First Published: 2008-01-29

CBS Falisifies Iraq War History

The strategy of repeating a big lie often enough to make it sound true was famously described in the writings of Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels during World War II. Many Americans feel they are protected from big lie techniques, counting on journalists to call lying politicians to account. But are journalists doing their job? Asks Robert Parry.


Middle East Online

Theres a cynical old saying that the victors write the history. CBSs 60 Minutes demonstrated how that process works on Jan. 27 in airing Scott Pelleys interview with the FBI agent who de-briefed former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

In a world of objective reality, a reporter might say that the United States launched an unprovoked invasion of Iraq on March 19, 2003, under the false pretense that Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, even after Iraq had repeatedly and accurately announced that its WMD had been destroyed in the 1990s.

On Dec. 7, 2002, Iraq even sent to the United Nations a 12,000-page declaration explaining how its WMD stockpiles had been eliminated. In fall 2002, Husseins government also allowed teams of UN inspectors into Iraq and gave them free rein to examine any site of their choosing.

Those inspections only ended in March 2003 when President George W. Bush decided to press ahead with war despite the UN Security Councils refusal to authorize the invasion and its desire to give the UN inspectors time to finish their work.

But none of that reality is part of the history that Americans are supposed to know. The officially sanctioned US account, as embraced by Bush in speech after speech, is that Saddam Hussein chose war by defying the UN over the WMD issue and by misleading the world into believing that he still possessed these weapons.

In line with Bushs version of history, 60 Minutes correspondent Pelley asked FBI interrogator George Piro why Hussein kept pretending that he had WMD even as US troops massed on Iraqs borders, when a simple announcement that the WMD was gone would have prevented the war.

For a man who drew America into two wars and countless military engagements, we never knew what Saddam Hussein was thinking, Pelley said in introducing the segment on the interrogation of Hussein about his WMD stockpiles. Why did he choose war with the United States?

The segment never mentions the fact that Husseins government did disclose that it had eliminated its WMD. Instead Pelley presses Piro on the question of why Hussein was hiding that fact.

Piro said Hussein explained to him that most of the WMD had been destroyed by the UN inspectors in the 90s, and those that hadnt been destroyed by the inspectors were unilaterally destroyed by Iraq.

So, Pelley asked, why keep the secret? Why put your nation at risk, why put your own life at risk to maintain this charade?

After Piro mentioned Husseins lingering fear of neighboring Iran, Pelley felt he was close to an answer to the mystery: He believed that he couldnt survive without the perception that he had weapons of mass destruction?

Wanting an Invasion?

But, still, Pelley puzzled over why Husseins continued in his miscalculation.

Pelley asked: As the US marched toward war and we began massing troops on his border, why didnt he stop it then? And say, Look, I have no weapons of mass destruction, I mean, how could he have wanted his country to be invaded?

Its Bush World, with Pelley like other prominent US news correspondents ignoring the well-established facts of the run-up to war and following the made-up story first presented by Bush four months after he forced the UN inspectors out, when he began claiming that Hussein had never let them in.

On July 14, 2003, as the US-led WMD search also was coming up empty, Bush began asserting that it was all Husseins fault because he had never let the UN inspectors in. Bush told reporters:

We gave him [Saddam Hussein] a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldnt let them in. And, therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power.

Facing no challenge from the White House press corps, Bush continued repeating this lie in varied forms over the next four years as part of his public litany for defending the invasion.

On Jan. 27, 2004, for example, Bush said, We went to the United Nations, of course, and got an overwhelming resolution 1441 unanimous resolution, that said to Saddam, you must disclose and destroy your weapons programs, which obviously meant the world felt he had such programs. He chose defiance. It was his choice to make, and he did not let us in.

As the months and years went by, Bushs lie and its constant retelling took on the color of truth.

At a March 21, 2006, news conference, Bush again blamed the war on Husseins defiance of UN demands for unfettered inspections.

I was hoping to solve this [Iraq] problem diplomatically, Bush said. The world said, Disarm, disclose or face serious consequences. We worked to make sure that Saddam Hussein heard the message of the world. And when he chose to deny the inspectors, when he chose not to disclose, then I had the difficult decision to make to remove him. And we did.

At a press conference on May 24, 2007, Bush offered a short-hand version, even inviting the journalists to remember the invented history.

As you might remember back then, we tried the diplomatic route: [UN Resolution] 1441 was a unanimous vote in the Security Council that said disclose, disarm or face serious consequences. So the choice was his [Husseins] to make. And he made a choice that has subsequently caused him to lose his life.

In the frequent repetition of this claim, Bush never acknowledges the fact that Hussein did comply with Resolution 1441 by declaring accurately that he had disposed of his WMD stockpiles and by permitting UN inspectors to examine any site of their choosing.

Journalistic Group Think

Prominent Washington journalists have even repeated Bushs lie as their own. For instance, in a July 2004 interview, ABCs veteran newsman Ted Koppel used it to explain why he Koppel thought the invasion of Iraq was justified.

It did not make logical sense that Saddam Hussein, whose armies had been defeated once before by the United States and the Coalition, would be prepared to lose control over his country if all he had to do was say, All right, UN, come on in, check it out, Koppel told Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now.

Of course, Hussein did tell the UN to come on in, check it out. But he did so in the real history, not in the faux reality that now governs Washington and pervades Americas top news programs, including 60 Minutes.

In Pelleys historical formulation, the question is not why did Bush invade Iraq in violation of international law, causing the deaths of nearly 4,000 American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, but rather How could [Hussein] have wanted his country to be invaded?

This strategy of repeating a big lie often enough to make it sound true was famously described in the writings of Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels during World War II. However, given the relatively free US press, many Americans feel they are protected from big lie techniques, counting on journalists to call lying politicians to account.

But that clearly is no longer the case and hasnt been for some time. Facing career pressure from well-organized right-wing attack groups, American journalists act more like triangulating politicians, fearful of accusations of liberal bias or unpatriotic behavior or softness on terrorism.

To have challenged George W. Bush in July 2003 when he was near the height of his popularity or even now with his approval ratings at historic lows would carry career dangers that few American reporters want to risk.

So, discretion or in this case the acceptance of a lie as truth is the better part of valor.

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush , can be ordered at His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there. Or go to



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