The World As It Is – III

Public domain image. (unknown author)


The death of General Colin Powell and the war on terror brought to trial

“The regime of Saddam Hussein will stop at nothing unless someone stops him,” said Secretary of State General Colin Powell in his speech before the UN Security Council on February 5, 2003. Powell's speech was just one more instrument of the ongoing operation. There was only a month and a half left before the invasion of Iraq, launched on March 20th.

The general's death last week brought that speech back into the debate, which Powell himself described as "a stain" on his career. "I think that Washington's credibility never fully recovered after the arguments that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction to declare war on that country," he told the The Guardian Richard Gowan, Director of the UN International Crisis Group.

For Julian Borge, editor of International Affairs at the English newspaper The Guardian, the speech was “a defining moment in undermining the credibility of the United States”. Seen from a distance, known the facts, recognized the falsity of the accusation with which the war was justified and fed the creation of terrorist groups, destroyed Iraq, and after thousands of deaths, the consequences for the world could hardly be more dramatic .

security advice

However, more than Washington's credibility, the speech was a shot below the waterline of the Security Council, the most important political forum in the world, the only one that can declare a legitimate war on behalf of the international community. The invasion of Iraq, orchestrated by the Bush (son) administration, had two great allies: Tony Blair's England and José María Aznar's Spain.

After listening to Powell's speech, Jack Straw, the UK secretary of state, said the Security Council had heard "the most powerful and authoritative explanation" of the Iraqi government's practices; that the "great danger" posed by the Iraqi regime had been demonstrated. “United and determined, the international community has given Iraq the last opportunity to rid itself of weapons of mass destruction, the gases that can poison thousands of people, the bacteria and viruses that can incapacitate and kill tens of thousands, the means to manufacture nuclear weapons that can kill millions.”

“Powell's performance removed all illusions. Saddam Hussein must have no doubts about the grave situation he now faces,” he added. It was the announcement of war. His colleague, the Spanish Ana Palacio, stated: “the data presented today lead to the conclusion that Iraq is deceiving the international community and violating Security Council Resolution 1441, adopted on November 8, 2002, which required the country to compliance with previous Council agreements on disarmament and increased inspection of these agreements to ensure compliance”.

For Palacio, Powell's speech had also demonstrated Saddam Hussein's links to terrorism. Two and a half months after the invasion, on June 4, 2003, Palacio herself said that the government still thought that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction; that it was not “a rabbit pulled out of a hat by the participants of the Azores Summit” (held by Bush, Blair, Aznar and the host, Portuguese President José Manuel Durão Barroso, later promoted to President of the European Commission), “but of a discovery by the inspectors”.

The summit took place on March 16 and photographs of four smiling heads of government were spread across the world. Blair apologized years later for what he claimed were misleading intelligence reports he had received. “The program we thought existed did not exist,” he added. But he thought differently about Hussein's ousting. "It is better that he is not than that he is," he said, something the Security Council resolution did not propose.

Aznar never recanted. In February 2003, he had said on camera Antena3, looking the Spaniards in the face: “The Iraqi regime has weapons of mass destruction. You can be sure, and everyone who sees us can be sure that I am telling the truth. The Iraqi regime has weapons of mass destruction.” In April 2004, now out of office, he said he was ashamed of his successor José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's decision to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq.

the deceived world

It wasn't just Straw and Palacios who reacted to Powell's Security Council speech. Tang Jiaxuan, China's foreign minister, highlighted the importance of the Security Council members working together on the matter. He expressed satisfaction that the United States had presented new evidence in the case, which should be delivered to the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and the Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), charged with monitoring compliance with Council resolutions by the Iraq. “The inspections have been going on for over two months and everyone must respect the views of the two agencies and support the continuation of their work,” he said.

Igor Ivanov, the Russian minister, made a similar observation, indicating that the inspectors should respond to US concerns, but that the way forward was to carry out inspections to ensure the Iraqi government's compliance with Resolution 1441. Dominique de Villepin, the French minister, said Powell's report contained information, indications and questions that should be investigated; that inspectors should determine the facts as set out in the resolution. Villepin added that between the military option and a regime of inspections, even without adequate cooperation from the Iraqi regime, the international community should decisively strengthen the means of inspection.

None of this was done. The Iraqi representative, Mohammed A. Aldouri, had said that Powell's presentation had little to do with reality. The Iraqi president had reiterated the day before that his country did not have weapons of mass destruction, and that the visit of Hans Blix, head of UNMOVIC, and Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the IAEA, scheduled for three days later, would demonstrate that he said the truth, as later events proved. "The weapons of mass destruction program is not like an aspirin pill that can be easily hidden," Aldouri said. “These programs require huge facilities; cannot be hidden from inspectors traveling across the country.”

