According to the book Unholy Babylon by Adel Darwish and Gregory Alexander (Gollancz Paperback 1991):
The US before the first Gulf War gave Saddam to understand that it would not interfere in its quarrel with Kuwait. US Ambassador April Glaspie conveyed the message to Saddam that the US ‘had no opinion’ on Iraq’s future intentions with regard to Kuwait. (Kuwait as a state separate from Iraq was a creation of the British to protect their oil interests.)
The book makes the situation painfully clear: Washington sent many messages to the Iraqi leader, all of them with the same theme. ‘We won’t interfere. We apologize for anything the nasty journalists have written about you, we prefer you to those fanatic Iranians.’ This is the ‘how’ of American diplomacy.
George HW Bush told the public that Iraq’s invasion was “without provocation or warning,” and that “there is no justification whatsoever for this outrageous and brutal act of aggression.” He added: “Given the Iraqi government’s history of aggression against its own citizens as well as its neighbors, to assume Iraq will not attack again would be unwise and unrealistic.” In fact, there had been a longstanding and complex dispute between the two undemocratic petrostates but that wasn’t likely to inspire Americans to accept the loss of their sons and daughters in a distant fight, so a propaganda was needed.
A crucial diplomatic error on the part of the first Bush administration left Saddam Hussein with the impression that the US government had little interest in Iraq’s conflict with Kuwait. But that didn’t fit into the narrative that the Iraqi dictator was an irrational maniac bent on regional domination. So there was a concerted effort to deny that the US government had ever had a chance to deter his aggression through diplomatic means — and even to paint those who said otherwise as conspiracy theorists.
As John Mearsheimer from the University of Chicago and Harvard’s Stephen Walt wrote in 2003, “Saddam reportedly decided on war sometime in July 1990, but before sending his army into Kuwait, he approached the United States to find out how it would react.”
In a now famous interview with the Iraqi leader, U.S. Ambassador April Glaspie told Saddam, “[W]e have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait.” The U.S. State Department had earlier told Saddam that Washington had “no special defense or security commitments to Kuwait.” The United States may not have intended to give Iraq a green light, but that is effectively what it did.
Exactly what was said during the meeting has been a source of some controversy. Accounts differ. According to a transcript released by the Iraqi government, Glaspie told Hussein, ”I admire your extraordinary efforts to rebuild your country.”
I know you need funds. We understand that and our opinion is that you should have the opportunity to rebuild your country. But we have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait.
I was in the American Embassy in Kuwait during the late 60’s. The instruction we had during this period was that we should express no opinion on this issue and that the issue is not associated with America. James Baker has directed our official spokesmen to emphasize this instruction.
Leslie Gelb of The New York Times reported that Glaspie told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the transcript was inaccurate “and insisted she had been tough.” But that account was contradicted when diplomatic cables between Baghdad and Washington were released. There is no dispute about one crucially important point: Saddam Hussein consulted with the US before invading, and our ambassador chose not to draw a line in the sand, or even hint that the invasion might be grounds for the US to go to war.
The most generous interpretation is that each side badly misjudged the other. Hussein ordered the attack on Kuwait confident that the US would only issue verbal condemnations. As for Glaspie, she later told The New York Times, ”Obviously, I didn’t think — and nobody else did — that the Iraqis were going to take all of Kuwait.”
In addition, on July 23, 1990, the U.S. State Department spokeswoman, Margaret Tutwiler, said that the U.S. “had no defense treaties with Kuwait; no special defense or security commitment to Kuwait.”
The first Gulf War was sold on a mountain of war propaganda. It took a campaign worthy of George Orwell to convince Americans that our erstwhile ally Saddam Hussein — whom the US had aided in his war with Iran as late as 1988 — had become an irrational monster by 1990. Saddam Hussein did use chemical weapons in the Iraq / Iran war in the 80’s but the US sold and helped Iraq develop its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs and gave them “critical battle planning assistance at a time when American intelligence knew that Iraqi commanders would employ chemical weapons in waging the decisive battles of the Iran-Iraq war”.
