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Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Just how much is a journalist's life worth?

Robert Fisk asks the key question. In the aftermath of the assassination of anti-Syrian Lebanese journalist Samir Kassir, and the ever-increasing rate of murdered journalists around the world, Fisk wonders what keeps him going, and his battered profession.

"I'm still not sure why I still walk in harm’s way. There’s nothing vicarious about war and I’m no war junkie. The thousands of bodies I’ve seen prove that death is just a heartbeat away. But "monitoring the centres of power" - to use Amira Hass’s fine description of journalism and its business of challenging governments - means witnessing the filth of the battlefield. To do that, you’ve got to go there."

His main gripe is with propaganda journalism masquerading as objective reporting ("...the way in which too many of us like to pose on screen, to put military helmets on our heads, to parade our flak jacketed selves in front of tanks, to dress up in army costume.") When the reporter or commentator becomes the combatant, journalism descends into farce.

We know all about such people in Australia.

15 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, yes, the great Robert Fisk whose name has become a verb meaning - to expose the ludicrous innaccuracies in a journalist's work.

And how did he come to win such distinction? With reports like this one from the 04/03/2003 edition of the Independent that proclaimed:

"IRAQI ARMY'S DEFENCES SEEM IMPENETRABLE"

'In Al-Mussayib, central Iraq — The road to the front in
central Iraq is a place of fast-moving vehicles, blazing
Iraqi anti-aircraft guns, tanks and trucks hidden in palm
groves, a train of armored vehicles bombed from the air
and hundreds of artillery positions dug into revetments
to defend the capital. Anyone who doubts that the Iraqi
Army is prepared to defend its capital should take the h
highway south of Baghdad.'

'How, I kept asking myself, could the Americans batter
their way through these defenses? For mile after mile
they go on, slit trenches, ditches, earthen underground
bunkers, palm groves of heavy artillery and truck loads of
combat troops in battle fatigues and steel helmets. Not
since the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War have I seen the Iraqi
Army deployed like this; the Americans may say they are
“degrading” the country’s defenses but there was little
sign of that here Wednesday.'

Of course, in real life the Iraqi Army folded like a house of cards.

So you deride conservative columnists and bloogers as the purveyors of "propaganda journalism," while you elevate the anti-factual tripe peddled by Fisk to the status of gospel.

Geez Tony, you are really quite the dill.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005 7:31:00 am  
Blogger Antony Loewenstein said...

Must we go over this again?
Fisk's reporting from Iraq was cautious, questioning and yes, sometimes wrong, as the best journalism sometimes is, IN HINDSIGHT, especially during war.
I'm well aware of the comments re his reporting, but he's generally regarded, across the world, as the best journalist in the Middle East.
I'm comfortable with that claim. Most journalists are too. Those who aren't, generally, are blind friends of the US, Israel, the Arab dictators or propaganda.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005 9:09:00 am  
Anonymous michael said...

Yep, Fisk was sure out of line for suggesting that Iraqi defences seemed impenetrable and wondering how the US would penetrate them.

Why wasn't he being responsible like most other Western journos at the time and just reporting the facts - like WMD programs, people shredding machines, chemical weapons on 45 minute standby, African uranium purchases, mobile biological weapon labs, SCUD missiles fired into Kuwait ...

And since US troops entered Baghdad he has done nothing to redeem himself. He should have been reporting the imminent collapse of the Iraqi resistance when Saddam's statue fell, when Uday and Qusay were shot, when Saddam was captured, when the first puppet government was installed, when Falluja was reduced to rubble, when elections were held ...

Wednesday, June 15, 2005 3:18:00 pm  
Blogger Antony Loewenstein said...

Michael, sometimes nothing else needs to be said. At all. Really.
Perfection.
I often wonder when questioning authority was deemed a bad thing for journalists...

Wednesday, June 15, 2005 3:33:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Michael:

It is unfortunate the you misunderstand the difference between the intelligence process and journalism. Intelligence is, by nature, an imperfect business that is predicated upon supposition, extrapolation and, sometimes, mere intuition. That's why they are called intelligence 'estimates,' not intelligence facts.

