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NY Times' Mea Culpa Doesn't Cut It

by Larry Everest

Linking Iraq Occupation With "War On Terrorism"

(PNS) -- On May 26, The New York Times issued an unprecedented critique of its coverage of the Iraq weapons of mass destruction (WMD) issue. But the mea culpa from the nation's newspaper of record didn't come close to setting the record straight.

In "The Times and Iraq," the paper acknowledged numerous faulty and misleading articles that included claims of secret biological weapons labs, reconstituted WMD facilities and, most infamously, that Saddam was importing aluminum tubes for nuclear weapons production. Articles detailing contrary intelligence were buried, or not printed at all. The Times blamed these failures on Iraqi "informants, defectors and exiles bent on regime change," U.S. officials "convinced of the need to intervene in Iraq," and its own lack of critical follow-through.

But the apology is only the tip of an iceberg of bad coverage on Iraq. The Times' and other media's abysmal failure to get the Iraq WMD story right is the product of biased, politically driven coverage going back over a decade that failed to prominently print the abundant information available that Iraq had destroyed the bulk -- if not all -- of its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs by the mid-1990s.

Telling this truth would have required departing from the official narrative on Iraq in the 1990s, pushed by Washington, that Hussein was defying the United Nations, hadn't disarmed, and had "kicked out" UN inspectors.

In reality, the Hussein regime was desperate to have sanctions lifted, so it mostly complied with UN resolutions. Inspections did disarm Iraq, and the inspectors were pulled out in December 1998 by the United States, not Saddam. This is why virtually no chemical, biological or nuclear weapons have been found in Iraq -- a stunning turn of events that the government and the press have yet to adequately explain.

Leaving aside whether the U.S. and other major powers have the right to impose selective disarmament, here are the facts:

  • From 1991 to 1998, UNSCOM sent 500 teams to Iraq staffed by nearly 3,500 inspectors. These teams examined some 3,400 sites, including 900 formerly secret military installations, and destroyed billions of dollars worth of weapons and equipment.

  • In February 1998, former weapons inspector Raymond Zilinskas stated, "95 percent of (UNSCOM's) work proceeds unhindered." By then, according to Professor F. Gregory Gause in a 1998 Foreign Affairs magazine article, UNSCOM had "demolished 48 Scud missiles, 30 chemical and biological missile warheads, 60 missile launch pads, nearly 40,000 chemical bombs and shells ... 690 tons of chemical weapons agent, 3 million tons of chemical weapons precursor materials, and the entire al-Hakum biological weapons production facility."

  • In October 1998 the International Atomic Energy Commission certified that Iraq had provided it with a "full, final, and complete" account of its nuclear weapons programs, and that the agency had found no evidence of any prohibited nuclear activities since October 1997. A year later, the UN Security Council's disarmament panel concluded, "Although important elements still have to be resolved, the bulk of Iraq's proscribed weapons programs has been eliminated."

  • Former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter has written that the "UN never once found evidence that Iraq had either retained biological weapons or associated production equipment, or was continuing work in the field" and that by the mid-1990s, the UN had ascertained "a 90-95 percent level of verified disarmament." In 2001, President Clinton's Defense Secretary William Cohen told the incoming Bush administration that, "Iraq no longer poses a military threat to its neighbors."

In fact, the destruction may have come much sooner: after defecting in 1995, Saddam Hussein's son-in-law Gen. Hussein Kamel told his UN and CIA interrogators that, "Iraq destroyed all its chemical and biological weapons stocks and the missiles to deliver them" after the first Gulf war, keeping only design and engineering records and procurement information. After the 2003 war, other top Iraqi scientists and military personnel painted a similar picture.

Why weren't these facts reported more prominently? Because then, like in 2003, The Times basically followed the official narrative, and did not bring to light the core of U.S. policy toward the country, which, under Bush I and Clinton, was never merely about compliance with UN resolutions. It was regime change.

This is why the U.S. constantly moved the goalposts for Iraqi compliance; why various officials declared that sanctions would never be lifted as long as Saddam was in power; why the United States used UN weapons inspections teams to spy for coup and assassination attempts; why it maintained sanctions even after the Iraqi government was stripped of its weapons; and why Washington and the media frequently conflated Iraq's weapons programs (even rudimentary ones), documents and presumed intentions with actual weapons.

Sanctions, maintained under the false claim that Iraqi had not disarmed, took an enormous toll, and are doubtless one source of anti-American anger in Iraq today. At least 500,000 Iraqis, according to UNICEF, and possibly as many as 1.5 million died from starvation or disease as a result of sanctions. The majority were children, as I witnessed on my 1991 trip to Iraq. Will the Times, which consistently backed sanctions, acknowledge this horrendous side of the Iraqi WMD story?

Shortly after the 2003 war, one former Iraqi brigadier general told the Los Angeles Times that U.S. forces searching for weapons "will never find anything here. Only oil." Now that's good intelligence.

Larry Everest is author of "Oil, Power & Empire: Iraq and the U.S. Global Agenda" (Common Courage Press, 2004)

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Albion Monitor May 28, 2004 (

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