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Posted January 8, 2003

Selling the War

Most of the critics of my piece, "How the War Party Sold the 1991 Bombing of Iraq to US," did not challenge any of the factual material presented there but instead attacked me for among other things being un-American and a supporter of Saddam Hussein. Some defended the "right" of the government to lie to the American people in order to manipulate us into supporting the war against Iraq. I will not address those comments; the facts, as I presented them in my article, speak for themselves.

A few critics demanded additional footnoted citations concerning the fabricated testimony of Nayirah Al-Sabah, the daughter of Kuwait's ambassador to the US, who was presented to Congress as a helpless Kuwaiti war refugee (shades of "Wag the Dog"). To them, I offer the following update:

The co-chairs of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus that had sponsored Nayirah's testimony were Tom Lantos (D., California) and John Edward Porter (R., Illinois). They explained that Nayirah's identity would have to be kept secret to protect her family from reprisals in occupied Kuwait. Lantos is still in Congress; Porter decided not to run for reelection in 2002.

Harpers Magazine publisher John R. MacArthur wrote in the NY Times a year after the war had ended, "Such a pertinent fact [Nayirah's true identity] might have led to impertinent demands for proof of Nayirah's whereabouts in August and September of 1990, when she said she witnessed the atrocities, as well as corroboration of her charges." (John R. MacArthur, The NY Times, Op-ed, January 6, 1992)

"Before the war," MacArthur writes, "the incubator story seriously distorted the American debate about whether to support military action. Amnesty International believed the tale, and its ill-considered validation of the charges likely influenced the seven Senators who cited the story in speeches backing the Jan. 12 resolution authorizing war. Since the resolution passed the Senate by only five votes, the question of how the incubator story escaped scrutiny – when it really mattered – is all the more important." Subsequent investigations found no evidence for the incubator claims. Amnesty International later retracted its support of the story and apologized for having publicized it.

Both Congressmen who chaired the Congressional committee sponsoring the hearings "had a close relationship with Hill and Knowlton, the public relations firm hired by Citizens for a Free Kuwait, the Kuwaiti-financed group that lobbied Congress for military intervention. A Hill and Knowlton vice president, Gary Hymel, helped organize the Congressional Human Rights Caucus hearing in meetings with Mr. Lantos and Mr. Porter and the chairman of Citizens for a Free Kuwait, Hassan al-Ebraheem. Mr. Hymel presented the witnesses, including Nayirah. (He later told me he knew who she was at the time.)

"Until he started working on the Kuwait account, Mr. Hymel was best known to the caucus for defending the human rights record of Turkey, a Hill and Knowlton client criticized for jailing people without due process and torturing and killing them. He is also one of the firm's lobbyists for the Indonesian Government, which had killed at least 100,000 inhabitants of East Timor since 1975.

"Mr. Lantos's spokesman says that Hill and Knowlton's client list doesn't concern the Congressman, who accepted a $500 contribution from the firm's political action committee in 1988. In fact, Mr. Lantos and Mr. Porter allowed the Congressional Human Rights Foundation, a group they founded in 1985, to be housed in Hill and Knowlton's Washington headquarters. The firm provides a contribution to the foundation in the form of a $3,000 annual rent reduction, and the Hill and Knowlton switchboard delivers messages to the foundation's executive director, David Phillips.

"Hill and Knowlton's client, Citizens for a Free Kuwait, donated $50,000 to the foundation, sometime after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990. (The foundation's main supporter is the U.S. Government-financed National Endowment for Democracy.)

"Since the gulf war, Hill and Knowlton's collaboration with the Lantos-Porter human rights enterprise has been strengthened by the naming of the firm's vice chairman, Frank Mankiewicz, to the foundation's board in October 1991. Perhaps the Congressmen and directors were impressed by the recent addition of China to Hill and Knowlton's prestigious portfolio of clients. (The firm's clients, Indonesia and Turkey, were notably absent from the foundation's 1990-91 list of human rights 'activities.')" (ibid.)

In 1998, Hill and Knowlton found a new client – then-President William Clinton – who hired the PR firm to advise him and to polish his image.

The last time the PR firm was involved, by the time their lies were exposed TV newscasters were waxing ecstatic over the rockets' red glare, computerized "smart-bombs" bursting in air, and 250,000 people were dead.

A few weeks after the HBO-drama had been aired on TV screens across the United States in December 2002, HBO felt compelled to respond to the intense criticism of its distortions, which were offered by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, among others. As FAIR reports, "HBO recently added a message to the end of its movie 'Live From Baghdad,' clarifying the scenes that seemingly endorsed the fraudulent stories about Iraqi soldiers removing Kuwaiti babies from incubators. The film, a fictionalized account of CNN's coverage of the Persian Gulf War, leaves viewers with the impression that these events actually happened. HBO's message, which appears after the end of the credits, reads:

'While the allegations of Iraqi soldiers taking babies from incubators were widely circulated during the run-up to the Gulf War (the time frame of the drama of our film), these allegations were never substantiated.'

