AP hit piece on the belief that Iraq possessed WMDs – a mini-fisking

In what reads like a thinly veiled opinion piece even though it’s supposed to be a straight story, AP ‘special correspondent’ Charles J. Hanley marvels that 50% of Americans still believe that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction:

Do you believe in Iraqi “WMD”? Did Saddam Hussein’s government have weapons of mass destruction in 2003?

Half of America apparently still thinks so, a new poll finds, and experts see a raft of reasons why: a drumbeat of voices from talk radio to die-hard bloggers to the Oval Office, a surprise headline here or there, a rallying around a partisan flag, and a growing need for people, in their own minds, to justify the war in Iraq.

Well yes, of course. People who still believe Iraq had WMDs at the time of the invasion have evidently been brainwashed. And it’s the President, the wide world of punditry and – get this – the mainstream media, who have guided us along the way. I mean, the belief that Iraq had WMDs had nothing to do with what we’ve known since Desert Storm, and what the Clinton administration told us about the threat from Iraq, in addition to the rationale President Bush put forth in his September 2002 speech to the United Nations.

One of the ‘experts’ in the piece:

People tend to become “independent of reality” in these circumstances, says opinion analyst Steven Kull.

Except in this case, the person “independent of reality” is Mr. Hanley, as we’ll soon see.

Continuing (emphasis added):

The reality in this case is that after a 16-month, $900-million-plus investigation, the U.S. weapons hunters known as the Iraq Survey Group declared that Iraq had dismantled its chemical, biological and nuclear arms programs in 1991 under U.N. oversight.

WHAT? That is not just inaccurate reporting – it’s an absolute lie. Via the ISG’s final report, on the page ‘Realizing Saddam’s Veiled WMD Intent – Regime Strategy and WMD Timeline’ and under the section titled ‘Decline (1991-1996)’ (bold and italics emphasis added):

UNSCR 715, passed on 11 October 1991, required Iraq’s unconditional acceptance of an ongoing monitoring and verification presence to verify Iraq’s compliance with the weapons-related provisions of UNSCR 687 (1991). UNSCR 715 also required national implementing legislation to ban future Iraqi WMD work. The former Regime refused to accept these provisions until November 1993. (However, national implementing legislation was not enacted until February 2003.) The former Regime objected to the open-ended nature of long-term monitoring, because Iraq equated the presence of inspectors with the continuation of sanctions.

So you see, there was no dismantling of their chemical, biological and nuclear arms programs under U.N. oversight back in 1991. If they’d dismantled such programs back in 1991, why would Bill Clinton have launched cruise missile strikes on Iraq in December 1998 on the basis of Iraq’s possession of WMD? If they’d been ‘dismantled under UN authority’ then why did the ISG report note several occassions of Iraq’s refusal to comply with the UN and IAEA on demands made of them regarding full disclosure of their WMD capabilities? Again, via the ISG report:

UNSCR 707, 15 August 1991—noted Iraq’s “flagrant violation” of UNSCR 687 and demanded that Iraq provide “full, final, and complete disclosure” (FFCD) of its WMD programs, provide inspectors with “immediate, unconditional, and unrestricted access” to inspection sites, and cease all attempts to conceal material or equipment from its WMD and missile programs.


UNSCR 1194, 9 September 1998—condemned Iraq’s decision to halt cooperation with UNSCOM and IAEA inspections in August 1998 as a “flagrant violation” of its obligations and demanded that Iraq restore cooperation with UNSCOM. The resolution suspended sanctions reviews but promised Iraq a “comprehensive review” of its situation once cooperation resumed and Iraq demonstrated its willingness to comply.

UNSCR 1205, 5 November 1998—condemned Iraq “flagrant violation” of earlier UNSCRs in suspending cooperation with UN monitoring activities in Iraq on 31 October 1998.

