by A. G. Mohammed (Occupied Arab World, Crescent International Vol. 31, No. 24, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1423)
US secretary of state Colin Powell’s long-awaited case for war against Iraq to the UN Security Council on February 5 was supposed to be the conclusive revelation of the full extent of evidence that America hold to justify its determination to go to war. Instead the event proved to be another stage in the exposure of what is clearly a massive diplomatic charade. It was not difficult to agree with the assessment of General Amer Al-Saadi, the Iraqi regime’s chief scientific advisor, that the presentation was merely "a typical American show, complete with stunts and special effects."
The US was probably aware that the UN delegates would not be impressed. The main purpose of the exercise was clearly to shift public opinion within the US, which is increasingly opposed to the US government’s war drive. The White House and Pentagon concluded that they could diffuse domestic anxiety and hostility to their war plans only by intensifying pressure on the UN to sanction the invasion.
The speech gave no verifiable new evidence to support Washington’s charges that the Iraqi regime has amassed weapons and forged an alliance with al-Qa’ida. Instead it was a hodgepodge of old allegations, many already refuted, in some cases by US and British intelligence sources and the weapons inspectors themselves.
In fact the whole presentation was based upon lies. The first is that the projected invasion is about weapons of mass-destruction, despite ample evidence that this pretext was raised only when others had failed; second was Powell’s claim to be upholding the authority of the UN and the sanctity of international law.
Bush had declared in his State of the Union address that the US would not allow "others" to determine its policies. The president thus restated the US position that it is not bound by any international laws or institutions, and is prepared to attack Iraq with or without UN approval. Powell gave the Security Council an ultimatum: sanction the coming war or place itself "in danger of irrelevance." So the suggestion that the US is a protector of the UN and the international order is laughable. Powell began his presentation by citing Resolution 1441, and concluded by lying about Washington’s motives in pushing for the resolution last autumn. He declared, "We wrote 1441 not in order to go to war, we wrote 1441 to try to preserve the peace."
In fact, the US initially opposed the return of weapons inspectors to Iraq, because it saw it as an impediment to an early invasion . Finding itself isolated internationally, the US government only reluctantly agreed to demands for a new resolution and the resumption of inspections. But even then it insisted on imposing such harsh and unworkable terms that the Iraqis would have no way of meeting them and the US would have ample grounds to declare them in breach of the resolution. That is the process which is now unfolding.
The first charge levelled by Powell was that the Iraqis were involved in an elaborate strategy of evading inspections and concealing weapons materials and facilities. His evidence consisted of two audiotapes of conversations between unidentified males speaking in Arabic, which he alleged proved a conspiracy to hide weapons, and a display of satellite photographs which he claimed showed "active chemical weapons bunkers" and trucks being used to conceal weapons materials. None, however, was presented in such a form that it would be intelligible even to skilled interpreters; they were largely dismissed as meaningless by observers.
The words on the tape recording are open to interpretation, referring to a "modified vehicle" in one instance and instructions not to mention the words "nerve agent" in another. There is no way of knowing if the tapes themselves are genuine; they could easily have been faked in any sound studio. As one British commentator said, considering the intelligence resources available to the Americans, their failure to provide more meaningful evidence than this is rather remarkable.
As further evidence of a lack of cooperation by Baghdad, Powell cited the refusal of Iraqi scientists to participate in a US scheme to spirit them out of the country for "interviews" with the CIA. He attributed the lack of participation in this bizarre proposal solely to the threat of retaliation from Saddam Hussein. That scientific professionals in Iraq might not want to help the US prepare a war that will claim the lives of thousands of their countrymen and reduce Iraq’s cities to rubble is not, according to the US, a possibility worth discussing.
The "most worrisome" discovery supposedly made by US intelligence was the existence of mobile biological weapons labs that are allegedly moved around the country on trucks and railroad cars to avoid detection. The evidence of the existence of these rolling labs came, he said, from Iraqi defectors.
The day before Powell’s speech, Chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix dismissed the US claims of mobile laboratories, as well as the charge that Iraqis were moving prohibited materials out the back door as inspectors were coming in the front. He noted that the inspection teams perform extensive and sensitive tests, taking air, soil and water samples that would reveal traces of chemical and biological materials at a suspected site, even if the materials had been removed. Blix said that samples tested -- including at sites identified by US intelligence -- have provided no evidence of prohibited materials.
In relation to both chemical and biological weapons, Powell charged that the Iraqi regime had failed to account for thousands of litres and hundreds of tons of materials dating back to the Iran-Iraq war more than 15 years ago. The vast majority of Iraqi weapons materials from this period were either expended in the Iran-Iraq war itself, destroyed in the Persian Gulf war of 1991, or incinerated by weapons inspectors in the last inspections round. According to former inspector Scott Ritter, this accounts for between 90 and 95 percent of these materials.
Even it were true that Iraq had managed to hide what little remained, most of these substances have a shelf life of five years or less, meaning that they would now be useless. What facilities Iraq had for producing these weapons were destroyed more than 10 years ago, and there is no evidence whatsoever that any new facilities, which would be extremely difficult to hide, were ever created.
On the allegations concerning an Iraqi nuclear arms program, Powell regurgitated old US allegations, already rejected by UN inspectors, concerning Iraq’s purchase of aluminum tubes that he said were to be used as centrifuges for enriching uranium for nuclear weapons production.
Acknowledging that experts in the field had rejected this charge, the US secretary of state asserted that the Iraqis were seeking out higher standard tubes, and claimed this was evidence of guilt. He noted that the last batch detected by US intelligence included an "anodized coating" on their surface. Nuclear experts, however, have pointed out that this coating would actually interfere with the tubes’ use as centrifuges, and would have to be removed if they were employed for this purpose.
To buttress the US case, Powell repeated the discredited claims that Iraq is secretly abetting al-Qa’ida terrorists. Initially, US officials claimed that Iraq was complicit in the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, citing reports of a meeting of the plot’s alleged ringleader, Mohammed Atta, with an Iraqi diplomat in Prague. This "evidence" was subsequently repudiated by both US and Czech intelligence officials as a fabrication.
Powell’s new "proof" of such a relationship was built on an improbable amalgam, citing the existence of an Islamic group in northeastern Iraq, where the US maintains its no-fly zone and Baghdad exerts no control, and claims that figures linked to al-Qa’ida had been spotted in Baghdad. There are two sources for these unsubstantiated charges. The first is the Kurdish authority in the northeast of the country, which is fighting a low-level civil war with the Islamic group and has ample motive to tie them to the Saddam Hussein regime.
The second, as acknowledged by Powell, consists of the detainees seized by US forces in Afghanistan or abducted from other countries and handed over to allied governments for interrogation. These people are being held incommunicado, in solitary confinement, without being charged or tried, and without access to lawyers. Numerous reports, including some in the American press, have acknowledged the use of psychological and physical torture against such prisoners. The testimony of such individuals, even if its existence were independently verified, would not be credible.
Within minutes of Powell’s speech, leading Senate Democrats were proclaiming it an unanswerable indictment of Iraq, preparing the way for their party to line up behind the war that is now only days or weeks away. The American media was equally quick to claim that Powell had made a water-tight and unanswerable case for war, and that all those who refused to accept it were being hoodwinked by Saddam Hussein. Unfortunately for the Bush administration, millions of people in the US and elsewhere are refusing to be hoodwinked by them. When the US goes to war, as surely it will, it will prove only what hundreds of millions of people already believe: that it is a lying, aggressive, untrustworthy power that is the greatest rogue state in the world today.