American Secretary of State Colin Powell presented himself before the Security Council of the United Nations and held forth for some ninety minutes on the subject of Iraq, terrorism and war. To be sure, his presentation was compelling. Who could not be moved by such a fearful litany of dire threats?
Yet as he made the case that Iraq has defied and defiled the good will of the international community, I came to realize that I was watching a political performance and not a delineation of solid facts. Powell's presentation most forcefully brought to mind the image of a skilled trial attorney delivering his opening argument to a jury. Opening arguments are never the time to deliver the hard facts of a case; rather, they are meant to set the tone for the coming trial. This was disconcerting, as Powell's appearance was billed as the moment when irrefutable proof of Iraqi chicanery and menace was to be delivered to the world.
In a trial, attorneys use transcripts of depositions and other sworn statements to cross-examine opposing witnesses. It is a solid tactic, as the witness is required to deal with the hard fact of his or her sworn testimony right there, before them, in print. Powell left us a transcript with his speech before the UN. Pretend I am the opposing counsel for a moment. It is time to cross-examine Colin.
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Mr. Powell, you have made some deeply disturbing accusations about the state of Iraq's weapons program and their ties to international terrorism. The weight of your words may lead the world to war, as I am sure you know. I wonder why you seemed on Wednesday unwilling to specify where all of this data came from. Let me give you a few examples:
"The material I will present to you comes from a variety of sources. Some are U.S. sources. And some are those of other countries. Some of the sources are technical, such as intercepted telephone conversations and photos taken by satellites. Other sources are people who have risked their lives to let the world know what Saddam Hussein is really up to. I cannot tell you everything that we know."
You describe a variety of sources. Who and what are they? Some of your data is indeed taken from satellite and radio reconnaissance, which we will deal with shortly. Who are the people who have risked your lives, as you say? What are their loyalties? Can they be trusted? We have endured a spate of terror warnings since 9/11 that wound up being based on wildly inaccurate reports from our sources. How solid is this data, and why are you unable to give us more clarity on its origin?
You make similar declarative statements regarding Iraq throughout your presentation, but always are unwilling to divulge the sources for your data. See below:
"My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we're giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence. I will cite some examples, and these are from human sources."
Who are these human sources?
"While we were here in this council chamber debating Resolution 1441 last fall, we know, we know from sources that a missile brigade outside Baghdad was disbursing rocket launchers and warheads containing biological warfare agents to various locations, distributing them to various locations in western Iraq."
How do we know? What sources? Where are the satellite photos of the rocket launchers and biological warfare warheads?
"Let me just tell you what a number of human sources have told us."
Again, this is a lead-in to yet another dire assertion. Who are these human sources? Can they be trusted?
"Ladies and gentlemen, these are not assertions. These are facts, corroborated by many sources, some of them sources of the intelligence services of other countries. What makes this picture significant is that we have a human source who has corroborated that movement of chemical weapons occurred at this site at that time. So it's not just the photo, and it's not an individual seeing the photo. It's the photo and then the knowledge of an individual being brought together to make the case."
You are describing what appears to be a building with some trucks around it. It is these unnamed sources which provide the dangerous context you imply. Who and what are these sources?
"What we know comes largely from intercepted communications and human sources who are in a position to know the facts."
Human sources in a position to know the facts - Who?
You see, sir, what I am driving at. We may well be headed to an incredibly dangerous military confrontation with Iraq - dangerous for Iraqi civilians, and for civilians here in America, who will doubtlessly be targeted by retaliatory terrorism from agents who would avenge the deaths of Muslim Iraqi non-combatants. Will you and the administration you serve lead us to this place on the word of "unnamed sources" from unspecified places whose allegiances are unknown? This is the essence of the factual report we were promised?
"We know that Saddam Hussein has what is called quote, 'a higher committee for monitoring the inspections teams,' unquote. Think about that."
