Margolis: Powell's 'Proof' Is All Smoke And Mirrors
- Powell's 'Proof' Is All Smoke And Mirrors
American Secretary of State Colin Powell used the UN Security Council
last Wednesday to make Washington's case for war against Iraq. The
widely respected Powell delivered a weighty indictment based on a
mosaic of circumstantial evidence obtained by U.S. intelligence.
Powell's philipic encouraged those favouring war. Skeptics dismissed
it as a farrago of dubious claims.
A good defence attorney would have had most of Powell's charges
thrown out of court. France, Germany, Russia and China concluded
Powell's indictment showed the need for stronger, continued
inspections rather than war.
Powell's charges (and some plausible explanations):
Recorded conversations - Iraqi officers discussing removal of
a "modified vehicle" and deleting references to nerve gas from
documents. If genuine, and not spliced, these radio intercepts
suggest Iraq may have been hiding some biowarfare arms, or was racing
to eliminate any residues or evidence of its 1980s weapons program in
advance of UN inspections.
(Considering the U.S. military loses tens of millions worth of
weapons and supplies each year, and the Los Alamos centre has
misplaced large amounts of nuclear materials, it's not implausible
that Iraq has bits and pieces of chemical arms scattered about, such
as the empty 122-mm rockets recently discovered in a bunker, that
escaped its UN-mandated inventory.) Satellite imagery - ammo storage
bunkers which Powell claimed were used for chemical weapons that were
moved out prior to inspection.
(UN inspectors examined them and found nothing
suspicious. "Sniffers" used by inspectors can detect the past
presence of chemical and biological weapons.) The infamous mobile
biological weapons labs mounted on trucks - a.k.a. "Saddam's vans of
death." Powell claimed defectors reported there were 18 of these
cruising around Iraq.
(Defector information is always suspect. UN chief arms inspector
Hans Blix said his men had examined some of the "death trucks" and
found they were, in fact, mobile food-testing labs.) Some 100-400
tons of chemical agents, including four tons of VX nerve gas, and
some biological weapons, originally supplied in the 1980s by the
U.S. and secretly developed by British technicians, were still
(This remains a major question. Iraq says it destroyed them, but
lacks proper documentation. They may be hidden. But most were made
in the 1980s, and may be degraded or inert from age. Nerve gas and
germs are weapons of mass destruction. Mustard gas, the bulk of
Iraq's chemical weaponry, is not, being no more lethal than napalm or
the fuel-air explosives the U.S. and Russia are using in Afghanistan
and Chechnya.) Iraq was developing nuclear weapons.
(UN nuclear inspectors have repeatedly contradicted U.S. claims.
They concluded the notorious aluminum tubes Powell said were for
uranium-enrichment centrifuges were actually conventional 122-mm
rocket artillery casings.) According to UN Resolution 687 after the
Gulf war, Iraq is permitted missiles with a range of 150 km. The
U.S. charges Iraq is testing missiles that have flown 14-20 km
(This is nothing unusual when testing a new propellant system.
Powell also accused Iraq of developing a 1,200-km missile that could
reach Israel, based on photos of an enlarged test stand. Iraq may
have a dozen or so old Scud missiles hidden away.) Iraq is dragging
its feet on private interviews of its nuclear scientists.
(True. Hawks in the Bush administration and Israel say the only way
to ensure Iraq never builds strategic weapons is to jail all of its
10,000 military scientists and technicians - who also face the wrath
of Saddam if they appear to turn over incriminating evidence.)
Powell claimed he had proof positive Iraq was linked to al-Qaida
through Ansar al-Islam, a small, 600-man Islamist group in the
Kurdish region of northern Iraq (not under Saddam's control), and
through a "deadly terrorist network" led by one Abu Musa al-Zarqawi.
(The first charge was immediately dismissed by Ansar's leader, Mullah
Krekar, a longtime, bitter foe of Saddam. And al-Zarqawi turned out
to be an unknown nobody, not on any FBI wanted list. His name came
from suspects being tortured in Jordan. Many reputable experts on
terrorism scoffed at Powell's overblown charges.)
Sitting silently behind Powell was Central Intelligence Agency chief
George Tenet. His agency has contradicted White House claims that
Iraq had nuclear capability and posed an imminent threat to the U.S.
or anyone else. In a recent article, former CIA Iraq desk chief
Stephen Pelletiere cast doubt on the charge, repeated by Bush and
Powell, that Iraq gassed its own Kurdish citizens in the town of
Note: America's two most recent major wars - Vietnam and the Gulf -
began with release of faked "intelligence" information: the non-
existent Gulf of Tonkin attack in 1964, and doctored photos of a non-
existent Iraqi invasion buildup on the Saudi border in 1990.
A more neutral observer might have concluded the U.S. was
exaggerating scraps of uncorroborated information, while Iraq was
trying to appear co-operative while still hiding some of its most
sensitive military secrets.
Polls show most people around the globe remain skeptical of Powell's
charges. Starting a war that could kill tens of thousands on the
basis of vague audio intercepts, photos of empty buildings and
defectors' tales makes no sense. Further inspections, not war, is
the right answer.
Eric can be reached by e-mail at margolis@....
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