying the propagandist’s view as the only valid one.

PR is equally persuasive, but is competing for attention and acceptance with other facts and opinions in the public arena instead of trying to undermine them.16 And while public relations may in some cases also put a favorable bias on information, outright manipulation and deceit − like it is most often the case with spin and propaganda − can never be its goal, since it would hurt the organization and its image in the long run and would, therefore, go against public relations’ core responsibility: “to build and maintain a hospitable environment for an organization.”17

Even though he was discussing spin in general, Dilenschneider, therefore, essentially summarizes the problem of simply calling the administration’s campaign ‘PR’: The White House left most public relations goals behind when it went public with its case for war.18 Dialogue, compromise, and mutual understanding were replaced with deception, manipulation and misinformation; spin and propaganda were extensively used in tandem to convince the public and the United States Congress of the necessity for war.

So while marketing in a broader sense might in some respect still be an applicable term for the Bush administration’s campaign (after all, the White House was trying to sell its product: the war in Iraq), and some public relations strategies and tactics were implemented in the campaign, for the three claims discussed in the following part of this paper, spin and propaganda are by far the more accurate terms.

2. THE COMMUNICATION CAMPAIGN

Since the war in Iraq and the events leading to it are very complex issues, this paper will only discuss a clearly limited part of the matter. Complex background information that does not serve primarily to understand the context of the issues discussed herein after will be disregarded in order to ensure and maintain comprehensibility.

It shall neither be the objective of this paper to delve into the reasons the U.S. government might have had to attack Iraq preemptively, nor will be discussed in great depth where false information and intelligence used by the administration came from, and who was responsible for it being used in presidential speeches and other public appearances by senior Bush officials.

However, it will be treated as a fact (as has been reported by several newspapers and acknowledged by White House officials)19 that the decision to go to war had been made long before the public was aware of the government’s plans regarding Iraq. Moreover, the major assertions that were constantly repeated by the administration were chosen deliberately to achieve the desired effect: public support for a preemptive strike.20

2.1 INTRODUCTION TO THE CAMPAIGN

On the weekend before 9/11’s21 first anniversary, the Bush administration launched an elaborate campaign to convince Congress, and ultimately the American people, to support a preemptive strike against Saddam Hussein.22 The moment was well-timed; the country was still reeling from the worst terrorist attack on American ground ever, while Congress was preparing for upcoming elections, putting pressure on hesitant Democrats to vote pro military action in order not to appear unpatriotic.

The White House did not bother to mask its intentions, standing openly by its strategic decision to kick-start its campaign at this particular point in time. As White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card put it in an interview with The New York Times: “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.”23

In the course of the following years, the Bush administration − mostly represented by President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, then Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, then Secretary of State Colin Powell and then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld − employed a multitude of strategies and tactics to initially convince the

people of, and later justify the war in the Middle East. This paper will focus on the U.S. government’s key justifications for attacking Iraq, namely the following three assertions:

1. Iraq has weapons of mass destruction (biological & chemical weapons)
2. Iraq has a nuclear program
3. Iraq has ties to al Qaeda

Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) constituted the administration’s main reason for military action in the Middle East. However, senior administration officials usually included all three assertions in their public appearances, effectively multiplying the grave and gathering threat Iraq allegedly posed to the United States and its allies.

This chapter will give an overview on how the Bush administration used those three claims to gain support for the war by citing the most striking public appearances and speeches given between August 2002 and the beginning of military operations on March 19, 2003. If there were opposing voices to the government’s statements before or at the time those statements were made, they will be exemplified.

A closer look will also be taken at how and when the administration’s assertions were irrevocably rebutted and the respective White House’s reaction. Lastly, the paper will point out the main propaganda and spin techniques used in the cited addresses and public appearances, and the previously discussed claims will be put into a broader perspective.

2.2 GENERAL LINE OF ARGUMENTATION

The speeches cited in the following chapters are merely a selection of well-known and striking public appearances made by Bush administration officials in the run-up to war. They were chosen out of a multitude of interviews, press briefings, and addresses conducted during that time and can be seen as exemplary of the administration’s communication strategy. Noticeably, all the addresses follow the same general line of argumentation:

1. Iraq has a history of aggression, lies and deceit.
2. Saddam Hussein agreed after the Gulf War to comply with UN resolutions, but has violated every one of them.
3. He has lied relentlessly to the UN weapons inspectors and still has not accounted for a major part of the WMD the UN concluded he possessed in the 1990s.
4. He resumed his efforts to acquire WMD as soon as the UN inspectors left the country in 1998.
5. Saddam is not merely producing the weapons to defend his country against attack, but to use them offensively against his enemies. He has used WMD before and will not hesitate to use them again − this time maybe against the United States.
6. Should he also be able to procure a nuclear weapon, he could subject the world to nuclear blackmail.
7. Since Saddam Hussein excels in deception and concealment, it is hard to tell how far he has come in building WMD and an atomic bomb.
8. But: Assessments in the 1990s regarding Iraq’s nuclear program had severely underestimated Saddam’s capabilities and could be wrong again.
9. Ergo: The world cannot wait for the final proof that Saddam has a nuclear weapon; the Iraqi president has to be stopped before he can achieve his goal.

Since, in the administration’s eye, neither sanctions nor inspections had been effective to date in stopping Hussein, the unspoken conclusion in practically all speeches was that regime change (in other words: war) would be the only option to rid the world of the threat Saddam Hussein poses.

Virtually all the discussed speeches and interviews respectively contain aspects from all three major claims discussed below. The same assertions are usually repeated by different administration officials on various occasions. To maintain comprehensibility and avoid unnecessary reiteration, in the following chapters each claim will be only portrayed exemplary.

2.3 CLAIM 1: IRAQ HAS WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION

The allegation that Iraq owns and is trying to acquire more weapons of mass destruction constituted the administration’s main argument for war and was repeated endlessly in the prelude to and months into the military operations.