And what's more, the belief that Saddam had large stocks of WMD was ubiquitious, shared even by the intelligence services of nations that opposed the war, such as France and Germany. Saddam had used them in the past, and he surely was acting as though he had something to hide. Hence the universal conclusion that he was armed to the teeth with WMD, which was even subscribed to by Andrew Wilkie, who warned of massive chemical weapons casualties if we went to war.

Journalism, on the other hand, is supposed to be predicated on fact, not the wishful thinking of the reporters. Wild predictions are to be avoided because when (as they often do) they are proved erroneous, they eviscerate the journalistic reputations of those who made them. This rule should apply even in the British press, where there is no pretense of non-ideological reporting.

The article I cited was merely one of many in which Fisk has been demonstrated to have his head firmly ensconced in his ass. He was similarly wrong on his apocalyptic prognostications of Allied disaster in Afghanistan.

It seems obvious that you yearn for a Coalition failure in Iraq. Sorry to disappoint, but with all the desperate paroxysms of violence inflicted by the terrorist insurgents and their car bombs, things are getting better. You might want to consult Art Chrenkoff's periodical compilations of what's going right in Iraq that run on the WSJ's website.

And in closing, allow me to rebut your silly comment about Fallujah with the piece below from National Review:


June 01, 2005, 7:59 a.m.
Fallujah Rises from the Ashes
Building a new Iraqi city.

By Michael Fumento

Fallujah, Iraq — Critics of the attack on Fallujah last November often invoked the damning (and mythical) utterance from Vietnam: “We had to destroy the village to save it.” Never mind that the alternative to the massive assault on the city backed by artillery, tanks, and aircraft would either be a huge loss of American lives or simply allowing the al Qaeda cut-throat Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to keep it as the terrorist headquarters. Forget that the city was already crumbling from the neglect of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Today Fallujah is on the mend and then some, a symbol of renewal and American-Iraqi cooperation.

Although the area is still “red” — meaning hostile — as is all of the predominantly Sunni Anbar province, the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force is extending power lines and laying water and sewage pipes at a steady pace. Rubble and explosives — some left over from the fighting and some freshly laid by the insurgents — is being removed. Schoolhouses and hospitals are being fixed and erected. As a bonus, military-age males (known by the abbreviation “MAM”) are receiving good wages to build things instead of blowing up people.

As I traveled through the slowly repopulating city — about half of the original 250,000 are believed to have returned — I saw awesome scenes of destruction. But I also saw thriving markets, stores selling candy and ice cream, and scores of children delighted to see Americans. I did more waving than the beauty queen in the 4th of July parade and the kids squealed with delight when I took their picture.

“We’re mostly known for killing the bad guys” says Lt. Col. Harvey Williams, a reserve officer with the Marine 5th Civil Affairs Group. But killing alone can’t defeat the insurgency. Win over the populace or lose the war.

Williams and the 5th CAG is in charge of rebuilding the city in conjunction with the Army Corps of Engineers. He shows the value of drawing on a rich pool of reservists in that prior to be being called up he worked for General Electric, installing new power plants throughout the U.S.

Restoring and expanding access to electricity is top priority here, more so than access to running water because Iraqis pump water up from the mains to tanks on their roof. No electricity, no working pumps.

Williams and his counterpart at the Corp of Engineers, Maj. Daniel Hibner, don’t have the simple goal of restoring prewar Iraq. “The baseline is crappy so why go back to that?” says Williams. “We did do some damage but the repairs are taking these people far beyond where they were.”

The goals are ambitious but they’re being met. All of Fallujah is scheduled to have electricity by January 2006. The Marines have the responsibility for bringing power to the pole, while the Iraqis take it from the pole into homes and shops.

Progress on bringing drinkable water into homes is even faster. “When we got here, we repaired every potable water system,” says Williams. “Every section of the city that had pipelines before has them now.” The problem, he says, is that people are squatting near the pipes and knocking holes in them to get water. Thus the further you are from the source, the Euphrates River, the less pressure in the mains until it becomes a trickle.

To fix that, two storage tanks are being built about halfway along the pipelines. These will bring water out to the farthest houses. The second of the tanks will be finished by November says Williams.

Drainage is extremely important in Fallujah because the city is lower than the Euphrates. Flooding during the upcoming rainy season would be inevitable, save that eight pumping stations will be restored by then. A ninth, pulverized by a large American bomb when insurgents occupied it, will be restored by early next year.

