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Comical Donnie and the Hunt for Banned Weapons

Stephen Gowans

british Prime Minister Tony Blair said they could be deployed in 45 minutes. US Secretary of State Colin Powell said he knew for sure they existed. But when US and British forces started to mass in Kuwait, on the border with Iraq, they weren't used. And when the invasion began, they still weren't used. Stranger still, after the invasion, they couldn't be found.

Now it seems that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction "will most likely consist of items like empty shells for chemical or biological weapons, labs that could be used to make arms and so-called precursor chemicals that could be converted to weapons use but could also be used for fertilizers, pesticides and the like," says the New York Times.

In other words, maybe a few shells here that could have carried biological weapons, a pesticide factory there that could have produced chemical weapons. A far cry from the nasty banned weapons that were said to be sitting on a shelf waiting to be deployed.

How to explain this? Maybe to pass the long hours between torturing political opponents, gassing Kurds, raping women plucked from the streets of Baghdad, and polishing the key to the city the mayor of Chicago once gave him, Saddam had plunged head first into the pleasant hobby of collecting weapons of mass destruction, which he has now spirited out of the country, maybe to Syria. You know how collectors hate to depart with their beloved collections. I mean, asking Saddam to use his prized weapons would be like asking a philatelist to post letters with stamps painstakingly collected over many years. Maybe that's why the banned weapons were never used, and maybe that's why they can't be found.

Or maybe, and gosh, I hesitate to say this, but maybe, just maybe, Bush and Blair and Powell told a lie. You know, a little white lie, just to get everyone on board, so Washington and London, with the backing of the principled and courageous Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Anzar, who has the blessing of a tiny fraction of his citizens for backing the Bush-Blair duo, could spread freedom and democracy to the long-suffering people of Iraq. You know, the kind of democracy the Spanish Prime Minister has embraced, where people's views really matter. Or like the one Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has embraced (a man known in some circles as Comical Donnie for having declared that so precise was the bombing of Baghdad that Iraqis could go out on the streets without fear for their safety.) "If you're suggesting," said Comical Donnie, "how would we feel about an Iranian-type government with a few clerics running everything in the country, the answer is: That isn't going to happen." Which kind of reminds you of another great democrat, former US National Security Adviser, Brent Scowcroft, who said: "What's going to happen the first time we hold an election in Iraq and it turns out the radicals win? What do you do? We're surely not going to let them take over." Which kind of reminds you of what Henry Kissinger once said about Chileans who voted for Salvador Allende: "I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people." And no, Kissinger didn't stand by. He made damn sure Augsuto Pinochet replaced Allende, who, you'll admit, was a whole lot closer to the Anglo-American conception of democracy than the socialist Allende was. Didn't Margaret Thatcher lionize Pinochet for having restored democracy to Chile?

Bush, I'm sure, frets about Iraqis. Why, just the other day, he said he hesitated to give the order to drop a bunker-buster bomb on a suspected Saddam hide-out, because he was worried the first pictures that might emerge after journalists sorted through the wreckage was that of the smashed up body of one of Saddam's grandchildren, hair bedraggled, limbs torn off, skull crushed. But then I guess he was probably worried about bad press, and not about the child. When you're the leader of the free world -- and soon-to-be leader of all of Western and Central Asia -- you can't be worrying about minutiae like killing children, especially when (to paraphrase Michael Leeden of the American Enterprise Institute) they live in "some crappy little country" that "the United States needs to pick up...every 10 years or so" to "throw...against the wall, just to show the world we mean business." Good business, that is -- freedom, democracy, free markets, which, when you get right down to it, is American business. What could be more free and more democratic than American oil firms selling the oil of the crappy little country the Pentagon has just thrown against the wall to show we mean business?

I mention the possibility of Bush and Blair having told a little white lie, because Washington and London have a habit of telling lies to forestall the qualms people might have about B-1 bombers rumbling down runways enroute to drop bombs upon people who pose no threat.

Take, Kosovo, for example. It was kind of perversely alluring, in the way train wrecks are alluring, to follow the gruesome tales of mass graves and corpses that littered Kosovo, in the run up to the bombing campaign unleashed over the former Yugoslavia in the spring of 1999, a campaign that killed thousands of Yugoslavs, and left many more permanently disabled.

It sure was good to give Slobo a drubbing, but in the aftermath, three troubling discoveries were made:

A. It wasn't Slobo who got a good drubbing, but thousands of Yugoslavs who had nothing to do with Kosovo.

B. Only one of the incidents Slobo was originally indicted on, the Racak massacre, happened before the bombing began, yet the bombing campaign was said to be necessary to stop a genocide in progress.

Later, the forensic pathologists who originally investigated the Racak incident, raised questions about whether a massacre of civilians had ever actually occurred. They said they were pressured by William Walker, Washington's man in the region, to say that civilians had been slaughtered by Serb police.

