Mea (Ex)culpa By William Bowles

3 February 2004

Aish! Well I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised but in an op-ed piece in today’s Independent (03/02/04) by Mary Dejevsky headed “Let’s be honest: journalists failed as well”, we are told that:

“We journalists failed to ask pertinent questions that could have at least cast doubt on the information the government supplied…. How could so congenitally sceptical a breed allow this to happen?”

Good question Ms Dejevsky, it’s a pity that instead of exploring the real reasons you firstly, fall back on a failing memory:

“It is hard now to think back to September 2002 and January 2003 when the Government issued its two dossiers on Iraq’s Weapons.”

Evidently so, as the second dossier was published in February 2003, but we’ll let that pass. More important is not why your memory fails you but what happened to your powers of investigation? But further on, we find that it’s not her memory or even her powers of investigation that failed her but her nerve:

“To hazard that these [the WMD] might not exist was to invite ridicule.”

So that’s what it was? She was afraid of being ridiculed, a fate far worse that being blown to bits, no doubt. But wait, there’s more to Ms Dejevsky’s mea (ex)culpa than mere ridicule. At the risk of mixing my metaphors, Ms Dejevesky in part tries to escape her responsibility for the mis (lack of) reporting of the reasons for the invasion of Iraq by claiming that it was all Greek to her. She says:

“Very few of us have anything like the specialist expertise needed to assess the technical information we were given [about the alleged existence of WMD].”

Well aside from it being a journalist’s responsibility to cut through the crap as they say, what is truly appalling about Ms Dejevsky’s piece is the real reason she claims (I hope not on behalf of all journalists, just the craven ones) journalists’ failed us:

“Where we did ask, we often failed to point out the inadequacy or non-existence of the answers.”

Well whose fault is that I wonder, but then we can hardly expect more of a person who is afraid of being ridiculed for asking the right questions.

When confronted with the fact that there are people – ‘experts’ no less, not in the pay of government, to whom she could turn to for answers – we get the following excuse advanced as to why she (among many) failed to take heed of what they told us:

“The most vocal US sceptic about Iraq’s weapons, the former UN weapons inspector, Scott Ritter, was less easy to silence. Instead, his motives and character were systematically discredited to the point where few reporters were prepared to cite him as a credible source.”

Frankly, I’m gob-smacked by this admission, for surely Ms Dejevsky’s ‘keen’ journalist’s eye for a story and “congenital…sceptici[sm]” should have flashed in big, neon letters, ‘I smell a rat’. No such luck. But surely, the very fact that a highly credible source such as Ritter was being bad-mouthed should have raised the alarm? On what basis was he being discredited and why was he being discredited? She doesn’t tell us that either. I fear that the Independent is not getting its money’s-worth in employing Ms Dejevsky nor living up to its name.

In an attempt to cover her sorry journalistic arse, she goes on to tell us that:

“We now know there were questions that even as amateurs, we could and should have asked.”

Aside from the sheer gall of speaking on behalf of all those journalists who did ask the right questions, it’s the cop-out of hiding behind the smokescreen of being an “amateur” at the WMD game that raises my blood pressure. I’m no rocket scientist either but getting to the truth of the reasons behind the invasion doesn’t require a degree in chemistry or ballistics but some inkling about real politik, history and causes. Like I say, Ms Dejevsky would seem to be earning her pay check under false pretences, as at every turn she either admits to being a coward, dumb or simply credulous.

But it gets worse, as in the final section of this pathetic excuse for simply not asking the right questions that needed to be asked, she suddenly acquires the nous to actually ask the questions she said didn’t have the “specialist” knowledge to ask back when it counted eg:

“How long does the chemical and biological material referred to in the dossiers remain usable?”

Good question given that whatever stuff Saddam possessed dated back to the 1980s when the US, UK and Germans sold it to Iraq. Ask any chemist worth his or her salt, ‘what’s the shelf life of any particular chemical?’ and she could have gotten a credible answer.

And where the information about Saddam’s CBW stocks having been destroyed were in the public domain, she once again falls back on the excuse of the source being “discredited” as with Saddam’s brother-in-law General Hussein Kamel who defected in 1995 and who was murdered after being “lured back to Iraq”.

