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Wednesday, June 15, 2005 

Model journalism on the ‘new’ UK documents

John Daniszewski, who wrote the outstanding article on DSM for the LA Times on May 12, has today produced what is clearly the best report yet to appear on the six 'new' documents from Britain. NBC authenticated these documents two days ago, though they are not really 'new.' They had been quoted extensively last year in two British newspapers, The Daily Telegraph and The Times of London. When he was given the originals , reporter Michael Smith (of The Times) typed up a copy of the six texts on a typewriter, and later returned the originals to the leaker(s). Sometime later a Cambridge University don (with whom I've corresponded) received faxed copies of the typed transcriptions. These made their way into the hands of a Cambridge doctoral student, Michael Lewis, who scanned them and in September 2004 posted them as PDF documents on cryptome.org. These PDFs are widely available on the internet now, and RawStory.com has posted (slightly inaccurate) html versions of the PDF texts.

Four of the documents date to March 2002, the other two are undated (but nearly contemporary to the others). They portray the Blair government trying to come to grips with the push for war against Iraq coming out of D.C.; and Blair himself preparing for a meeting with George Bush at Crawford in April 2002. These six documents are deep background to DSM, whereas the Military Action Memo (published last Sunday by The Times) is immediate background to DSM (it dates from July 21, 2002, two days before the DSM meeting).

Much of the reporting in the US thus far on the Military Action Memo has been depressingly shallow. Both the NYT article by David Sanger and the WaPo article by Walter Pincus focus perversely on what the Military Action Memo tells us about the poor state of planning in July 2002 for post-war Iraq. The subject arises in the six 'new' documents as well, and nowadays it will seem topical. But it scarcely deserves the kind of attention both articles give it. Surely the Bush government did further planning on post-war Iraq in the eight months before the outbreak of war, so how much can we actually infer from the absense of serious planning in July 2002? A certain amount, of course, but only because it is characteristic of what was to come. The real scandal about post-war planning is not where it stood eight months in advance of the war, but how bad it was in March 2003.

That is why it is particularly gratifying to see this well-researched, thoughtful, and penetrating analysis of all six 'new' documents by John Daniszewski. It is a must read, so I will not quote it extensively. The second half of the article, appropriately, quotes large chunks of the texts as it analyzes them. Daniszewski's choice of quotations is astute; you can get the gist of them from his summary here.

From the article’s first half, this is perhaps the most important paragraph:

The documents contain little discussion about whether to mount a military campaign. The focus instead is on how the campaign should be presented to win the widest support and the importance for Britain of working through the United Nations so an invasion could be seen as legal under international law.

Thus does Daniszewski flatly contradict the frankly preposterous claim that President Bush made at last Tuesday’s press conference with Tony Blair: There the President stated that all his conversations with Blair before July 2002 had been about finding a peaceful resolution to the Iraq standoff. On the troubles this now creates for the President’s credibility, see my post far below on the Bush/Blair press conference.

On the use of "bad intelligence"

The Bush administration has repeatedly hidden behind what it terms "bad intelligence" for its ill-fated decision to invade Iraq. As those of us who didn't buy what the administration was pushing in the lead-up to war, this is just the latest in a long series of misrepresentations and finger pointing. Indeed, while the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence arrived at the (shocking!) conclusion that pre-war predictions about Saddam's WMD capability were well off the mark, the fact remains that that committee has yet to complete its mission by addressing the issue of how the intel was used.

What we do know at this point, however, is how it was used to secure Congressional approval for the use of force against Saddam's Iraq.

Senator Bob Graham, in his book, recounts a Sept 5, 2002 meeting he and Senators Durbin and Levin had with then CIA director George Tenet and his staff. Though the administration had long before decided on invasion, to the senators' amazement no National Intelligence Estimate for Iraq had yet been produced. Graham, Durbin and Levin demanded to see one, and three weeks later Tenet produced a 90-page document rife with caveats and qualifications (though these were buried in footnotes) about what we knew--or didn't know--about WMD in Iraq.

That report was classified, and as such was available only to those on the House and Senate intelligence committees. Graham pressed for it to be declassified, and got what he asked for on Oct 4--one week before Congress was to vote on the use of force. However, this declassified version was more like a marketing brochure: 20 pages in length, slickly produced with splashy grahics and maps, and devoid of any of the caveats contained in the original. Graham described it later as "a vivid and terrifying case for war."

This piece of propaganda--let's call it what it is--was the only information on WMD our senators and representatives had on which to base their decision on the use of force. And they had one week to make up their mind.

Bush has since made the claim that Congress had access to the same intel that the administration did, but that clearly is a lie. What Congress had was what the administration was willing to give them, namely a promotional piece whose lies of omission outweighed what was included by a factor of four.

The Senate committee on intelligence needs to finish the job it started and determine just what was left out of that 20-page brochure.

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