C. When forensic pathologist were dispatched to Kosovo after NATO decided it could put away its bombers and start pitchforking money into the maws of Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, and other war contractors, with the aim of replenishing the Pentagon's depleted store of cluster bombs, cruise missiles, and depleted uranium shells, so that the US could soon be ready to throw another crappy country against the wall, they couldn't find the tens of thousands (at one point NATO said 100,000) corpses that were supposed to be strewn across the province, home to trillions of hungry maggots.

Dr. Peter Markesteyn, a Winnipeg forensic pathologist, was among the first war crimes investigators to arrive in Kosovo after NATO ended its bombing campaign. "We were told there were 100,000 bodies everywhere," he said. "We performed 1,800 autopsies -- that's it."

While stories were told about corpses being dumped into the Trepca mines, none were found. While stories of mass graves were related with feigned disgust and horror, most bodies were found in isolated graves. And there were few clues as to whether the bodies were those of civilians, or those of guerilla fighters killed in the civil war that had raged for over a year.

"It gets very murky. I have no doubt that whoever was putting those intelligence reports together prior to the NATO air campaign would be under pressure to put things in the worst possible light," explained Paul Buteux, a political scientist at the University of Manitoba. "There was a point when the spin doctors came in," he added. Which is a roundabout way of saying Washington and London bullshitted us

Interestingly, after many forensic pathologists left Kosovo in disgust, complaining they'd been hoodwinked, stories began to emerge about the Serbs having craftily destroyed the corpses just to make it look like NATO had egg of its collective face. This parallels a New York Times story that has an Iraqi scientist saying that Iraq destroyed its banned weapons on the eve of the invasion, which of course is what any self-respecting military does: destroys its best weapons just before the enemy attacks, so that it can fight on with far less formidable weapons. Novelist Arundhati Roy once complained: It's not the lies we are being told but the quality of those lies that is truly insulting. Her comment no less applies to this laughable tale, as to any of the flagrant whoppers the Bush team has told, some of which surely would have even made Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, Iraq's former Information Minister, blush.

Also interesting is the state Serbia finds itself in, three years after the bombing, and after a US-backed coup that toppled Slobodan Milosevic from power. While the country was in a shambles under Milosevic, owing to the crushing weight of sanctions, civil war, and the threat of NATO intervention, it is in even worse shape today. Journalists, who used to take great pleasure in documenting the everyday trials of the pre-NATO Serbia, are now silent on the tribulations of the country post-NATO. Little is said of the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo's Serbs, Jews and Roma, carried out by ethnic Albanians under the eyes of the NATO occupation force; of mass unemployment and rising prices; or of a draconian state of emergency, imposed after the assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic on March 12, that has led to the incommunicado detention of some 2,000 people and the outlawing of political rallies and industrial strikes. If ever a state of emergency had a flimsy pretext, this is it.

So given past episodes of lying, the question of whether Bush and Blair fibbed seems pretty certain. Let's review.

At about the time there was a growing momentum developing to remove the sanctions regime that had killed well over a million Iraqis, Washington announced that Baghdad had reconstituted its weapons of mass destruction program. This came on the heels of Sept. 11. Less than 24 hours after the attacks on New York and Washington, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told his aides, "Judge whether good enough to hit [Saddam Hussein.]" And, "Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related or not." The pro-war and well-connected Committee for the Liberation of Iraq lobbied Washington to oust Saddam Hussein. After the invasion the chair of the committee, George Shultz, formerly Secretary of State, and now on the board of Bechtel, found that his company had been awarded a $680M contract to rebuild Iraq's electrical, water and sewage systems. Washington and London said they knew for sure that Iraq had banned weapons, but wouldn't disclose how they knew. Trust us, they said.

Washington resurrected the Nazi doctrine of preventive war, calling it "pre-emptive" warfare. As the Anglo-American axis rushed troops and materiel to the region, claiming no decision had been made to attack, and that the build-up was intended solely to pressure Baghdad into complying with UN directives to disarm, Baghdad found itself in the position to pursue its own pre-emptive strike, using the nasty banned weapons Blair assured everyone were sitting on the shelf, probably somewhere in one of Saddam's palaces. Instead, Saddam's palaces were found to contain nothing but meretricious furniture, a Sinatra-style pool with an eight stool bar, and some kick-ass toilet seats. Who knows, maybe former US General Jay Garner, now Sultan of Mesopotamia, will stumble upon a shell that could have been used to carry biological weapons, as he ambles through Saddam's palaces, one of which is now his new home.

