Tag Archives: Chilcot

American media shares blame for Iraq fiasco

An explosion rocks Baghdad during air strikes March 21, 2003.REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic/Files

An explosion rocks Baghdad during air strikes March 21, 2003.REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic/Files

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
July 9, 2016

Sir John Chilcot’s Iraq Inquiry report, on Britain’s role in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, provided damning evidence of how the British people were misled by their political leadership, in particular then-Prime Minister Tony Blair. The report was so damning that it bled beyond Britain to “throw shade” (as they say) on the George W. Bush administration in the United States.

After the report was released July 6, there can be no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Bush administration was going to have a war in Iraq against Saddam Hussein, and no one was going to stop it. And that the administration would lie, misleading the public, to make it happen. Blair was, in reality, just an erudite pawn of the Bushies, in particular of the Dark Lord, then-Vice-President Dick Cheney.

But once again one of the main actors in this fiasco – a group enormously important in providing the false justification for the war, which in turn led to much of the violence and terrorism in the Middle East today – was hardly, if ever, mentioned.

That group is the American and British media –  the American media in particular.

There is a saying that in times of war “editors grow epaulettes.” In 2002 and 2003, editors and producers at newspapers, web sites, and cable news channels didn’t just grow epaulettes, they practically signed up for active duty.

As the commentary website Truthout said on the 10th anniversary of the war several years ago:

“In the days and weeks leading up to the invasion of Iraq, corporate media – and even NPR and PBS – were abuzz with the talking points of the Bush Administration, echoing claims that Iraq had its hands on “yellow cake uranium” and that it had a massive arsenal of “weapons of mass destruction.”

Thanks to the media’s repeated claims that Iraq and Saddam Hussein were immediate threats to our nation, in the weeks leading up to the invasion nearly three-quarters of Americans believed the lie promoted by Donald Rumsfeld that Saddam Hussein was somehow involved in the attacks of 9/11.

Most of America’s media forgot how to be journalists and became cheerleaders instead. This continued long after British newspapers like the Guardian were reporting there were no weapons of mass destruction. This refusal to accurately report the facts lasted so long that almost two years after suspicion was first raised about the Bush administration’s claims about “Yellow-cake uranium” and WMDs, almost 40% of the American public still mistakenly believed that Hussein both had weapons of mass destruction and was involved in the planning of 9/11.

This, sadly, was not the first time the American media were played for suckers by a Bush. In February of 1991, when there was still heated debate taking place in Congress about whether or not to go to war in the Gulf, a young Kuwaiti woman appeared in front of a House committee and said she had seen Iraq soldiers take babies out of incubators in Kuwait City in order to send the machines back to Baghdad for use by Iraqis. The comments inflamed lawmakers.

Meanwhile, at that moment, press releases about this incendiary allegation were flooding news rooms throughout the US.  The media, as one, sprang up in indignation. Story after story ran about the babies in the incubators.

There was only one problem. It wasn’t true. No member of the media had bothered to find out who the young girl was, or where she was from. It turned out she was the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the US and that she hadn’t actually seen Iraqi soldiers doing this, in fact she wasn’t even in Kuwait when this was supposed to have happened.

And all those press releases? Well, they had come from Hill-Knowlton, the DC PR firm who had been hired by the Kuwaiti government to lead the media down the primrose path to supporting the war. (The CBC show Fifth Estate later won an international Emmy for its work in exposing this manipulation. You can read the details below in a column I wrote for the Christian Science Monitor in September of 2002, “When contemplating war, beware of babies in incubators.”)

I remember at the time, so soon after 9/11, there was discussion about the role of journalists. And generally the feeling was that journalists were American citizens first and media people second, and that their duty was to support the country and the president.

How wrong they were.

The first duty of any serious journalist is to the country and its citizens, and that means protecting that country from lies and manipulation by those in power, no matter the cost. Since most American journalists, and certainly almost all mainstream journalists, did not do this, the Bush administration, with the help of their lapdog in England, Tony Blair, was able to launch the world on a road to war that we are still on today.

If American journalists had actually done their jobs, had actually been journalists, and not just bought what the Bush administration said hook, line and sinker, think of how things might be different. If journalists had asked the questions that need to be asked, instead of turning into the cheerleaders that they did, the country (and the world) would have been much better served.

Unfortunately, not much has changed. If war was on the horizon again today, I have few doubts that the epaulettes would appear on the shoulders of editors again. For the sad truth is that far too many American journalists are not interested in bringing truth to the public, but in being popular, well-watched or read, making money and being invited to all the right parties in Washington and New York.