There are already enough schools and hospitals to serve the entire community, but they’re overcrowded and far from ideal. Everything fixable has or is being repaired and new modern facilities are going up. Iraqis are renowned for their engineering skills; the military encourages them and not only to make better structures. “The idea is that sooner or later they have to do these kinds of projects by themselves,” says Hibner.

Do the insurgents interfere with the reconstruction efforts, I asked? They don’t dare,” says Williams. “They know if they screw with electricity, water, or sewer systems the people will get angry.”

“We’re certainly not trying to turn this into the equivalent of an American city,” says Williams. “But it will be first class for an Iraqi one and that’s going to win the hearts and minds of the people.” From the smiles, the thumbs up, the waves, and the cries of “Hello!” in Arabic I got from the children in even the worst parts of the city, I’d say they’re being won.

— Michael Fumento, embedded with the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force, is a nationally syndicated columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and senior fellow at Hudson Institute.

Thursday, June 16, 2005 5:38:00 am  
Anonymous michael said...

Ah yes, an imbedded journalist from the Hudson Institute taken around to visit Potemkin markets by the US marines so he can rave about the progress in a needlessly destroyed city in which there is still no functioning sewage system, electricity or running water (if the water pipes were actually attached to working taps, there would obviously be no need for Iraqis to knock holes in them) and almost every home still with holes blown through the walls by indiscriminate US shelling.

And notice what your reporter-cheerleader didn't do?

Talk to a local to see what they think of the wonderful service the GIs are providing (much less try to independently investigate any of the claims his Marine handlers made).

And that is precisely the problem with the reporting before, during and since the initial US invasion.

Accepting whatever dubious claims the pro-Pentagon authorities make and reporting it as fact without any attempt at independent verification - even after a having reported string of wrong 'facts' from the same sources in the recent past.

The Western media rightly ridiculed Comical Ali for his idiotic propaganda. Yet the equally idiotic claims of Comical Colin Powell were treated with respect and repeated ad nauseum even though they were based on deliberate misinformation produced by Western intelligence (as we now know for certain, thanks to the seven Downing street memos).

On the other hand, Robert Fisk was at the scene of an explosion in a Baghdad market during the invasion within an hour of it happening, interviewing witnesses. He recovered a tail fin from the missile that caused the explosion and published the serial numbers in his Independent column - which was picked up by the Guardian. A Guardian reader was able to identify it as a HARM missile produced by Raytheon in Texas.

But not only did that piece of real journalism go completely without coverage in the Australian media, but the ABC and SMH were still parroting the Pentagon line that the market had been blown up by an Iraqi AA missile for over a week after Fisk had exposed the claim as a lie.

That is the difference between real reporting and acting as a mouthpiece for authority, anonymous. But real reporting produces facts that might make you a bit uncomfortable, so I suggest you stick with your government approved stories written by stooges from right-wing think tanks.

Thursday, June 16, 2005 5:17:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

HARM is an acronym standing for "HIgh Speed Anti-Radiation Missile" and it is designed to take out enemy surface to air missile sites. It homes on on the missile guidance radar, thus blinding the SAM battery by destroying its command post.

It is entirely possible that a HARM went astray during the fighting. But the nature of the weapon disproves what you seem to be implying: that this was some sort of callously indifferent or even intentional attack against innocent Iraqi civilians. The HARM is, by definition, a weapon that is designed to be used solely against enemy military targets.

Moreover, given the Ba'athist regime's general propensity for violating the laws of war, I wouldn't put it past them to position a SAM battery in the middle of a civilian neighborhood in a cynical attempt to bring about non-combatant collateral casualties.

Collateral casualties in wartime are an unfortunate inevitability. But to say that any military action that might cause inadvertent loss of civilian life would consign the Allied invasion of Normandy in 1944 to the status of an illegitimate act. After all, thousands of innocent French civilians died in the campaign to liberate Europe from Nazi rule.

Thursday, June 16, 2005 6:53:00 pm  
Anonymous michael said...

Yes, military hardware does malfunction and cause 'collateral casaulties' (i.e. slaughter of innocent civilians), though you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise following a media hype on 'smart bombs' in preparation for another US assault on residential areas.

