Eight years on, we now have the proof that the US preemptive war on Iraq was based on lies. An Iraqi exile, Rafid al-Janabi, codenamed “Curveball” by the CIA, has revealed that he fabricated the story of Saddam’s “weapons of mass destruction” back in 2000, shortly after his arrival in Germany seeking asylum. He told the UK’s Guardian that he had lied to German intelligence in the hope his testimony might help topple Saddam, though it seems more likely he simply wanted to ensure his asylum case was taken more seriously.
For the careful reader – and I stress the word careful – several disturbing facts emerged from the Guardian’s report.
One was that the German authorities had quickly proven his account of Iraq’s WMD to be false. Both German and British intelligence had traveled to Dubai to meet Bassil Latif, his former boss at Iraq’s Military Industries Commission. Dr Latif had proven that Curveball’s claims could not be true. The German authorities quickly lost interest in Janabi and he was not interviewed again until late 2002, when it became more pressing for the US to make a convincing case for an attack on Iraq.
Another interesting disclosure was that despite the vital need to get straight all the facts about Curveball’s testimony – given the stakes involved in launching a preemptive strike against another sovereign state – the Americans never bothered to interview Curveball themselves.
A third revelation was that the CIA’s head of operations in Europe, Tyler Drumheller, passed on warnings from German intelligence that they considered Curveball’s testimony to be highly dubious. The head of the CIA, George Tenet, simply ignored the advice.
Of course the news of Curveball’s confession has come too late – eight years too late, to be precise – to have any impact on the events that matter. As happens so often with important stories that challenge elite interests, the facts vitally needed to allow Western publics to reach informed conclusions were not available when they were needed. In this case, Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld are gone, as are their neoconservative advisers. Curveball’s story is now chiefly of interest to historians.
That last point is quite literally true. The Guardian’s revelations were of almost no concern to the US media, the supposed watchdog at the heart of the US empire. A search of the Lexis Nexis media database shows that Curveball’s admissions featured only in the New York Times, in a brief report on page 7, as well as in a news roundup in the Washington Times. The dozens of other major US newspapers, including the Washington Post, made no mention of it at all.
But even the Guardian, which broke the story and is often regarded as fearless in taking on powerful interests, packaged its report in such a way as to deprive Curveball’s confession of its true value. The facts were bled of their real significance. The presentation ensured that only the most aware readers would have understood that the US had not been duped by Curveball, as the headline asserted, but rather that the White House had exploited a fantasist for its own illegal and immoral ends.
There is something depressingly familiar about this kind of reporting, even in the West’s main liberal publications. Contrary to its avowed aim, mainstream journalism invariably diminishes the impact of new events when they threaten powerful elites. That is because corporations own the media, and their advertising makes the industry profitable. In this sense, the media cannot fulfill the function of watchdog of power, because in fact it is power. It is the power of the globalized elite to control and limit the ideological and imaginative horizons of the media’s readers and viewers.
In this way, we, the eager consumers of media, are also to blame. Just as Bush’s White House did not interview Curveball because they knew his account of Saddam’s WMD program was made up, so too do we not question the media fantasies we already know are false. The American dream would unravel under scrutiny; better to act like the White House and leave ourselves the option of “plausible deniability.”