One of the more comprehensive and damning accounts of Iraqgate was written by Douglas Frantz and Murray Waas and published in the February 23, 1992, Los Angeles Times. Headlined, “Bush secret effort helped Iraq build its war machine”, the article reported that “classified documents obtained by the LA Times show … a long-secret pattern of personal efforts by [George Bush senior]–both as president and vice president–to support and placate the Iraqi dictator.”
The August 17, 2002 NYT reported that, according to
“senior military officers with direct knowledge of the program”, even though “senior officials of the Reagan administration publicly condemned Iraq’s employment of mustard gas, sarin, VX and other poisonous agents … President Reagan, vice president George Bush [senior] and senior national security aides never withdrew their support for the highly classified program in which more than 60 officers of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) were secretly providing detailed information on Iranian deployments, tactical planning for battles, plans for air strikes and bomb-damage assessments for Iraq.”
Declassified government documents and interviews with former U.S. intelligence officials cited in news reports show conclusively that the U.S. government knew about the chemical attacks for years, including the use of mustard gas on Iraqi and Iranian civilians. “They show that senior U.S. officials were being regularly informed about the scale of the nerve gas attacks,” reported Shane Harris and Matthew Aid for Foreign Policy. “They are tantamount to an official American admission of complicity in some of the most gruesome chemical weapons attacks ever launched.”
Of course, official American support for the Iraqi tyrant went well beyond providing intelligence and global cover as he perpetrated mass-murder with chemical weapons. As The New American has documented extensively, the U.S. government played a crucial role in building up Hussein’s military, too, at least before imposing sanctions blamed for killing 500,000 children and eventually overthrowing the regime. Among other support, American taxpayers were forced to subsidize “agricultural loans” to the dictatorship, which in turn used the money to buy military weaponry.
Satellite Photos of Iraqi Troops at Kuwaiti / Saudi Border Lie
One of the main reasons for America’s going to war against Iraq in 1990 was because the White House, specifically Dick Cheney, declared that there were satellite photos showing Iraqi tanks and troops massing on the borders of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, threatening invasion of Saudi Arabia. The reports fueled the war hysteria and frightened the Saudis, who then agreed to full cooperation with US military forces. They were a major reason used to convince the American people of the justification for war to protect and defend the oil supplies so vital to the West.
Yet the supposed aerial photos proving the accusation were never released. First the Pentagon said they had to remain secret because of the war effort. Then the White House kept hedging and finally the issue died down with the supposed photos still not released. Iraq all along denied that it had any intention of threatening Saudi Arabia and was only reuniting itself with its (claimed) province of Kuwait. See link below about Russian satellite photos showing no large concentrations of troops.
On February 27, 1991, an article appeared in “IN THESE TIMES” telling how typical consumers of mainstream news were dazzled and deluded by the manipulators of images. The article, “Public Doesn’t Get Picture with Gulf Satellite Photos,” reported that when president George Bush began his massive deployment of American troops to the Gulf in August 1990, he claimed that Iraq, which had just entered Kuwait, had set its sights on Saudi Arabia. On September 11, 1990, Bush addressed a joint session of Congress, saying, “We gather tonight witness to events in the Gulf as significant as they are tragic. 120,000 Iraqi troops with 850 tanks had poured into Kuwait and moved south to threaten Saudi Arabia”.
On January 6, 1991, however, Jean Heller had reported in the ST. PETERSBURG (Fla.) TIMES that satellite photos taken the same day the president Bush addressed Congress failed to back up his claim of an imminent Iraqi threat. In fact, there was no sign of a massive Iraqi troops buildup in Kuwait. Nada. Zero. Zilch!
Heller told IN THESE TIMES, “The troops that were said to be massing on the Saudi border and that constituted the possible threat to Saudi Arabia that justified the US sending of troops do not show up in these photographs. And when the Department of Defense was asked to provide evidence that would contradict our satellite evidence, it refused to do so”. But the national media chose to ignore Heller’s story. ST. PETERSBURG TIMES’ editors approached the Associated Press twice about running her story on the wire, but to no avail. Likewise, the Scripps-Howard news service, of which the ST. PETERSBURG TIMES is a member, chose not to distribute the story.
