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The Media Escalates Its Lies about Iran

Reporters from the <i>New York Times</i> and others are trying to convince us that this time around, we can trust the U.S. intelligence community's evidence of Iran's bad intentions, but where is the evidence?
 
 
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The mainstream media's most recent justification that the Bush White House is telling the truth about Iran and the need to start another war is, incredibly, that the administration used lies to start the last one. That's right, according to the latest dispatch from the Associated Press, "No one who has seen the files has suggested the evidence is thin. But senior officials -- gun shy after the drubbing the administration took for the faulty intelligence leading to the 2003 Iraq invasion -- were underwhelmed by the packaging."

See? It's just the "packaging." They've got solid proof, and they're even being extra careful in presenting it to us, because we were so hard on them last time. In fact, you can tell just how careful these senior officials are being from the fact that in all the articles in all the newspapers, so many of them (or is it all one guy?) are never identified by name.

The New York Times has even abandoned its stated policies in order to rush these careful claims out without naming any sources. Jonathan Schwarz has argued that the unsourced "reporting" of Michael Gordon, whose Times piece this Sunday on Iran's supposed connection to Iraqi insurgents was recently attacked for this, is hardly distinct from the transcribed statements anonymous government officials might leave on a voice-activated answering machine.

Gordon defended himself in an e-mail exchange with a Times reader this weekend, in which the reporter explained:

"I am well aware of the controversy over the WMD intel. I think this case is different. The US intelligence community is not on the outside looking in, as was the case with the WMD intel. The US is in Iraq and this largely reflects intelligence gathered on the battefield. At any rate, I spend some time talking to a range of officials on this issue and quoted the intel reports accurately." [sic]

So, you see? This case is different. This time we can trust the "intelligence" sources. Because, last time, we'd merely had crews of trained inspectors swarming the country for years, and they reported confidently that there weren't any WMD there. This time, we have amateurs observing the situation in the middle of guerrilla warfare, and they say they've got the goods but can't reveal them. So, you see, it's different.

The headline on the AP story mentioned above reads "U.S. Considers Proof About Iran: Government Weighs How Much to Divulge About Iraq Connection." The authors of the piece, Katherine Shrader and Anne Gearan, assure us that there is 200 pages of proof, but that sadly and inexplicably it's classified. Of course, "No one who has seen the files has suggested the evidence is thin." Another way to say this might be: "No one who would suggest the evidence was thin has been permitted to see the files." It sounds less impressive that way though.

Who has seen the 200 pages? Well, Shrader and Gearan report that "officials from several intelligence agencies scrutinized the presentation to make sure it was clear and that 'we don't in any way jeopardize our sources and methods in making the presentation,' State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said." Now, does anyone recall any concerns that previous presentations have been unclear? My memory suggests that the reason for the "drubbing the administration took" was that they blatantly lied, not that they wrote poorly. And, since when does one PR flack at the State Department get to explain the concerns of several intelligence agencies?

National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley claims the White House is the reason for the delay in making public the "proof," and he claims the White House is trying to get the intelligence community (is it really a community?) to weaken, not strengthen, its claims. However, the National Journal reports:

At least twice in the past month, the White House has delayed a PowerPoint presentation initially prepared by the military to detail evidence of suspected Iranian materiel and financial support for militants in Iraq. The presentation was to have been made at a press conference in Baghdad in the first week of February. Officials have set no new date, but they say it could be any day.

Even as U.S. officials in Baghdad were ready to make the case, administration principals in Washington who were charged with vetting the PowerPoint dossier bowed to pressure from the intelligence community and ordered that it be scrubbed again.

Shrader and Gearan at the AP seem to agree that the "intelligence" services, not the White House, caused the delay. Of course, we all would know this without being told if we simply stopped to think for a moment. The Shrader and Gearan article also says:

Privately, officials say they want to avoid the kind of gaffe akin to former Secretary of State Colin Powell's case for war before the United Nations in 2003.

Well that's lovely, and it's nice of them to make their "private" comments so ... um, publicly. But do they have no concern over avoiding the kind of "gaffe" President Bush made in his 2002 speech in Cincinnati or on numerous television appearances and in a memorable State of the Union address, or the kind of "gaffes" that Cheney and Rice made over and over again to assure the public and the Congress that Iraq had WMD and ties to 9-11? In other words, has anybody noticed that the same people are still in charge who lied us into the last war?

Now, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is out and about claiming that he's got serial numbers that amount to "pretty good" proof of Iranian support for Iraqis. And someone has shown something to select Congress Members, resulting in Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman declaring "I'm convinced from what I've seen that the Iranians are supplying and are giving assistance to the people in Iraq who are killing American soldiers." Lieberman, by the way, voted for the last war, and said recently that he does not regret that vote, supports escalating the war, and opposes setting any date by which to end it.

Among the things we have not fully looked into yet are, not only the way the White House sold the last war but also the way the media lapped up those lies. As Gilbert Cranberg, George H. Gallup Professor of Journalism Emeritus at the University of Iowa School of Journalism, asked recently, "Why did the Associated Press wait six months, when the body count began to rise, to distribute a major piece by AP's Charles Hanley challenging Powell's evidence and why did Hanley say how frustrating it had been until then to break through the self-censorship imposed by his editors on negative news about Iraq?"

More urgently, why -- after the AP published a full debunking by Hanley of the last war's lies -- is the AP playing along with the new ones? Is this all part of selling us on the idea that the old ones don't matter? It's likely to have the effect of making them matter even more. The current display of media credulity in the face of an absence of evidence is serving to remind the public of how we got into the war in Iraq that continues and worsens to this day.

The collection of Iran War Lies is starting to catch up with the endless list of Iraq War Lies.

But let's keep one thing in mind as we demand a thorough investigation of both sets of lies -- lies made by the same set of people: In neither case, even if every single claim were 100 percent true and accurate, would there have been established a legal case for war. If a nation's possession of WMDs were grounds for launching a war against it, the United States would be subject to legal invasion immediately.

So, while debunking the fanciful claims of Bush, Cheney, and Gates may be entertaining, we may actually do more good if we brush them aside and point out that it does not matter whether their claims are true or not. Aiding a nation in repelling a foreign occupation is not grounds for war. The U.S. still brags about having done this in France 60 years ago. If Iran were doing it in Iraq now, which no evidence yet suggests, the crime would lie in the foreign invaders' refusal to leave, not in the aide supplied by the Iranians.

 
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