William Blum

The Anti-Empire Report #55

By William Blum – Published March 3rd, 2008

How could they have known? It wasn’t on Oprah or Fox News.

Hillary Clinton and many other members of Congress claim that their support of the invasion of Iraq was based on faulty intelligence reports. How could they dispute the research and analysis of all those experts, so well trained and experienced in their fields?

Well, apart from the fact that American intelligence agencies and their reports were by no means of one opinion (one well-publicized CIA paper, for example, predicted all manner of devastating consequences which could result from an invasion and occupation) … 1

Apart from the fact that there were several public statements, including some on American TV, from Saddam Hussein’s deputy prime minister, and other statements made by Iraqi scientists to American media and to American intelligence that Iraq no longer had any weapons of mass destruction … 2

Apart from the fact that UN nuclear inspectors had determined before the war that Iraq did not have a nuclear weapons program … 3

Apart from the fact that Colin Powell, speaking in February 2001 of US sanctions on Iraq, said: “And frankly they have worked. He [Saddam Hussein] has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors.” 4

Apart from all that, this question must be asked: What did the millions of Americans who marched against the war before it began know that all those members of Congress didn’t know? At a minimum, they knew that nothing the Bush administration had told them came anywhere close to justifying dropping bombs on the innocent people of Iraq. They also knew that nothing the Bush administration had told them could be trusted. All it took to reach this advanced stage of awareness was not being born yesterday.

As I’ve written before, the same phenomenon attended the Vietnam War. The anti-Vietnam War movement burst out of the starting gate back in August 1964, with hundreds of people demonstrating in New York. Many of these early dissenters took apart and critically examined the administration’s statements about the war’s origin, its current situation, and its rosy picture of the future. They found continuous omission, contradiction, and duplicity, became quickly and wholly cynical, and called for immediate and unconditional withdrawal. This was a state of intellect and principle it took members of Congress and the media – and then only a small minority – until the 1970s to reach. And even then – even today – our political and media elite viewed Vietnam only as a “mistake”; i.e., it was “the wrong way” to fight communism, not that the United States should not be traveling all over the globe to spew violence against anything labeled “communism” in the first place. Essentially, the only thing these “best and brightest” have learned from Vietnam is that we should not have fought in Vietnam. And I’m afraid that the present generation of “leaders” will learn very little more than that we shouldn’t have invaded Iraq.

A Mecca of hypocrisy, a Vatican of double standards

On February 21, following a demonstration against the United States role in Kosovo’s declaration of independence, rioters in the Serbian capital of Belgrade broke into the US Embassy and set fire to an office. The attack was called “intolerable” by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, 5 and the American Ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, said he would ask the UN Security Council to issue a unanimous statement “expressing the council’s outrage, condemning the attack, and also reminding the Serb government of its responsibility to protect diplomatic facilities.” 6

This is of course standard language for such situations. But what the media and American officials don’t remind us is that in May 1999, during the US/NATO bombing of Serbia, then part of Yugoslavia, the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade was hit by a US missile, causing considerable damage and killing three embassy employees. The official Washington story on this – then, and still now – is that it was a mistake. But this is almost certainly a lie. According to a joint investigation of The Observer of London and the Politiken newspaper in Denmark, the embassy was bombed because it was being used to transmit electronic communications for the Yugoslav army after the army’s regular system was made inoperable by the bombing. The Observer was told that the embassy bombing was deliberate by “senior military and intelligence sources in Europe and the US” as well as being “confirmed in detail by three other Nato officers – a flight controller operating in Naples, an intelligence officer monitoring Yugoslav radio traffic from Macedonia and a senior [NATO] headquarters officer in Brussels.” 7

Moreover, the New York Time reported at the time that the bombing had destroyed the embassy’s intelligence-gathering nerve center, and two of the three Chinese killed were intelligence officers. “The highly sensitive nature of the parts of the embassy that were bombed suggests why the Chinese … insist the bombing was no accident. … ‘That’s exactly why they don’t buy our explanation’,” said a Pentagon official. 8 There were as well several other good reasons not to buy the story. 9

