Deal with a Devil

Since we’re dealing with devils in getting Libya to open up its weapons programs to inspectors, why wasn’t the same deal offered to Hussein?

Some thoughts on the Libyan developments of this weekend:

Libya has been working to shed its pariah image for years, but it still hasn’t gone far enough

There’s no doubt Libya has been a bad seed since the 1969 coup brought Col. Muammar Abu Minyar al-Qadhafi to power. His government exported terrorism, revolution and generally rocked the boat wherever possible. But because of the United Nations sanctions imposed in 1992 for the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, Libya’s support for terrorism has been waning. In 1999, the sanctions were suspended and on Sept. 12, 2003, they were finally lifted. However, Libya is still a nasty place to live, with massive human rights violations on par with Saddam Hussein’s. Human Rights Watch says

Over the past three decades, Libya’s human rights record has been appalling. It has included the abduction, forced disappearance or assassination of political opponents; torture and mistreatment of detainees; and long-term detention without charge or trial or after grossly unfair trials. Today hundreds of people remain arbitrarily detained, some for over a decade, and there are serious concerns about treatment in detention and the fairness of procedures in several on-going high profile trials before the Peoples’ Courts. Libya has been a closed country for United Nations and non-governmental human rights investigators.

Sound familiar? By the way, today, Dec. 21, 2003 is the 15th anniversary of the Lockerbie attack that killed 270 people. Family members of the victims are not pleased with this deal. President Bush, in his remarks on Friday, made no mention of the bombing. So America gets to overlook a history of terrorism and human rights abuses and Qadhafi likely gets full diplomatic recognition and and end to the economic and diplomatic isolation that many Libyans resented. The unintended consequence will be that Col. Qadhafi just got a new lease on his political life, since this will allow him to crack down on dissent, much of which has been of the Islamist variety.

This leads me to another point:

Pointing to the Iraq war as the driving force in getting Libya to cooperate is just an attempt to claim a success from the debacle that Iraq has become.

British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said, “We showed after Saddam Hussein failed to cooperate with the UN that we meant business and Libya, and I hope other countries, will draw that lesson.”

Hm. Have we? And will they? A good chunk of the U.S. military is tied down in Iraq, Afghanistan or otherwise engaged. It’s highly unlikely the U.S. could mount another military campaign to topple a government even if it had good reason to do so. The threat of a Iraq-sized invasion is an empty one and Iran, Sudan, North Korea and, yes, Libya know it.

Instead of fearing the Bush Doctrine of preemptive attacks, “bad guy” countries can see that possessing WMDs is a good way to wring concessions from a superpower they might not have received otherwise. Because the U.S. doesn’t have any other choice. It’s these rogue nations with WMDs that are arguing from a position of strength, not the U.S.

President Bush said on Friday,

We obtained an additional United Nations Security Council Resolution requiring Saddam Hussein to prove that he had disarmed, and when that resolution was defied, we led a coalition to enforce it. All of these actions by the United States and our allies have sent an unmistakable message to regimes that seek or possess weapons of mass destruction. Those weapons do not bring influence or prestige. They bring isolation and otherwise unwelcome consequences. (Emphasis added.)

Some problems with that. No Iraqi weapons of mass destruction have been found. Iraq said it didn’t have them, and damned if Saddam’s regime wasn’t telling the truth this time. The whole world thinks the WMD charge is a MacGuffin. By the way, the resolution Bush mentioned, UNSCR 1441, said:

The Security Council, …

Decides that, in order to begin to comply with its disarmament obligations, in addition to submitting the required biannual declarations, the Government of Iraq shall provide to UNMOVIC, the IAEA, and the Council, not later than 30 days from the date of this resolution, a currently accurate, full, and complete declaration of all aspects of its programmes to develop chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and other delivery systems such as unmanned aerial vehicles and dispersal systems designed for use on aircraft, including any holdings and precise locations of such weapons, components, sub-components, stocks of agents, and related material and equipment, the locations and work of its research, development and production facilities, as well as all other chemical, biological, and nuclear programmes, including any which it claims are for purposes not related to weapon production or material; …

all of which it appears now Iraq actually did. The government of Iraq said they didn’t have any unconventional weapons and — whaddya know?! — they didn’t.

