US administration’s misleading on Iraq


The US administration’s economy with the truth in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq and afterwards is hardly news.  But now, two well documented reports detailing the administration’s misleading are available, drawn up at the request of Democratic Congressmen Henry Waxman and John Conyers.


The Waxman report, entitled Iraq on the record: The Bush administration’s public statements on Iraq, examines statements in the period from March 2002 to January 2004 by the five senior members of the administration at the time: President Bush, Vice-President Cheney, Secretary of State Powell, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and National Security Advisor Rice.  Congressman Wax man is a member of the House Committee on Government Reform, and the material was assembled and assessed by the staff serving the Democratic minority on the Committee.


The report was first published in March 2004 and is available here [1], along with a searchable database of the 237 statements that were deemed to be misleading.  These are divided into four categories: those that said Iraq posed an urgent threat (11), that exaggerated Iraq’s nuclear activities (81), that overstated Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons capabilities (84) and that misrepresented Iraq’s ties to al-Qaeda (61).  Of these 237 statements, 11 were deemed to be plain false (8 of which were by Rice).


Accompanying each statement, there is a precise explanation of why it has been deemed misleading.  In general terms, a statement was deemed to be so if “it conflicted with what intelligence officials knew at the time or involved the selective use of intelligence or the failure to include essential qualifiers or caveats” (see Section on Methodology, p1-3).  Statements that appear mistaken only in hindsight are not included.


Understandably, administration misleading reached its peak in the weeks before the congressional vote on the Iraq war resolution on 10/11 October 2002.


The Conyers report, published in December 2005, is another excellent source of information, which covers the same ground as the Waxman report, and then some.  It is entitled The Constitition in Crisis with the sub-title The Downing Street Minutes and Deception, Manipulation, Torture and Coverups in the Iraq War.  It consists of nearly 200 pages of text with 1,000 references.  Congressman Conyers is a member of the House Judiciary Committee, and the report was drawn up by the staff serving the Democratic minority on the Committee.  It is available here [2].


Hussein Kamel on CNN

Both the Waxman and the Conyers reports deal extensively with how the US administration mislead the world over what Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law, Hussein Kamel, told UN inspectors (and the CIA and MI6) after he defected from Iraq in August 1995.  This was a prime example of the US administration drawing selectively on intelligence information in order to deceive the public (which our Prime Minister replicated).


To quote from the Waxman report:


“In 1995, Hussein Kamel, the Iraqi official who had been in charge of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs, defected and described how Iraq had violated UN resolutions in the early 1990s.  Administration officials cited these claims repeatedly.  For example, President Bush said:


‘In 1995, after several years of deceit by the Iraqi regime, the head of Iraq’s military industries defected. It was then that the regime was forced to admit that it had produced more than 30,000 liters of anthrax and other deadly biological agents. . . . This is a massive stockpile of biological weapons that has never been accounted for, and capable of killing millions.’


“President Bush failed to disclose, however, that this same defector reported to UN inspectors that Iraq had destroyed all of its chemical and biological weapons stocks.”


This remarkable piece of information was brought to public attention by Newsweek journalist, John Barry, just before the invasion of Iraq (see, for example, [3]).  Kamel had been interviewed in Amman on 22 August 1995, by a joint IAEA/UNSCOM team led by the then head of UNSCOM, Rolf Ekeus.  Barry’s story was based on the IAEA/UNSCOM notes of this interview, which came into the public domain shortly afterwards (and are now available on the UN website [4]).


The notes record Kamel as saying, for example:


“All chemical weapons were destroyed.  I ordered destruction [sic] of all chemical weapons. All weapons – biological, chemical, missile, nuclear were destroyed” (page 13).


The CIA’s Iraq Survey Group confirmed that Kamel was telling the truth (see its report [5] published in October 2004, Chapter I, page 46).


In fact, Kamel’s assertion that Iraq had no “weapons of mass destruction” was in the public domain since not long after he made it to UN inspectors in August 1995.  The compilers of the Conyers report have unearthed a transcript of a CNN interview with him by Brent Sadler on 21 September 1995, in which the following dialogue took place:


SADLER: Can you state here and now -- does Iraq still to this day hold weapons of mass destruction?

KAMEL: No. Iraq does not possess any weapons of mass destruction. I am being completely honest about this.


The transcript is still available on the CNN website [6].


In the months before the invasion of Iraq, the US administration (and the UK government) continually cited Kamel as a valuable source of information about Iraq’s programmes, and as proof that interrogation of Iraqis who participated in them, rather than detective work by UN inspectors, was the way to acquire a comprehensive picture of them.


What a pity that the CNN interview wasn’t unearthed then.


The Downing Street Minutes

The Conyers report deals at length with the Downing Street Minutes (aka The Downing Street memo), which are the minutes of a meeting on Iraq chaired by Prime Minister Blair on 23 July 2002.  This was leaked and published in The Sunday Times on 1 May 2005 [7].