IRAQ HAS STOCKPILES OF WEAPONS

Vice President Dick Cheney was the first to explicitly address Iraq’s threat in an August 26, 2002 speech, in which he stated that Iraq was, in fact, procuring WMD “to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.”24 The claim was soon repeated by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on the Fox Sunday News on September 8, 2002, where he evoked images of a new 9/11, this time conducted with Iraq’s WMD and killing tens of thousands of American citizens.25

One day after the first anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush, in a speech to the United Nations, likewise addressed Iraq’s alleged stockpiles of WMD, reminding listeners that Iraq had never completely conformed with UN resolutions. “[I]t’s been almost four years since the last UN inspectors set foot in Iraq, four years for the Iraqi regime to plan, and to build, and to test behind the cloak of secrecy,”26 Bush emphasized. “To assume this regime’s good faith is to bet the lives of millions and the peace of the world in a reckless gamble.”27 Iraq had had large amounts of chemical and biological agents in the 1990s and, according to the president, had since then improved and resumed production.

Bush elaborated on the threat Iraq posed to the United States in a press conference on September 26, where he cited the British government’s assertion that “the Iraqi regime could launch a biological or chemical attack in as little as 45 minutes after the order were given.”28

UNMANNED AERIAL VEHICLES

In his televised speech on October 7, 2002, the president called to remembrance that Iraq had produced and used biological and chemical agents against Iran and Kurdish villages in Iraq before. He claimed that Saddam Hussein still possessed such weapons and was currently rebuilding infrastructure to resume the production of biological and chemical agents.

Bush also expressed concern that Iraq had a “growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles [UAV] that could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas,”29 and that those UAV could be used to target the United States.30 “Failure to act would embolden other tyrants, allow terrorists access to new weapons and new resources, and make blackmail a permanent feature of world events,”31 he concluded.

MOBILE BIOLOGICAL WEAPONS LABORATORIES

In his January 28, 2003 State of the Union address, Bush added another frightening assertion. He claimed that Iraq possessed mobile biological weapons laboratories “designed to produce germ warfare agents” that could “be moved from place to place to evade [United Nations weapons] inspectors,”32 an assertion that was corroborated by Secretary of State Colin Powell in his speech to the United Nations on February 5, 2003. “In a matter of months, they can produce a quantity of biological poison equal to the entire amount that Iraq claimed to have produced in the years prior to the Gulf War,”33 Powell argued.

2.3.1 WMD: OPPOSING VOICES

Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction were still in the back of people’s minds due to the first Gulf War in the early 1990s. Those who did not remember were reminded repeatedly by President Bush and his senior staff.

HUSSEIN KAMEL

One source that was frequently mentioned was Hussein Kamel, Saddam’s son-in-law and former Iraqi Minister of Military Industry, who defected in 1995 and gave the United States a lot of credible information regarding Iraq’s weapons programs.34 Said information was used repeatedly in the run-up to war by administration officials as evidence of Iraq’s WMD (e.g. quantities of chemical and nuclear agents).

What the administration failed to mention, however, was the fact that all this information referred to Iraqi weapons capacities before the first Gulf War, and that Kamel had also told UN inspectors who interrogated him that Iraq had destroyed its whole stockpile of biological and chemical weapons in 1991.35

FORMER CHIEF UN WEAPONS INSPECTOR SCOTT RITTER

One of the most outspoken advocates of the notion that Iraq could not have reassembled its biological and chemical weapons programs was former chief UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, who had overseen Iraq’s disarmament in the 1990s. Ritter repeatedly insisted publicly that more than 90 per cent of the country’s weapons, facilities, and nuclear program had been dismantled by 1998 (when the UN weapons inspectors left the country), and any chemical and biological agents that might have been left would have disintegrated since then.

He also argued that the weapons found in 1991 were amassed over decades with billions of dollars of funds and that the strict sanctions in place since the first Gulf War would have made it impossible for Iraq to reconstitute all its programs in just a few years, especially to the level claimed by the U.S. administration.36 In Ritter’s words: “If I had to quantify Iraq’s threat, I would say [it is] zero”37. Former International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General and now chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix corroborated those judgments.38

U.S. GOVERNMENT SEES NO THREAT IN IRAQ

Strikingly, not even U.S. government officials themselves believed in the threat Saddam allegedly posed to the United States up until months before the campaign started.

In 2001 and early 2002, various senior administration officials, including CIA chief George Tenet, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Vice Admiral Thomas R. Wilson, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, had publicly said that Saddam ’ s military ambitions had been effectively constrained by the problematic but still-in- place sanctions imposed after the first Gulf War and by previous UN weapons inspections. 39 Saddam “ has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction, ” Powell had said during a visit to Cairo in February 2001. Three months later, while testifying to the Senate, he expanded on this point: “ The Iraqi regime militarily remains fairly weak. It doesn ’ t have the capacity it had ten or twelve years ago. It has been contained. And even though we have no doubt in our mind that the Iraqi regime is pursuing programs to develop weapons of mass destruction − chemical, biological, and nuclear − I think the best intelligence estimates suggest that they have not been terribly successful. ” 40

William Cohen, Secretary of Defense under former President Bill Clinton, went so far as to tell the newly elected President George W. Bush on January 10, 2001 that “Iraq no longer poses a military threat to its neighbors.”41

THE NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE ESTIMATE

In the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE)42 on Iraq released to Congress in October 2002, Air Force Intelligence expressed severe doubts that the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles repeatedly cited by Bush and his senior staff were designed for distributing biological and chemical agents and concluded that they were most likely intended for reconnaissance.43 In March 2003, even the CIA dissociated itself from the claim, stating now that there were “no definite indications that Baghdad [was] planning to use WMD-armed UAVs against the U.S. mainland.”44

CURVEBALL

The claim that Iraq had mobile biological weapons laboratories was mostly based on the testimony of a single Iraqi defector no American intelligence agency had actually ever talked to.45 He had come to Germany in 1999 seeking refuge, initially claiming he had embezzled money from the Iraqi government, but soon changing his story and telling the German Bundesnachrichtendienst that he had been working on mobile labs.46