This was presented as a menacing fact, correct? Considering the fact that the last round of weapons inspections, UNSCOM, became infiltrated by American intelligence services for the purpose of collecting targeting data for military strikes, does it not strike you as common-sense that Iraq would establish a monitoring group to make sure this does not happen again? That infiltration led to a breakdown of UNSCOM and a military attack on Iraq in 1998. Does it not strike you as prudent for a sovereign nation to make sure the UN mandate is not once again being perverted?
"You saw the result. Dr. Blix pronounced the 12,200-page declaration rich in volume, but poor in information and practically devoid of new evidence."
Mr. Blix has stated on several occasions that the United States is misrepresenting his conclusions regarding this report. Why would you quote him without also representing his widely-reported side of the issue?
"At this biological weapons related facility, on November 25, just two days before inspections resumed, this truck caravan appeared, something we almost never see at this facility, and we monitor it carefully and regularly."
How are you able to state that the picture you show - a building surrounded by trucks - is a biological weapons-related facility? You assert that we never see trucks at this building. On what facts is this assertion based?
"Iraq also has refused to permit any U-2 reconnaissance flights that would give the inspectors a better sense of what's being moved before, during and after inspectors. This refusal to allow this kind of reconnaissance is in direct, specific violation of operative paragraph seven of our Resolution 1441."
U2 spy planes fly at fantastic heights. How is it that Iraq can forbid the powerful United States from doing whatever it pleases above the skies of Iraq? What is stopping us from doing as many U2 flyovers as we wish? If it is allowed by Resolution 1441, we should just go and do it, correct? Are you concerned about a possible shoot-down? Wouldn't even an attempted shoot-down be the grounds for an attack you have sought?
"On orders from Saddam Hussein, Iraqi officials issued a false death certificate for one scientist, and he was sent into hiding."
What data do you base this assertion on? You do not explain it. Is it another unnamed human source?
"One of the most worrisome things that emerges from the thick intelligence file we have on Iraq's biological weapons is the existence of mobile production facilities used to make biological agents. Let me take you inside that intelligence file and share with you what we know from eye witness accounts. We have firsthand descriptions of biological weapons factories on wheels and on rails. The trucks and train cars are easily moved and are designed to evade detection by inspectors. In a matter of months, they can produce a quantity of biological poison equal to the entire amount that Iraq claimed to have produced in the years prior to the Gulf War."
This is the part of the presentation that is most confusing. You used a variety of satellite images to establish your points, yet on this subject we are given pieces of computer-generated artwork. Have we no pictures of these items? Hans Blix has stated that these mobile factories do not actually exist. Is that why there are no pictures? I am also curious about the specifics of production within these trucks, because you offered no data as to how exactly this process is done. Since you went out of your way to explain that a pinch of these deadly materials can kill a roomful of people, I'd be curious to know what kind of safety measures can be maintained on a moving truck. What if they hit a pothole, or take a sharp turn? What if they go down a hill, or get into a fender-bender? What brave soul gets to drive these things?
"This defector is currently hiding in another country with the certain knowledge that Saddam Hussein will kill him if he finds him. His eye-witness account of these mobile production facilities has been corroborated by other sources."
The defector you speak of offers damning evidence. What is his name? If he is in peril of his life, why has he not been brought to America for his safety? Who are the other sources offering corroboration?
"Saddam Hussein has investigated dozens of biological agents causing diseases such as gas gangrene, plague, typhus (ph), tetanus, cholera, camelpox and hemorrhagic fever, and he also has the wherewithal to develop smallpox."
Are these the agents our government and corporations helped him develop back in the 1980s, when Hussein was a key ally? Do you have the shipping manifests?
"This photograph of the site taken two months later in July shows not only the previous site, which is the figure in the middle at the top with the bulldozer sign near it, it shows that this previous site, as well as all of the other sites around the site, have been fully bulldozed and graded. The topsoil has been removed. The Iraqis literally removed the crust of the earth from large portions of this site in order to conceal chemical weapons evidence that would be there from years of chemical weapons activity."
The first picture you showed was of some buildings surrounded by some trucks. The picture described above shows the absence of these buildings, and some bulldozed ground. You call this concealment. Could it not also be an Iraqi effort to destroy the facilities themselves? If chemical evidence could remain for years, is it not possible that Iraq could be accused on proof that is a decade old? Would they not destroy such false evidence so as to avoid a false accusation?
