The Powell-Rice Show

Exactly forty years ago there was a scandal in London involving a cabinet minister who told lies. He was expelled from Parliament in disgrace and there were many prominent people with egg on their faces and, if rumours were to be believed, on other parts of their anatomies. One of the main figures was a vivacious tart called Mandy Rice-Davies who was questioned in court by a pompous ass who announced that Lord Astor had denied having been to bed with her. In a devastating riposte she said “Well, he would, wouldn’t he?” Following this low blow the entire Establishment looked extremely silly, which indubitably it was.

On the anniversary of this titillating episode (about which I know a little at the lower levels, as it were, having been a young subaltern around town at the time) the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, together with the president’s adviser on foreign relations, Condoleezza Rice, came to the support of a ludicrously confused Bush on the matter of undiscovered ‘weapons of mass destruction’ in Iraq. Their statements were blunt. Powell declared “It is outrageous of some critics to say that [administration claims] were all bogus”, and Rice announced that “this was a regime that had the [weapons of mass destruction] capability”.

Well, they would, wouldn’t they?

In Powell’s blustering attempt at refutation he used the word “all”. He said it was outrageous for critics to say that administration claims were ALL bogus. Ergo, some of the critics’ statements were not outrageous. If they were not outrageous then one presumes some were justified, which is more than was Powell’s silly video-game circus in February about Iraq’s supposed arsenal. Then Rice bumbled in to admit that Bush had ‘misinformed’ the world when he declared Iraq had negotiated to buy uranium from Niger in West Africa. She said on NBC’s Meet the Press that “we did not know at the time – maybe someone knew down in the bowels of the [Central Intelligence] agency – but no one in our circles knew that there were doubts and suspicions that this might be a forgery. Of course it was information that was mistaken.” Of course.

The Bush statement about supply of uranium to Iraq came in the most important speech an American president can make, apart from a declaration of war : the annual State of the Union Address in January. (Which this year was a declaration of belligerence against every country declining to toe the Bush line without question.) Rice says that “no one in our circles knew” the declaration to the world by the US president was based on obviously forged material. I say she is a liar. Perhaps Bush is not a deliberate liar in this case because he doesn’t understand much of what he is fed by his circle of devious zealots and has not the mental ability to be able to assess material presented to him. But for his closest associate to claim that nobody knew the claim that Iraq “sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa” was untrue is absurd. The White House mind-manipulators do not permit dramatic announcements to be made to the world without checking them. The allegation that perhaps a CIA officer knew the facts but was somehow unable to say that the nuclear story was garbage is, well, garbage.

If Bush’s definitive speech was not triple-checked for accuracy, then the White House is grossly incompetent. If it was checked and the several untrue items were detected and allowed to remain in the speech, the White House is contemptuous of the truth and of all of us out here. If it was checked and the untrue items were not identified (which is what Rice is claiming), the intelligence process of the United States is a shambles – not just “in the bowels of the agency”, as Rice condescendingly has it, but throughout the entire intelligence system. The Director of Central Intelligence, George Tenet, is the person responsible for the information that provided Bush’s pretext for going to war. Is Rice trying to tell us that the speech was not cleared through him, when so much of it rested on supposed intelligence? If Tenet approved it without demanding proof from within his agency of the Iraq-Africa uranium nexus, he is not fit to be director. If he signed off on the speech without querying anything, one would assume he is dumb (and he is not). We could go on and on – but the salient thing is that lies were told by the president of the United States to the American people, and someone is responsible. Just where does the buck stop in the Byzantine dungheap that is the Washington of Bush? Tenet says that accurate information was provided. I believe him. What stinks is the way the intelligence product was politically twisted.

As to Bush’s repeated declarations about hundreds of tons of toxic substances, Rice was adamant that “No one ever said that we knew precisely where all of these agents were, where they were stored.” This is not so. In February Powell showed imagery of supposed storage areas to the Security Council. On 30 March defence secretary Rumsfeld declared “We know where they are. They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.”

Who is telling the truth? One wonders if these people speak to each other about the stories they are concocting – because one of them is making things up. You cannot be more precise than saying “We know where they are”. Either Rice or Powell or Rumsfeld is telling a lie about this aspect of the whole squalid, fraudulent business, and it isn’t just the American people who should be told the truth, but the entire world, because the war waged by Bush and Blair on Iraq killed thousands of civilians, supposedly for our security. What are the facts?

Bush told us in a speech in Ohio on 7 October 2002 that “Satellite photographs reveal that Iraq is rebuilding facilities at sites that have been part of its nuclear program in the past.” Note the plural : the world was informed by no less an authority than the US president that Iraq was engaged in a nuclear weapons’ programme at more than one location. According to Bush, the facilities had been identified by image interpreters.

One of the many unusual things I did in uniform was to complete the Long Photographic Interpretation Course at the Joint Air Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre, then at RAF Brampton in the UK. I practised the art for a year in the Middle East before transferring to something more to my liking (and to that of the Intelligence Corps of which I was no ornament, I must admit). But I have not forgotten the requirements of an interpreter, and have kept contact with some experts involved in this fascinating work.

If there had been reconstruction, as stated unequivocally by Bush, the imagery analysts would have provided exact details of what was going on. Such reports are amazingly comprehensive, and their summaries (the Janet and John bit) leave no intelligent reader in doubt as to what has been discovered – or not discovered. Precision is vital, or the process is meaningless. But now we know there was nothing going on. There was no construction whatever at any of the old nuclear sites, none of which was in any way operative. All had been sealed by UN inspectors (as they recorded, publicly), and the Pentagon knew what was in them. The Pentagon failed to order the army to take the sites immediately, thus allowing civilians to enter and take away useful objects such as barrels for storing water. These poor villagers could not possibly know that they now face a lingering and horrible death from radiation poisoning, courtesy of Rumsfeld’s callous incompetence. But it is bizarre that the nuclear sites at which Bush said Iraq was “rebuilding facilities” were not secured, if only because Bush had warned the world of their dangers. Who cooked the books and weaselled the words?

The most notably mendacious statement was that by vice-president Cheney who said on 16 March that “we believe [Iraq] has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons. I think [the UN nuclear expert] Mr. El Baradei, frankly, is wrong”. But it was Cheney who was wrong, because there were no nuclear weapons. Cheney and the rest of them lied to us. Further, he and the other war-supporters in Britain and America have brought political pressure to bear on Parliament and Congress to deny citizens the right to public inquiries into their activities.

Well, they would, wouldn’t they?

BRIAN CLOUGHLEY writes about defense issues for CounterPunch, Dawn and other international publications. He can be reached at:

Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.