I was as surprised as anyone. I called the 7,000-page Iraqi declaration that the country was “devoid of weapons of mass destruction” a suicide note, and wondered what the Iraqis were up to. (Note to consistency watchers: Before the war, I believed Saddam possessed some kind of unconventional arsenal, just not one worth going to war over. Some chems, certainly, maybe some biologicals, no nukes — that was my guess. I was wrong.)

Placing the Libyan deal in the context of the Iraq war is what is so infuriating. Actually, it’s this administration’s shifting rationales, attempts to claim successes and cynical of-the-momentism that are really infuriating. I mean, the rationale for invading Iraq right this very minute was to disarm the country of WMDs and remove an imminent threat to the survival of the United States. When that threat (and the arsenal) were proven to be a lie — or a gross incompetence in reading intelligence data — the war became one of liberation. And now the United States makes a deal with an oppressive dictator who killed a lot of innocent civilians — and a fair number of Americans — in a string of terrorist attacks. And claims a failed policy and a quagmire were the reasons for this bit of good news.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s a good thing that Libya has agreed to give up its unconventional weapons programs; any successes in ridding the world of nasty weapons are welcome. But let’s not kid ourselves here. This is a deal with a devil, and the U.S. is making it because it has no other choice; forcible regime change is out of the question because the U.S. doesn’t have the resources. This is a big win for Qadhafi, a smaller win for American and Britain, and a wash for the people of Libya who now have a leader with a softened image, but still a fist of iron.

*UPDATE 12/22* Juan Cole has some “excellent thoughts”:http://www.juancole.com/2003_12_01_juancole_archive.html#107199393231717277 on this issue. George over at Warblogging.com also “weighs in”:http://www.warblogging.com/archives/000780.php, and includes a handy “dictator comparison chart.” And Josh Marshall, again, “finds a real nugget”:http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/week_2003_12_21.html#002338 in the Pakistan connection to Libya’s WMD programs.

Mukhabarat Agent: No WMDs here!

No WMDs in Iraq but plenty of chaos!

The _Jerusalem Post_ has an interesting interview with a former colonel in Saddam’s secret police, the _Mukhabarat_, who says Iraq had no WMDs in the run-up to war.

Concern that Saddam had actively concealed deadly weapons of mass destruction served as one of primary reasons’ for the Coalition forces’ invasion of Iraq in March.
“In 1991 we were very close to developing a nuclear weapon, but had nothing at the time of the [March 2003] war, after so many years of [UNSCOM] inspections,” said the agent, adding, “they destroyed everything.”

It will come as little surprise to people who read this blog and others, but this is just one more little stone added to the mountain of evidence that the White House lied about/misused/screwed up whatever intelligence it was getting about WMD programs in Iraq.
But, and this fits in with everything I encountered in Iraq and from my own research and readings, Saddam was also fooled — by “maniacally sycophantic commanders and bodyguards who deceived him into believing that Iraq” stood a chance again the United States’ military.
I also believe Saddam felt he could bluff the West by claiming to have no WMDs, which is what everyone thought he would say, while acting like he did. By behaving like he had a royal flush when all he had was a measly pair of sixes, he could buck up his standing in the Arab world as the only leader to stand up to the United States, maintain his grip on his subjects who well remembered the gas attacks on the Kurdish north from 1984-1988 and keep his hold on power. But America called his bluff and now the world is what it is. I imagine the White House is feeling a bit like it won a huge pot of Monopoly money.
Two leaders lying, for their own purposes rather than for the good of their people. And such a mess of it all now. Today, Juan Cole reports, “three U.S. soldiers have been wounded in Kirkuk and Mosul”:http://www.juancole.com/2003_12_01_juancole_archive.html#107173487313180742; pro-Saddam demonstrations continue in Mosul, where police shot four students and protesters attacked Turkmen offices in the city; roadside bombs were exploded in Humairah and Baghdad; a senior member of the “Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/000451.php#000451 from the al-Hakim family has been killed; and a former Ba’ath official was literally torn limb from limb by a mob in Najaf.

Yet more on Paul Moran

If you thought the Paul Moran story on B2I was over, guess again. Sheldon Rampton, who’s work I based the original story on, weighs in with a pretty interesting rebuttal to ABC TV reporter Eric Campbell.