She tells us that his:

“revelation received…fleeting…attention [and] was not regarded as a credible source…[and that]…just a few weeks before the war, the US and British governments had no interest in promoting this version.”

But surely the point is not what story the USUK want to promote but in the story you’re meant to write as an independent journalist and that the fact that the US and British governments were anxious not to give Kamel’s version any airplay merely reinforces the argument for digging deeper and trying to find out why. A little research would have given Ms Dejevsky all the answers she needed, like who sold what and when to whom (try Google Ms Dejevsky, I highly recommend it).

But finally, it is perhaps a little unfair to dump so viciously on Ms Dejevsky, for clearly to use a biblical turn of phrase she ‘knows not what she does’ . What is central to this journalistic ‘post-mortem’ is the fact that her employer knows only too well what it does. Any red faces should be those of the editors of the Independent for not getting its journalists to ask the right questions and to keep on asking them until it got the answers we all deserve.

Addendum (04/02/04)

[I’m grateful to Simon Cook of medialens for the following on Hussein Kamel and how the US and the UK distorted his testimony.]

Far from just burying Kamel’s testimony, both the British and US Governments clearly asserted a false testimony, regarding Kamel not only as credible but in fact a star witness.

Independent on Sunday, March 2nd [2003]
Tony Blair wrote: “[..] the UN has tried unsuccessfully for 12 years to get Saddam to disarm peacefully. And if he doesn’t co-operate then no number of inspectors and no amount of time is going to ensure it happens in a country almost twice as big as the UK. The UN inspectors found no trace at all of Saddam’s offensive biological weapons programme – which he claimed didn’t exist – until his lies were revealed by his son-in-law. Only then did the inspectors find over 8,000 litres of concentrated anthrax and other biological weapons, and a factory to make more.” (”My Christian conscience is clear over war”, 2 March 2003)

Blair: “The UN inspectors found no trace at all of Saddam’s offensive biological weapons programme ˆ which he claimed didn’t exist – until his lies were revealed by his son-in-law.” Jack Straw repeated the same falsehood in an interview on 1 June 2003: “[…] they denied that they had a nuclear or biological weapon programme – and carried on denying it […] and only finally did the truth about this weapons programme come out when an individual defected.”

Kamel’s defection has been cited repeatedly by President Bush and leading officials in both the UK and US as evidence that (1) Iraq has not disarmed; (2) inspections cannot disarm it; and (3) defectors such as Kamel are the most reliable source of information on Iraq’s weapons.

Prime Minister Tony Blair in his statement to the House of Commons on 25 February 2003, said: “It was only four years later after the defection of Saddam’s son-in-law to Jordan, that the offensive biological weapons and the full extent of the nuclear programme were discovered.”

President Bush declared in a 7 October 2002 speech: “In 1995, after several years of deceit by the Iraqi regime, the head of Iraq’s military industries defected. It was then that the regime was forced to admit that it had produced more than 30,000 liters of anthrax and other deadly biological agents. The inspectors, however, concluded that Iraq had likely produced two to four times that amount. This is a massive stockpile of biological weapons that has never been accounted for, and capable of killing millions.”

Colin Powell’s 5 February 2003 presentation to the UN Security Council claimed: “It took years for Iraq to finally admit that it had produced four tons of the deadly nerve agent, VX. A single drop of VX on the skin will kill in minutes. Four tons. The admission only came out after inspectors collected documentation as a result of the defection of Hussein Kamal, Saddam Hussein’s late son-in-law.”

In a speech on 26 August 2002, Vice-President Dick Cheney said Kamel’s story “should serve as a reminder to all that we often learned more as the result of defections than we learned from the inspection regime itself”.

Hussein Kamel was not in the process of providing excuses for the Iraqi regime. Much of the interview is taken up with his criticisms of its mistakes: “They are only interested in themselves and not worried about economics or political state of the country. [..] I can state publicly I will work against the regime.” (p.14). And yet, when it comes to prohibited weapons, Kamel is unequivocal: Iraq destroyed these weapons soon after the Gulf War.

Here’s some more links on the Hussein Kamel connection:

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