Truth About The Lies
With many Americans still exulting in the military
victory in Iraq, it's hard to make a case that the
administration's ends don't justify its means. However, the
fact the administration has not found Iraqi weapons of mass
destruction goes far deeper that whether the White House can
be trusted, says Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy
Studies in Washington.
The lingering WMD question reveals that this administration
not only lied to Americans and the world about the reasons it
went to war, but did so with a continuing disregard for some
of the most fundamental U.S. and international laws. Phyllis
Bennis was interviewed by TomPaine.com's Steven
TomPaine.com: Hans Blix is retiring as the head of the
U.N. weapons inspection teams. In recent days, he's made some
statements about the Bush administration's characterizations
of the U.N.'s work prior to the war in Iraq. What has he said?
Phyllis Bennis: Well the first thing he said that was
significant in this recent period was, in an exclusive
interview with The Guardian in the U.K., he said that
he was the victim of a smear campaign. He said "I was
smeared" and he said by "bastards" -- he used
that word -- in Washington.
Now when he was pressed about whether he included the
members of the U.S. administration in his characterization of
"bastards," he said no, that he was referring to
former arms inspectors and a former Swedish prime minister,
who he didn't name but it was clear who he was referring to,
who had spread critical assessments of his work during the
But what's more significant, I think, is he's also taken
the position that the U.S. decision to go to war based on
evidence that turned out to be faulty, calls into question the
whole issue of under what circumstances a war could be legal?
And he comes down squarely on the side of a war is only
acceptable if the [U.N.] Security Council has authorized it.
Now, given the position that he's coming from, that's a very
TP.c: Why is it significant in that context? Clearly he
feels the fact that weapons of mass destruction have not been
found, en masse, is, in a sense, a vindication of the U.N.
inspection's prior work, right?
Bennis: Right. I don't think the issue is so much about
the prior work. The attack on him from these unnamed
"bastards" in Washington -- and clearly [this
includes] the members of the administration -- he's presumably
too diplomatic to admit it, but there's no doubt the members
of the administration were furious with him. And at least on a
not-for-attribution basis, were prepared to smear him as he
said other bastards did from Washington.
But what's also significant about this is that he referred
specifically to earlier occasions in which the use of force
had been based on intelligence claims that turned out to be
He cited, specifically, U.S. attacks. He cited the bombing
of the Chinese Embassy during the Kosovo War, in Belgrade, and
said that was the result of false intelligence. He spoke of
the bombing of a pharmaceutical factory in the Sudan, having
been destroyed in the same way, also based on false
intelligence. Then he went on to say, and I quote here,
"A war was started based on intelligence (referring to
Iraq). We still don't know if it was accurate. But it raises
the question, on what basis can a war be started?" That's
very significant, I think.
TP.c: What can one do with that question? Or where does
one go from here, because clearly that's a legitimate point.
But in a certain sense, might makes right with the Bush
Bennis: Well, might makes might, at least. I don't know
if it makes it right. But the power to do things gives them
the willingness to do those things, and to claim legitimacy in
I think what this speaks to is the question of how in the
future, as well in the continuing investigation on Iraq --
because we should be clear that this investigation is not over
yet -- the notion of resolving whether Iraq has weapons of
mass destruction has become something far more important than
just determining whether there is a remaining threat of a
nuclear arsenal left over, or some such thing, as was once
It's now a question of whether the entire episode of this
U.S. war, which was claimed to be waged in the name of weapons
of mass destruction and Iraq's links with Al Qaeda, was
actually based on completely false evidence: whether that
evidence was false when it reached the White House; whether it
was cooked by the White House; whether it was both initially
false and then cooked, so that all the various players are
involved. The possibilities are legion for what this really
But it's extraordinary that we have not seen yet in the
United States, even with these statements by Hans Blix; even
with the recognition that no weapons of mass destruction have
been found; even with the lies of the Bush administration --
including as recently as a couple of weeks ago, when President
Bush, with great joy, it seems, announced "we have found
the weapons," when he was referring to two laboratories
that had been found, in which inspectors have found absolutely
zero sign of any actual chemical or biological contaminants.
So this eagerness to move forward with their war,
regardless of any actual information, is what's really at
stake here. And the question of whether, in the future,
weapons of mass destruction will be found in Iraq, goes
directly to this issue.
Those of us who were saying before that the weapons of mass
destruction claim was a false claim, that it was a bogus claim
-- it wasn't because we never thought there could be any scrap
of a weapon. There still could be. There may well be some
scraps of some left-over weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
I'll say that right now just as I said it throughout the
run-up to the war. But what we do know is there was nothing
that was a viable strategic threat to the United States. That
was a lie. That there were viable weapons was a lie.
