RM
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RM Issue #040131

Weapons of misperception

With various patriotic pundits proclaiming the exoneration of George Bush and Tony Blair by the Hutton report, it's becoming increasingly evident the truth no longer matters

By MICHAEL HARRIS -- For The Ottawa Sun Jan 30 2004

This week U.S Vice-President Dick Cheney presented the Pope with a symbol of peace, a glass dove.

Apparently, a lecture on business ethics from Ken Lay could not be arranged.

Also this week, it was revealed that Republican staff members on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee infiltrated the computers of their Democratic counterparts. For more than a year, they downloaded the secret strategy memos of the other side, occasionally passing along the juicy bits to the media. So far, not a peep from some latter-day Woodward or Bernstein about this computerized Watergate.

Also this week, Wall Street bankers went over to George Bush in droves. It was part gratitude for past favours (a reduction in dividend and capital-gains taxes), part wish list to make the tax cuts of the past three years permanent. As one pundit put it, the bankers have been "rolling in catnip" ever since Bush was defeated by Al Gore in 2000 and became president by Supreme Court fiat.

The same bankers who will have raised $7 million for the president by the end of the month have not raised a single million for any of the Democratic presidential hopefuls, including the rising senator from Massachusetts, John Kerry. It gives the democratic deficit a whole new meaning.

Times changed

Times have certainly changed. How much? This was also the week in which the Pentagon stuck by its new Internet voting system for American forces abroad during this year's presidential elections, even though four of the top computer experts in America advised the military brass that the experiment should be scrapped because "using a voting system based upon the Internet poses a serious and unacceptable risk for election fraud."

I sincerely hope no one is suggesting that Karl Rove or those guys on the justice committee might fiddle the e-mail in some cyber version of the hanging chad come next November.

How can everything be coming so, well, unglued? Personally, I blame it on the big daddy of news run amok, those weapons of misperception on the war in Iraq, George Bush and Tony Blair. The men continue to lie, but their offices make no apologies. No one is prepared to say the words: "These emperors have no clothes."

I wonder what it will take? Last Friday, David Kay threw in the towel as the Bush administration's chief weapons inspector in Iraq. The man who headed up the Iraq Survey Group concluded that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction. When asked by Reuters if he was saying that Iraq did not have any stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, Dr. Kay replied: "That is correct."

As everyone knows, the war in Iraq was launched by the United States and Britain to save the world from the "imminent" danger of Saddam's WMDs. President Bush declared that there wasn't time for Hans Blix and his team of UN weapons inspectors to complete their work in Iraq. In the language of the post-9/11 White House, the threat level was a throbbing red. It was the Marines or chaos.

The language was equally purple on the other side of the pond. We now know from the Hutton report that the prime minister's personal spinmeister, Alastair Campbell, ordered intelligence staff to change the claim that the Iraqi military "may be able" to deploy weapons of mass destruction in 45 minutes to "are able" -- a fraud that Blair used to full effect to stampede his reluctant countrymen into war.

We also know from Lord Hutton that Blair's chief of staff, Jonathon Powell, asked the head of the joint intelligence committee to redraft a dossier that suggested Saddam Hussein "might use WMD if under attack" to baldly state that he "would use them," period, no qualifier, zilch. Perhaps these factoids explain why the Independent newspaper greeted Lord Hutton's exoneration of Tony Blair and vilification of the BBC in a single-word headline: "Whitewash."

The only people who outdid the newly beatified Blair in exaggerating the WMD bogeyman worked for the president of the U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld boasted that not only did Saddam have WMDs, the Americans knew exactly where they were from U.S. intelligence dossiers.

Secretary of State Colin Powell brought documented evidence to the UN Security Council to make the same case. Wolf Blitzer may have frothed patriotically, but for normal people, Powell's slide show proved to be a rather less defining moment than when Adlai Stevenson tabled before the same body spy satellite photos of real Soviet missile installations in Cuba.

Sadly, the satellite photographs produced by the current secretary of state turned out to be doctored, the mobile anthrax labs he projected on the big screen for skeptical Security Council members mere artists' conceptions.

The final irony is that while Iraq creeps closer to civil war rather than civil society, the man appointed to "complete" Dr. Kay's work is a former United Nations weapons inspector, Charles Duelfer. On Jan. 9, Mr. Duelfer told PBS that the prospect "of finding chemical weapons is close to nil at this point."

Major advantage

But Mr. Duelfer has one major advantage for the Bush administration that David Kay did not. Kay was promising a final report by June. God knows when Duelfer will complete his task. The same administration that couldn't give Hans Blix any more time to dig in Saddam's deserts looking for weapons of mass destruction is now pleading for patience to allow Mr. Duelfer to finish the job -- at least until early November.

In the meantime, Bush and Blair apologists now prefer to speak of weapons programs rather than weapons and the fact that everyone is better off without Saddam Hussein. Perhaps, or perhaps not, depending on whether you believe liberation is no free elections and 13,000 Iraqis in prison without charges. But one thing is beyond dispute. Fifteen thousand Iraqis and more than 500 American soldiers have so far died for reasons other than the ones that George Bush and Tony Blair earnestly pressed on their citizens.

But very few people care about holding the big dogs to account. They don't care that Donald Rumsfeld lied about U.S. intelligence on Iraq. They don't care about Republicans spying on Democrats. They don't care about the military potentially turning a presidential election into a video game. And they could care less about bankers who helped make corporate corruption America's hottest past-time.

Which is why, I guess, Dick Cheney can give a glass dove to the Pope without bursting out laughing.



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