The Germans regarded him as mentally unstable, alcoholic, and “ out of control ” and code-named him “ Curveball ” − an indication of the skepticism they felt toward his claims. They conveyed these doubts in forceful terms to the United States, stating on one occasion, “ Don ’ t even ask to see him because he ’ s a

fabricator and he ’ s crazy. ” [ … ] Although there were wide doubts about Curveball, his claim that Iraq was using mobile weapons laboratories to elude inspectors appeared in more than one hundred U.S. government reports. 47

In early 2003, chief weapons inspector Hans Blix delivered his interim report to the United Nations, stating that there was no irrefutable proof that there were WMD in Iraq. Neither had the inspectors found mobile biological labs, nor any illegal weapons, biological or chemical agents. Moreover, there was no evidence that the inspected sites had been cleaned up prior to the arrival of the inspectors, a claim repeatedly made by the White House.48

THE IRAQ SURVEY GROUP

After the commencement of military action against Iraq, the White House installed the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) to take over where the UN weapons inspectors and various U.S. military units had left off, and continue the search for WMD. David Kay, former UN weapons inspector and avid supporter of the war, headed the group of 1,400 and presented his first interim report to Congress on October 2, 2003.49

“ We have not yet found stocks of weapons, ” Kay said in a statement released by the CIA. His summary was devastating: his Iraq Survey Group had not “ been able to corroborate the existence of a mobile [biological weapons] production effort. ” 50 He reported that Iraq ’ s chemical weapons stockpiles had apparently been destroyed after the first Persian Gulf War and that he ’ d found no evidence of any ongoing major nuclear program. He did note that the ISG had come across “ dozens of WMD-related program activities, ” including clandestine labs run by Iraqi intelligence (apparently for the production not of biological weapons but of poisons for use in assassination operations). Saddam, Kay said, had not given up his “ aspirations and intentions ” to acquire weapons of mass destruction in the future. But on every prewar [sic!] claim − a revived nuclear program, WMD- carrying unmanned drones, stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons − Kay had uncovered nothing. 51

Three months later, on January 23, 2004, in his second report to the U.S. Senate, Kay got even more specific, saying that it was “highly unlikely that there were large stockpiles of deployed militarized chemical and biological weapons”52 in Iraq. “[W]e were almost all wrong, and I certainly include myself here,”53 he began his testimony. On September 30, 2004, the group’s final report was published, which unambiguously stated that the “ISG [had] not found evidence that Saddam Hussein possessed WMD stocks in 2003”54, effectively refuting the administration’s claims.

2.3.2 WMD: WHITE HOUSE REACTION

The White House’s reactions to this high number of credible dissents changed often between 2002 and 2004. After Hans Blix’ interim report to the UN in January 2003, the administration simply quoted only selected passages of the document. While factually right, they completely changed the thrust the report in its entirety actually conveyed − namely that there had been no evidence to date that suggested Iraq had had stockpiles of WMD.55 Administration officials did the same when David Kay delivered his interim reports in October 2003 and January 2004.56

When by the end of March 2003 the coalition forces had not found any WMD yet, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld did not appear worried. He claimed that the weapons were merely hidden in parts of the country not yet under American control, and that the administration knew where to find them. “They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad,” he explained, “and east, west, south, and north somewhat.”57

‘MOBILE WEAPONS LABS’ FOUND

In May, two tractor trailers found in northern Iraq, which according to the CIA were mobile biological weapons labs, became the administration’s ‘smoking gun’. “We’ll find more weapons as time goes on,” Bush assured. “But for those who say we haven’t found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they’re wrong. We found them.”58

All other agencies and scientists examining the trailers,59 however, concluded unanimously that they were not suitable for use as mobile weapons laboratories, but were, in fact, what the Iraqis claimed they were: facilities for the production of hydrogen gas to fill balloons.60 Still, the administration continued to insist that the trailers were indeed bio-weapons labs.

CHANGE IN RHETORIC

Instead of finding more prohibited arms, as Bush had insisted would happen, the trailers were actually the last ‘WMD’ to make the news. In late spring, a subtle change occurred in the White House’s rhetoric. Instead of talking about Saddam’s actual weapons, administration officials first began speaking of Iraq’s weapons programs, and shortly thereafter of Iraq’s program activities and intents of reacquiring the capability to produce WMD sometime in the future.61

Colin Powell explained on national radio that in his speech to the United Nations in February he had merely meant to say that “they had the brainpower, they had the plans, and they were working on acquiring the capability…there was no doubt in my mind Saddam Hussein still had the intention of developing such a capability.”62 Condoleezza Rice put an equal spin on the administration’s prewar claims: “[Saddam] continued to harbor ambitions to threaten the world with weapons of mass destruction, and to hide his illegal weapons programs.”63

Not only did the administration change the rhetoric, it even claimed that there was no distinction between the expressions. In a television interview, when asked about the difference between actual weapons and the mere intent to acquire weapons sometime in the future, President Bush answered: “What’s the difference? The possibility that he could acquire weapons, if he were to acquire weapons, he would be the danger.”64 He added that “[a] gathering threat, after 9/11, is a threat that needed to be dealt with.”65

REWRITING HISTORY

In July, Bush began rewriting history completely, claiming that the reason America went to war with Iraq was the fact that it knew Saddam had a weapons program and that he was given “a chance to allow the [UN weapons] inspectors in, and he wouldn’t let them in. And, therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power.”66 In reality, Iraq was the one offering to bring UN weapons inspectors back into the country − who ultimately had to quit their work prematurely due to American pressure and the beginning of U.S. combat operations.67

A month later, the Pentagon introduced the ‘big impact’ plan, a new strategy comprising that all evidence of WMD found in Iraq would be collected and published altogether at an undefined date in the future, instead of releasing evidence to the public as it was found. The plan’s goal, according to Washington Times columnists Rowan Scarborough and Bill Gertz, was “to quiet critics of the Bush administration who said claims of Iraq’s hidden weapons stockpiles were exaggerated in order to go to war”68 − by simply not publishing any evidence anymore.

