Ten Years Ago, the Truth About Iraqi WMDs Was Published–and Ignored

Ten years ago, a major American magazine published a bombshell report about the non-existence of Iraq’s WMDs.  But it was hardly noticed by a corporate press corps too busy hyping the threat from those non-existent weapons.

The story appeared in the March 3, 2003, issue of Newsweek–a short piece with the headline “The Defector’s Secrets.” It almost seemed as if the magazine didn’t know what it had on its hands. Or perhaps it did.

Hussein Kamel

Hussein Kamel

The story by John Barry centered on defector Hussein Kamel, Saddam Hussein’s brother-in-law. Kamel was widely cited by U.S. political leaders and media figures as providing the proof that Iraq had substantial quantities of banned weapons.

But Newsweek reported that what Kamel actually said in 1995 was that Iraq had destroyed those stockpiles. As Barry put it, these revelations  raised “questions about whether the WMD stockpiles attributed to Iraq still exist.”

FAIR noted (Media Advisory, 2/27/03) the Newsweek bombshell in real time:

Inspectors were told “that after the Gulf War, Iraq destroyed all its chemical and biological weapons stocks and the missiles to deliver them,” Barry wrote. All that remained were “hidden blueprints, computer disks, microfiches” and production molds. The weapons were destroyed secretly, in order to hide their existence from inspectors, in the hopes of someday resuming production after inspections had finished. The CIA and MI6 were told the same story, Barry reported, and “a military aide who defected with Kamel… backed Kamel’s assertions about the destruction of WMD stocks.”

The FAIR report added:

The Kamel story is a bombshell that necessitates a thorough reevaluation of U.S. media reporting on Iraq, much of which has taken for granted that the nation retains supplies of prohibited weapons. (See FAIR Media Advisory, “Iraq’s Hidden Weapons: From Allegation to Fact,” 2/4/03.) Kamel’s testimony is not, of course, proof that Iraq does not have hidden stocks of chemical or biological weapons, but it does suggest a need for much more media skepticism about U.S. allegations than has previously been shown.

That did not happen, of course; as FAIR pointed out, days after the story appeared in print “no major U.S. newspapers or national television news shows” had touched it.  Democracy Now! devoted a long segment to the report and its revelations (3/3/03).

And what about Newsweek? Just weeks later, the magazine’s cover story was “Saddam’s War,” which told stories of Iraqi military parades full of fighters

garbed in the familiar tan camouflage of the United States Army. Saddam has ordered thousands of uniforms identical, down to the last detail, to those worn by U.S. and British troopers. The plan: to have Saddam’s men, posing as Western invaders, slaughter Iraqi citizens while the cameras roll for Al-Jazeera and the credulous Arab press.

 The article closed with what amounted to a call for war:

One Arab intelligence officer interviewed by Newsweek spoke of “the green mushroom” over Baghdad–the modern-day caliph bidding a grotesque bio-chem farewell to the land of the living alongside thousands of his subjects as well as his enemies. Saddam wants to be remembered. He has the means and the demonic imagination. It is up to U.S. armed forces to stop him before he can achieve notoriety for all time.

It says a lot about the capabilities of a propaganda system that an outlet that undermined the official story on Iraq could so promptly forget that it had done so.



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.