Release Date: February 9, 2003
Eric Margolis, c/o Editorial Department, The Toronto Sun
333 King St. East, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5A 3X5
Fax: (416) 960-4803 -- Press Contact: Eric Margolis

Powell's 'Proof' is All Smoke and Mirrors

by Eric Margolis

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 unaccounted for.

(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 farther.

(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 Halabja.

Faked intelligence

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 Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and broadcaster, and author of War at the Top of the World - The Struggle for Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Tibet which was reviewed in The Economist, May 13, 2000]

TRANSCRIPT: "U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell Addresses the U.N. Security Council," The White House, February 2003

"No casus belli? Invent one!," Guardian, February 5, 2003

Michel Chossudovsky, "Who is Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi,", June 11, 2004

"UN speech on Iraq's WMDs 'a blot' on my record: Powell," AFP, September 9, 2005

[This propaganda campaign - highlighting "aluminum tubes" which were allegedly "only suited for nuclear weapons programs" - was orchestrated by the White House Iraq Group, which had been created in August 2002 to "market" the (bogus) nuke threat posed by Saddam Hussein.--Gordon Prather, "Armitage: Cheney Cabal Scapegoat,", July 7, 2007]

Medea Benjamin and Charles Davis, "Colin Powell: Another War Criminal Cashes In,", June 6, 2012

Copyright © 2003 Eric Margolis - All Rights Reserved
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