In April 1986, after the French government refused the use of its air space to US warplanes headed for a bombing raid on Libya, the planes were forced to take another, longer route. When they reached Libya they bombed so close to the French embassy that the building was damaged and all communication links knocked out. 10

And in April 2003, the US Ambassador to Russia was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry due to the fact that the residential quarter of Baghdad where the Russian embassy was located was bombed several times by the United States during its invasion of Iraq. 11 There had been reports that Saddam Hussein was hiding in the embassy. 12

So, we can perhaps chalk up the State Department’s affirmations about the inviolability of embassies as yet another example of US foreign policy hypocrisy. But I think that there is some satisfaction in that American foreign policy officials, as morally damaged as they must be, are not all so stupid that they don’t know they’re swimming in a sea of hypocrisy. The Los Angeles Times reported in 2004 that “The State Department plans to delay the release of a human rights report that was due out today, partly because of sensitivities over the prison abuse scandal in Iraq, U.S. officials said. One official … said the release of the report, which describes actions taken by the U.S. government to encourage respect for human rights by other nations, could ‘make us look hypocritical’.” 13

And last year the Washington Post informed us that Chester Crocker, former Assistant Secretary of State and current member of the State Department’s Advisory Committee on Democracy Promotion, noted that “we have to be able to cope with the argument that the U.S. is inconsistent and hypocritical in its promotion of democracy around the world. That may be true.” 14

Like pornography, torture doesn’t require a definition. You know it when you see it. Or feel it.

With all the media coverage of “waterboarding” and all the congressional questioning of government officials about their views on the subject, I imagine that by now many people think that waterboarding must be the worst kind of torture that the United States has engaged in, and that if waterboarding is in fact not torture then the idiot king is correct when he says: “We don’t torture.” This is the way myths are born, so let’s try and squash this particular one while it’s still young.

Here in capsule form is a sample of some of the acts carried out in recent years by American military forces, their contract employees, and the CIA against detainees in one or another edifice of the sprawling global prison complex maintained by the United States in occupied Iraq, occupied Afghanistan, occupied Cuba, and various other secret prisons occupied by the CIA around the world. It may be torture to read but the point needs to be made. Lest we forget.

Standing or kneeling or forced into contorted, painful positions for many hours … in leg shackles and handcuffs with eyes, ears and mouth covered, exposed to extremes of heat or cold … stripped naked, led around with a dog leash … deprived of sleep, kicked to keep them awake for days on end, subjecting them to a 24-hour bombardment of bright lights or blaring noise … guards staging races of detainees in short leg shackles, violently punishing them if they fall … withholding painkillers and other medications from the injured … sensory deprivation, with all human contact cut off … made to lie naked on a sheet of ice … fake blood smeared on Muslim men when they are about to pray, telling them that it’s menstrual blood.

The Iraqi general “was put headfirst into a sleeping bag, wrapped with electrical cord and knocked down before the soldiers sat and stood on him. The cause of death was determined to be suffocation.”

Chained to the ceiling, shackled so tightly that the blood flow stops … shackled to the floor in fetal positions for more than 24 hours at a time, left without food and water, and allowed to defecate on themselves; a detainee found with a pile of hair next to him; he had apparently been literally pulling his own hair out throughout the night … wrapping a prisoner in an Israeli flag … use of unmuzzled, growling dogs to frighten, in at least one instance actually biting and severely injuring a detainee … burn marks on their backs … detainee left at an Iraqi hospital, comatose, with massive head trauma, burns on the bottoms of his feet caused by electrocution, bruises on his arms … more than a hundred detainees have died during interrogations …

The death of two captives in Afghanistan: one from “blunt force injuries to lower extremities complicating coronary artery disease”; an autopsy showed that his legs were so damaged that amputation would have been necessary; the other captive suffered from a blood clot in the lung that was exacerbated by a “blunt force injury” …

Kicks to the groin and legs, shoving or slamming detainees into walls and tables, forcing water in their mouths until they could not breathe … He had his hands handcuffed behind him and was suspended by his wrists – “His arms were so badly stretched I was surprised they didn’t pop out of their sockets.” … forced to masturbate while being photographed and videotaped … seven naked Iraqis piled on top of each other in a pyramid … detainee punched in the chest so hard he almost went into cardiac arrest … forcing naked male detainees to wear women’s underwear.