UNSCR 1284, 17 December 1999—established the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) to take over the responsibilities mandated to UNSCOM under UNSCR 687. It also linked Iraqi cooperation in settling disarmament issues with the suspension and subsequent lifting of sanctions. UNSCR 1284 also abolished the ceiling on Iraqi oil exports.

UNSCR 1441, 8 November 2002—declared Iraq in material breach of its obligations under previous resolutions including 687, required new weapons declarations from Iraq, and included stringent provisions for Iraqi compliance, including access to all sites, interviews with scientists, and landing and over flight rights.

If the ISG ‘concluded’ that Iraq dismantled its WMD programs under UN supervision in 1991, it sure has a strange way of showing it, doesn’t it? This makes one wonder if Hanley even read the report?

More from Hanley’s article:

“I’m flabbergasted,” said Michael Massing, a media critic whose writings dissected the largely unquestioning U.S. news reporting on the Bush administration’s shaky WMD claims in 2002-03.

Note the use of the word “shaky” when describing the WMD claims made in 2002 and 2003. The claims at the time made weren’t “shaky” at all, and were backed up by years of evidence to the contrary (see the links again on Desert Storm and Clinton’s claims respectively, for starters). It may look “shaky” now, but at the time it was being asserted, nearly 70% of the people in this country believed it – no doubt in part due to what we learned all throughout the 1990s as to the threat Saddam Hussein posed not just to countries overseas, but to the US as well. The media’s “largely unquestioning” news reporting on WMD claims wouldn’t have been so had the evidence itself been shaky, because the media is certainly no friend of this administration, and is not pro-war and pro-military.

Moving right along:

“This finding just has to cause despair among those of us who hope for an informed public able to draw reasonable conclusions based on evidence,” Massing said.

Unfortunately for Mr. Massing, the person attempting to ‘inform’ the public here (Hanley) is the one who creates despair among those who are informed about the issue, who can read that article and know that he doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about. What’s frustrating is that readers who are on the fence on this issue could read what he wrote and come to the wrong conclusions based on his incredibly misleading – and in some cases, outright false – reporting of the ‘facts’ as he sees them.

On the recent announcement by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) and Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) on the finding of 500+ munitions/WMDs in Iraq since 2003, Hanley quotes disgraced former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter:

“These are not stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction,” said Scott Ritter, the ex-Marine who was a U.N. inspector in the 1990s. “They weren’t deliberately withheld from inspectors by the Iraqis.”

Of course, Hanley doesn’t bother to examine Ritter’s credibility, which has been widely called into question thanks to the revelation that Ritter received a nice little payment of $400,000 to produce a ‘documentary’ on Iraq that essentially said Iraq was disarmed and was also critical towards US policy on Iraq – assertions that were in stark contrast to statements he’d made years prior:

As an intelligence officer during the Persian Gulf War, Capt. Ritter helped crush Hussein’s army. For seven years as a U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq, he rooted out evidence of the dictator’s deceit and his forbidden arsenal. When Ritter resigned in 1998, calling the inspection program a sham, he testified in Congress:

“Iraq is not disarmed. Iraq still poses a real and meaningful threat to its neighbors.”

Amid the rising tattoo of Bush administration war drums, Ritter took off for Baghdad, singing a different tune. “The truth of the matter is that Iraq has not been shown to possess weapons of mass destruction,” he said in an address to the Iraqi National Assembly — the first by an American and widely seen as a propaganda coup for Hussein. “Iraq today is not a threat to its neighbors.”

Ritter admits to no inconsistency, saying, “I don’t see where I’ve deviated one iota.”

His September trip was assisted, in part, by a wealthy Iraqi American businessman who opposes U.N. economic sanctions on Iraq and who also invested $400,000 in a documentary Ritter researched there two years ago. In the film, which has not been commercially released, Ritter condemns the sanctions, calling American policy toward Iraq immoral.

Why quote a former UN weapons inspector with huge credibility issues – unless you think no one is going to look beyond the impressive title “‘former UN weapons inspector”, of course.