I may very well regret this, but in the interest of fairness and/or throwing gasoline on a dying fire, I’m reprinting Sheldon Rampton’s email to me — with his full permission — in which he responds to Eric Campbell, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reporter who defended Paul Moran’s work in Iraqi Kurdistan. (And whose criticism led me to apologize.) Rampton is the co-author of “Weapons of Mass Deception,” which was the original prod to this whole Paul Moran imbroglio.

1585422762.01.LZZZZZZZ.jpgAs the co-author with John Stauber of “Weapons of Mass Deception,” I read with interest your recent apology about Paul Moran, the Australian TV cameraman who was killed in Iraq and who also worked for the Rendon Group. However, I think you have apologized excessively and prematurely.
In “Weapons of Mass Deception,” John and I describe Moran’s work for Rendon very briefly, but there is more to the story than we tell there. We decided not go go into further detail, partly because a more extensive telling didn’t seem to fit within the flow of that chapter. However, the facts in total are actually MORE disturbing than you would imagine from the brief mention that appears in our book. Moreover, I would challenge some of the statements that Eric Campbell made in his comments to you.
To begin with, Campbell refers to an “unending repetition of false claims” about Moran. However, Colin James, the reporter who first wrote about Moran’s relationship with the Rendon Group, continues to stand by his story. James works for the “Adelaide Advertiser,” and he learned about Moran’s work for Rendon when he attended his funeral. According to “The Bulletin,” an Australian news magazine, James sat down with “two close friends and two of Moran’s brothers” the day after the funeral:

They drank coffee and reminisced about their friend the altar boy, the sea scout, the livewire. The journalist was inquiring of the cameraman’s work in northern Iraq when one of the friends mentioned that Moran worked for a “shadowy” company. Shadowy company, wondered the journalist. Whatever could you mean?
The friend mentioned a name: the Rendon Group. He talked of Moran’s involvement in helping an Iraqi defector escape and Moran’s work with the INC. Moran, he said, had helped mobilise a popular uprising against Saddam Hussein’s regime and trained dissidents in the use of hidden cameras. There were the renowned “Paul Moran channels” � he seemed able to contact important people with little bother � and the “James Bond lifestyle”. In short, Moran had spent a decade, on and off, trying to destabilise Saddam Hussein’s regime for a company hired by both the CIA and Pentagon.
Perhaps Moran’s death wasn’t so random, after all. Perhaps this nice guy had a secret. Well, that’s how the journalist reported it, anyway. Colin James, an Adelaide Advertiser reporter with a 1994 Walkley Award, stands by his story. No one demurred while one friend spun tales about Moran, he says. James’ main fear during the interview was that his eyes might turn into saucers. He rushed back to the office and punched “Rendon Group” into an internet search engine. And his eyes grew wider.

The URL for the above story is as follows: http://bulletin.ninemsn.com.au/bulletin/EdDesk.nsf/0/
B1B47ED7DABBEDBCCA256D480013C030?OpenDocument

It should be noted that Colin James did not intend his story to be any sort of attack or criticism of Moran’s work. To the contrary, it was headlined “Moran’s secret crusade against the tyranny of Saddam,” and it is full of laudatory comments about Moran by his grieving friends. You can read James’ story at the following URL:
http://www.theadvertiser.news.com.au/printpage/ 0,5942,6239116,00.html
Clearly, James’ account differs from Eric Campbell’s claim that Moran merely “did occasional audio visual production work [for] Rendon and other PR companies.” Moreover, James’ account is corroborated and amplified in a TV segment for the Australian news program Dateline. You can read a transcript of the program and view the video at the following URL:
http://www.sbs.com.au/dateline/
trans.php3?dte=2003-07-23&title= Paul+Moran+Story

The Dateline program interviewed Zaab Sethna, a longtime spokesman for the Iraqi National Congress. According to Sethna, he and Moran began working together more than a decade ago, prior to Operation Desert Storm:

When I first met Paul we were working for the government of Kuwait. That ended after Kuwait was liberated by the Americans and then the Rendon group came back us to.
We weren’t employees we were on contract. The Rendon group came back to us and said, “We now have a contract to bureaucracy, to kind of do anti-Saddam propaganda on behalf of the Iraqi opposition.”
So, there was some radio, some television, there was like a travelling human rights exhibition around the world to show Saddam’s human rights violations. There was sending out press releases, kind of standard public relations. What we did�nt know, what the Rendon group didn’t tell us, was in fact it was the CIA that had hired them to do this work so we hired on…