The TIMES informed the Defense Department of the results of the photo analysis in early January, 1991, and asked to see evidence that would support the official US estimate of the Iraqi buildup. Spokesman Bob Hall turned down the request. “We have given conservative estimates of Iraqi numbers based on various intelligence resources, and those are the numbers we stand by,” Hall said. The mystery surrounding the numbers of Iraqi troops first surfaced in November, 1990, after ABC NEWS purchased several Soviet satellite photos of Kuwait taken on September 13, 1990 and could find no evidence of large numbers of Iraqi troops. ABC officials decided not to air the photos.
The TIMES retained two satellite image specialists to interpret the photos: Zimmerman, a nuclear physicist who now is a professor of engineering at George Washington University in Washington D.C, and a former image specialist for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) who asked not to be named because of the classified nature of his work.
While Iraqi troops cannot be seen, it is easy to spot the extensive American military presence at the Dhahran Airport in Saudi Arabia. “We could see five C-141s one C5A and four smaller transport aircraft, probably C-130s,” said Zimmerman. “There is also a long line of fighters, F-111s or F-15s on the ground. In the middle of the airfield are what could be camouflaged staging areas. “We did not find anything of that sort anywhere in Kuwait. We do not see any tent cities, we do not see congregations of tanks, we do not see troops concentrations, and the main Kuwaiti air base appears deserted. It’s five weeks after August 2, 1990, and what we can see, the Iraqi air force has not flown a single fighter to the most strategic air base in Kuwait. There is no infrastructure to support large numbers of (military) people. They have to use toilets, or the functional equivalent. They have to have food. They have to have water at the rate of several gallons per man per day. They have to have shelter. But where is it?”.
The former DIN specialist agreed: “I simply did not see what I expected to see. There should be revetments – three sided berms with vehicles inside facing the anticipated direction of attack. There should be trenches. But they are not there”. Both analysts say there are several possible explanations for the inability to spot Iraqi forces. The troops could have been so well camouflaged that they were hidden from the Soviet cameras. However, Zimmerman said that would be a departure from Iraq’s strategy during its war with Iran in the 1980s when virtually no effort was made to hide military positions. Both analysts recall seeing Iraqi troops deployments during that war on poorer images from the French SPOT satellite. It’s also possible that the troops were so widely dispersed that the satellite could not “See” them because its cameras could not resolve images smaller than five meters, or about 16 feet, across. Or it might be that glare from the sun on the Kuwaiti sand smudged out troops images, although images taken over Saudi Arabia appear unaffected by glare.
Another possibility is that the Soviets deliberately or accidentally produced a photo taken before August 2, that is before Iraqi troops entering Kuwait. “We have to take on faith that the image is what the Soviet say it is,” Zimmerman said. “I think that is reasonable assumption, because they would not have a motive to misrepresent it, and if they did misrepresent it and the word got out, they would never sell another picture to anybody.
“We are willing to concede, at least for purposes of argument, that it is not impossible that all Iraqi activity is blow the level of resolution. But if there were tent cities, if there were bunkers, if these were staging, supply and maintenance areas, we find it really hard to believe that we missed them”.
On September 18, 1990 only days after the Soviet photos were taken, the Pentagon said Iraqi forces in and around Kuwait had grown to 360.000 men and 2.800 tanks, a move of troops and equipment sizable enough to leave telltale marks on the landscape that should be visible by satellite.
In fact, the photo of southern Kuwait bought by The TIMES clearly shows the tracks left by vehicles that serviced a large oil field, but there are no indications of tank tracks. Moreover, both analysts said all Kuwaiti roads leading to the Saudi border were covered at intervals by deep deposits of windblown sand. The sand cover is very extensive,” the former DIA analyst said. “In many places, it goes on for 30 meters (about 100 feet) and more.” They would be passable by tank but not by personnel or supply vehicles,” Zimmerman said. “Yet there’s no sign that tanks have used those roads. And there is no evidence of new road being cut. By contrast, none of the roads we see in Saudi Arabia has any sand cover at all. They have been swept clear”. A satellite photo of the same area of Kuwait on August 8, just a few days after Iraqi troops entered Kuwait, shows some sand cover on the roads, Zimmerman said, and the cover appeared to be less extensive, suggesting that it continued to build up over the next month.
