Evidence for War:
Colin Powell's Presentation

In some ways, Colin Powell's presentation to the U.N. Security Council was a turning point in convincing the American public that Iraq posed an imminent danger to our country (most of the rest of the world remained doubtful). Now, months later, does the evidence Mr. Powell presented seem more or less credible? Sadly, much of this evidence now appears to be exagarated, taken out of context, or in some cases to be just plain wrong.

"These are not assertions," Powell said. "What we're giving you today are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence."

The Secret Tapes
We heard the first of three audio tape, played in Arabic with a translation provided by Mr. Powell. The intercepted radio conversation a military commander shows concern that a site may have a "modified vehicle." The subordinate insists, "We evacuated everything. We don't have anything left." Mr. Powell emphasizes the word "evacuate" to imply that it was moved and hidden, not destroyed or declared. On the second audio tape, a military commander emphasizes that the subordinate should make sure they have cleaned out "all of the areas, the scrap areas, the abandoned areas. Make sure there is nothing there." Finally, the subordinate is ordered to "destroy this message" after completing the task because the commander doesn't want anyone to see it.

Convincing?: Although a third intercepted conversation is played later, let's think about the implications of these first two tapes, which are supposed to be concrete, damning evidence. Actually, the most amazing thing is that these are the most damaging words our intelligence agencies were able to record. After eavesdropping for years, we must have thousands of hours of conversations recorded , and this is the best we've got? What supervisor, upon learning that auditors will be visiting his department soon, wouldn't tell his subordinates to make sure everything is in order? I don't speak Arabic, so I'll have to take Mr. Powell's word that he's translating accurately, that the word "evacuate" has the same negative connotation he's alleging--or that it even makes sense to "destroy" an audio message.

The Deception Committee
Next Powell talks about a "higher committee" within Saddam's government that keeps an eye on the arms inspectors. The committee includes General Amir al-Saadi, "who last fall publicly pledged to operate as to deceive, not to disarm, but to undermine the frustrate them and make sure they learn nothing." Mr. Saadi was the chief liaison between the Iraqi government and the arms inspectors.

Really? Clearly, some kind of coordinating group was needed to work with the inspections team, and to keep an eye on foreigners visiting sensitive military and industrial sites across Iraq. What, exactly, did al-Saadi say publicly last fall? I have not been able to find a quote. If he had publicly declared something that inflamatory, why didn't any of the media or elsewhere ever mention it? However, CNN reports that after the war he "insisted, as he had during the inspections regimen, that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction." Note that Mr. al-Saadi was the first senior aide to Saddam to surrender himself to U.S. Forces back on April 12. Over three months later, the U.S. apparently hasn't been able to get any significant damaging information out of a man, as a top scientific advisor and point-man for the inspections process, who should have known every detail of any such deception.

Mad Scientists and Secret Documents
Powell makes the documents found by inspectors at the home of an Iraqi nuclear scientist a centerpiece of his argument that documents are being concealed. "They uncovered 2,000 pages of documents," he says. Powell even shows a picture of the documents being brought out of the house. "Some of the material is classified and related to Iraqi's nuclear program."

Are we convinced yet? This sounds damaging. Documents being hidden in the homes of scientists? Surely this is proof Iraq was actively hiding things. Actually, it seems to be the opposite. Putting aside the fact that these documents were found during the inspections process, the United Nations couldn't have been all that suprised by the contents of these papers. They were copies of documents already turned over to arms inspectors in the early 1990's. Did Powell know this on February 5th? Did he make a "factual" statement designed to mislead?

Although not referenced in Powell's speech, it's interesting to note that another scientist has since come forward. in June, Dr. Mahdi Obeidi, the former head of Iraq's centifruge program, turned over a volume of centifuge documents and components that he had buried in his garden more than ten years ago. Another victory for the claim that Iraq was reconsituting its nuclear program? Well, hardly. Dr. Obeidi (who had come forward on his own and, after some initial confusion, has since been relocated with his family to a safe location) later said that Iraq was not actively working on nuclear weapons and that the famous aluminum tubes were not for use with centrifuges.