Moreover, Moran’s relationship with the INC and the Rendon Group led to one of the high-profile international news stories that purported to document a covert Iraqi program to develop weapons of mass destruction. As Sethna explains in the Dateline piece, Moran was chosen by the INC as one of only two reporters (the other was Judith Miller of the New York Times) invited to interview Adnan Ihsan Saeed al Haideri, an Iraqi defector who claimed that he had been used by Saddam to build specialised bunkers and other facilities for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons research. After Miller and Moran did their separate stories on al Haideri, he disappeared into a U.S. witness protection program. You can see some of the stories about Iraq that were based on al Haideri’s allegations at the following URLs:
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2002/01/18/eveningnews/ main324937.shtml
http://usinfo.state.gov/topical/pol/terror/01122107.htm
http://observer.guardian.co.uk/worldview/story/ 0,11581,669024,00.html
As this example illustrates, it is inaccurate for Campbell to characterize Paul Moran as merely a cameraman. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation also treated him as a reporter and allowed him to break a story that was of major importance in making the case for war with Iraq. To have this story reported by someone who has worked closely with both the Rendon Group and the Iraqi National Congress is a clear case of conflict of interest. Eric Campbell is merely blowing smoke when he tries to use the distinction between a “contract worker” and an “employee” as his basis for claiming that no such conflict existed. It is also striking that no one has been able to substantiate al Haideri’s detailed descriptions (including locations) of an extensive weapons program that included underground storage facilities. As Scott Ritter has pointed out, it would have been impossible for Saddam Hussein to destroy such facilities quickly without leaving a trace in the days preceding the war. There is a good chance that al Haideri’s claims about weapons facilities were the basis for Donald Rumsfeld’s claim on March 30 that “We know where they are.” But if we knew where they are, why haven’t we found them by now?
I think that it is also rather disingenous for Campbell to complain that it is now “too late to repair the damage” of allegedly “false claims” about Moran that have circulated on the Internet. Following the publication of Colin James’s story in the Adelaide Advertiser, Moran’s family and friends were asked repeatedly to clarify the facts about his life and work, and they repeatedly declined to do so, usually citing their grief as the reason for remaining silent. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has also been very “economical with the truth” in its comments on the matter. For example, here is the URL to a transcript from ABC’s “Media Watch,” which comments on the Adelaide Advertiser:
http://www.abc.net.au/mediawatch/transcripts/s832032.htm
The ABC response consists of calling Colin James’s story “a superficial piece” and then declining to comment further on grounds that it wasn’t “a story most of the Australian media followed” — a classic “non-denial denial” that fails to identify a single error of fact in James’s story while insinuating that something was wrong with it. And how can Moran’s people have it both ways? If the Colin James story wasn’t followed by most of the media, how can it have caused the intense grief and suffering of which they complain? And if they can’t be bothered to publicly correct any errors in the story, why should we take them at face value now when they complain that errors have gone uncorrected? And what errors specifically are they talking about? The only error that Campbell mentions in his complaint to you is that Moran worked on contract for Rendon rather than being an “employee.” That’s arguably an error on your part (not ours), but it’s a pretty nit-picky complaint, given the extent of Moran’s relationship with the Rendon Group.
As for the complaint that Moran is being villainized, John and I never characterized him as a villain, and neither did you. I think Campbell brought up that claim for the purpose of emotional intimidation. I have no doubt that Campbell liked Paul Moran and resents reading criticism of his work. I also have no reason to doubt that Moran believed in the cause of the Kurds, and he probably also believed in the work he did for the INC. People who work on public relations campaigns often internalize the beliefs of their clients. “Sincerity of belief,” however, is not a valid defense against the specific charge of conflict of interest, and by any reasonable interpretation, Moran crossed that line. To say that this is the case does not mean that Moran was a villain, and it is not intended to convey any disrespect for the dead. Out of respect for the LIVING, however, I think the public is entitled to know the full story of how we were sold the war on Iraq.

Sheldon Rampton
Editor, PR Watch (www.prwatch.org)
Author of books including:
Friends In Deed: The Story of US-Nicaragua Sister Cities
Toxic Sludge Is Good For You
Mad Cow USA
Trust Us, We’re Experts
Weapons of Mass Deception

There is obviously more to this story than a first — or second or third — glance shows. I’ll be working on this one over the next few days.

There is no spoon…

Did the President really just say that?

