Ochenski: Weapons of mass distraction 

Parsing the lies that launched a thousand ships

No one has found the “weapons of mass destruction” that George Bush and Tony Blair used to scare the bejeezus out of their citizens and launch an unprecedented pre-emptive war on Iraq. What we are discovering, however, is the shameful depth to which both Congress and the mainstream press have been deceived by the Bush administration and its military propagandists.

In London, where the press is considerably more direct than our pabulum media, the front-page headlines shout “Lies, lies, lies” and detail recent revelations that Prime Minister Blair intentionally jigged intelligence information to threaten that Saddam Hussein could launch a deadly attack on Britain within 45 minutes.

Here at home, President Bush did much the same thing. In his pre-war press conference he announced that Iraq, branded as part of his “Axis of Evil,” had “vast quantities” of chemical and biological weapons, and a budding nuclear program. We had to attack first, Bush insisted, because Iraq was such an imminent threat to the security of our nation.

In his own pre-war address, Secretary of State Powell flashed satellite photos of what he said were chemical and bio-weapon storage sites, and spoke of irrefutable “evidence” that Iraq had purchased nuclear materials. So great was the threat that even the United Nations could not be allowed to stand in our way.

What happened next is old news. The fully-orchestrated package was wrapped in the flag by Bush, and the lies that launched a thousand ships were swallowed whole by a compliant mainstream press, a stupefied Congress and a terrified citizenry, thus freeing “the coalition” to bomb, invade and occupy Iraq.

Bush, Powell and their military spokesmen routinely refused to answer pointed questions, saying that to do so would give away “intelligence” secrets. Consequently, the vast majority of mainstream television and print media simply quit asking the probing questions and relied on whatever “official version” of events the administration or its military propagandists handed them.

Now, the depth and breadth of those lies—and the horrible media manipulation on which they rode—are beginning to surface.

A recent BBC exposé on the dramatic “rescue” of Jessica Lynch included eyewitness interviews with Iraqi hospital staff who claimed the whole thing was a staged event. They say keys were offered to the U.S. “rescuers,” but that the soldiers insisted on dramatically kicking down doors “like in an action movie” and fired blanks at non-existent Iraqi soldiers while the cameras rolled.

When U.S. television stations saturated viewers with this tense drama, they dutifully played the night-vision video clip supplied by our military propagandists as part of the “infowar.” They also reported as fact that Lynch had been stabbed, shot, and went down blazing to her last bullet. But the Iraqi doctors who treated her said she suffered no stab or bullet wounds—just broken bones consistent with a vehicle accident.

It’s also becoming painfully obvious that Iraq simply didn’t have “vast quantities” of weapons of mass destruction, nor the capability to be much of a threat to the U.S. or Britain. So far, the only things the thousands of searchers have come up with are two trucks that “could” have been used to process materials for bio-chem weapons—except they had no traces of bio or chem residues when found. The “indisputable” bio-chem weapons site from Powell’s pre-war satellite photos turned up empty, too.

Nonetheless, President Bush made a fool out himself—and our country—by announcing that these empty trucks constituted proof of Iraq’s threat and justified our pre-emptive attack. When Ari Fleischer, Bush’s outgoing press secretary, released this to the Washington press corps, it took venerable reporter Helen Thomas to ask: “So we go to war for two trucks?” Can it be that the men and women of our armed services were sent to war not by looming threat, but through deceitful manipulation perpetrated by the Bush administration?

The deeper they dig, the more it appears that Bush and Blair turn out to be the Boys Who Cried Wolf. Blair is on the stake over it, but Bush continues to scare us, seeing wolves behind every tree. While Britain reduces its troop strength in Iraq, Bush increases ours. After all, Cheney, Halliburton, Bechtel, and a long list of corporate pirates with business and political connections to the White House still have the spoils of war to split up—and they need some firepower for protection while they rake in the sordid rewards of this sick charade.

The lessons, like the deceptions, become clearer by the moment. The drafters of our Constitution well understood the need for a free press, an open government of, by, and for the people, and the absolute separation of powers, so no president could ever single-handedly commit this nation to war or distribute the resultant plunder behind closed doors.

Congress and the mainstream media owe Americans an apology for their dereliction of duty. The media became cheerleaders for the war rather than the objective reporters we expect and deserve. Congress never had the courage to demand an open, honest, and fully public debate before committing our nation, our budget and our soldiers to war.

It is vital that we learn from this degrading experience. How can we ever trust an administration that would send young soldiers to die for a lie to tell the truth on taxes, energy, education, the environment, Social Security or anything else?

Although America’s credibility is plummeting abroad, the silver lining in this blackest of clouds is that Congress and the press have finally initiated investigations into the potential fallacies on which their lead stories and crucial votes relied.

In a quirk of irony and timing, The New York Times just fired a lead reporter, admitting he had fabricated his stories. Doesn’t that beg the question of what the appropriate punishment might be for a president, secretary of state, or general who does the same thing?

When not lobbying the Montana Legislature, George Ochenski is rattling the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Missoula Independent.

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