FAIR continues: "Since most TV viewers don't watch the entire end credits, it is doubtful that many people will ever see the clarification. And while it's helpful that HBO has acknowledged a problem in its film, to say that the claims were 'never substantiated' is an understatement. It would be more accurate to note that attempts to confirm the story after the Gulf War uncovered evidence that it was a fabrication." (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), "Activism Update:: HBO Adds Disclaimer to Gulf War Movie," January 3, 2003.)

In response to all the criticism, HBO also added John R. MacArthur's NY Times column to its website following its disclaimer.

~ Mitchel Cohen, GreenParty.org

Half a Loaf

Both Steve Chapman in his "North Korea is Not the Same as Iraq or Is It?" and Georgie Anne Geyer in "Playing Tough with North Korea is Dangerous" fall into the same trap of buying half a loaf of propaganda and still attempting to remain "balanced". It is as though critics need to cover all of their bases to keep from being called a "Blame-America-First"-er. You can't really begin to critique the impending Iraqi slaughter without at least a perfunctory: "But of course, Saddam is an evil villain and Iraq would be better off if someone would just whack him." This leads to George Monbiot's untenable conclusion of whacking Saddam as a "just" solution to the problem in Baghdad. And now we have Mr. Chapman and Ms. Geyer using the same loose talk in relation to North Korea. Mr. Chapman: "the North Koreans are strident, demanding and unpredictable," "the North Koreans are trying to sell us the same horse we purchased in 1994." And Ms. Geyer: "the vile men in Pyongyang," "breaking its 1994 agreement with the Clinton administration," "'Dear Leader' Kim Jong Il...," "basket case."

The problem with buying into the cartoon demonization of the two men and their regimes is that the American government has been the manipulative instigator of the behaviors of these two members of the "axis of evil". Neither Saddam or Jong IL are irrational madmen whose malevolence grows out of a vacuum. They've been suckered and betrayed by representatives of the US government and are responding to their situations as they must. Steve and Georgie Anne's token caricature of North Korean leadership just plays into the hands of the PR-driven "Masters of the Universe" in DC.

~ Michael J. Hamrin, California


...It has not been lost on me that I see less censorship in the Backtalk and more inclusion of those not necessarily in lock step with previous Antiwar.com positions.

Admitting that your headlines are a bit overstated as you did in Backtalk January 4 shows journalistic maturity that I've always felt was missing from our movement. It is my fervent hope that you and the AWC staff continue down the road to reform which I believe will eventually sway some of the 80% or so that feel war is righteous and necessary. As a combat veteran of two tours and a photographer with years in the Mideast I feel like I have been more than a little close to much of your subject matter.

Thanks again and best wishes, and yes I am thinking of contributing if this keeps up.

~ DB

Webmaster Eric Garris replies:

That particular headline "error" was due more to my laziness and cutting for space than anything else, but let me know if you think I am overstating or misstating anything. I appreciate this feedback, and, of course, appreciate any contribution you would care to make.

Exodus of the Palestinian Christians

The Palestinian Christian is an endangered species. When the modern state of Israel was established there were about 400,000 of us. Two years ago the number was down to 80,000. Now it’s down to 60,000. At that rate, in a few years there will be none of us left.

Palestinian Christians within Israel fare little better. On the face of it, their number has grown by 20000 since 1991. But this is misleading, for the census classification ‘Christian’ includes some 20000 recent non-Arab migrants from the former Soviet Union.

So why are Palestinian Christians abandoning their homeland?
We have lost hope, that’s why. We are treated as non-people. Few outside the Middle East even know we exist, and those who do, conveniently forget.

I refer, of course, to the American Religious Right. They see the modern Israel as a harbinger of the Second Coming, at which time Christians will go to Paradise, and all others (presumably including Jews) to Hell. To this end they lend military and moral support to Israel.

Even by the double-dealing standards of international diplomacy this is a breathtakingly cynical bargain. It is hard to know who is using whom more: the Christian Right for offering secular power in the expectation that the Jewish state will be destroyed by a greater spiritual one; or the Israeli Right for accepting their offer. What we do know is that both sides are abusing the Palestinians. Apparently we don’t enter into anyone’s calculations.

The views of the Israeli Right are well known: they want us gone.

Less well known are the views of the American Religious Right. Senator James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) said: 'God Appeared to Abraham and said: “I am giving you this land,” the West Bank. This is not a political battle at all. It is a contest over whether or not the word of God is true.'