"Let's review a few selected items of this conversation. Two officers talking to each other on the radio want to make sure that nothing is misunderstood: 'Remove the expression "nerve agents" wherever it comes up in the wireless instructions.'"
This was, indeed, one of the more disturbing aspects of your presentation. This was one of three intercepted transmissions you used. You offered for the other two a date stamp, a temporal context for when it was captured. On this one, you did not. Could this have been a recording taken between 1991 and 1996, a time period we know Iraq was actively hiding material from inspectors. Why did you not offer a date for when this was recorded? Furthermore, can you certify that these recordings have not been faked? Such forgery is all too easy these days.
"Saddam Hussein is determined to get his hands on a nuclear bomb. He is so determined that he has made repeated covert attempts to acquire high-specification aluminum tubes from 11 different countries, even after inspections resumed."
Strange. Virtually the entire planet, including the weapons inspectors in Iraq, laughed the Bush administration out of the room when this 'evidence' was offered some weeks ago. These tubes have been proven to have nothing to do with weapons production, and the IAEA has further stated that there is no evidence of any nuclear programs in Iraq. Why would you trot out previously discredited evidence?
"We also have intelligence from multiple sources that Iraq is attempting to acquire magnets and high-speed balancing machines; both items can be used in a gas centrifuge program to enrich uranium."
What sources? Do you have the shipping manifests for this procurement? Do you have the sales receipts from the companies they bought this material from?
Let us move on to your assertion of terrorist connections to Iraq.
"Zarqawi, a Palestinian born in Jordan, fought in the Afghan war more than a decade ago. Returning to Afghanistan in 2000, he oversaw a terrorist training camp. One of his specialties and one of the specialties of this camp is poisons. When our coalition ousted the Taliban, the Zarqawi network helped establish another poison and explosive training center camp. And this camp is located in northeastern Iraq. You see a picture of this camp. The network is teaching its operatives how to produce ricin and other poisons. Those helping to run this camp are Zarqawi lieutenants operating in northern Kurdish areas outside Saddam Hussein's controlled Iraq."
Where do you come by the data on this man? The picture you show is of some kind of facility, but how can we tell it is in Iraq? How do we know what they are producing there? If the camp is indeed in territory not controlled by Iraq, how can it be connected to Saddam Hussein? We have actively recruited the Kurds as allies in the fight against Hussein. Now, you seem to offer proof that we are trying to ally ourselves with a group that is harboring Zarqawi within their controlled territory. Why would we do this if he is connected to al Qaeda?
"Saddam Hussein's use of mustard and nerve gas against the Kurds in 1988 was one of the 20th century's most horrible atrocities; 5,000 men, women and children died."
In August of 2002, the New York Times reported that senior Reagan administration officials were fully aware of the use of chemical weapons by Iraq, but continued to support him. Another recent report was penned in the Times by Stephen C. Pelletiere, who was the CIA's senior political analyst on Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war. Mr. Pelletiere cites a classified report circulated within the intelligence community that explains how Iranian gas, and not Iraqi gas, killed these Kurds during a battle. Given these two facts, how can you feel comfortable citing this matter as a means to bolster your case?
Now that we have finished with the transcript, Mr. Powell, I have only a couple more questions for you.
The CIA has publicly stated that there is no tie between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. Why do you dispute these reports?
Let us, for a moment, accept your report on face value. Section 10 of UN Resolution 1441 requests any nation with material data regarding Iraqi weapons to hand that data over to the inspectors. You have given none of your data to Blix and UNMOVIC. Does this mean that America is in violation of the spirit of Resolution 1441?
Finally, sir, one last question.
Where is Osama bin Laden?
William Rivers Pitt is a teacher from Boston, MA. He is the author of War On Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn’t Want You To Know (Context Books, 2002) with Scott Ritter, and The Greatest Sedition is Silence which will be published in May by Pluto Press. Scott Lowery contributed research to this report.