Weapons in the Palm Trees
Powell: "We know from sources that a missile brigade outside Baghdad was disbursing rocket launchers and warheads containing biological warfare agents to various locations...hidden in large groves of palm be moved every one to four weeks to escape detection."

True? Mr. Powell did not put a date on these events, but he carefully uses the past tense. Is it actually possible, as the Iraqis alleged, that he was talking about events that took place a dozen years ago during the first Gulf War? If not, then where are these weapons now? And just exactly how, if this is not the story told from 1991, do we "know" these "facts and conclusions"?

Satellite Photographs
Mr. Powell explains how difficult it is to analyze satellite imagery, but offers to interpret for us. Fortunately, the photographs are labeled so that we can see the "sure signs that the bunkers are storing chemical munitions." He compares the photographs to others taken later in which vehicles are missing, tents have been taken down, and the area has been "cleaned up" in advance of a coming U.N. inspection team.

The problem here is that no one, not matter how much of an expert, can see inside the buildings and vehicles Mr. Powell's photographs show to know what they contain. How does he know that "inside are special guards and special equipment"? How certain are the experts that they are seeing a decontamination truck (one source says the vehicle was actually a food truck)? Powell doesn't mention that the photographs he compares were taken weeks apart, that other some experts have said such movements were normal and to be expected at any military or industrial facility?

The "Fine Paper"
Powell: "I would call my colleagues' attention to the fine paper that (the) United Kingdom distributed yesterday, which describes in equisite detail Iraqi deception activities."

This "fine paper" is none other than the now infamous "dodgy dossier," a document that immediately embroiled Prime Minister Tony Blair in months of controversy that continue to this day. Promoted as the work of Britiain's best intelligence efforts, over half of the document was plagarized from a post-graduate thesis based on information obtained in 1991. This isn't just old news, it's ancient news.

The Dodgy Dossier:
Proof of Plagiarism:

25,000 Liters of Anthrax
Powell says that UNSCOM estimates Hussein could have produced 25,000 liters of anthrax.

Anthrax is one of the few biological agents that, had it been dried successfully by the Iraqis, could still be useful for years after its manufacture. And Powell is speaking the truth: UNSCOM did make that "worst case" estimate. So where is all this anthrax today? Why can't we find a single spore?

Mobile Production Facilities
Powell says that we have evidence of "biological weapons factories on wheels and on rails." He cites four sources, naming two as Iraqi defectors, and shows pictures of both "truck and rail car-mounted mobile factories."

Truth or Fiction? The CIA, in its report on the mobile labs, says that Powell's statement was "primarily based on information from a source who was a chemical engineer that managed one of the mobile plants." This was a defector alleging plans from 1995, seven years ago. Defectors, as a rule, can be very unreliable sources of information. So it's easy to understand the excitement when first one, then another "mobile lab" were discovered in April.

Depending on which expert you consult, the two "mobile labs" found are either definitely for production of biological weapons, or definitely not for production of weapons. As reported by the New York Times, "U.S. and British intelligence analysts are disputing claims that two mysterious trailers found in Iraq were for making deadly germs."

CIA report:
Analysts Doubt:
Mobile Lab Overview:

Flying Biological Weapons
Mr. Powell shows a dramatic video of an Iraqi F-1 Mirage jet spraying "simulated anthrax," saying the video was obtained "some years" ago. Later in the speech, he talks about Unmanned Arial Vehicles being developed for use in disbursing chemicial and biological weapons.

Fact or Fiction? "Some years ago" turns out to be 1991, when this video was given by the Iraqis to the U.N. arms inspectors. Iraq probably did experiment with UAV's, but not necessarily for weapons delivery (the United States uses UAV's extensively for survellance.) Although I did not find much solid information, rumor has it that Iraq's UAV program consisted largely of balsa planes held together with duct tape. Once again, Powell seems to be deliberately showing frightening images that are actually ancient history.