But it was clear to anyone whose mind hadn't been polluted by the secular faith-based religion Americans call patriotism, that Washington had made up its mind up long ago to march on Baghdad. It was Washington that was the threat to Baghdad, not the other way around. In fact, it was a more or less open secret in Washington since about the time Bush was appointed to the presidency by right-wing Supreme Court Justices that an invasion of Iraq was in the cards, not because Iraq was a threat, but because of "the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf" which transcended "the issue of Saddam Hussein," as the Project for the New American Century, a Bush-connected think-tank put it in September, 2000. This Iraq surely knew. And there were the American and British forces, sitting there, en masse, just across the border, an easy target for those banned weapons to obliterate, and yet the Pentagon seemed unconcerned. And a preventive strike never came.

Then comes the invasion, and still no strike by banned weapons, and later no banned weapons found. Finally, an admission: There are no banned weapons per se, but we're confident we'll find something, maybe a biological weapons capability not unlike the one the Cubans have.

What the hell do the Cubans have to do with Iraq? A lot, actually. For one, Washington is as keen to give Cuba a good dose of regime change as it was to chase Saddam out of Baghdad. In Cuba's case, this amounts to restoring good old 100% American-style capitalism to the Caribbean island, after 40 years of free healthcare, free education, and declining infant mortality under Castro. Cubans, it seems, deserve better: crappy HMOs, and health insurance that a good part of the population can't afford; also school tuition fees, so only the rich can get the best education; and, of course, the omnipresent threat of losing your job (if you have one), and therefore of losing your health insurance. Heck, who wouldn't want that?

Yeah, I know, there are a whole lot of Cubans who would swap the USA for Cuba in a moment, as there are a whole lot of Mexicans and Haitians who would swap the wonders of their country's free market economies and domination by US capital for US residency, too. But while Cuba's poverty can be blamed on (a) a history of colonial oppression; (b) the collapse of its major trading partners; and (c) over 40 years of unflagging economic warfare by the United States, Haiti and Mexico, you would think, for all the glowing talk of the wonders of being the backyard of the American empire, would be chock-a-block of contented citizens, rather than being filled with desperately poor people who would like nothing better than to get out. But Cubans, you see, have it better. Those who reach the US are granted US residency and financial assistance, unlike their Mexican and Haitian counterparts, who are sent packing, back to their free market paradises.

To dissuade Cuban migrants from piling into rickety boats and setting sail for Florida, Havana and Washington struck an agreement in 1995 that was to see Washington issue 20,000 entry visas to Cubans every year. This year, the US Interests Section in Cuba has sharply reduced the number of visas issued. Cubans who hijack planes or boats and make it to the US are usually treated leniently and often go unpunished for their crimes. Over the past seven months, there has been a sharp increase in the number of hijackings. Any wonder?

As to the seventy-five jailed dissidents, many of them so-called independent journalists (which means they're independent of Havana, though it's doubtful the same could be said about their relationship to Washington) a few observations:

  1. The dissidents had received material, logistical, and financial aid from James Cason, head of the US Interests Section, and from the United States Agency for International Development. Both Cason and USAID talk of transition programs, that is, programs aimed at moving Cuba from free health care and free education to health insurance plans, people dropping out of school because they can't afford the tuition, and big profits for American firms.
  2. Cason helped launch the youth wing of the Partido Liberal Cubana, which seeks to overturn the Cuban revolution. Nowhere in the world would a foreigner, much less an agent of a hostile foreign government, be permitted to set up a domestic political party. But the victims of US foreign policy are expected to live up to a higher standard.
  3. Under the United States Criminal Code, anyone "who agrees to operate within the United States subject to the direction or control of a foreign government or official" can be imprisoned for up to 10 years. The Cuban dissidents had agreed to operate within Cuba subject to the direction and control of a US official.

What's so remarkable about this case is that the Cubans were set up as stooges by Washington, who surely knew that such a highly visible provocation would land the dissidents in jail, which was perhaps Washington's goal all along. Whatever the case, Cuba finds itself damned if it does and damned if it doesn't. There's internal subversion, orchestrated, or at least fuelled, by Washington, or crackdown, and growing anti-Castro propaganda centred on the crackdown, to prepare public opinion for a possible military assault on the embattled island.

Cuba, it was said by US officials last year, has a biological weapons capability, which is a frightening way of saying it has pharmaceutical factories which could, as any pharmaceutical factory could, be used to manufacture biological weapons one day, if someone wanted to. Washington's thinking seems to be that the only way of preventing anyone from striking out at the US, no matter how thoroughly provoked they are, is to make sure Washington runs the show, everywhere. Which is just as well, for apart from the positive security implications, there are tons and tons of profits to be made by US firms with the world's labor, markets, resources and assets under US control. Of course, most everyone would have to put up with crappy healthcare, that is, if they get could afford healthcare at all, and the poor would get poorer, but at least we'd all be free to do...well, I'm not sure, exactly what. Certainly not to elect whoever we want. But we'd be free, which sounds good, even if it means nothing. Who could ask for anything more?

Steve Gowans calls himself a radical, but others just call him contrary and a pain-in-the-ass. He can be reached at

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