Aldouri recalled that between November 27 and February 4, 2003, inspection teams had carried out 575 inspections at 321 sites in Iraq, and that the facilities mentioned by President Bush and Tony Blair as suspected sites of manufacturing or storing weapons of mass destruction were on the list of inspected sites. The inspections, he added, "showed that the claims contained in these reports were not correct". But the war was already on the way. The presentation to the Security Council was just one element of the ongoing invasion.

a fanciful report

How was this story built? Powell's report was long and detailed. “Every statement I make here today is backed by solid sources,” he said. Later we learned that it did not even have the support of the intelligence community in the same United States, but that it was a document prepared by the office of Vice President Dick Cheney to justify the invasion already underway. "Behind the facts and the pattern of his behavior is Saddam Hussein's contempt for the Council, his contempt for the truth and, worse, his utter contempt for human life," Powell said.

Accusing Hussein of lying about using chemical weapons, he claimed it took him years to finally admit that he had produced four tons of the deadly VX nerve agent. "A single drop of VX on the skin can kill a person in minutes," he added. Powel noted that a teaspoon of dried anthrax in an envelope shut down the US Senate in the fall of 2001, forced hundreds of people to receive emergency medical treatment, and killed two postal workers. “Iraq claimed to have 8.500 liters of anthrax, but UNSCOM estimated that Saddam Hussein could have produced 25.000 liters,” he said.

“Iraq's nexus with terror is old, but the nexus between poison and terror is new. The combination is lethal,” Powell continued. He then showed photographs of what he said were trucks ready to transport ballistic missile components, days before inspections resumed. He went on to expand on Hussein's ties to terrorism, saying he trained Palestine Liberation Front militants in the handling of weapons and explosives and provided protection to a deadly terrorist group led by Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, linked to Osama Bin. Laden. Mentioned several times by Powell, Al-Zarqawi, until then an obscure figure, became a recognized figure, with a leadership role he had not previously played. He said that one of the most worrying things revealed by US intelligence was that Iraq's biological weapons program facilities were mobile.

He also spoke of nuclear weapons, stating that there were indications that Hussein had never abandoned the program to produce them. On the contrary, he asserted, there was more than a decade of evidence that he was still committed to acquiring them. In conclusion, Powell reiterated that Iran had "irrefutably" and "undeniably" violated the Security Council agreement, putting the country under threat of "serious consequences". And he warned that the Security Council risked becoming an irrelevant body if it allowed Iraq to challenge it without responding effectively and immediately. The stage for war was set.

Eighteen years later, what was in evidence was the frame to justify the invasion of Iraq, the overthrow of its government and the condemnation to death of some of its main leaders, including President Saddam Hussein. The invasion caused the death of thousands of people, the massive displacement of the population and exposed the Council's irrelevance in declaring war without its authorization.

unbearable suffering

Four years later, in April 2007, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) published a report on the development of the conflict in the country. Despite a bomb that had been planted in its premises in Baghdad in October 2003, which left 34 dead and almost 250 injured, the ICRC continued to work in the country. In a report entitled “Unprotected Civilians – The Continuing Deterioration of the Crisis in Iraq”, statements were collected from Iraqis about living conditions in the country. “The current suffering suffered by men, women and children is unbearable and unacceptable. Their lives and their dignity are in constant danger,” said the ICRC's then director of operations, Pierre Kraehenbuel. “If there is anything anyone could do that would really help us, it would be to pick up the bodies that are left in the street every morning in front of our homes and that no one dares to touch or remove for security reasons,” said one woman. cited in the report. “I was once called to the site of an explosion,” says an aid worker identified only as Saad in the report. “There I saw a four-year-old boy sitting next to the body of his mother, who had been decapitated by the explosion. He would talk to her and ask her what had happened. His mother had taken him shopping”.

Tamara al-Rifai, an ICRC spokesperson in Cairo, told the BBC Mundo that in Iraq “everything is bad for the population”, and he said that the situation was “catastrophic, with violence, bombs, kidnappings, assassinations and, above all, military operations”. In October 2006, the British medical journal The Lancet estimated that 655.000 Iraqis had died as a result of the invasion, 2,5% of Iraq's population. Bush considered the information "not credible". In December 2006, when he received news of Saddam Hussein's execution, he said it was a milestone for Iraq to become a democracy.

The Belmarsh Court: the war on terror brought to trial

– Free Julian Assange

– Two decades of occupation have brought nothing but ruins to Afghanistan

In a speech at the Progressive International, in London, on October 22, 2021, James Corbyn, British MP, labor leader, recalled the protests in Hyde Park, the largest in British history, against the war in Iraq, which they denounced as the beginning of new wars and the flow of migrants to Europe. He highlighted the role of the media in these circumstances and that of Julian Assange in denouncing these war atrocities.

"The treatment of Julian Assange is a message to all journalists," said John Macdonnell, also a British MP. This is not an individual case, it is part of a global scenario. One speaker after another denounced the arbitrariness applied against Julian Assange in British courts and prisons, making any defense virtually impossible.

British courts will resume consideration of Julian Assange's extradition request to the United States on October 27-28. The court session can be viewed here:

*Gilberto Lopes is a journalist, PhD in Society and Cultural Studies from the Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR). author of Political crisis of the modern world (Uruk).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.

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