Following the ISG’s final report in October 2004, Bush conceded that Iraq “did not have the weapons that our intelligence believed were there.”69 Still, he was convinced that the United States had been right to take military action, because Saddam “retained the knowledge, the materials, the means, and the intent to produce weapons of mass destruction”70 − meaning he had neither had the actual weapons nor the weapons programs.

“I’m fully prepared to accept any mistakes that history judges to my administration,” he relented, though, “because the president makes the decisions, the president has to take the responsibility.”71 The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States, which Bush appointed soon after the release of the ISG report, concluded in March 2005 that all assessments had, indeed, been wrong. However, it was very careful to avoid blaming anyone for the intelligence failure, which meant nobody had to accept responsibility after all.72

2.4 CLAIM 2: IRAQ HAS A NUCLEAR PROGRAM

The second assertion the U.S. administration employed in its campaign to gain public support for the war, was the claim that Iraq had revived its nuclear program and was only years, if not months away from possessing an atomic bomb. While nuclear weapons per se actually count as weapons of mass destruction, they were treated as a separate issue by the White House, and, therefore, will be treated as such here.

Vice President Dick Cheney, on August 26, 2002, was the first to publicly allege that Saddam Hussein had resumed his efforts to reconstitute his nuclear program and, armed with a fissile bomb, could “subject the United States or any other nation to nuclear blackmail.”73 Concurrently, he dismissed arguments against military intervention in Iraq. “Some concede that Saddam is evil, power-hungry, and a menace − but that, until he crosses the threshold of actually possessing nuclear weapons, we should rule out any preemptive action. That logic seems to me to be deeply flawed. The argument comes down to this: yes, Saddam is as dangerous as we say he is, we just need to let him get stronger before we do anything about it.”74

THE ADMINISTRATION’S NEW MANTRA

On September 7, in a joint press conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, when asked by reporters for evidence of Iraq’s nuclear ambitions, Bush cited a non- existent IAEA report that allegedly stated that Iraq was only six months away from building a nuclear bomb.75 Only one day later, Condoleezza Rice coined a phrase that would become one of the administration’s mantras: “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud,”76 she said on CNN’s Late Edition, implying that Saddam had to be stopped at any cost to avoid him actually getting his hands on a nuclear weapon.

Dick Cheney, at the same time, appeared on CBS’ Meet the Press and declared that of the three key elements needed to produce a nuclear weapon − scientists, a weapons design, and fissile material − Iraq had had access to all but the latter since before the Gulf War. Regarding the third element (fissile material), Saddam Hussein, Cheney said, had currently been trying to acquire large quantities of high-strength aluminum tubes, suitable for gas centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons.77

ALUMINUM TUBES

In a televised speech on October 7, George W. Bush also mentioned the aluminum tubes (as he had in his September 12 speech to the United Nations) and claimed that “Saddam Hussein has held numerous meetings with Iraqi nuclear scientists, a group he calls his ‘nuclear mujahideen’ − his nuclear holy warriors.”78 He conceded that there was no way to tell when exactly Iraq would obtain a nuclear weapon, but warningly referred to appraisals made prior to the Gulf War, which had severely underestimated Saddam’s nuclear capabilities.79

Pointing to the alleged meetings between Hussein and his scientists and the purchase of aluminum tubes, he surmised that if Iraq was able to procure uranium from somewhere, it could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year. “Knowing these realities,” Bush concluded, “America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof − the smoking gun − that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.”80

THE NIGER ALLEGATION

The administration even claimed to know where the dictator was attempting to buy uranium: in the African state of Niger. In 1999, an Iraqi ambassador had met with government officials from Niger − allegedly to discuss buying 500 tons of yellowcake (a precursor of uranium) from the country’s mines. The allegation was most famously stated in Bush’s State of the Union address, but had been mentioned various times before and quickly became one of the administration’s keystones in the nuclear case.81

2.4.1 NUCLEAR PROGRAM: OPPOSING VOICES

That Iraq had a nuclear program was an exceptionally dubious claim, since in fact most allegations regarding Iraq’s alleged nuclear activities had already been credibly disputed before administration officials even used them publicly for the first time.

In 1998, an International Atomic Energy Agency report had already stated that there was no indication whatsoever of Iraq possessing nuclear weapons or even having retained “a physical capability for the production of weapon-usable nuclear material.”82 In 2001, the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) corroborated this appraisal, reporting to Secretary of State Colin Powell that there was no irrefutable proof that Iraq was working on acquiring nuclear weapons.83 Hence there had always been strong doubts in the intelligence community and in scientific circles that Saddam Hussein had in fact reconstituted Iraq’s nuclear program.

THE DUBIOUS NIGER ALLEGATION

The allegation that Iraq had been trying to procure yellowcake from Niger had been around for quite a while before the White House implemented it in its communication strategy, but had been equally dubious from the beginning.84

In late 2001, the Italian intelligence service had passed along a report to the CIA about a 1999 visit to Niger by the Iraqi ambassador to the Vatican. The report suggested that the ambassador ’ s trip had included an attempt to broker a deal to buy yellowcake. Though CIA analysts apparently had reservations about the quality of the information, the report was passed on to Vice President Cheney, among others. In February 2002, the CIA asked Joseph Wilson, former ambassador to Gabon and a former advisor to the National Security Council under Clinton, to travel to Niger to verify the authenticity of the claim. Wilson flew to Niger and discovered no evidence to support the story. 85

The Defense Department’s INR likewise concluded that it was highly unlikely that the Niger allegations were real, since it would have been virtually impossible to disguise a 500 ton uranium shipment from the African state to Iraq. When they received copies of the actual documents outlining the transaction in October 2002, analysts immediately concluded that they were fakes.86

In February 2003 the IAEA finally received copies of the Niger documents from the U.S. government and also concluded in a matter of hours that they were forgeries.87 IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei reported his evaluation to the UN Security Council

on March 7.88 When the White House continued to use the allegation, former ambassador Joseph Wilson went public about his 2002 trip to Niger in July, recounting that he had found no evidence that Iraq had even tried to procure uranium from Niger, much less succeeded.89 Around the same time, the CIA pointed out publicly that since 2002 it had warned the White House repeatedly that the Niger charge was extremely doubtful.90

On the day of Bush’s State of the Union address in 2003, Mohamed ElBaradei appeared on national television and insisted that the IAEA had not seen any evidence of a revival of the nuclear program in Iraq and that there were “sophisticated techniques to be able to detect any radioactivity or nuclear activity”91 − none of which had been detected to date.