And there was never any suggestion that a SAM launcher was anywhere near the heavily populated market that was hit by the missile. You are making up excuses that not even the Pentagon tried on.

But that has nothing to do with the point I was making.

That is, that the stooge media which you have fondly quoted from above simply parrot the propaganda of their political and corporate masters without bothering to check the facts independently or even apply a modicum of critical intelligence to them (e.g. a moments reflection as to why Fallujans would have to pierce water pipes if they really had access to safe, clean water).

That is why the Australian mainstream media were happy to keep repeating the Pentagon lie about the source of the explosion that killed the Iraqi civilians even after they would have known that it had been exposed. And that's why Alexander Downer was able to safely repeat the lie to Australian audiences for weeks after Guardian and Independent readers had learned the truth.

So you get third rate journos - even those who don't receive their paycheques from the Hudson Institute - repeating the baseless claims of corporate and government mouthpieces as if they were facts even after those same mouthpieces have been shown to have fed them mistruths in the past.

Fortunately, there are still some real reporters (e.g. Robert Fisk) around who don't insult the intelligence of their readers/listeners/viewers by feeding them transparent propaganda as if it was a news report. Yep, they get it wrong some times, but at least they try to get the real story instead of just paraphrasing their Marine minders and pretending its news.

But the people at Fox News, A Current Affair and Scripps Howard News Service have no reason to fear that their sorry excuse for reporting will some day put them out of a job. There are still plenty of people around with insufficient intelligence to insult.

Thursday, June 16, 2005 8:15:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting dance move, Mike. Trying to sidestep unimpeachable factual data that undermines your implicit contention that some how the incident of a HARM missile going astray was evidence of American malignity.

But, as they say in Alabama, "that dog just won't hunt."

Actually, your "point" seems to be the same sort of absolutist double standard of which you accuse your ideological opponents of using.

You take conservatives to task on what you purport to be lies and distortions, but you give a free pass for identical offences to those whom you find more politically congenial.

Robert Fisk's credibility problems have already been amply demonstrated in this exchange. Andrew Wilkie and many others on the Left who were prognosticating WMD gloom and doom before the war on the basis of their belief that Saddam would use the chem and bio weapons they thought he possessed. Wilkie, if memory serves, predicted casualties in excess of 100,000 during the war. But, of course, you have nothing to say about the wild-eyed chicken-little hyperbole employed by your anti-war compatriots during the run up to the war.

And there are more examples of leftie/anti-war types playing fast and loose with the facts for reasons of ideology. Case in point, the Lancet study, whose faulty methodology and results were demonstrably proven by the subsequent release of a much more comprehensive UN study that found Lancet had over-estimated excess Iraqi deaths by 400%.

Etc, etc, etc...

But you haven't a syllable of obloquy for these egregious cases of inaccuracy and prevarication coming from anti-war lefties. And why? Because you agree with their fundamental weltanshauung.

Glad to see you're motivated by such sublime principles, Mike.

Friday, June 17, 2005 8:34:00 am  
Anonymous michael said...

"Interesting dance move, Mike. Trying to sidestep unimpeachable factual data that undermines your implicit contention that some how the incident of a HARM missile going astray was evidence of American malignity."

Don't be so obviously moronic, Anonymous. I'm from an army family and have had a compulsive interest in military hardware since childhood. I daresay I know a fair bit more about the shortcomings of modern weapon systems than you and would never have made such an argument - implied or otherwise.

It was you who sidestepped the topic of shonky reporting by third rate propagandists by attributing to me an 'implicit contention' I never made.

If I was going to highlight the malignity of US military policy I would point out the disgusting immorality and gross irresponsibility of using such hardware (not to mention cluster bombs) in built up areas knowing that a predictable percentage will fail like that and civilians will die. In fact I made precisely that point during the lead up to the war in an ethical philosophy paper I wrote at the time.

"Robert Fisk's credibility problems have already been amply demonstrated in this exchange."

Really? I must have missed that bit.

"Andrew Wilkie and many others on the Left ..."

That would be the Andrew Wilkie who had a long career in the military and says he had been a life long Liberal voter until his disgust with the way the current incumbents had compromised Australian intelligence services drove him away.