And the notion that we were right and they were wrong has
not yet reached a level of outrage in the U.S. press, or among
the U.S. public, it seems, in anywhere close to the level of
outrage that it has sparked in the U.K. It wasn't only the
American people who were lied to by our president. But it is
the whole world that was led down the primrose path of lies
and deceit by this administration, claiming evidence that they
simply did not have.
We don't know yet, we may never know, whether the evidence
was simply ignored, made up or cooked. What we do know is they
never had the evidence they claimed to have. We never had to
go to war.
TP.c: Hans Blix may be trying to rescue or restore his
reputation, but still the larger question remains of who is
going to hold this administration accountable.
Bennis: Unfortunately, that is where the issue of might
and right come into play. The United Nations should be in a
position to hold this administration accountable. It should be
U.N. weapons inspectors that are on the ground in Iraq, not
the U.S. military, led, ironically enough, by a former U.N.
weapons inspector from the earlier team -- UNSCOM -- the
former director of UNSCOM, David Kay, has now been appointed
special advisor to CIA Director [George] Tenet, to be his
chief in charge of the weapons search. Why not go to the
people who know how to do this?
It was UNSCOM in their first years, from 1991 through 1995,
who found and destroyed virtually all of Iraq's weapons of
mass destruction. In the years after that, what UNSCOM found
was documents, not any existing weapons after that. That
situation remains in place. That's who should be in charge.
The problem is the U.S. has made clear, through its
launching of this war without Security Council authorization,
that they are not prepared to accept the legitimacy of U.N.
rule, despite what the U.N. charter says, despite the U.S.
being a signatory of the U.N. charter that says that war is
only legitimate, either if it's authorized by the Security
Council, which this was not, or if it's a question of direct
and immediate self-defense, which this was not.
Given that the U.S. has taken itself completely outside of
the parameters and the requirements of international law, we
probably should not be surprised that the U.N. is simply not
in a position of power to hold the U.S. accountable.
TP.c: Is anything that might come from Congress too
little, too late?
Bennis: At this point, I think it's very important that
Congress move on this. It certainly is too late. It is
important that it happen in the context of the increasing
power concentration in the executive branch, which we're
seeing, which is so dangerous in how this war was launched and
waged. So certainly a congressional challenge to that
concentration of power would be very important.
It's not sufficient though. This is an assault on the
legitimacy of international law as a whole, and it's a matter
for the entire world. The whole world is paying the
consequences -- the people of Iraq, most specifically -- but
the whole world is paying the consequences for this Bush
administration move, and it should be international
jurisdiction that holds the U.S. accountable.
TP.c: Any likelihood of that?
Bennis: No so far. I don't think we can be optimistic
about that anytime soon. Member states of the United Nations
are terrified. The vote that the U.S. forced three weeks ago,
to endorse the U.S.-British occupation of Iraq, endorse the
U.S. war belatedly, came as a result of extraordinary U.S.
pressure on member states. There is no willingness to stand
defiant of the U.S. right now.
We saw with the passage of the new resolution, three weeks
ago, we ended an eight-and-a-half month extraordinary moment,
in which the U.N. was doing exactly what it was designed to do
by its founders: standing against war; standing defiant of an
illegal war; preventing that war from going forward.
It delayed the war. It prevented the war from happening
when the U.S. wanted it. It prevented the U.S. from waging war
with an international imprimatur, an international
legitimization, and then it collapsed after eight-and-a-half
months of doing the right thing, the Security Council
collapsed under U.S. pressure.
The goal, I think, now of those of us who are committed to
international law, to internationalism, to the United Nations,
is to figure out what it's going to take to make the U.N. able
to go back to that position once again.
TP.c: So we're in an era where might makes right, even
if it may not be right. And it doesn't matter if it starts
with a bunch of lies, because if you have the biggest military
you can just bully your way through.
Bennis: Absolutely. The question is, are we going to be
in a position in this country to hold our government
responsible for those violations of international law as much
as we hold it responsible for the violations of U.S. law? All
of those things are important. If we allow our government to
get away with this power grab, both domestically and
internationally, we are setting the stage for a far graver
loss of democracy, both in our country and around the world,
than anything we have seen so far.
TP.c: Okay. Thank you very much for your time today.
Bennis: Thank you.
Steven Rosenfeld is a commentary
editor and audio producer for TomPaine.com.
Steven Rosenfeld produced this piece