What will it take for us to reckon with U.S. foreign policy
By BERT SACKS,
Many will associate Aug. 6 with the deaths of 125,000 civilians at Hiroshima.
Very few will associate Aug. 12 with the ongoing deaths of 500,000 children.
Ten years ago on Aug. 12, UNICEF reported on preventable deaths in one country over the years 1991-98 compared to 1990 and found half a million children had died.(1) (2)
But this UNICEF survey of the deaths of 500,000 infants, toddlers and pre-school children was not mentioned at all on the nightly national news of ABC, CBS, or NBC.(3)
Meanwhile, 48 of the top 50 U.S. papers that printed any story omitted the most simple, telling statistic: that half a million children had died.(4)
The first point to be learned from Aug. 12: If you get your news only from U.S. mainstream sources, you can expect not to be told about certain major stories.
You might wonder how could 500,000 preventable children’s deaths not be reported?
The terrible and obvious answer is because they were Iraqis, and we caused their deaths.(5)
Because of our deliberate Gulf War destruction of Iraq’s electricity — which stopped the pumping of sewage and the processing of safe water — many children died from water-borne diseases. Years of U.S.-supported sanctions led to malnutrition and many more deaths.(6)
If the report had said Saddam Hussein caused those deaths, it would be in big headlines!
The second, important point to be learned is this: mainstream news programs claim objective reporting. But how do they decide what stories to cover and what to ignore?
Especially in time of war, manipulation of media coverage has become an art form. With a few admirable exceptions, our mainstream media has not stood up to that manipulation.
One example is Madeleine Albright’s claim on CBS’ “60 Minutes” that Iraqi children died because Saddam Hussein spent $2 billion building palaces. Simple arithmetic shows Saddam’s expense comes to four cents per Iraqi per day. Did any media ever do that calculation? And on that same program, she also said that half a million children’s deaths were “worth the price”!(7)(8)
Which brings up a third point to learn from the non-coverage of the Aug. 12, 1999 report.
The primary intelligence failure leading up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq was the media’s failure to report publicly available information and to draw the obvious conclusions.
We were told the reason we had to go to war was the existence of WMDs in Iraq. Two months before the U.S. invasion, I said to a large public audience, “This has always been about regime change. It has never been about weapons of mass destruction.”(9)
How did I know this?
Secretary of State James Baker III said so.
Three months after the end of the Gulf War he told Congress, “[We will maintain] UN sanctions in place so long as Saddam Hussein remains in power.” That statement completely removed any incentive Saddam had to disarm. And it proves that our goal was not to disarm but to overthrow him.(10)
If our goal was regime change, how did we plan to accomplish it?
Under Dick Cheney as Secretary of Defense from 1989 to 1993, the U.S. strategy for the Gulf War and after was simple. It was to make life very terrible for the Iraqis: unsafe drinking water, no reliable electricity in 100-degree temperatures, few medicines, little food, and many, many deaths.
To stop this, we thought the Iraqi generals would replace Saddam Hussein.
It did not happen, but hundreds of thousands of children, the sick, and the elderly died.
It’s media’s job to explain this. By and large our mass media failed miserably in that task.
Jonathan Shay’s 1995 book “Achilles in Vietnam” noted that vets suffering from post-traumatic stress injuries from that conflict have a problem called “lack of communalization”: a dearth of people who can hear their difficult truths. As a result, the vets suffer. And we fail to comprehend Vietnam.
The same applies to Iraq.
By using air power to destroy Iraq’s infrastructure — and sanctions to “keep the pressure on” — we had hoped to avoid sending American troops in to overthrow Saddam Hussein. But by causing massive suffering and death, we created hatred toward us around the world.
George H.W. Bush — who was Commander in Chief during the 1991 Gulf War — shamefully said, “I’ll never apologize for the United States of America, ever. I don't care what the facts are.” Media pundits who specialize in anger and outrage — in verbal violence — claim that those who wish to report difficult facts are “Blame America first” critics. But those who “don’t care what the facts are” leave us in a profound ignorance.
The reality of Iraq from 1991 to today remains shrouded in a deliberately created “fog of war.” If we don’t pierce it, we will be easily manipulated into the next war … and the next.