Is George Bush going mad? Losing his grip on reality?

In a photo op in the Oval Office with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan yesterday, Bush made a comment at the very end of the event that didn’t quite jibe with the collectively agreed upon reality:

The larger point is, and the fundamental question is, did Saddam Hussein have a weapons program? And the answer is, absolutely. *And we gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn’t let them in.* And, therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power, along with other nations, so as to make sure he was not a threat to the United States and our friends and allies in the region. I firmly believe the decisions we made will make America more secure and the world more peaceful. (Emphasis added.)

Now, I don’t know about you, but I distinctly remember Hans Blix et al. running around Iraq while Saddam was in power, often accompanied by Iraqi minders who were there, one would suspect, on the orders of Saddam Hussein.

Joe Conason over at Salon has a good take on this, including this nugget: “Another recent president once said something that was blatantly untrue, if fairly trivial, and the videotape of his statement was replayed again, and again, and again, and again…” He also points to Dana Milbank’s _Washington Post_ coverage of the event, which has this marvelously understated passage:

The president’s assertion that the war began because Iraq did not admit inspectors appeared to contradict the events leading up to war this spring: Hussein had, in fact, admitted the inspectors and Bush had opposed extending their work because he did not believe them effective.

I can just imagine the uncomfortable shuffling of feet in the room as reporters glanced to each other. “Did he just really say that?” they may have whispered to each other once Bush was out of earshot.

Actually, I take that back. Judging from a quick Nexis search, most reporters yesterday completely missed the comment. Nexis reveals just 10 hits on the quote, and five of them are the same Knight-Ridder story, one is a story in the Irish Times, which gives Bush’s comment headline treatment, and another is a CNN transcript of the event. The last three are government transcripts. Newsday has something on it, and CNN’s Wolf Blitzer quotes it, but — astonishingly — doesn’t address it all. “The best way for the White House to resolve the matter once and for all — of course — is for the Bush administration actually to locate weapons of mass destruction,” writes Blitzer. “Short of that, the debate will not only continue but is likely to intensify in the weeks and months to come.”

Shame, shame, you guys in the D.C. press corps.

[UPDATE On his first day on the job, new White House press secretary Scott McClellan had to respond to Bush’s “he wouldn’t let them in” statement. He said this:

*Q* Two quick questions, one on Iraq. When the President said of Saddam Hussein, we gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in and he wouldn’t let them in, why didn’t he say that, when the inspectors went into Iraq?

*MR. McCLELLAN:* What he was referring to was the fact that Saddam Hussein was not complying with 1441, that he continued his past pattern and refused to comply with Resolution 1441 of the United Nations Security Council, which was his final opportunity to comply. And the fact that he was trying to thwart the inspectors every step of the way, and keep them from doing their job. So that’s what he’s referring to in that statement.

*Q* But that isn’t what he said.

*Q* Just quickly on a different subject, on North Korea. …

Argh! Why the hell did someone not keep up on that line of questioning?]

Anyway, statements like Bush’s are truly freaky, and remind me of his Social Security line in the closing days of the 2000 election (“They want the federal government controlling the Social Security like it’s some kind of federal program!”) He often says stupid things when he’s under stress, and when he’s coming up with whoppers like this, Ari Fleischer’s assertions that the president has “moved on” don’t quite ring true. And it’s playing havoc with the Bush White House’s aura of inevitability.

Much of Team Bush’s success has been because officials are adept at presenting a _fait accompli_ to opponents and the public. They also like to imbue Bush with some kind of Pope-like infallibility, sort of like he’s the Gipper’s vicar. THis technique worked in Florida, when he assumed a presidential stance in the days after the election, even though everyone knew by that point that it was very much up in the air. It worked for a while after May 1, when Bush landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln and declared the Iraq war as a “mission accomplished.”

As long as the Washington press corps and an apathetic public allowed the White House to do this, it worked like a charm. Unfortunately — for Bush — it now looks like that era is over. There’s blood in the water and tossing DCI George Tenet over the side won’t do much to calm the churn, especially after the White House has made contradictory declarations regarding the CIA.

There’s no doubt the White House is in disarray and in full damage control mode. The uranium story may be the spark to ignite a full-on forest fire of media scrutiny licking at Bush’s toes as he makes convoluted statements regarding Iraq. And if that happens, the larger story about the reasons for war might get so hot, it will be radioactive.