Yep, sounds like a rabid Leninist to me.

But we can agree on one thing. He was very naive to fall for the groupthink that Saddam had any WMD. Given that error though, his warnings that Saddam would use them followed pretty logically.

And if Howard, Bush, Blair et al really believed the claims they made about WMD they were utterly irresponsible in putting their own militaries and the civilians of Iraq and surrounding countries in harm's way by driving Saddam's back to the wall. That point is academic of course, as we now know for certain that Bush and Blair, at least, never did believe in the WMD threat, though its quite possible that they kept Howard out of the loop on that.

Scott Ritter of course - another raving leftie Republican Marine - maintained all along that Iraq had no functioning WMD.

I am neither Left nor Right - falling for that sort of idiotic manichean dualism is the first step towards destroying your criticial faculties to the point where you will buy the simplistic propaganda flogged in the media - and you will find several posts on this blog alone in which I am just as critical of the Left as I am of the Right (although I reserve most of that for my duels with Marxists and Trotskyists on IndyMedia and Stan Goff's blog).

But I'm sure it makes you more comfortable to put me into one of your simple-minded boxes, so go ahead and call me a leftie if it stops your head from hurting.

Friday, June 17, 2005 1:03:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, Michael, you'll excuse me if I'm unimpressed by the fact that you are from "an army family." And I'll take that bet that you know more about weaponry and matters military than I. Direct personal experience trumps vicarious second hand experience every time.

Moreover, once again you sidestep the issue: Last time I checked, Wilkie was standing for parliament as an Australian Greens, an unambiguously Leftist party. And it wasn't only Wilkie who was taken in by Saddam's WMD claims. It was everyone, including the intelligence services of nations in opposition to the war, such as France and Germany. Everybody thought he had WMDs, from Chirac to Dubya. And given Saddam's track record and behaviour, that belief wasn't at all unreasonable. Thus your comment that "Bush and Blair, at least, never did believe in the WMD threat" is patently and demonstrably false. I challenge you to present evidence from sources other than Green Left Weekly that this is the case. Both the Senate investigation in the US and the Hutton Inquiry in the UK explicitly refute the contention that there was any deliberate falsification of intelligence data or prevarication on the rationale for war. Sorry, Mike, but you are blowing smoke.

Sure mistakes were made. On all sides: lefties with their apocalyptic prognostications and conservatives about what a cake walk it would be. Intelligence is by its very nature an imprecise business.


Moreover, read the Dulfer Report and you'll see that the reconstitution of WMD programs was one of Saddam's major priorities after scuppering the sanctions regime, something that he was on the cusp of doing through a widespread system of bribes that has come to be known as the oil-for-food corruption scandal. Saddam was a menace and needed to be taken out. Period.

You are also quite incorrect in your comment about Scott Ritter. Ritter initially was quite vocal in his condemnation of Saddam's regime and his belief that the Ba'athists had large stocks of WMD. Then suddenly he changed his mind. Did a 180. Why? Well, perhaps his habit of trolling the internet for jailbait had something to do with it? It's as plausible an explanation for his volte face as any. But in any event, I don't place a lot of credence in the veracity of pedophiles.

Channel 6 (CBS) in Albany NY reportedin January 2003:

"More details are emerging on the arrest of former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter. The Delmar resident was arrested by Colonie police in June of 2001 on a misdemeanor charge. And Channel 6 News has learned that Ritter had been issued a warning after being caught by police once before. Colonie police will not confirm any of this, but Channel 6 News learned that Ritter was caught in a sex sting early in 2001. He was issued a warning then, but eventually arrested for the same thing three months later. Ritter, who has made national headlines for speaking out against going to war with Iraq is keeping silent on this issue. He has been unavailable for comment since details of his arrest were made public. In June of 2001, Ritter was accused of engaging in a sexual discussion, on the Internet with a person who he thought, was a 14 year old girl. It was actually an undercover investigator who agreed to meet with Ritter. When Ritter arrived at the location, expecting to meet the girl, police warned him that he had been set up. Three months later Ritter allegedly fell into the same trap, only this time he was arrested."

Perhaps you should spend a bit more time researching the foundations of your argument, rather than throwing around ad hominem invective.

Friday, June 17, 2005 8:46:00 pm  
Anonymous Doylie said...