Remarks by Sir Richard Dearlove, then head of MI6, recorded in these minutes, have been instrumental in getting a grassroots campaign to impeach President Bush off the ground in the US.  Dearlove had just returned from Washington and reported on this to the meeting, saying:


“Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”


The last sentence was understandably of considerable interest to opponents of the invasion in the US.


However, administration supporters in the US media have always cast doubt on whether Dearlove was in a position to make such a confident statement of what was in Bush’s mind in July 2002.  This was difficult to judge since, until recently, it wasn’t known, for example, who Dearlove had met on his visit to Washington.  However, a new book called State of War by New York Times reporter James Risen, sheds some light on this. (State of War is best known for its revelations about telephone tapping by the National Security Agency, which was ordered by Bush and carried out without a warrant).


The following is the relevant extract from the book (p112-114):


“As the invasion of Iraq drew closer, an attitude took hold among many senior CIA officials that war was inevitable – and so the quality of the intelligence on weapons of mass destruction didn't really matter. This attitude led CIA management to cut corners and accept shoddy intelligence, other CIA officials believe... This acceptance of weak intelligence among senior CIA officials appears to be the backstory to the famous so-called Downing Street Memo.


“According to a former senior CIA official, the memo … was written immediately after a secret conference in Washington between top officials of the CIA and British intelligence. … Just days before, Dearlove and other top MI6 officials had attended a CIA-MI6 summit meeting held at CIA headquarters, in which the two sides had candid talks about both counterterrorism and Iraq. …


“The two sides ended up spending most of that Saturday [20 July 2002] together. One of Tenet's great attributes was his ability to develop warm relationships with the chiefs of allied intelligence services, and Tenet had an especially good personal relationship with Dearlove. He was usually very candid with his British counterpart.


“During the Saturday summit, Tenet and Dearlove left the larger meeting and went off by themselves for about an hour and a half, according to a former senior CIA official who attended the summit. It is unclear what Tenet and Dearlove discussed during their one-on-one session. Yet Dearlove’s overall assessment was reflected in the Downing Street Memo: the CIA chief and other CIA officials didn't believe that the WMD intelligence mattered, because war was coming one way or another.”


It would be unwise to take every word of this as gospel, since Risen’s sources may have axes to grind.  But there seems to be little doubt that Dearlove was in a position to know what he said at the meeting in Downing Street on 23 July 2002.  After all, Tenet met Bush every day to give him an intelligence briefing.


Iran not to blame

On 6 October 2005, the Prime Minister was asked at a press conference in Downing Street to comment on the allegations that Iran was implicated in killing British troops in Iraq, allegations that had been supplied to the press by “government officials”.  He did not go as far as the “government officials”, who had already briefed the press on his behalf, but said:


What is clear is that there have been new explosive devices used, not just against British troops but elsewhere in Iraq. The particular nature of those devices lead us either to Iranian elements or to Hezbollah, because they are similar to the devices used by Hezbollah that is funded and supported by Iran.  However we cannot be sure of this at the present time.”


Nevertheless, it has been widely assumed that Iran was supplying devices to insurgents in Iraq.  But on the 5 January 2006, The Independent carried a story entitled Anger as Britain Admits it was Wrong to Blame Iran for Deaths in Iraq, in which “government officials” withdrew the charge.  The story began (see, for example, [8]):


Britain has dropped the charge of Iranian involvement after senior officials had repeatedly accused the Tehran regime of supplying sophisticated explosive devices to insurgents. Government officials now acknowledge that there is no evidence, or even reliable intelligence, connecting the Iranian government to the infra-red triggered bombs which have killed 10 British soldiers in the past eight months.”


Later the story said:


“British military and diplomatic officials in London and Iraq will now only say that the technology of the explosive devices, which has since proliferated in other parts of Iraq, is similar to that used by the Lebanese Hizbollah group which has strong ties with Iran and Syria.


“Military sources state that, although items for making bombs may have been smuggled across the porous Iranian border, there is no firm intelligence that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which is close to the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, were the suppliers.”


Why has the charge against Iran been withdrawn?  Withdrawing the charge makes the Government look foolish for making an apparently unwarranted charge in the first place.  The Government hasn’t made itself look foolish for no reason.  The only reason I can think of is that Iran has insisted upon it being withdrawn publicly as part of some ongoing diplomatic manoeuvring.


Remember, President Bush has authorised Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Ambassador to Iraq, to talk directly to Iran about Iraqi issues, presumably because the US has some issues it wishes to raise with Iran.  Remember also, that Iran has seemingly shown reluctance to engage with the US.  Could the withdrawal of these allegations, true or not, be a condition for Iran engaging?


David Morrison

30 January 2006

Labour & Trade Union Review