In April of 2003, the National Intelligence Council, as a spokesperson for all U.S. intelligence agencies, acknowledged that the Niger allegations were, in fact, wrong and that Iraq had never tried to buy yellowcake from the African state: “We judge it highly unlikely that [Niger] has sold uranium, yellowcake to Baghdad in recent years. The [intelligence community] agrees with the IAEA assessment that key documents purported showing a recent Iraq-Niger sales accord are a fabrication.”92

ILL-SUITED ALUMINUM TUBES

The administration’s second pillar on which it based its claim that Iraq was trying to procure nuclear weapons was a shipment of aluminum tubes that had been intercepted by the United States. Said tubes, according to the White House, allegedly were only suitable for centrifuges used in uranium enrichment. The U.S. Department of Energy’s experts on nuclear weapons, however, had already issued a report in April 2001, stating that the tubes’ form and size made them ill-suited for use in centrifuges. A month later they added that the tubes’ specifications were consistent with Iraq’s artillery rockets and were most probably bought for exactly that reason.

Later that year, the INR sent a memo to Colin Powell, concluding after an internal study that the tubes were not suited for centrifuge use;93 the IAEA followed with a report in January 2003.94

2.4.2 NUCLEAR PROGRAM: WHITE HOUSE REACTION

As elaborated above, most claims regarding Iraq’s alleged nuclear weapons program had already been rebutted long before the war. Still, the administration used them incessantly, exaggerating evidence and painting worst-case scenarios.

U.S. HAS THE BEST INTELLIGENCE

When asked why none of America’s allies seemed to agree with the White House’s assessments, Vice President Cheney had a simple explanation. “I don’t think they have the same information,” he declared in a CBS interview. “I think the fact is that, in terms of the quality of our intelligence operation, I think we’re better than anybody else, generally, in this area.”95

In the controversy regarding the aluminum tubes purchased by Iraq, only Secretary of State Colin Powell, in his speech at the United Nations in February 2003, conceded that there were dissenting opinions about what the tubes could be used for. He insisted, however, that the majority of the intelligence community thought they were intended for uranium enrichment,96 as did all other senior administration officials.

When IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei appeared at the United Nations in March 2003, stating that there was no indication that Iraq had planned to use the tubes for uranium enrichment, the Niger documents were fake and that there was no conclusive evidence that Iraq had reconstituted its nuclear program, his findings were dismissed by Vice President Dick Cheney.97 “I think Mr. ElBaradei frankly is wrong,”98 Cheney said on Meet the Press.

Questioning the agency’s competence, he added: “And I think if you look at the track record of the International Atomic Energy Agency and this kind of issue, especially where Iraq’s concerned, they have consistently underestimated or missed what it was Saddam Hussein was doing. I don’t have any reason to believe they’re any more valid this time than they’ve been in the past.”99

AN ELABORATE DECEPTION

Regarding ElBaradei’s assessment that the Niger documents were forgeries, the White House suddenly began claiming publicly they had fallen for an elaborate deception. In June 2003, Condoleezza Rice appeared on national television, declaring that “[m]aybe someone knew down in the bowels of the agency, but no one in our circles knew that there were doubts and suspicions that [the Niger documents] might be a forgery.”100

In July, in reaction to an op-ed piece Joseph Wilson wrote for the The New York Times detailing his trip to Niger, the administration’s tactic changed, though, offering conflicting versions of what had happened. While first claiming the administration had long admitted to have fallen for a forgery (“There is zero, nada, nothing new here,”101 White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer announced), officials all of a sudden argued that the Niger documents were only part of the evidence connecting Iraq to Africa. They cited British intelligence indicating that Saddam Hussein had indeed sought to buy uranium from an African state, if not Niger.102

Only a few days later, CIA Director George Tenet took the blame, admitting that the CIA never should have cleared the presidential speeches that included the allegation. Condoleezza Rice and even the president followed suit in blaming the intelligence agency on several occasions.103 But CIA officials privately told journalists that the White House simply would not listen when the intelligence agency tried to make its doubts about the Niger claim known.104

When it became public that the CIA had warned Washington about the Niger charge, suddenly White House officials started accepting blame. After Stephen Hadley, Assistant National Security Advisor, and Condoleezza Rice had stepped up, even President Bush himself conceded to “take personal responsibility for everything I say, of course.”105

PUBLIC RELEASE OF THE NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE ESTIMATE

At the end of July, in an effort to finally lay the Niger controversy to rest, the White House publicly released a part of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) − a plan that backfired, however, since the report included dissenting opinions stating strong doubts that the Niger documents were real. When Dan Bartlett, the White House Communications Director, was asked by reporters how it was possible that none of the senior administration officials had known there were dissents about the issue (as they had claimed only weeks before) when they were clearly present in the NIE, Bartlett admitted that neither the president, nor Condoleezza Rice had actually read the document that, after all, was supposed to be the intelligence community’s most comprehensive assessment of the issue. In Bush’s defense he added: “The President of the United States is not a fact checker.”106

2.5 CLAIM 3: IRAQ HAS TIES TO AL QAEDA

The timing of the White House communication campaign, that started right before 9/11’s one year anniversary, made it possible for the administration to insert another frightening assertion into the mix: that Saddam Hussein was aiding and working in concert with al Qaeda.