“It certainly indicates that nobody’s been driving over them and that the (Iraqi) military has not bothered to clear them for traffic, he said”. Asked if the Defense Department officials could dispel the mystery created by the Soviet photos, Pentagon spokesman Hall replied: “There is no mystery as far as we are concerned. They (the Iraqi troops) are there. We would like it to remain a mystery what our intelligence capabilities are. We are not going to make our intelligence public”.
Rep. Charles Bennett of Jacksonville, the No.2 Democrat on the House of Armed Services Committee, told the St. PETERSBURG TIMES: “We have had evidence in the sense that we have had testimony about what the situation was back in September, but I have seen no photographic evidence to back up the administration’s claim”.
The above news reports’ questions have never been answered. Yet the claimed threat to Saudi Arabia, together with the “babies in incubators” story (below) were a main reason for the U.S. going to war.
Nayira, Dead Babies, Courtesy of a New York PR Firm
Military occupations are always brutal, and Iraq’s six-month occupation of Kuwait was no exception. But because Americans didn’t have an abundance of affection for Kuwait, a case had to be built that the Iraqi army was guilty of nothing less than Nazi-level atrocities. That’s where a hearing held by the Congressional Human Rights Caucus in October 1990 played a major role in making the case for war.
A young woman who gave only her first name, Nayira, testified that she had been a volunteer at Kuwait’s al-Adan hospital, where she had seen Iraqi troops rip scores of babies out of incubators, leaving them “to die on the cold floor.” Between tears, she described the incident as “horrifying.”
Her account was a bombshell. Portions of her testimony were aired that evening on ABC’s “Nightline” and NBC’s “Nightly News.” Seven US senators cited her testimony in speeches urging Americans to support the war, and George HW Bush repeated the story on 10 separate occasions in the weeks that followed.
I can still recall my brother Sean’s face. It was bright red. Furious. Not one given to fits of temper, Sean was in an uproar. He was a father, and he had just heard that Iraqi soldiers had taken scores of babies out of incubators in Kuwait City and left them to die. The Iraqis had shipped the incubators back to Baghdad. A pacifist by nature, my brother was not in a peaceful mood that day. “We’ve got to go and get Saddam Hussein. Now,” he said passionately.
Subsequent investigations by Amnesty International, a division of Human Rights Watch and independent journalists would show that the story was entirely bogus — a crucial piece of war propaganda the American media sold like worthless snake oil. In 1992, John MacArthur revealed in The New York Times that Nayirah was in fact the daughter of Saud Nasir al-Sabah, Kuwait’s ambassador to the US. Her testimony had been organized by a group called Citizens for a Free Kuwait, which was a front for the Kuwaiti government.
Tom Regan reported that Citizens for a Free Kuwait hired Hill & Knowlton, a New York-based PR firm that had previously spun for the tobacco industry and a number of governments with ugly human rights records. The company was paid “$10.7 million to devise a campaign to win American support for the war.” It was a natural fit, wrote Regan. “Craig Fuller, the firm’s president and COO, had been then-President George Bush’s chief of staff when the senior Bush had served as vice president under Ronald Reagan.”
According to Robin Andersen’s A Century of Media, a Century of War, Hill & Knowlton had spent $1 million on focus groups to determine how to get the American public behind the war, and found that focusing on “atrocities” was the most effective way to rally support for rescuing Kuwait.
Arthur Rowse reported for the Columbia Journalism Review that Hill & Knowlton sent out a video news release featuring Nayirah’s gripping testimony to 700 American television stations.
As Tom Regan noted, without the atrocities, the idea of committing American blood and treasure to save Kuwait just “wasn’t an easy sell.”
Only a few weeks before the invasion, Amnesty International accused the Kuwaiti government of jailing dozens of dissidents and torturing them without trial. In an effort to spruce up the Kuwait image, the company organized Kuwait Information Day on 20 college campuses, a national day of prayer for Kuwait, distributed thousands of “Free Kuwait” bumper stickers, and other similar traditional PR ventures. But none of it was working very well. American public support remained lukewarm the first two months.