Anon, this is excellent, but quite long-winded. Do you have your own blog?

Friday, June 17, 2005 11:18:00 pm  
Anonymous michael said...

"Direct personal experience trumps vicarious second hand experience every time."

So how many HARM missiles have you fired, Anonymous?

I also note that you are talking about Wilkie's politics after he had defected from both Aus intelligence and the Liberal Party, as if it somehow retrospectively created the causus belli for him to to defect. Its not unusual for people to turn on those they feel have betrayed their trust and tried to compromise their professional integrity you know. Nor is it surprising that he turned to the political party taking the strongest stance against the war he knew had been started under false pretences.

Who is trying the (not so) fancy footwork here? Reverse causality is a pretty tortured sort of dance.

But I note that you have been more or less successful in ignoring the point I made (rather than the ones you falsely attribute to me) that Robert Fisk is a real reporter because he investigates and exposes the lies of authorities (e.g. the HARM hitting the market, rather than an Iraqi SAM as the Pentagon and its tame hacks had claimed). Unlike your Hudson Foundation corporate stooge, Michael Fumento, who blithely echoes the lies of Lt. Col. Harvey Williams without considering the obvious inconsistencies in his claims or checking the evidence all around him.

"And it wasn't only Wilkie who was taken in by Saddam's WMD claims."

Saddam's WMD claims? Don't you mean the bogus claims of US and UK intelligence? (which, of course, provide material to the other NATO intelligence service. Garbage in ...).

Or do you actually have a scrap of evidence to support your hyperbole?
No? Thought not.

"Thus your comment that "Bush and Blair, at least, never did believe in the WMD threat" is patently and demonstrably false. I challenge you to present evidence from sources other than Green Left Weekly that this is the case."

Unlike your claims, there is plenty of evidence to support mine.

The first Downing Street memo is the most recent in a whole series of revelations that the intelligence claiming that Saddam had ongoing WMD programs immediately prior to the invasion had been 'fixed around the policy' of Iraqi regime change via military attack.

Others include Joseph Wilson's debunking of the Niger Uranium claim (funny how all of these conservative intelligence officials refused to back their governments' WMD hoaxes), the exposure of the dodgy dossier, the exposure of the 'aluminium tubes for centrifuges' lie, the exposure of the mobile chemical warfare labs lie.

So tell me, Anonymous, if there was real evidence of any threat from WMD programs in Iraq, in spite of assurances to the contrary from people like Ritter and Blix, why did they have to make up all the bogus stuff?

And, above all, where are the WMDs?

What are you most comfortable with?
The thought that Blair and Bush lied, or the thought that they are so delusional that they believed - with no evidence whatsoever - in an imminent threat from Iraqi WMD so deeply and paranoically that it justified falsifying evidence to support their delusion. After all, unlike Saddam these people control nuclear arsenals.

And perhaps you'd care to post the extract or from the Dulfer report that claims that Saddam was 'on the cusp' of restarting WMD programs, much less that he could have posed a credible threat to teh UK or US in the foreseeable future.

And Ritter was arrested (but not convicted) of an intended underage sex offence, so that automatically renders his 100% accurate pre-war claims that Saddam had no WMD false?

You seem to have a bit of a problem with cognitive dissonance Anonymous. Presumably if Andrew Wilkie was caught having sex with farm animals that would prove to you that there are secret underground nuclear silos controlled by escaped Baathists.

I am now bored with this conversation. You have taken it a long way from the issue of journalism onto questions of the veracity of pre-war WMD claims - which are all on the public record and easy to check for yourself (while accusing me of changing topics and attributing motivations and arguments to me that are no more existant than Saddam's WMD).

Unlike you (with the exception of your imbedded reporter blurb), I have gone to the trouble of providing references for my claims and I am tired of wasting my time on off topic issues.

If you have a blog, please do as Doylie asked and post a link. Then post an entry on the topics you wish to discuss rather than hijacking and redirecting the topics here. If you make the same sort of claims on your own blog that you post anonymously here I will be happy to continue our discussion.

Saturday, June 18, 2005 1:09:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, Michael, your ability to play polemical dodge ball is impressive. I haven't fired any HARMS, but I have fired most ground weapons systems except ATGMs and artillery. And I have experience calling in and directing both CAS and arty fire support.