A CONCEPTUAL CONNECTION

Dick Cheney was the first to insinuate a connection between the Iraqi dictator and senior members of the terrorist organization, stating in a September 8, 2002 interview on CBS’ Meet the Press that Mohamed Atta, one of the 9/11 hijackers, had met with Iraqi officials in Prague only months before the attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. in 2001.107

Although he was careful not to connect Iraq directly to 9/11, he argued against the prevalent opinion that al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein were too different to actually work together. “The fact of the matter is, if you look at Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda [sic!] organization, on the one hand, and Saddam Hussein on the other, while they come from different perspectives, one’s religiously motivated, the other is secular, etc., the fact of the matter is they have the same objective: to drive the United States out of the Middle East, to strike the United States, if at all possible. So to suggest there’s not a common interest there, I think, would be wrong.”108

George W. Bush, in a press conference on September 25, elaborated on this conceptual connection between the two, answering a reporter’s question about which of America’s two declared enemies posed the greater danger: “[T]he danger is, is [sic!] that they work in concert. The danger is, is [sic!] that al Qaeda becomes an extension of Saddam’s madness and his hatred and his capacity to extend weapons of mass destruction around the world…The war on terror, you can’t distinguish between al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror. […] I can’t distinguish between the two, because they’re both equally as bad, and equally as evil, and equally as destructive.”109

Linking the two groups conceptually was advantageous, since the administration did not need to have clear proof substantiating its assertions. In fact, it was able to insinuate virtually whatever it wanted. As Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith put it, “[w]hen operational security is very good, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”110

IRAQ PROVIDES TRAINING TO AL QAEDA

In the same week, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld kicked up the rhetoric, claiming on national television that Iraq was providing biological and chemical weapons development training to al Qaeda.111 The president repeated this assertion in his Cincinnati speech on October 7, 2002 and his State of the Union address on January 28, 2003.

“We’ve learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases,”112 Bush surmised in Cincinnati. “Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists. Alliance with terrorists could allow the Iraqi regime to attack America without leaving any fingerprints.”113

In January, Bush invoked the specter of a new 9/11, much like Donald Rumsfeld had done before. “Imagine those 19 hijackers [of 9/11] with other weapons and other plans − this time armed by Saddam Hussein. It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known.”114

A ‘SINISTER NEXUS’

Secretary of State Colin Powell talked about a “sinister nexus between Iraq and the al Qaeda terrorist network” in his speech to the United Nations in February, “a nexus that combines classic terrorist organizations and modern methods of murder.”115 He refined some of the previously made assertions, claiming that members of al Qaeda and Saddam’s regime had met multiple times since the early 1990s, and that the dictator was not only harboring an al Qaeda camp in northern Iraq, but also in Baghdad. “Saddam was a supporter of terrorism long before these terrorist networks had a name. And this support continues,” Powell asserted. “The nexus of poisons and terror is new. The nexus of Iraq and terror is old. The combination is lethal.”116

On March 16, 2003, only days before the United States commenced its attack on Iraq, Dick Cheney appeared on CBS’ Meet the Press and summarized the previously made assertions: that not only Iraq’s WMD posed a great threat − but also that Saddam Hussein could sell them to al Qaeda. Claiming that the terrorist organization was actively seeking WMD, he pointed out Iraq − with a past track record of producing and using WMD − as a likely seller and stated that “we know that [Saddam Hussein] has a long- standing relationship with various terrorist groups, including the al-Qaeda [sic!] organization.”117

2.5.1 AL QAEDA: OPPOSING VOICES

In case of Iraq’s alleged connections to al Qaeda there had been opposing voices to such a connection long before the war. In February 2002, a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) analyst concluded that Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an al Qaeda commander in American captivity, who provided most of the intelligence on alleged al Qaeda training camps in Iraq, was most likely giving his debriefers wrong information, possibly on account of being tortured in interrogation.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), who after initial interrogations had to turn over al-Libi to the CIA, reported that the Iraqi’s statements changed drastically while he was being interrogated by the CIA. This led them to believe that al-Libi was saying what he thought his captors wanted to hear to avoid further punishment.118

The above mentioned DIA analyst also stated in his memo that it was highly unlikely that Iraq would support al Qaeda, saying that “Saddam’s regime is intensely secular and is wary of Islamic revolutionary movements. Moreover, Baghdad is unlikely to provide assistance to a group it cannot control.”119 Even the CIA expressed low confidence that Saddam Hussein would work together and share weapons with al Qaeda in its National Intelligence Estimate.120

THE ATTA-IN-PRAGUE ALLEGATION

The allegation that 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta had met with an Iraqi Intelligence Officer in Prague had already been refuted in April 2002 − still the Bush administration used it repeatedly in the run-up to war. Extensive investigation by the FBI had revealed that Atta had been at his Virginia Beach (USA) home at the time of the alleged meeting. Czech president Vaclav Havel conducted his own investigation, likewise concluding that there was no evidence that the meeting had actually taken place.121

On June 16, 2004, the independent 9/11 Commission completed its investigation, stating that it had found “no collaborative relationship”122 between Iraq and the terrorist network:

After an exhaustive examination of intelligence community documents on the subject, the panel ’ s staff said it discovered instances from the early 1990s in which bin Laden had “ explored possible cooperation with Iraq ” − but no evidence that these contacts had led to any sustained relationship or any cooperation on attacks against the United States. Two weeks later, Newsweek reported that Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, the al- Qaeda [sic!] commander who had been the main source for the president ’ s and Powell ’ s claims that Iraq had trained al-Qaeda [sic!] in the use of “ poisons and deadly gases, ” had recanted his story. 123

2.5.2 AL QAEDA: WHITE HOUSE REACTION

Since the White House had been mostly careful not to state as a fact that there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and the terrorist network, most of its allegations were virtually impossible to disprove. This made it easy for the administration to dispute dissents, since neither side could ever prove beyond any doubt that Iraq and al Qaeda had or had not had a connection.