That would change as stories about Saddam’s baby-killing troops were splashed across front pages across the country.
Leaked footage emerged of Charles Jaco when he was the CNN anchor and was made internationally famous for heroically covering the 1990 Persian Gulf War.
The first part of this video shows the stage set he was on while he clowns around with fellow CNN staff. The Saudi Arabian “hotel” in the background is adorned by fake palm trees and a blue wall in a studio. This clip was leaked by CNN staff.
The second part of this video is a live CNN satellite feed recorded onto VHS showing the final cut. Charles Jaco is wearing a different jacket, but he had the same act. Even though the acting is terrible as Charles Jaco wore a gas mask, and his fellow correspondent Carl Rochelle wore a helmet—the American public were manipulated and duped en masse. The sirens and missile sound effects are part of the stage set. The camera never pans out or shows the sky as they appear terrified of chemical weapons being dropped from above.
In the lead-up to war, U.S. media organizations, with rare exceptions, had begun to back away from investigative reporting and journalistic scrutiny. Once the war began, government censorship combined with this self-censorship produced a media blackout. The restrictions on the press were tighter than during any earlier American war. Journalists could not travel except in pools with military escorts, and even then most sites were off-limits.
Pentagon censors had to clear all war dispatches, photos and footage before they could be released. Department of Defense guidelines stated that stories would not be judged for “potential to express criticism or cause embarrassment,” but journalists weren’t taking any chances. When news anchors weren’t hosting retired generals and pundits, or screening eerie green images of the coordinates of the day’s targets, they were praising the military on a job well done.
Two months after the war ended, the editors of 15 news outlets protested to Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney about the Pentagon’s control. But the damage had been done. The real war was never reported to the American public.
Americans never saw images of even one of the 100,000 civilians killed in the aerial war, just coordinates of precision-guided strikes, the majority of which missed their marks.
We never learned that the government’s goals had changed from expelling Saddam’s forces from Kuwait to destroying Iraq’s infrastructure. Or what a country with a destroyed infrastructure looks like — with most of its electricity, telecommunications, sewage system, dams, railroads and bridges blown away.
There were no photos or stories of the start of the ground war on Feb. 24, 1991, after Iraq had agreed to a Russian-brokered withdrawal. We never saw the “bulldozer assault” of Feb. 24-26, when U.S. soldiers with plows mounted on tanks and bulldozers moved along 10 miles of trenches, burying alive some 1,000 Iraqi soldiers. Or the night of Feb. 26, when allied forces cordoned off a stretch of highway between Kuwait and Basra, Iraq, incinerating tens of thousands of retreating soldiers and civilians, in an incident come to be called the “Highway of Death.”
We saw no coverage of dead Kurds and Shiites who, at Bush’s instigation and expecting his support, rose up against Saddam. Nor in the months and years after, the news of the Iraqi epidemic of birth defects, cancers and systemic disease.
We heard little about the 20,000 troops occupying Saudi Arabia after the war, the growing regional resentment for the destruction and death, injuries and insults of invasion and occupation. We never heard of the Saudi Muslim radical Osama bin Laden, his outraged protests, for which he was banished, wandering the region, recruiting young followers to avenge the desecration of Islam’s sacred sites.
As for our own, there were no images of returning coffins filled with U.S. service members, nor, in the days and months after the war, coverage of the war’s aftermath: The 200,000 troops who returned profoundly ill from Gulf War illness; the trauma, addiction and/or brain damage that caused veterans to kill their wives, family, fellow citizens, and/or themselves; and, of course, on Sept. 11, 2001, the tragic event used by the George W. Bush administration to launch a second war against Iraq.
We could read about bin Laden’s jihad, but little appeared of the fatwa he and his counterparts throughout the Middle-East issued, except the often-quoted statement that it was the duty of every Muslim “to kill the Americans and their allies — civilians and military,” leaving out the second part of the sentence — “in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque [Mecca] from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim.”
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