The Missing Mustard
Mr. Powell complains that Iraq "has never accounted for vast amounts of chemical weaponry: 550 artillery shells with mustard, 30,000 empty much as 500 tons of chemical agents." Having given that figure, he then says that given the 6,500 unaccounted bombs from the Iraq/Iran war, there could be as much as 1,000 tons unaccounted for.

Ironically, now it's the United States that can't find these missing weapons. Where are all these bombs and warheads? As time goes on, it seems more and more likely that sometime during the confusion of its long war with Iran and the Gulf War with America, actually did "lose" these weapons. They may exist only on paper.

The Phantom Scuds
Powell: Iraq still has "a few dozen Scud variant ballistic missiles."

Not a single Scud missile has been found. Would Mr. Powell be as confident in making that statement today? Remember, these are "facts and conclusions based on solid evidence." UNSCOM said in 1997 that a total of 817 out of Iraq's 819 ballastic missiles had been certifiably destroyed. On what basis did Mr. Powell make the bold claim that Iraq still had any Scuds, much less "a few dozen"?

Frightening And Irrelevant
Powell: "It took years for Iraq to finally admit it had produced four tons of the deadly nerve agent, VX. A single drop of VX on the skin will kill in minutes."

The rest of the story: While frightening people with the idea of this nerve agent, Powell fails to mention that the experts, including the U.N. inspectors, agree that any VX that Iraq possessed during the first Gulf War (and no one has alleged that any more was produced) would have deteriorated and would now be useless as a weapon. In the words of Ronald Reagan, Mr. Powell, "There you go again."

Bulldozers at al_moussaid. Facts, Not Assertions?
Powell: Saddam Hussein has chemical weapons...and we have sources who tell us that he recently has authorized his field commanders to use them. He wouldn't be passing out the orders if he didn't have the weapons or the intent to use them." Just how reliable do these "solid facts and conclusions" seem now? No chemical weapons were used. No chemical weapons or even traces of chemical weapons have been found.

The Aluminum Tubes!
Incredibly, Powell cites the aluminum tubes as evidence of Iraq's intention to build a nuclear bomb. THe admits that some experts think they could be used to construct rotors for centrifuges, while others do not. Since the experts can't agree, Powell implies that as an "old Army trooper," he can settle the debate. Perhaps the nuclear experts comprising the U.N. inspection team are in a better position to make this judgement call. Or perhaps the former head of the centrifuge program might know the answer? He doesn't think the tubes have any relation to a nuclear program. In a report declassified in July, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research concluded that there is not a "compelling case that Iraq is currently integrated and comprehensive approach to acquire nuclear weapons."

Obeidi scientist:

The Oversized Engine Test Stand
Powell cites construction of a missile engine test stand "five times bigger" than previous stands used to test short-range missiles. This, he says, is proof that Iraq intends to build long-range missiles, adding that a roof has been constructed to hide the test stand from satellites.

What Powell doesn't say: We didn't need a satellite to see the test stand. The U.N. inspectors had already visited this site on numerous occasions. Iraq says the stand is larger because the smaller missiles were to be tested horizontally, rather than vertically as had been done in the past.

The Terrorist Connection The Bush administration has long insisted that Iraq was cooperating with al Queda despite widespread disagreement. The Ansar al-Islam Camp Hamas, Terrorist Conferences Powell: "Hamas, for example, opened an office in Baghdad in 1999, and Iraq has hosted conferences attended by Palestinian Jihad." Surely Mr. Powell knows that Hamas, while best known in America for their terrorism, has a humanitarian mission as well. And what are these confere

Copyright © 2003 by Rodger Ling.
All rights reserved.

Mr. Powell opens by reminding the Council of Resolution 1441, which threatens "serious consequences" if Iraq does not disarm. His goal is to convince the council that because Iraq has not complied, war is justified. However, in reminding us of Resolution 1441, hindsight tells us now that Powell made a serious mistake. America, so confident of proving that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that could be unearthed if we took control of the country, has instead helped prove that Iraq did not have such weapons and was in fact complying with the Resolution. Thus, our invasion was not just unjustified but a violation