However, it also gained Washington an advantage, since its argumentation − that the goal was to avoid another disaster like 9/11 and that it could be too late to counteract if the world waited for irrefutable proof − struck a chord with a lot of Americans, who still vividly remembered the terrorist attacks that had happened only a year earlier.

The Atta-in-Prague allegation had been disproved a year before the war started, still Bush administration officials used it repeatedly as if it was still a viable scenario that intelligence agencies believed had taken place. Especially Vice President Dick Cheney referred repeatedly to the meeting in interviews and public appearances.

When asked by host Tim Russert, in an appearance on CBS’ Meet the Press on September 8, 2002, whether the CIA thought the claim was credible, Cheney answered: “It’s credible. But, you know, I think a way to put it would be it’s unconfirmed at this point.”124

The administration also continued to imply that Iraq had a connection to the 9/11 attacks, though there was never any indication that this was actually the case. On June 17, 2004, the day after the 9/11 Commission reported that there was no proof that al Qaeda and Iraq were working together, President Bush insisted: “There was a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda [sic!].”125 The same day, Dick Cheney repeated the long-disproved Atta-in-Prague allegation on national television.126

2.6 EXCURSUS: IRAQ ON THE RECORD

Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman took all the obvious dissents to the Bush administration’s claims, and the fact that none of the White House’s claims seemed to pan out in the course of the war, as a motive to compile a database of statements made by senior administration officials regarding the claims discussed above.

[...]


1 There appears to be widespread disagreement on the correct spelling of ‘al Qaeda’. The author of this paper will use the spelling as seen above; spelling deviating in any way will be considered and marked as incorrect.

2 http://www.briannorris.com/whatismarketing.html, accessed on April 25, 2007

3 The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition (2000)

4 Wikipedia (2007c)

5 Wilcox & Cameron (2006), p. 15

6 see Wikipedia (2007c)

7 Nelson (1996), as quoted in Wikipedia (2007b)

8 Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary (2007)

9 Though the ministry’s official title was Reichsministerium f ü r Volksaufkl ä rung und Propaganda, it was commonly referred to as Propagandaministerium.

10 Both the United States and the Soviet Union used propaganda during the Cold War to influence the public, for instance.

11 A reason for its continuous popularity might be that reaching a broad public has never been easier. Today’s widespread and technologically well advanced media system has led to the possibility of an easy, fast, and comprehensive dissemination of propagandistic material beyond comparison. The daily flood of information that comes with the sophisticated media system makes in-depth research a luxury many journalists cannot afford − making the distribution of propaganda possible, not only in dictatorships or countries with state-owned or - controlled media, but also in democracies that promote freedom of speech and press.

12 Rampton & Stauber (2003), pp. 134/135

13 see Wikipedia (2007b)

14 Wilcox & Cameron (2006), p. 15

15 Encyclopaedia Britannica Online (2007)

16 see Szyszka (2003), p. 9

17 Wilcox & Cameron (2006), p. 18

18 see Chapter 2 of this paper

19 see Rampton & Stauber (2003), pp. 37-39; Fritz, Keefer, & Nyhan (2004), pp. 148-150

20 see Fritz, Keefer, & Nyhan (2004), p. 152; Mossaddeq (2003), pp. 208/209

21 9/11 refers to the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. on September 11, 2001.

22 see Fritz, Keefer, & Nyhan (2004), p. 153

23 Bumiller (2002, September 7) Card is referring both to the fact that August is a ‘slow news’ months due to the nationwide summer break, as well as a ‘slow’ month in Washington, with Congress being in recess and many government officials being out of town.

24 White House Office of the Press Secretary (2002, August 26), p. 6

25 see Aust & Schnibben (Eds., 2004), pp. 36/37

26 White House Office of the Press Secretary (2002, September 12), p. 4

27 White House Office of the Press Secretary (2002, September 12), p. 4

28 White House Office of the Press Secretary (2002, September 26), p. 1

29 White House Office of the Press Secretary (2002, October 7), p. 2

30 In March, shortly before the war began, the president even alleged that “an Iraqi UAV containing biological weapons ‘launched from a vessel off the American coast could reach hundreds of miles inland’.” [Isikoff & Corn (2006), p. 206]

31 White House Office of the Press Secretary (2002, October 7), p. 5

32 White House Office of the Press Secretary (2003, January 28), p. 9

33 Transcript of Powell's U.N. presentation (2003), p. 11

34 Hussein Kamel was later lured back to Iraq and killed for treason.

35 see Mossaddeq (2003), pp. 177/178; Rampton & Stauber (2006), pp. 93/94

36 see Mossaddeq (2003), p. 167

37 Pilger (2000, March 4), p. 7

38 see Mossaddeq (2003), pp. 166-168, 173, 176; Rampton & Stauber (2003), pp. 84/85; Rampton & Stauber (2006), p. 73

39 Wilson, in a testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in March 2002, had not even mentioned Iraq as a near-term concern for the United States. [see Isikoff & Corn (2006), pp. 26/27]

40 Isikoff & Corn (2006), p. 26

41 von Sponeck & Halliday (2001, May 29)

42 “An NIE is the summation of the intelligence community’s knowledge on any given issue, its most comprehensive assessment of an important subject. NIEs are supposed to be used by policy makers to render major strategic decisions.” [Isikoff & Corn (2006), p. 32]

43 see Isikoff & Corn (2006), p. 134

44 Isikoff & Corn (2006), p. 206

45 see Isikoff & Corn (2006), pp. 129-132

46 ibid.

