by Alexander Cockburn
Judith Miller's piece showed up on the front page of the New York Times on April 22, I'd thought the distillation of disingenuous U.S. press coverage of the invasion of Iraq came with the images of the April 9 hauling down of Saddam's statue and of Iraqis cheering U.S. troops in the square in Baghdad in front of the Palestine Hotel.
These were billed as the photos and news footage that showed It Was All Worthwhile, up there in the pantheon with Joe Rosenthal's photograph of the raising of the U.S. flag on Iwo Jima and the images of the Berlin Wall going down.
Now, I'm certain there were plenty of Iraqis in Baghdad on April 9 delighted at the possibility that the Age of Saddam had drawn to a close. And probably there were some Iraqis prepared to wave at Saddam's conquerors riding in on their tanks. The problem is that the news photographs aren't there to prove it.
I've yet to see the image reproduced in any mainstream American newspaper that I've come across, but I have seen photographs on the Web of the entire square when that statue was being pulled down by a U.S. tank, and it's scarcely a spectacle of mass Iraqi involvement.
In one small portion of the square, the area itself sealed off by three U.S. tanks, there's a knot of maybe 150 people. Close-up photographs suggest that the active non-U.S. participants are associates of Ahmad Chalabi, leader of the exile group that rode in on the back of those U.S. tanks, the Iraqi National Congress. (It's up on the Counterpunch Web site I coedit with Jeffrey St. Clair. Go to www.counterpunch.org/statue.html, and see for yourself.)
Some reporters and photographers present at the scene acknowledged that the crowds scarcely resembled the cheering throngs being ecstatically invoked on Fox, CNN and other American entertainment channels. Asked by an MSNBC interviewer how he felt at being present at such an historic moment, one Time magazine employee volunteered that he thought the crowd was small, the same way he thought the streets were pretty empty further south when the U.S. troops rolled through.
So here we had a faked "news event," concocted by Pentagon news managers in front of the Palestine Hotel where the international press was housed. The "event" was obviously a huge political plus for the Bush administration and gave Americans the false tidings that their troops were being greeted as liberators. Predictably, the U.S. media were somewhat coy in offering the news, not long thereafter, that U.S. troops had shot at least 10 in a crowd in Mosul that shook their fists instead of offering flowers. Promote a lie, and it's sometimes not long before that lie comes home to roost.
What else, aside from a welcoming crowd, have the networks and AM radio warhawks, not to mention the Bush administration, been hungering for? The head, or least the DNA, of Saddam Hussein? Most assuredly. What else? Weapons of mass destruction, of course. It was Bush's rationale for his illegal invasion.
The days passed, and each excited bellow of discovery of WMD caches on the road north from Kuwait yielded to disappointment. Then came Judith Miller's story in the New York Times. The smoking gun at last!
Not exactly, as we shall see. But first a word about the reporter, Judith Miller. If ever someone has an institutional interest in finding an WMD in Iraq, it's surely Miller, who down the years has established a corner in creaking Tales of Terrorism, many of them served to her by Israeli and U.S. intelligence.
At least the Times' headline writer kept things honest. "Illicit Arms Kept Till Eve of War, an Iraqi Scientist Is Said to Assert." Said by whom? It turns out that Miller, in bed with the 101st Airborne, had been told by "American weapons experts" that they have been talking to "a scientist who claims to have worked in Iraq's chemical weapons program," and he says that the Iraqis destroyed chemical weapons days before the war and "Iraq had secretly sent unconventional weapons and technology to Syria, starting in the mid-1990s, and that more recently Iraq was cooperating with Al Qaeda."
Miller does concede that the U.S. weapons experts had declined to identify the scientist in question, would not allow her to question the scientist or do anything more than look at him (as he stood next to a supposed chemical weapons dump) from a great distance.
What convenient disclosures this Iraqi offers, tailor-made to buttress Rumsfeld's fist-shaking at Syria and Bush and Powell's claims that Saddam and Osama bin Laden worked hand in glove, a claim that depended originally on an article by Jeffrey Goldberg in the New Yorker last year.
At least Goldberg talked to the man claiming Osama/Hussein ties, although he made no effort to check the man's "evidence," subsequently discredited by less gullible journalists. With Miller we sink to the level of straight press handout. I guess the Times put her name on the story because neither the Iraqi scientist or his U.S. handlers could be identified.
April 23, 2003 (http://www.albionmonitor.net) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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