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Judy Miller’s War

by ALEXANDER COCKBURN

Lay all Judith Miller’s New York Times stories end to end, from late 2001 to June 2003 and you get a desolate picture of a reporter with an agenda, both manipulating and being manipulated by US government officials, Iraqi exiles and defectors, an entire Noah’s Ark of scam-artists.

And while Miller, either under her own single by-line or with NYT colleagues, was touting the bioterror threat, her book Germs, co-authored with Times-men Steven Engelberg and William Broad was in the bookstores and climbing the best seller lists. The same day that Miller opened an envelope of white powder (which turned out to be harmless) at her desk at the New York Times, her book was #6 on the New York Times best seller list. The following week (October 21, 2001), it reached #2. By October 28, –at the height of her scare-mongering campaign–it was up to #1. If we were cynical…

We don’t have full 20/20 hindsight yet, but we do know for certain that all the sensational disclosures in Miller’s major stories between late 2001 and early summer, 2003, promoted disingenuous lies. There were no secret biolabs under Saddam’s palaces; no nuclear factories across Iraq secretly working at full tilt. A huge percentage of what Miller wrote was garbage, garbage that powered the Bush administration’s propaganda drive towards invasion.

What does that make Miller? She was a witting cheer-leader for war. She knew what she was doing.

And what does Miller’s performance make the New York Times? Didn’t any senior editors at the New York Times or even the boss, A.O. Sulzberger, ask themselves whether it was appropriate to have a trio of Times reporters touting their book Germs on tv and radio, while simultaneously running stories in the New York Times headlining the risks of biowar and thus creating just the sort of public alarm beneficial to the sales of their book. Isn’t that the sort of conflict of interest prosecutors have been hounding Wall Street punters for?

The knives are certainly out for Miller. Leaked internal email traffic disclosed Miller’s self-confessed reliance on Ahmad Chalabi, a leading Iraqi exile with every motive to produce imaginative defectors eager to testify about Saddam’s biowar, chemical and nuclear arsenal. In late June Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post ran a long story about Miller’s ability in recent months to make the US Army jump, merely by threatening to go straight to Rumsfeld.

It was funny, but again, the conflicts of interest put the New York Times in a terrible light. Here was Miller, with a contract to write a new book on the post-invasion search for “weapons of mass destruction”, lodged in the Army unit charged with that search, fiercely insisting that the unit prolong its futile hunt, while simultaneously working hand in glove with Chalabi. Journalists have to do some complex dance steps to get good stories, but a few red flags should have gone up on that one.

A brisk, selective timeline:

December 20, 2001, Headline, “Iraqi Tells of Renovations at Sites For Chemical and Nuclear Arms”.

Miller rolls out a new Iraqi defector, in the ripe tradition of her favorite, Khidir Hamza, the utter fraud who called himself Saddam’s Bombmaker.

Story:

“An Iraqi defector who described himself as a civil engineer said he personally worked on renovations of secret facilities for biological, chemical and nuclear weapons in underground wells, private villas and under the Saddam Hussein Hospital in Baghdad as recently as a year ago.

“The defector, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, gave details of the projects he said he worked on for President Saddam Hussein’s government in an extensive interview last week in Bangkok. The interview with Mr. Saeed was arranged by the Iraqi National Congress, the main Iraqi opposition group, which seeks the overthrow of Mr. Hussein.

“If verified, Mr. Saeed’s allegations would provide ammunition to officials within the Bush administration who have been arguing that Mr. Hussein should be driven from power partly because of his unwillingness to stop making weapons of mass destruction.”

Notice the sedate phrase “if verified”. It never was verified. But the story served its purpose.

September 7, 2002: Headline: “US says Hussein intensifies quest for a-bomb parts”.

This one was by Miller and Michael Gordon, promoting the aluminum tube nonsense: “In the last 14 months, Iraq has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes, which American officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium.” All lies of course. Miller and Gordon emphasize “Mr. Hussein’s dogged insistence on pursuing his nuclear ambitions, along with what defectors described in interviews as Iraq’s push to improve and expand Baghdad’s chemical and biological arsenals”.

Another of Miller’s defectors takes a bow:

“Speaking on the condition that neither he nor the country in which he was interviewed be identified, Ahmed al-Shemri, his pseudonym, said Iraq had continued developing, producing and storing chemical agents at many mobile and fixed secret sites throughout the country, many of them underground.

“All of Iraq is one large storage facility,” said Mr. Shemri. Asked about his allegations, American officials said they believed these reports were accurate.”

A final bit of brazen chicanery from Gordon and Miller:

“Iraq denied the existence of a germ warfare program entirely until 1995, when United Nations inspectors forced Baghdad to acknowledge it had such an effort. Then, after insisting that it had never weaponized bacteria or filled warheads, it again belatedly acknowledged having done so after Hussein Kamel, Mr. Hussein’s brother-in-law, defected to Jordan with evidence about the scale of the germ warfare program.”

What Gordon and Miller leave out (or lacked the enterprise or desire to find out) is that Hussein Kamel told UN Inspectors that he had destroyed all Iraq’s WMDs, on Saddam Hussein’s orders.

September 13, 2002, headline: “White House Lists Iraq Steps To Build Banned Weapons”.

Miller and Gordon again, taking at face value the administration’s claims that it was “the intelligence agencies’ unanimous view that the type of [aluminum]tubes that Iraq has been seeking are used to make such centrifuges.”

If nothing else this shows what rotten reporters Miller and Gordon are, because it now turns out the intelligence analysts across Washington were deeply divided on precisely this issue.

September 18, 2002: “Verification Is Difficult at Best, Say the Experts, and Maybe Impossible”.

This is Miller helping the War Party lay down a preemptive barrage against the UN Inspectors: “verifying Iraq’s assertions that it has abandoned weapons of mass destruction, or finding evidence that it has not done so, may not be feasible,
according to officials and former weapons inspectors”

A cameo appearance by Khidhir Hamza reporting his supposed knowledge that “Iraq was now at the ‘pilot plant’ stage of nuclear production and within two to three years of mass producing centrifuges to enrich uranium for a bomb.”

December 3, 2002, a Miller Special, murky with unidentified informants: “C.I.A. Hunts Iraq Tie to Soviet Smallpox”.

Classic Miller: “The C.I.A. is investigating an informant’s accusation that Iraq obtained a particularly virulent strain of smallpox from a Russian scientist who worked in a smallpox lab in Moscow during Soviet times”

January 24, 2003:”Defectors Bolster U.S. Case Against Iraq, Officials Say”.

Another Miller onslaught on the UN inspectors:

“Former Iraqi scientists, military officers and contractors have provided American intelligence agencies with a portrait of Saddam Hussein’s secret programs to develop and conceal chemical, biological and nuclear weapons that is starkly at odds with the findings so far of the United Nations weapons inspectors.”

Al-Haideri is still in play: “Intelligence officials said that some of the most valuable information has come from Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, a contractor who fled Iraq in the summer of 2001. He later told American officials that chemical and biological weapons laboratories were hidden beneath hospitals and inside presidential palaces. Mr. Haideri was relocated anonymously to a small town in Virginia.”

We’ll leave al-Haideri in well-earned retirement and Miller heading towards her supreme triumph of April 20, 2003, relaying the allegations of chemical and bio-weapon dumps made by an unnamed Iraqi scientist she’d never met.

 

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

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