47 Rampton & Stauber (2006), pp. 113/114

48 see Mossaddeq (2003), pp. 169, 220

49 see Rampton & Stauber (2006), p. 91; Fritz, Keefer, & Nyhan (2004), pp. 199/200

50 “Toward the end of October, Kay’s investigators concluded that Curveball was nothing but a fabricator and that his reporting was all false.” [Isikoff & Corn (2006), p. 328]

51 Isikoff & Corn (2006), pp. 327/328

52 Rampton & Stauber (2006), p. 95

53 Rampton & Stauber (2006), p. 94; see also Isikoff & Corn (2006), p. 348

54 Rampton & Stauber (2006), p. 95

55 see Aust & Schnibben (Eds., 2004), p. 49

56 The day after Kay’s October 2003 testimony, for example, Bush quoted from the report that “dozens of WMDrelated program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations during inspections that began in late 2002” had been found already, suggesting the report supported the administration’s prewar claims. [Fritz, Keefer, & Nyhan (2004), p. 200]

57 Isikoff & Corn (2006), p. 214

58 Allen (2003, May 31)

59 Among those groups were the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR).

60 see Jehl (2003, August 9)

61 see Rampton & Stauber (2006), p. 91

62 Fritz, Keefer, & Nyhan (2004), p. 196

63 ibid.

64 Rampton & Stauber (2006), p. 92

65 Fritz, Keefer, & Nyhan (2004), p. 197

66 Fritz, Keefer, & Nyhan (2004), p. 197

67 Furthermore, regime change had been one of the administration’s stated goals for weeks at the beginning of its campaign already. It was only dropped from speeches after repeatedly being criticized.

68 Gertz & Scarborough (2003, August 1)

69 Isikoff & Corn (2006), p. 375

70 Isikoff & Corn (2006), p. 375

71 ibid.

72 see Rampton & Stauber (2006), pp. 96/97

73 White House Office of the Press Secretary (2002, August 26), p. 6

74 White House Office of the Press Secretary (2002, August 26), p. 7

75 see White House Office of the Press Secretary (2002, September 7), pp. 1/2; Rampton & Stauber (2003), pp. 86/87

76 Isikoff & Corn (2006), p. 42

77 see Meet the Press (2002), p. 4

78 White House Office of the Press Secretary (2002, October 7), p. 3

79 Intelligence had estimated that Hussein was 8 to 10 years away from building a nuclear bomb. Later evidence suggested that he could have obtained a bomb as soon as 1993.

80 White House Office of the Press Secretary (2002, October 7), p. 4

81 The Niger allegation ultimately led to ‘Plamegate’, one of the biggest scandals surrounding the war in Iraq. In order to attack former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s credibility and thus slighting his comments on the Niger issue, senior members of the Bush administration revealed Wilson’s wife Valerie Plame, who worked for the CIA on the issue of WMD, as a covert operative − a crime in the United States, which Vice Presidential Chief of Staff I. Lewis Libby was eventually found guilty of in early 2007.

82 Curl (2002, September 27)

83 see Fritz, Keefer, & Nyhan (2004), p. 154

84 For a detailed account of how the allegations came about, see Isikoff & Corn (2006), pp. 87-92.

85 Fritz, Keefer, & Nyhan (2004), p. 165; see also Wilson (2003)

86 see Rampton & Stauber (2006), pp. 43/44

87 Among the evidence pointing to fraud were obsolete letterheads and documents that were signed by administration officials that had not been in office for years. [see Isikoff & Corn (2006), pp. 202-204, also for a more detailed account]

88 see Rampton & Stauber (2006), pp. 46/47

89 see Wilson (2003, July 6)

90 see Isikoff & Corn (2006), p. 275

91 Rampton & Stauber (2006), pp. 45/46

92 Isikoff & Corn (2006), pp. 204/205

93 see Isikoff & Corn (2006), p. 40

94 see Isikoff & Corn (2006), p. 166

95 Meet the Press (2002), p. 6

96 see Transcript of Powell's U.N. presentation (2003), p. 17

97 see Isikoff & Corn (2006), pp. 202-204; Mossaddeq (2003), p. 221

98 Meet the Press (2003), p. 6

99 ibid.

100 Rampton & Stauber (2006), p. 48

101 Isikoff & Corn (2006), p. 256

102 see Rampton & Stauber (2006), pp. 49-51

103 see Isikoff & Corn (2006) pp. 268/269; Rampton & Stauber (2006), pp. 49-51

104 see Rampton & Stauber (2006), p. 50

105 White House Office of the Press Secretary (2003, July 30), p. 9

106 Isikoff & Corn (2006), p. 296

107 see Isikoff & Corn (2006), p. 102

108 Meet the Press (2002), p. 13

109 Fritz, Keefer, & Nyhan (2004), p. 182

110 Isikoff & Corn (2006), pp. 106/107

111 see Isikoff & Corn (2006), pp. 119-123

112 White House Office of the Press Secretary (2002, October 7), p. 3

113 ibid.

114 White House Office of the Press Secretary (2003, January 28), p. 10

115 Transcript of Powell's U.N. presentation (2003), p. 21

116 Transcript of Powell's U.N. presentation (2003), p. 24

117 Meet the Press (2003), p. 4; see also Rampton & Stauber (2006), p. 72

118 see Isikoff & Corn (2006), pp. 119-123, also for a more detailed account of al-Libi’s interrogations

119 Isikoff & Corn (2006), p. 123

120 see National Intelligence Council (2002)

121 see Rampton & Stauber (2003), pp. 92/93; Isikoff & Corn (2006), pp. 103/104

122 Isikoff & Corn (2006), p. 363

123 ibid.

124 Meet the Press (2002), p. 12

125 Isikoff & Corn (2006), p. 363

126 ibid.

Details

Pages
118
Year
2008
ISBN (eBook)
9783656048312
ISBN (Book)
9783656047964
File size
1 MB
Language
English
Catalog Number
v181656
Institution / College
University of Applied Sciences Osnabrück
Grade
1,0
Tags
spinning coverage analysis york times reporting iraq light administration spin propaganda efforts new york times krieg irak berichterstattung analyse

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Title: Spinning Coverage