Newsweek Enables Colin Powell’s Iraq War Revisionism

Right before the United States invaded Iraq, Newsweek magazine published a remarkable story. Reporter John Barry revealed that former Iraqi weapons chief Hussein Kamel had told UN inspectors in 1995 that the country had destroyed its stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons.

As FAIR pointed out at the time, this was a remarkable discovery, especially considering that Kamel’s words had be used so often by U.S. officials to serve the opposite point–that Iraq still posed a dire threat.  As FAIR pointed out:

According to Newsweek, Kamel told the same story to CIA analysts in August 1995. If that is true, all of these U.S. officials have had access to Kamel’s statements that the weapons were destroyed. Their repeated citations of his testimony–without revealing that he also said the weapons no longer exist–suggests that the administration might be withholding critical evidence. In particular, it casts doubt on the credibility of [Colin] Powell’s February 5 presentation to the UN, which was widely hailed at the time for its persuasiveness.

That brings us to this week’s Newsweek, which includes an excerpt from Powell’s new book. The former secretary of state is still trying to claim that he didn’t mislead anyone about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction. Sure he wishes things had turned out differently, but he’s not the one to blame.

Powell writes:

Facts are verified information, which is then presented as objective reality. The rub here is the verified. How do you verify verified? Facts are slippery, and so is verification. Today’s verification may not be tomorrow’s. It turns out that facts may not really be facts; they can change as the verification changes; they may only tell part of the story, not the whole story; or they may be so qualified by verifiers that they’re empty of information.

Well OK.

He goes on to say, “My warning radar always goes on alert when qualifiers are attached to facts.” So I guess the point is that Colin Powell has these radars, but other people do not. And those people failed him and his warning system:

There is nothing worse than a leader believing he has accurate information when folks who know he doesn’t don’t tell him that he doesn’t. I found myself in trouble on more than one occasion because people kept silent when they should have spoken up. My infamous speech at the UN in 2003 about Iraqi WMD programs was not based on facts, though I thought it was.

And later, still blaming someone else for what he said: “Yes, the evidence was deeply flawed. So why did no one stand up and speak out during the intense hours we worked on the speech?”

As FAIR pointed out, various layers of the U.S. government were aware that the famous defector who was used to advance the Bush/Clinton Iraq WMD argument had actually told investigators that the weapons had been destroyed. Powell says someone should have told him this kind of thing.

It’s hard to believe Powell and his staff weren’t aware of those Kamel interviews. But there’s much more to it than that. Jonathan Schwarz (A Tiny Revolution, 5/10/12) shows pretty clearly that State Department intelligence analysts voiced serious reservations about a number of aspects of the case for war–starting with the infamous Iraqi aluminum tubes story. Schwarz also points out that in his United Nations speech, Powell added incriminating words to an intercepted phone conversation between Iraqi officials.

Indeed, as Schwarz documents, Powell’s presentation at the UN overstated the view of his own intelligence analysts on a number of important points. Arguments that were labeled “weak” by the analysts became facts (or “facts”) in Powell’s presentation.

Powell can blame his subordinates for this, and complain that someone should have stopped him. That’s his right, and hopefully people will see it for what it is.

The real question is why Newsweek would publish this self-serving revisionism. The magazine did critical reporting when it mattered on the Iraq War. Colin Powell wants you to think that never happened, and Newsweek is helping him do that in its own pages.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.