As Colin Powell presents evidence to the UN to justify war, Maggie O'Kane argues that the US's justification for the first Gulf war does not bear scrutiny By Maggie O'Kane (The Guardian, 5 February 2003)
by David Corns (the Nation, 6 February 2003)
Letter from General Stretton, February 7 2003 SYDNEY MORNING HEARLD
As a former deputy director of the Joint Intelligence Bureau and a member of the National Intelligence Committee, I am unconvinced about the veracity of the United States' intelligence reports presented to the United Nations by the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell.
This intelligence comes from three sources - satellite photography, communication intercepts and informers. The photos produced could be interpreted in many ways, the intercepts from the huge US resources could only come up with two middle-ranking Iraqi officers discussing the movement of something they wanted to hide, while informants will usually produce any information you want to hear if you pay enough.
The alleged connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda is ludicrous. So US intelligence believes that there is an al-Qaeda supporter in Northern Iraq! There is probably also one in Australia but to suggest that, as a consequence, the Howard Government supports the al-Qaeda organisation is laughable.
I can't forget that the American excuse for sending troops into Vietnam was that the US destroyer Maddox had been attacked by two North Vietnamese patrol boats in the Gulf of Tonkin. This statement by the US president was subsequently admitted to have been false.
For the past several months the UN inspectors have been free to go anywhere in Iraq without any prior notice. One wonders why, if the US intelligence knows where the weapons of mass destruction are located, the US didn't tell the inspectors where to look.
Even if these US intelligence reports are true, there is still no valid reason why the Australian Government should be sending young Australians to be embroiled in a war in the Middle East where the consequences and duration are unknown.
Major-General Alan Stretton (ret), Batemans Bay, February 6.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell has in a 90-minute fizzer complete with stunts and special effects accused Iraq of a litany of misdeeds and demanded the United Nations Security Council act
But Powell's multi-media presentation was a rag-bag of old allegations, which the United States has been making for years, some of them based on information Iraq has itself provided to UN inspectors. Other claims were based on audio recordings and satellite images, and still more were based on unverifiable claims from unidentified human witnesses and "defectors."
The US Secretary of State did not land the killer blow as Ambassador Adlai Stevenson did against the Soviets in 1962 when he showed the Council photos of missiles in Cuba. Mr Powell's case that Iraq has not cooperated fully was largely a fizzer.
Powell all but admitted the weakness of his case by continually saying "these are facts, not assertions," at moments when he was providing the most sensational yet least supported claims. He also resorted to the comic book tactic of calling Saddam Hussein an "evil genius" for having succeeded in hiding what the US says is a vast arsenal from UN inspectors.
Powell played what he said were intercepted conversations between Iraqi officers who were discussing ways to conceal prohibited materials from UN inspectors. None of the three recordings, if real, amounted to a "smoking gun." If they were real, they could be incriminating in a certain context, but they could also have been taken out of a context in which they were entirely innocent.
But General Amr al-Saadi, an advisor to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, scoffed at the intercepted telephone messages. ."Any third-rate intelligence outfit could produce it," General Saadi said, calling the recordings "simply manufactured evidence, simply not true at all".
Powell also relied on satellite images in order to support the claim that Iraq is still producing and hiding chemical weapons. He said, for instance, that some of the images he showed were of the Iraqis "sanitizing" the "Al-Taji chemical munitions storage site" before UN inspectors arrived.
Again, it is impossible to tell if the satellite photos displayed by Powell are real, fake, old or new. But even if they are real, current photos of Iraq, they are by themselves of no conclusive value. The New York Times reported that American officials recently gave the UN inspectors satellite photos of "what American analysts said were Iraqi clean-up crews operating at a suspected chemical weapons site." But when the inspectors went to the site, they "concluded that the site was an old ammunition storage area often frequented by Iraqi trucks, and that there was no reason to believe it was involved in weapons activities." ("Blix Says He Saw Nothing to Prompt a War," The New York Times, 31 January 2003)
Powell also claimed, based on uncorroborated hearsay from "defectors," that Iraq has an elaborate system of mobile laboratories used for producing biological weapons. With no hard evidence, Powell was reduced to displaying "artists impressions" of what these laboratories supposedly look like, a tactic routinely used by popular magazines to produce pictures to accompany the latest stories of landings and abductions by space aliens.