The report by General Taguba found that between October and December of 2003 there were numerous instances of “sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses” at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, including breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees, threatening male detainees with rape, sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick, raping female prisoners …

Eighteen days naked and alone in a cell, often with his hands and feet bound together, frequently beaten … “He locked his arm under mine and holding the back of my head he beat my head against the doors of the cells” … his hands and feet were pushed through the metal bars of the cell door and then tied together.

Six weeks after his release, he says he has lost the will to live. He is too ashamed to be seen by his friends and family and has not seen or spoken to his fiancĂ©e. The wedding is off. “I was a man before, but my manhood was taken away. Since this happened to me, I consider myself dead. My life feels over.”

Iraqi prisoners were forced to crawl through broken glass and wear women’s sanitary products … two drunken interrogators took a female Iraqi prisoner from her cell in the middle of the night and stripped her naked to the waist … an Iraqi woman in her 70s was harnessed and ridden like a donkey … detainees were pressed to denounce Islam, or force-fed pork and liquor …

Jamadi died an hour after his arrival at Abu Ghraib in early November 2003; he had been beaten while in CIA custody and then hung by his wrists, with his arms crossed across his back. US Army guards at the prison then packed his body in ice and posed with the corpse in mocking photographs.

“They forced us to walk like dogs on our hands and knees … and we had to bark like a dog, and if we didn’t do that they started hitting us hard on our face and chest with no mercy.” … “Do you believe in anything?” the soldier asked. “I said to him, ‘I believe in Allah.’ So he said, ‘But I believe in torture and I will torture you’.”

Taken out and tied to a post, rubber bullets were fired at them; made to kneel in the sun until they collapsed … “They tied my hands to my feet behind my back. My left hand to my right foot and my right hand to my left foot. I was lying face down and they were beating me like this” … inmates kept in wire cages with concrete floors and no protection from the elements.

“They actually said: ‘You have no rights here’. After a while, we stopped asking for human rights – we wanted animal rights” … crosses shaved into their scalp or body hair … dislocated his arms, beat his leg with a bat, crushed his nose, and put an unloaded gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger … Six Kuwaiti prisoners said they were severely beaten, given electric shocks and sodomized by US forces in Afghanistan …

The Afghan detainee had been captured in Pakistan along with a group of other Afghans. His connection to al Qaeda or the value of his intelligence was never established before he died. “He was probably associated with people who were associated with al Qaeda,” one US government official said. … numerous suicide attempts …

And here’s George W. in 2004: “The world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power. The world is better off because he sits in a prison cell. Because we acted, torture rooms are closed, rape rooms no longer exist.” 15

Bryan Whitman, spokesman for the US Department of Defense, 2005: “The United States treats all detainees in their custody with dignity and respect.” 16

It should be noted that the CIA has been treating (real and alleged) opponents of American imperialism with similar dignity and respect ever since the Agency’s founding. 17 Police and prisons within the United States have been torturing for even longer. 18

Now for the good news: The Bush administration, trying to shore up support for its military-trial procedures, has cabled US embassies with instructions that evidence obtained through torture will not be allowed. But evidence obtained through treatment considered “cruel, inhuman, and degrading” is to be allowed. 19

George Bernard Shaw used three concepts to describe the positions of individuals in Nazi Germany: intelligence, decency, and Naziism. He argued that if a person was intelligent, and a Nazi, he was not decent. If he was decent and a Nazi, he was not intelligent. And if he was decent and intelligent, he was not a Nazi.

I suggest the reader make the obvious substitution: “Bush supporter” in place of “Nazi”.