(2) Plot from the original UNICEF report in endnote 1 above: http://docs.google.com/Doc?docid=0ATJ2K9oVI5oDZGZqajRycHFfMjIxaHE5azZyaHI&hl=en
(3) See http://southendpress.org/2004/items/Iraq for the book “Iraq Under Siege: The Deadly Impact of Sanctions and War,” Chapter Six, “The Media’s Deadly Spin on Iraq,” especially p 103.
(4) Author’s search with Lexis-Nexis database of top fifty U.S. newspapers for the word “UNICEF” in conjunction with the word “half a million” OR the number “500,000”.
(5) See ConcernForIraq.org/infrastructure.htm – especially article from the Washington Post; Pentagon bombing planners make it very clear the consequences of the bombing were understood.
(6) http://www.scn.org/ccpi/infrastructure.htm#nejm is September 1992 report from the New England Journal of Medicine reporting 46,900 excess deaths of Iraqi children under the age of five compared to 1990.
(7) http://docs.google.com/Doc?docid=0ATJ2K9oVI5oDZGZqajRycHFfMjI4MnpodG56Y20&hl=en contains Ms. Albright’s comment (fn 46) and significant misleading material from the U.S. State Dept. attempted “rebuttal” of the UNICEF report a month later called "Saddam Hussein's Iraq".
Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq for some 24 years: during the first 12 years (when he had our support for his invasion of Iran and his use of WMDs against Iran) health care, literacy, basic infrastructure all improved; during the second 12 years (when we destroyed Iraq's electricity and imposed sanctions) health care, literacy and basic infrastructure all showed significant deterioration. Yet it was almost a national mantra in our media and with our politicians that "It's all Saddam's fault!"
Madeleine Albright (as our UN Ambassador) stated that "if sanctions weren't in place, [Saddam Hussein] would be selling oil for tanks." Yet during the first 12 years of his rule, there continued to be significant improvement in the health statistics of the country. Therefor the U.S. State Dept had to create a plot (with no sources! see next endnote) which denied what UNICEF and NEJM show.
L. Paul Bremer, U.S. Administrator of Iraq in 2003, said "Because ... this country's capital was stolen and put in places like this (palace), ... there is no reliable infrastructure here" and "Saddam's neglect of the power system meant that Iraq did not have enough power even before the war." Mr. Bremer completely ignored the evidence of U.S. bombing of 97% of Iraq's elelctricity in 1991. (See endnote 5, Pentagon statements and survey of post-Gulf-War Iraq.)
The Oil-for-food program of the UN was heralded as the answer to Iraq's humanitarian crisis. Yet few people are aware that the U.S. allowed funding (from Iraq's own oil revenues) at 25 cents per Iraqi per day initially, finally increasing to an average of 53 cents per Iraqi per day for all of the needs of each Iraqi: food, water, sewage, health care, transportation, education. The first two UN heads of that program resigned in protest, calling the funding "woefully inadequate" and genocidal.
In a lawsuit against the federal government for this 12-year policy towards Iraq, one contention was that the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children came to constitute genocide. The federal judge ruled that, even if this was genocide, in federal law it did not matter: Congress passed a law saying no one has any rights in the matter: http://concernforiraq.org/JudgeRobartPage7ofDecision22Oct04.htm See also the full legal challenges on this matter up to the U.S. Supreme Court on this blog (at right).
There are many excellent sources of information about the 12-year period leading up to the 2003 invasion: http://www.casi.org.uk/ and http://vitw.org/ and http://www.ConcernForIraq.org/ As an example, http://www.casi.org.uk/info/
(8) http://docs.google.com/Doc?docid=0ATJ2K9oVI5oDZGZqajRycHFfMjIzaGZienZjZ3o&hl=en is a plot from the State Dept. “Saddam Hussein’s Iraq” showing the 1991 Gulf War having a positive health impact in the North and no impact in the rest of Iraq; compare this with endnote 2 above, the actual UNICEF plot. The State Dept. report has not a single source to explain where any of its data comes from.
(9) http://bertoniraq.blogspot.com/2005/10/two-months-before-us-invasion-of-iraq.html See 7th paragraph: "I contend, and this document I’m giving you is the first piece of evidence that came my way, that this has always been about regime change. It has never been about weapons of mass destruction."