How much trigger time can a chairborne ranger like you claim?

Yes, Wilke joined the Greens after he left ONA. But nonetheless his only foray ito politics has been under a decidedly Leftist banner. Moreover, from personal experience I can tell you that to be a Lib is not necessarily to be a hard core conservative. Alas, I have met many a Lib who, from my perspective, could feel quite at home the Labour Right faction. We call them "wets." So your assumption that Wilkie was a ravening right winger who was mugged by Coalition prevarications is wrong on two counts: Wilkie was never that conservative in the first place (I know several field grade officers who served with him when a Lieutant/Captain), and the government never lied about the reasons for going to war.

I challenged you to cite evidence of government prevarication, and you dredge up Joseph Wilson. Well, let's see what the bi-partisan US Senate Intelligence Committee had to say about Joseph Wilson's credibility:

PLAME'S INPUT IS CITED ON NIGER MISSION
Report Disputes Wilson's Claims on Trip, Wife's Role

By Susan Schmidt
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 10, 2004; Page A09

Former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, dispatched by the CIA in February 2002 to investigate reports that Iraq sought to reconstitute its nuclear weapons program with uranium from Africa, was specifically recommended for the mission by his wife, a CIA employee, contrary to what he has said publicly.

Wilson last year launched a public firestorm with his accusations that the administration had manipulated intelligence to build a case for war. He has said that his trip to Niger should have laid to rest any notion that Iraq sought uranium there and has said his findings were ignored by the White House.

Wilson's assertions -- both about what he found in Niger and what the Bush administration did with the information -- were undermined yesterday in a bipartisan Senate intelligence committee report.

The panel found that Wilson's report, rather than debunking intelligence about purported uranium sales to Iraq, as he has said, bolstered the case for most intelligence analysts. And contrary to Wilson's assertions and even the government's previous statements, the CIA did not tell the White House it had qualms about the reliability of the Africa intelligence that made its way into 16 fateful words in President Bush's January 2003 State of the Union address.

Yesterday's report said that whether Iraq sought to buy lightly enriched "yellowcake" uranium from Niger is one of the few bits of prewar intelligence that remains an open question. Much of the rest of the intelligence suggesting a buildup of weapons of mass destruction was unfounded, the report said...

Moreover, the NYT reported:

"The bi-partisan Senate Intelligence Committee that investigated the question of the intelligence grounds for war indicated that claims Bush had lied about the uranium intelligence were unfounded."

"It was reasonable for analysts to assess that Iraq may have been seeking uranium from Africa based on CIA reporting and other available intelligence," the Committee found.

* * *

As for your comment on Duelfer, I think that this piece from the Wall Street Journal adequately illustrates my point:

HAVE WAR CRITICS EVEN READ THE DUELFER REPORT?
By Richard Spertzel
Wall Street Journal, October 14, 2004; Page A18

After the release of the Iraq Survey Group's Duelfer report, the headlines blazed "No WMD Found." Most stories continued by saying that Iraq did not constitute an imminent threat to the U.S. and thus the U.S. was wrong to eliminate that threat. This reflects the notion that Iraq was only a threat if it had military munitions filled with WMD. The claim "Iraq was not an imminent threat" was also expounded by pundits that seemingly crawled out of the woodwork as well as those opposed to President Bush. But have these individuals read carefully the report before engaging in such anti-Bush rhetoric?


While no facilities were found producing chemical or biological agents on a large scale, many clandestine laboratories operating under the Iraqi Intelligence Services were found to be engaged in small-scale production of chemical nerve agents, sulfur mustard, nitrogen mustard, ricin, aflatoxin, and other unspecified biological agents. These laboratories were also evaluating whether various poisons would change the texture, smell or appearance of foodstuffs. These aspects of the ISG report have been ignored by the pundits and press. Did these constitute an imminent threat? Perhaps it depends how you define "threat."

The chemical section reports that the M16 Directorate "had a plan to produce and weaponize nitrogen mustard in rifle grenades and a plan to bottle sarin and sulfur mustard in perfume sprayers and medicine bottles which they would ship to the United States and Europe." Are we to believe this plan existed because they liked us? Or did they wish to do us harm? The major threat posed by Iraq, in my opinion, was the support it gave to terrorists in general, and its own terrorist activity.