Copyright Tom Regan 2016

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

Related stories on F&O:

Former British Prime Minister, Tony  Blair, delivers a speech following the publication of The Iraq Inquiry Report by John Chilcot, in London, Britain July 6, 2016.    REUTERS/Stefan Rousseau/Pool

Former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, delivers a speech following the publication of The Iraq Inquiry Report by John Chilcot, in London, Britain July 6, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Rousseau/Pool

Iraq Inquiry: a catalogue of political failure, by  Michael Holden and William James

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s justification, planning and handling of the Iraq War involved a catalogue of failures, a seven-year inquiry concluded July 6 in a scathing verdict on Britain’s role in the conflict.

Links:

The Iraq Inquiry, by Sir John Chilcot: http://www.iraqinquiry.org.uk/the-report/

How the Media Fueled the War in Iraq, Truth Out: http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/15234-how-the-media-fueled-the-war-in-iraq

When contemplating war, beware of babies in incubators, by Tom Regan, Christian Science Monitor:
http://www.csmonitor.com/2002/0906/p25s02-cogn.html

Media’s failure on Iraq still stings, CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/11/opinion/kurtz-iraq-media-failure/

Iraq War Media Reporting, Journalism and Propaganda, Global Issues:
http://www.globalissues.org/article/461/media-reporting-journalism-and-propaganda

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Tom Regan Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association in the U.S., he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92. He is based near Washington, D.C.

Return to Tom Regan’s page 

 

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Iraq Inquiry: a catalogue of political failure

A British army armoured vehicle convoy rolls into southern Iraq March 22, 2003. REUTERS/Oleg Popov/File Photo

A British army armoured vehicle convoy rolls into southern Iraq March 22, 2003. REUTERS/Oleg Popov/File Photo

By Michael Holden and William James 
July, 2016

LONDON (Reuters) – Former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s justification, planning and handling of the Iraq War involved a catalogue of failures, a seven-year inquiry concluded July 6 in a scathing verdict on Britain’s role in the conflict.

Eight months before the 2003 invasion, Blair told U.S. President George W. Bush “I will be with you, whatever”, eventually sending 45,000 British troops into battle when peace options had not been exhausted, the long-awaited British public inquiry said.

Sir John Chilcot presents The Iraq Inquiry Report at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in Westminster, London, Britain July 6, 2016.  REUTERS/Jeff J Mitchell/Pool

Sir John Chilcot presents The Iraq Inquiry Report at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in Westminster, London, Britain July 6, 2016. REUTERS/Jeff J Mitchell/Pool

 

More than 13 years since the invasion, Iraq remains in chaos, with large areas under the control of Islamic State militants who have claimed responsibility for attacks on Western cities.

Many Britons want Blair to face criminal action over his decision to take military action that led to the deaths of 179 British soldiers and more than 150,000 Iraqi civilians over the following six years.

Critics also say it fuelled a deep distrust in politicians and the ruling establishment. The report was issued 13 days after Britons delivered a stunning blow to their political leaders by voting to leave the European Union.

The inquiry, which was given unprecedented access to confidential government documents and took longer to complete than British military involvement in the conflict itself, said Blair had relied on flawed intelligence and determined the way the war was legally authorised was unsatisfactory.

The threat posed by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s supposed weapons of mass destruction – the original justification for war – had been over-hyped and the planning for the aftermath of war had been inadequate, it found.

“It is an account of an intervention which went badly wrong, with consequences to this day,” said the inquiry chairman, former civil servant John Chilcot.

In a lengthy and passionate defence lasting almost two hours, Blair explained his decision to back Bush and go to war alongside the United States in March 2003, at a time when the inquiry said Saddam posed no imminent threat.

Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair (C) visits British troops in Basra, southern Iraq December 17, 2006. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh/File Photo

Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair (C) visits British troops in Basra, southern Iraq December 17, 2006. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh/File Photo

“I did not mislead this country. There were no lies, there was no deceit, there was no deception,” the former prime minister told reporters, looking gaunt and strained but growing animated as he responded to questions.

“But there was a decision, and it was a controversial decision … to remove Saddam and to be with America. I believe I made the right decision and the world is better and safer as a result of it.”

The only Labour prime minister to win three general elections, Blair was in office for 10 years until 2007 and was hugely popular in his heyday, but Iraq has severely tarnished his reputation and legacy.

A statement issued by Bush’s spokesman Freddy Ford said the former president had not had a chance to read the report but defended the war’s goal of ousting Saddam.

“Despite the intelligence failures and other mistakes he has acknowledged previously, President Bush continues to believe the whole world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power,” the statement said.

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President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair shake hands after a joint press conference following their meeting at Hillsborough Castle near Belfast April 8, 2003. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair shake hands after a joint press conference following their meeting at Hillsborough Castle near Belfast April 8, 2003. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

“I WILL BE WITH YOU”

The inquiry report, running to 2.6 million words, or more than four times the length of “War and Peace”, shed light on the interaction between Blair and Bush in the months leading up to the invasion, which has long been the subject of speculation about secret deals and pledges.

