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The Saddam Tapes and Media Distortion
By: Bill Tierney
Friday, March 24, 2006


The liberal script on Iraq and the terror war was written long, long ago.

Media outlets invested in our defeat in Iraq have put forth serious efforts to discredit the reasons for going to war. One only need hear the absolute certainty in Tim Russert's voice to know that the liberal media considers the Iraq WMD issue over and done with. After countless repetitions of “no WMD,” you would think that people were thoroughly trained. It comes as no surprise that when the Saddam Tapes came to light, they had to be dealt with.

The first salvo in the liberal media’s unsuccessful attempt to deep-six the tapes came from Newsweek, when they published “The Saddam Tapes, What They Don’t Prove” a week before the presentation of the tapes.  The writers, Mark Hosenball and Michael Isikoff, stated the tapes were taken without permission from an FBI-run translation center.  They never asked the government why they gave the CD an UNCLAFFISIED label and shipped it out to a translation agency without knowing what was on it.  It was from there that the CD ended up at my front door.  They could have seen the canceled checks for services rendered had they asked.

Newsweek then trotted out the “years old" response.  According to this argument, since the tapes are years old, they are insignificant.  The only relevant issue is whether the discussions took place during the time frame when Iraq said it was complying with UN resolutions.  All the discussions cited took place during this time frame.

 

Next came ABC’s World News Tonight broadcast and Nightline segment three days before the presentation at the Intelligence Summit, a private conference where intelligence professionals and concerned citizens can discuss intelligence and national security matters away from the normal bureaucratic constrictions. To ABC’s credit, they did play a segment on Hussein Kamel stating how Iraq did not tell UNSCOM everything about their weapons program.  However, on the discussion between Saddam and Tariq Aziz, they jumped to a suspect conclusion.

 

This contentious section can be read either that Saddam had our best interests in mind two years before the war, and warned both Britain and us of an unspecified future WMD attack, or musings on how an attack could be conducted through proxies.   Would Saddam have told a US or British Ambassador that there was going to be a WMD attack by unspecified parties on Washington, but not provide any detail?  How did he know?

 

In preparation for their story, ABC interviewed a native Iraqi that not only knew Tikriti dialect, military and Baath Party jargon, but had actually addressed Saddam in similar meetings, General George Sada.  According to General Sada, ABC asked him to listen to the tapes, and he stated that Saddam was probably discussing an attack through third parties to set up plausible denial if he were accused.  He suggested that Saddam made the outburst of “terrorism is coming” during Tariq Aziz’s briefing, then realized he was on tape and came up with the "warning” to cover himself.  This possibility adds yet another layer of complexity.  Brian Ross went on to interview General Sada for forty minutes, attempting to get a sound bite to dismiss the tapes.  The general knew his intention and didn't oblige; so this man, probably the most qualified man in the world available to the media, was omitted from ABC's story.

 

Early on Saturday February 18th, the morning of the presentation, CNN ran a special on how the inspectors found nothing in Iraq.  Later that day, they ran a television piece which filled the time focusing on their strenuous efforts to translate the tapes, and then in their television piece, reported only the Saddam – Aziz conversation.  Apparently, status reports on rebuilding the chemical and nuclear weapons programs were not worth the cut.

 

A common media dismissal technique is to state that the tapes don’t prove that WMD was in Iraq at the time of the invasion.  Since none of the tapes date from the time period immediately prior to the war, this is an irrelevant point.  The tapes do show that the Iraqis had weapons programs; they had an intensive concealment mechanism; and that Saddam stated the war was ongoing.  Iraqi press throughout the Nineties took the view that the U.S. was at war with Iraq, so it is up to the skeptics to show where Saddam, in a fit of conscience, gave up his weapons program before the war, after successfully removing the inspection teams in 1998.   Just when did Saddam’s change of heart take place, and where is the evidence?

 

The liberal media’s wishful thinking extends to print media also.  On January 7, 2004, the Washington Post printed Barton Gellman’s story ”Iraq’s Arsenal Was Only on Paper.”  In this article Gellman cites a letter supposedly written six days after a senior Iraqi official, Hussein Kamel, defected, which stated that “destruction of the biological weapons agents took place in the summer of 1991.”  However, in 1995, UNSCOM forced the Iraqis to admit they had a facility used to produce biological weapons, which was destroyed in 1996.  Are we to assume that they had a bioweapons facility between 1991 and 1996, but didn't produce any bioweapons? After Hussein Kamel's defection, the Iraqi’s initial spin was that Kamel had a secret weapons program that he kept hidden from the rest of the Iraqi government.  The Saddam Tapes include a briefing of a coordinated response system if there were a biological outbreak.   The Washington Post article failed to mention that Iraq finally admitted to producing ricin in September of 1995, after numerous previous opportunities to do so.  The Iraqi Survey Group concluded that the Iraqi Intelligence Service produced ricin during the Nineties, and tested it on political prisoners. 