That oh-so-precious world where words have no meaning

In December, 1989, two days after bombing and invading the defenseless people of Panama, killing as many as a few thousand, President George H.W. Bush declared that his “heart goes out to the families of those who have died in Panama”. 20 When a reporter asked him: “Was it really worth it to send people to their death for this? To get [Panamanian leader Manuel] Noriega?”, Bush replied: “Every human life is precious, and yet I have to answer, yes, it has been worth it.” 21

A year later, preparing for his next crime against humanity, the invasion of Iraq, Bush, Sr. said: “People say to me: ‘How many lives? How many lives can you expend?’ Each one is precious.” 22

At the end of 2006, with Bush’s son now president, White House spokesman Scott Stanzel, commenting about American deaths reaching 3,000 in Iraq, said Bush “believes that every life is precious and grieves for each one that is lost.” 23

In February 2008, with American deaths about to reach 4,000, and Iraqi deaths as many as a million or more, George W. Bush asserted: “When we lift our hearts to God, we’re all equal in his sight. We’re all equally precious. … In prayer we grow in mercy and compassion. … When we answer God’s call to love a neighbor as ourselves, we enter into a deeper friendship with our fellow man.” 24

Inspired by such noble – dare I say precious – talk from their leaders, the American military machine likes to hire like-minded warriors. Here is Erik Prince, founder of the military contractor Blackwater, whose employees in Iraq kill people like others flick away a mosquito, in testimony before Congress: “Every life, whether American or Iraqi, is precious.” 25


  1. Central Intelligence Agency, “The Perfect Storm: Planning for Negative Consequences of Invading Iraq,” August 13, 2002
  2. Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz in August 2002 told Dan Rather: “We do not possess any nuclear or biological or chemical weapons.” (CBS Evening News, August 20, 2002) In December he stated to Ted Koppel: “The fact is that we don’t have weapons of mass destruction. We don’t have chemical, biological, or nuclear weaponry.”(ABC Nightline, December 4, 2002) Gen. Hussein Kamel, former head of Iraq’s secret weapons program, and a son-in-law of Saddam Hussein, told the UN in 1995, that Iraq had destroyed its banned missiles and chemical and biological weapons soon after the Persian Gulf War. (Washington Post, March 1, 2003, page 15)
  3. Washington Post, July 11, 2004
  4. State Department press release, February 24, 2001
  5. Washington Post, February 22, 2008
  6. Associated Press, February 21, 2008
  7. The Observer, October 17 and November 28, 1999
  8. New York Times, June 25, 1999
  9. see note 7; The Observer, October 17 and November 28, 1999
  10. Associated Press, April 15, 1986, “France Confirms It Denied U.S. Jets Air Space, Says Embassy Damaged”
  11. Interfax news agency (Moscow), April 2, 2003
  12. CBS News, April 9, 2003
  13. Los Angeles Times, May 5, 2004
  14. Washington Post, April 17, 2007, p.2
  15. White House press release, May 3, 2004
  16. Associated Press, February 10, 2005
  17. See the manuals put out by the CIA from the 1950s to the 80s on what they called “Interrogation”.
  18. See William Blum, Rogue State, chapters 4, 5 and 27 for examples and sources for the above
  19. Washington Post, February 13, 2008, p.3
  20. New York Times, December 22, 1989, p.17
  21. Ibid., p.16
  22. Los Angeles Times, December 1, 1990, p.1.
  23. Washington Post, January 1, 2007, p.1
  24. National Prayer Breakfast, Washington, DC, February 7, 2008
  25. Testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, October 2, 2007

Any part of this report may be disseminated without permission, provided attribution to William Blum as author and a link to williamblum.org is provided.

← Issue #54

Issue #56 →

Books by William Blum

America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy

America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy

The Truth About US Foreign Policy and Everything Else

Rogue State

Rogue State

A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower

Killing Hope

Killing Hope

U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II

Freeing the World to Death

Freeing the World to Death

Essays on the American Empire

West-Bloc Dissident

West-Bloc Dissident

A Cold War Memoir