In a memo dated July 28, 2002, eight months before the invasion, Blair told Bush: “I will be with you, whatever. But this is the moment to assess bluntly the difficulties.”

Outside the building where Chilcot delivered his findings, protesters chanted “Tony Blair, war criminal”. But the report itself stopped short of saying the war was illegal.

“We have, however, concluded that the circumstances in which it was decided that there was a legal basis for military action were far from satisfactory,” Chilcot said.

Reg Keys, whose son, 20-year-old Lance Corporal Thomas Keys, was killed in Iraq, said: “We all know who the key players are … who took part in this most shambolic episode in British politics. We would like to see all those key players face some form of accountability.”

He added: “If that’s through the legal channels, then we will look at that and see what’s viable and appropriate. It has been passed over to lawyers.”

Former British Prime Minister, Tony  Blair, delivers a speech following the publication of The Iraq Inquiry Report by John Chilcot, in London, Britain July 6, 2016.    REUTERS/Stefan Rousseau/Pool

Former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, delivers a speech following the publication of The Iraq Inquiry Report by John Chilcot, in London, Britain July 6, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Rousseau/Pool

BLAIR’S SORROW

Blair said he would take the same decisions again, and that he did not see the action as the cause of terrorism today, blaming outside forces for continuing sectarian violence in Iraq and the legacy of the Arab Spring for the emergence of Islamic State militants.

However, he acknowledged mistakes had been made.

“The intelligence assessments made at the time of going to war turned out to be wrong. The aftermath turned out to be more hostile, protracted and bloody than ever we imagined,” he said.

“For all of this, I express more sorrow, regret and apology than you will ever know.”

Chilcot said there was no imminent threat from Saddam at the time of the invasion and the chaos in Iraq and the region which followed should have been foreseen.

Britain had joined the invasion without exhausting peaceful options, and thereby undermined the authority of the United Nations Security Council.

“It is now clear that policy on Iraq was made on the basis of flawed intelligence and assessments. They were not challenged and they should have been,” Chilcot said.

He also said that Blair’s government’s judgements about the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction were “presented with unjustified certainty”.

No such weapons were discovered after the war.

Throughout its report, the inquiry, which cost 10 million pounds, criticised Blair’s leadership, saying he over-estimated his ability to influence U.S. decisions on Iraq and took major decisions without consulting his cabinet.

Youths hurls rock at British Army Warrior armoured vehicles during a violent protest by job seekers, who say they were promised employment in the security services, in the southern Iraq city of Basra March 22, 2004. REUTERS/Atef Hassan/File Photo

Youths hurls rock at British Army Warrior armoured vehicles during a violent protest by job seekers, who say they were promised employment in the security services, in the southern Iraq city of Basra March 22, 2004. REUTERS/Atef Hassan/File Photo

NO STRATEGIC SUCCESS

The report listed a catalogue of mistakes, saying the war was poorly-resourced, badly-planned and in the turmoil that followed the invasion, there was a total failure to conduct a reappraisal of policies with the only strategic objective to cut troop deployment numbers.

“It fell far short of strategic success,” the report said.

Chilcot said Britain did not have the capacity to engage in campaigns in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and said it was humiliating that the military in 2007 had had to make a deal with a militia that had become dominant in the southern Iraqi city of Basra which Britain was supposed to control.

Iraq is still struggling with the widespread violence unleashed by the war. On Saturday, 250 people were killed in Baghdad’s worst car bombing since the U.S.-led invasion.

“I wish Saddam would return; he executed many of my family but he is still better than these politicians and clerics who got Iraq to the way it is,” said Kadhim Hassan al-Jabouri, an Iraqi who was filmed attacking Saddam’s statue with a sledgehammer after the invasion.

Others said they were grateful to Washington and London for ending his dictatorship.

The purpose of the inquiry was not to point fingers but for the British government to learn lessons from the invasion and occupation that followed.

“We cannot turn the clock back but we can ensure that lessons are learned and acted on,” Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron told parliament.

“It is crucial to good decision-making that a prime minister establishes a climate in which it’s safe for officials and other experts to challenge existing policy and question the views of ministers and the prime minister without fear or favour.”

Jeremy Corbyn, the current leader of Blair’s Labour Party and a fervent pacifist, told parliament that the war was an act of aggression based on a false pretext that had fuelled and spread terrorism across the Middle East.

“I now apologise sincerely on behalf of my party for the disastrous decision to go to war,” he said in a later speech.

Copyright Reuters 2016

(Additional reporting by Kate Holton, Alistair Smout and Stephen Addison, and Steve Holland in Washington; Writing by Estelle Shirbon and Michael Holden; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge, Mark Trevelyan, Philippa Fletcher, Toni Reinhold)

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