 

With the posting of the documents and tape transcripts to the Foreign Military Studies Office site at Fort Leavenworth, it didn’t take long for AP to run a story stating Saddam was frustrated that no one believed he had given up his WMD.  The story quotes extensively from the transcripts, but makes no mention that the speakers are rehearsing their version of events for the United Nation.  They could be expected to say ”We told the U.N. we have no weapons.”  This is no guarantee of ground truth.  At least eight of the tape transcripts focused on negotiations with the U.N., and must be understood in this context. 

 

The Iraqis had provided the U.N. with declarations on their chemical and missile program, and were confident that they had handled all the technical questions on verification.  However, they acknowledged numerous times on the tapes that the biological declaration had so many gaps that their allies on the Security Council, France and Russia, couldn't make arguments to close the biological file.  The focus in these discussions is not the actual weapons program, but on how to end the inspection program.  Also missing from these discussions were any problems arising from defector reporting.  What Tariq Aziz tries to dismiss as traps by Rolf Ekeus (then UNSCOM Director) were probably reports on the WMD program from defectors.

 

The AP story quotes Hussein Kamel as stating “We played by the rules and paid the price.”  The immediate context is his reiteration of this statement from the foreign minister as a response to the United Nations.  He later states on page 6 of DOCEX Saddam 030306:

 

It is possible, Sir, they have a problem that is a great deal bigger than the biological file: The types of weapons, the materials we imported, the product which we told them about, and the degree of their use. All of that was not correct. And all of them do not know. We did not say that we used them against Iran and we did not say the amount of chemical weapons we produced. We also did not say anything about the type of chemical weapons and the important materials in reality.”  

 

On page 7 of the same document:

 

“On the nuclear file, Sir, we are saying that we disclosed everything? No, we have undeclared problems in the nuclear field, and I believe that they know them. Some teams work and no one knows some of them. Sir, I am sorry for speaking so clearly. Everything is over. But, did they know? No, Sir, they did not know; not all the methods, not all the means, not all the scientists, and not all the places.”

 

In this section, Hussein Kamel apologizes for speaking clearly, implying that the members of the Revolutionary Command Council were aware they were being taped and guarded their speech accordingly.   By "everything is over," does he mean that the program is finished?  If so, why are there still "undeclared problems with the nuclear file?"

 

Saddam makes an interesting comment in another taped meeting (ISGQ-2003-M0004444 page 5) prior to the presidential site inspections:

 

When they pass Tikrit they are going to Al Makhoul. This we are learning from experience, between Tikrit and Makhoul the distance is 70 km, so we will know when they leave. We know that is a real complication, there is a complication... we do not need to divulge our position. I will tell them to please come in...this is what we have... we are going to move them during the week, take the entire Makhoul area...we don’t want to give up our position and don’t need to… the targets that we want them to deploy…we exhaust them so the real targets get lost.”

 

Intelligence from 1997 indicated that prohibited items were being held at Makhoul, and it was the only presidential site where an inspection was originally requested.   It must have been understood among the attendees what "them" was going to be moved.  We are left to guess at its meaning, but it’s a safe bet it was something Saddam wanted kept away from the Special Commission.

 

Another intriguing tape is ISGQ-2003-M0007133.  It discusses retaining the expertise in PC-3, the Iraqi nuclear weapons program, by dispersing the engineers throughout other ministries and adjusting their pay and benefits so they will be available when needed.  Near the beginning of the meeting, one of the speakers states:

 

“. . . The decision was made that this project should be included in the Industrial Military Organization, with confirmation from you, Sir, that the preservation of the unity of this project is a must. Because it is a unique experience.”

 

 If Saddam really had a change of heart, and completely complied with U.N. resolutions, then why are they speaking of preserving the unity of the nuclear weapons project by hiding the technicians in other ministries?  This fits nicely with the account of the scientist burying uranium enrichment material in his garden.

 

The writer of the AP story, Charles J. Hanley, is firmly in the "no weapons" camp.  Although he states with assurance that all the weapons were destroyed in 1991, in a September 5, 2005 article he wrote that: "In April 2002, workers in the western desert were busy smelting down the last gear from a long-defunct uranium-enrichment project.”   Why wasn‘t this destroyed in 1991 like everything else?  How does Mr. Hanley know it was long-defunct?  Did he or the government investigators take the Iraqi story at face value?

 

The liberal media will continue to dissect any further information on the Iraqi weapons program according to their template that “Bush lied, people died.”  With the continuing release of documents, it will be interesting to see how long they can keep it up before they finally admit "We were all wrong."

 

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