House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) was even more forthright: 'I'm content to have Israel grab the entire West Bank… I happen to believe that the Palestinians should leave.'

There is a phrase for this. Ethnic cleansing.

So why do American Christians stand by while their leaders advocate the expulsion of fellow Christians? Could it be that they do not know that the Holy Land has been a home to Christians since, well, since Christ?

Do not think I am asking for special treatment for Christians. Ethnic cleansing is evil whoever does it and to whomever it is done. Palestinian Christians Maronite Catholics, Orthodox, Lutherans, Armenians, Baptists, Copts and Assyrians have been rubbing shoulders with each other and with other religions: Muslims, Jews, Druze and (most recently) Baha’is for centuries. We want to do so for centuries more. But we can’t if we are driven out by despair.

What we seek is support material, moral, political and spiritual. As Palestinians we grieve for what we have lost, and few people (the Ashkenazi Jews are one) have lost more than us. But grief can be assuaged by the fellowship of friends.

~ Professor Abe W. Ata, Australia

Regarding "Korean Ghosts" by Justin Raimondo:

Good article. The only thing missing was mention of the Bush administration's failure to live up to the U.S. side of the 1994 agreement (signed by Robert Gallucci, whom Justin Raimondo quotes about another aspect of the story). Virtually the only reportage that pointed the finger at US stonewalling on building the safer light-water reactors that would have supplied North Koreans with energy was in The Straits Times. The New York Times, NPR, the wire services, etc. either failed to mention our default or made it seem trivial through elision.

~ Phyllis Guest, Dallas, Texas

Regarding "Do Neocons Exist?" by Justin Raimondo:

I just wanted to say this – keep up the great, no, fantastic work. Yes, I'm liberal and proud – but I happen to think that your editorials are among the best to be found anywhere. Which is why I always make it a point to check in on your site whenever I can.

I do not care what your political affiliation is – you do the one thing the mainstream "not really liberal at all" media do not – tell the truth, and strive to find the answer. Best of luck on the 9/11 book (wow, over one year later, and nothing, not a thing. If it were about sex, there would be 20 investigations and blathering from CNN, MSNBC, FOX, the works).

Thank you, sir, for the truth.

~ Marc McKenzie

Regarding "Pacifist, Passive or Realistic?" by Alan Bock:

I agree with your positions as stated in your article dated December 17, 2002 (Pacifist, Passive or Realistic?). I have had serious doubts about the direction our country is heading. I have come to the belief that the Constitution has been suspended since the bankruptcies of the US government and that congress has betrayed it's trust and it's sacred duty. When the government will not answer questions of law formally and legally challenged and redress of grievances formally and legally served (see www.givemeliberty.org or www.taxableincome.net to see the extent of the betrayal) we are all in grave danger. To be able to think outside the government school "box" we must first be able to over come a mental condition called cognitive dissonance.

It is not easy to discard long held beliefs. The truth is something you have to work hard at to find. I will end with this question, first they came for the enemy combatants and illegal combatants and we did nothing. But were they first? We as a nation have been asleep a long long long long time.

~ Mark Smith

Regarding "The View From Over Here: Killing the Chicken to Frighten the Monkey" by Brown:

Osama bin Laden himself couldn't be clearer about the religious underpinnings of his campaign of terror. In 1998, he told his followers, ''The call to wage war against America was made because America has spearheaded the crusade against the Islamic nation, sending tens of thousands of its troops to the land of the two holy mosques over and above its meddling in its affairs and its politics and its support of the oppressive, corrupt and tyrannical regime that is in control.'' Notice the use of the word ''crusade,'' an explicitly religious term, and one that simply ignores the fact that the last few major American interventions abroad – in Kuwait, Somalia and the Balkans – were all conducted in defense of Muslims. You should do some research for yourself, at least so you can enlighten your Muslim friends. Peace is a great concept, the problem is you can be all for peace and then one day a jumbo jet flies into your building or your friend is blown up in a car bomb and it is really hard from going from a "turn the other cheek" mentality to a "an eye for an eye" one. I say pray for peace, but reality also says that you must be prepared for war.

~ Michael New

Regarding Fred Masciangelo's letter of January 4:

Fred Masciangelo must have forgotten what America is supposed to be all about. What does he mean, why do we live here? Why shouldn't we, this country belongs to us, more so than the gang of warmongers and police state lovers in the administration. I voted for Bush and never have I been so sorry in my life! We still have the First Amendment here, buddy! I don't recall anything in the Constitution saying that only people who agree with the government hook, line, and sinker can live here. That's what democracy is all about, isn't it? If I wanted to live in a one-party state which brooked no dissent from the official government line, I'd move to Cuba or China or somewhere like that. I hope that's not what we're coming to, though if John Ashcroft has his way, that's what we'll get.

~ Martha Moyers

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