Hanley again:

And Bush himself, since 2003, has repeatedly insisted on one plainly false point: that Saddam rebuffed the U.N. inspectors in 2002, that “he wouldn’t let them in,” as he said in 2003, and “he chose to deny inspectors,” as he said this March.

The facts are that Iraq — after a four-year hiatus in cooperating with inspections — acceded to the U.N. Security Council’s demand and allowed scores of experts to conduct more than 700 inspections of potential weapons sites from Nov. 27, 2002, to March 16, 2003.

First things first, for purposes of discussion – let’s assume that the above assertion made by Hanley is true (it’s not, but we’ll go with it for now). How does that square with his earlier assertion that Iraq “dismantled its chemical, biological and nuclear arms programs in 1991 under U.N. oversight.” It doesn’t. Hanley’s contradicted himself here.

Back to his assertion about Iraq not allowing UN weapons inspectors in, Hanley is deliberately misleading (something he and his ‘experts’, for all intents and purposes, accuse the President of doing). Hussein allowed UN inspectors in, sure. But he did not give unfettered and full access to the inspectors. In fact, from 1991 on he never did, which was what pushed a post-9/11 Bush administration to the breaking point with Iraq in 2003.

Hanley once more:

The inspectors said they could wrap up their work within months. Instead, the U.S. invasion aborted that work.

Could wrap up their work ‘within months’ if what, Mr. Hanley? If Hussein allowed unfettered and full access to the inspectors. Which he was not doing and hadn’t done for 12 years. And wasn’t going to.

More misinfo from Hanley’s article:

As recently as May 27, Bush told West Point graduates, “When the United Nations Security Council gave him one final chance to disclose and disarm, or face serious consequences, he refused to take that final opportunity.”

“Which isn’t true,” observed Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a scholar of presidential rhetoric at the University of Pennsylvania. But “it doesn’t surprise me when presidents reconstruct reality to make their policies defensible.” This president may even have convinced himself it’s true, she said.

Well, Hanley certainly convinced himself that it’s not true, as has Ms. Jamieson, apparently – both of them are wrong. Hussein indeed refused to take the opportunity to fully comply with weapons inspectors (as I noted earlier).

Returning to the article:

Americans have heard it. A poll by Kull’s WorldPublicOpinion.org found that seven in 10 Americans perceive the administration as still saying Iraq had a WMD program. Combine that rhetoric with simplistic headlines about WMD “finds,” and people “assume the issue is still in play,” Kull said.

“For some it almost becomes independent of reality and becomes very partisan.” The WMD believers are heavily Republican, polls show.

While the WMD naysayers tend to be Bush-haters who ignore reality. Wonder if Hanley is one of them?

This reminds me of the popular media-pushed myth that the Bush administration supposedly ‘convinced’ people to believe that Saddam Hussein was involved in the planning of 9-11. I pointed out back in November of 2005 that Americans believed just days after 9-11 — long before the administration started talking about Iraq — that Iraq had something to do with 9-11, and that belief held steady through at least mid-2003. So the myth that GWB and co. somehow tricked people into believing Hussein was part of the 9-11 plot is flat-out wrong. Just as wrong as the belief, pushed forth by Hanley and his ‘experts’, that Americans have somehow been brainwashed by talk radio and the Bush administration into believing that Saddam Hussein was armed with WMD.

How ironic is it that a piece that contains the implicit assertion that Americans are supposedly misinformed about the issue of Iraq’s WMD capabilities is so full of misinformation itself?

This is some of the worst reporting I think I’ve ever seen on the issue of the President’s pre-war assertions on the capabilities of Hussein’s WMDs. If you agree with me, contact the AP and let them know what you think.

Also blogging about this: Thomas Lifson, Bookworm Room

Related: Gateway Pundit attempts to piece together the WMD puzzle.

Monday AM Update: I was thinking last night before I went to sleep that I’d written here about Charles Hanley’s bias before. Sure enough, I have, with this post: Subtility in media bias

Little Green Footballs has also pointed out Hanley’s bias in the past here and here.

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