The ISG was also told that "ricin was being developed into stable liquid to deliver as an aerosol" in various munitions. Such development was not just for assassination. If Iraq was successful in developing an aerosolizable ricin, it made a significant step forward. The development had to be for terrorist delivery. Even on a small scale this must be considered as a WMD.

Biological agents, delivered on a small scale (terrorist delivery) can maim or kill a large number of people. The Iraqi Intelligence organizations had a history of conducting tests on humans with chemical and biological substances that went beyond assassination studies. While many of these were in the 1970s and 1980s, multiple documents and testimony indicate that such testing continued through the 1990s and into the next millennium, perhaps as late as 2002. Do we wait until such weapons are used against our domestic population before we act? Is that the way that some people wish to have the U.S. protected from terrorist activity?

It is asserted that Iraq was not supporting terrorists. Really? Documentation indicates that Iraq was training non-Iraqis at Salman Pak in terrorist techniques, including assassination and suicide bombing. In addition to Iraqis, trainees included Palestinians, Yemenis, Saudis, Lebanese, Egyptians and Sudanese.

As for the U.N. inspection system preventing such R&D, why did Iraq not declare these clandestine laboratories to Unscom and Unmovic and why did these inspection agencies not discover these laboratories? Might it have been that there were multiple informants working inside Unscom and Unmovic that kept the Iraqi Intelligence Service informed as to what sites were to be inspected? Information collected by ISG indicates that this was the case. In late 2002 and early 2003, equipment and materials were removed from several sites 24 hours before U.N. inspections. Such informants were said to be active since 1993. Ergo, no surprise inspections.

Furthermore, sanctions were rapidly eroding. Unscom was aware of this erosion but not to the degree that apparently developed post 1998. The accounts of bribery of officials from several countries that were pushing for lifting or weakening sanctions are legend and have been extensively reported this past week. Inspections can not be effective without the full support of the U.N. Security Council. Such full support did not exist from late 1996 onward. Perhaps, now we know why. Iraq exploited the power of wealth in the form of oil to buy influence in the Security Council and within governments throughout the World. This has now been well documented.

Was Iraq an imminent threat? With the regime's intention and the activity of its intelligence organizations, and with the proven futility of uncovering its clandestine laboratory operations by the U.N. inspectors, it is hard to draw any other conclusion. Regretfully, terrorism is the wave of the future. The report by Charles Duelfer is unclassified and makes very interesting reading for those who really want to know. For those with a closed mind, it will be a waste of time.

Mr. Spertzel, head of the biological-weapons section of Unscom from 1994-99, just returned from Iraq, where he has been a member of the Iraq Survey Group (ISG).

And as for the Downing Street Memo, as a smoking gun it's no more than a cap pistol, at best. There's nothing particularly unusual for a government to take available information on an enemy and to mold it around the policy of that enemy's removal. It's called making an argument and is as old as politics itself. But the memo does NOT claim that pre-war intel about Saddam's WMD program was invented by the Bush administration or some sort of neo-con conspiracy.

It says that the British attorney general originally concluded that regime-change was not a legal basis for war (he subsequently changed his mind) I disagree. I think that the heinousness of Saddam's regime, when combined with what everyone reasonably thought about his WMD programs (subsequently validated by Duelfer - see above) made a war to overthrow him morally legitimate.

And that's the unavoidable point that adheres to all those on your side of the argument over the war, Mike. If you had your druthers, Saddam Hussein and his odious regime would be in power today.

Saturday, June 18, 2005 10:07:00 am  
Anonymous michael said...

Ah, Anonymous, now I get it.

The US under threat from mail delivered perfume sprayers!
Why didn't you tell me you were a comedian. I missed your irony all along.

You know, I've got chemical weaponry in my kitchen cupboard (chlorinated bleach), delivery systems in the bathroom (anti-mould spray packs), a biological weapon incubator (yoghurt maker) and just down the road on a building site are some ricin production facilities (castor oil plants).

I am clearly an imminent threat to Western civilisation. When should I expect the cruise missiles to arrive?

Saturday, June 18, 2005 4:53:00 pm  

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