"Al-Qaeda in northern Iraq"
Powell also claimed that Iraq has close links with Al-Qaida and based this largely on the alleged movements of the threateningly unshaven gentleman Abu Musab Zarqawi. Prior to Powell's presentation, The Washington Post noted that Zarqawi, a Jordanian, "appears to be the only individual named so far to make the link to Iraq after more than a year of major investigations in which 'a good deal of attention has been paid to what extent a connection may exist between al Qaeda and Iraq,'" ("U.S. Effort to Link Terrorists To Iraq Focuses on Jordanian," The Washington Post, 5 February 2003)
Powell claimed that Zarqawi (who has now been promoted by the Americans to the status of "The Zarqawi Network," complete with flow charts) was training terrorists in a poison-making camp in northern Iraq.
But Powell's claims of a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda rest heavily on reports that a Jordanian member of al-Qaeda, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, sought and received medical treatment in Baghdad after being injured in the fighting in Afghanistan.
According to the claims, Mr Zarqawi was refused treatment in Iran. It is reported the communications between Mr Zarqawi and his family in Jordan were intercepted.
There have been widespread reports that al-Qaeda members have found refuge in northern Iraq. These relate to a group called Ansar al-Islam (Partisans of Islam) which has taken over a small area near the Iranian border.
This part of Iraq, however, is in Kurdish hands and outside the direct control of the Iraqi Government. Iraq is said by defectors linked to Iraqi opposition groups to have had contacts with the group.
Further the BBC reported on 5 February that a top secret, official British intelligence report given to Prime Minister Tony Blair and leaked to the BBC states that there are no current Iraqi links with al-Qaida. The BBC added that the intelligence document "said a fledgling alliance foundered due to ideological differences between the militant Islamic group and the secular nationalist regime." ("UK report rejects Iraqi al-Qaeda link," BBC News Online, 5 February 2003)
BBC Thursday, 30 January, 2003, 12:41 GMT
The US and UK Governments are once again linking Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network as they try to make their case for a war in Iraq. BBC News Online looks at the strength of the evidence for links between Iraq and al-Qaeda.
Towards the end of last year US National Security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld claimed that there were top-level contacts between al-Qaeda and Iraq going back a decade.
Ms Rice added that prisoners in US custody have said that Iraq had provided "some training to al-Qaeda in chemical weapons development".
No hard evidence was provided for these claims.
In his State of the Union address in late January, President George Bush said: "Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications, and statements by people now in custody, reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists including members of al-Qaeda."
Again, no concrete evidence was forthcoming.
Establishing this link would go a long way towards persuading sceptical public opinion in the US, Britain and across the world that Iraq represents a clear and imminent security threat to the US and its allies - thereby justifying a war on Iraq.
"Al-Qaeda man seeks medical treatment in Baghdad": American claims of a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda rest heavily on reports that a Jordanian member of al-Qaeda, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, sought and received medical treatment in Baghdad after being injured in the fighting in Afghanistan.
According to the claims, Mr Zarqawi was refused treatment in Iran. It is reported that communications between Mr Zarqawi and his family in Jordan were intercepted.
There is not any evidence, nor is it claimed, that Mr Zarqawi received anything other than medical treatment in Iraq.
"Al-Qaeda in northern Iraq": There have been widespread reports that al-Qaeda members have found refuge in northern Iraq. These relate to a group called Ansar al-Islam (Partisans of Islam) which has taken over a small area near the Iranian border.
This part of Iraq, however, is in Kurdish hands and outside the direct control of the Iraqi Government.
Iraq is said by defectors linked to Iraqi opposition groups to have had contacts with the group.
Al-Qaeda interrogations: US officials have said that al-Qaeda members held by the US authorities at Guantanamo Bay, Diego Garcia and other locations have told their interrogators that Baghdad was attempting to train al-Qaeda in the use of chemical weapons.
There is not independent verification of this. It has also been pointed out that al-Qaeda may be seeking to provoke a US war on Iraq.
"Mohamed Atta in Prague": For a long time it was claimed that the leader of the 11 September hijackers, Mohamed Atta, had met an Iraqi agent in Prague in April, 2001.
This originated from a report by the Czech authorities.
After an investigation, the Czech President Vaclav Havel concluded that the report could not be substantiated.
First World Trade Centre attack: There have been claims that Ramzi Yousef, convicted of the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, escaped from New York on a false passport provided by Iraqi intelligence. By its nature, this claim is impossible to prove, or disprove.