Reading Peter van Buren’s excoriating indictment of the role played by the ‘complacent and sleepy media’ in paving the way for the Iraq war reminded me of an episode during the build-up to the war that when the mainstream media gave a spectacular demonstration of how complacent – or merely compliant – it could be.
It’s one of various episodes that illustrate the shocking hypocrisy and cynicism of the governments who were trying to drag the world to war. No I’m not referring to Judith Miller’s fabrications, or the ‘dodgy dossier’, or the Niger ‘yellowcake’ scam, or the UK ‘ricin plot’ with Colin Powell set out to terrify the world during his pathetic United Nations slide show on 5 Feb 2003.
On 18 December 2002, Andreas Zumach, the Geneva-based reporter for the German daily Die Tageszeitung reported that the United States had redacted 8000 pages from the 11,800 pages dossier presented by the Iraq government to the UN Security Council on its WMD programme.
Zumach described how the document had been inspected by US officials before reaching the Security Council, on the grounds that it might include material deemed to be ‘risky’ from a security perspective. As a result the 10 non-permanent members were not allowed to see the full version, which was reserved for the five permanent members only.
The story was then picked up by the US radio station Democracy Now! and by James Cusick and Felicity Arbuthnot of the Glasgow Sunday Herald. Now one might think that an combative and inquiring press confronted with the ever-growing likelihood of a major war, would be keen to ask probing questions about such a sensational revelation. Questions like: Whether it was right that the US , a country which was actively seeking to galvanize international support to go to war, should have effective veto over what aspects of this document should be presented to the public?
Or whether the US judgement about which aspects of the missing pages were really ‘risky’ or simply politically convenient – especially since Colin Powell was accusing Iraq of being in material breach of its obligations on the basis of that very same dossier? And last but not least, an inquiring press might have asked what exactly was in those missing pages?
But none of these questions were asked by any major media outlet in Britain or the US. I remember very well that the missing pages caused barely a ripple. And it didn’t require a Sherlock Holmes to consider their implications. After all, the original Democracy Now! story reported that Zumach’s investigations had found that the missing pages contained details of some 24 U.S. corporations and four agencies of the U.S. government that illegally helped Iraq build its biological, chemical and nuclear weapons programs.
These included Hewlett Packard, DuPont, Honeywell, Rockwell, Tectronics, Bechtel, International Computer Systems, Unisys, Sperry and TI Coating – whose contributions to Iraq’s WMD programme had been carried out with the assistance of the US Departments of Energy, Agriculture, Commerce and Defense.
Not all of this was entirely new. In 1994 a Senatorial report also listed numerous examples of ‘dual use’ pathogens and technologies that had been exported by US and other companies to Iraq during the 80s – including many that were being presented to the world in 2003 as examples of Saddam’s utter evil and megalomaniac insanity.
All this meant that the missing pages were worth talking about, but it was also problematic to have that kind of conversation. So with a handful of exceptions, no one did. In the US itself, the story was almost completely ignored.
And more than ten years later, it has been largely forgotten – assuming it was ever remembered in the first place – and remains one more sleazy and dishonest ruse in a sleazy and dishonest war.