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“All the Consent That’s Fit to Manufacture”

New York War Crimes

New York War Crimes

History

IRAQ 2003

In the buildup to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, The New York Times aided President George W. Bush’s administration in creating, legitimizing, and supporting a pretext for war.
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March 14, 2024

Following 9/11, The New York Times published multiple clumsy and dubious claims in an attempt to tie Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to Al-Qaeda. These reports were attributed to often anonymous U.S. government officials and Iraqi defectors — and, most infamously, written by Judith Miller, the paper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning terrorism correspondent.

In one article published shortly after 9/11, The Times claimed that Iraqi intelligence officers had overseen terrorists practicing how to hijack a commercial airliner without verifying the claim; another article attempted to tie Iraq to the 2001 anthrax attacks, citing only two anonymous “experts.”

Across many high-profile, front-page stories, Miller and her compatriots presented as fact explosive and unverified claims of Hussein’s “weapons of mass destruction” (WMD) programs, which did not actually exist. The allegation that Hussein was on the verge of procuring nuclear or biological weapons capable of inflicting mass casualties was foundational to Bush’s justification for war. In multiple instances, President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other high-ranking administration officials directly cited The New York Times’ WMD reporting while publicly making their case for military intervention in Iraq.

When Hussein agreed to admit UN weapons inspectors into Iraq, reiterating that he had nothing to hide, The Times worked to delegitimize these investigations. Despite experts arguing that it would be nearly impossible to hide a nuclear-weapons program, The Times published headlines such as “Verification Is Difficult at Best, Say the Experts, and Maybe Impossible.”

When the inspectors concluded that Iraq was indeed free of WMD, their reports were marginalized or ignored. The Times wrote just one story focusing on the inspectors’ conclusions, buried on the tenth page of the paper.

In stark contrast, The Times fawned over the Bush administration’s public charades, like Secretary of State Colin Powell’s infamous 2003 speech at the UN, hailing it, on the front page, as “a nearly encyclopedic catalog that reached further than many had expected.”

This coverage was backed by an editorial stating that Powell’s theatrics were “the most powerful case to date that Saddam Hussein stands in defiance of Security Council resolutions and has no intention of revealing or surrendering whatever unconventional weapons he may have.”

Illustration:
A New York Times headline, taken from its website, is blown up so that it extends beyond the edges. The headline reads: “Threats and Responses: Security Council; Powell, U.N. Speech, Presents Cases that Show Iraq Has Not Disarmed.
Steven R. Weisman, “Threats and Responses: Security Council; Powell, in U.N. Speech, Presents Case to Show Iraq Has Not Disarmed,” The New York Times (February 6, 2003).

On the eve of the invasion, a front-page article in The Times declared, “The striking thing was that for many Iraqis the first American strike could not come too soon.”

According to Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, during May 2003, the second full month after the invasion, only one out of The Times’ 41 front-page Iraq stories centered on civilian deaths at the hands of U.S. forces.

By any standard of journalistic integrity, it was incumbent on The Times to interrogate the claims and motivations of an administration that was openly and aggressively campaigning for war. The publication did precisely the opposite, regurgitating the statements of self-interested U.S. officials and relying on sketchy defectors from Iraq who had been attempting to topple Saddam Hussein — with CIA support — for many years. The Times invisibilized important contexts that could have led readers to question Bush and Co.’s motivations.

The invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq, coming on the heels of the Gulf War and a bloody regime of UN sanctions, proved cataclysmic. The United States decimated a proud society which has nurtured civilization since 4,800 BCE. It murdered hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, up to 77% of whom were civilians; it detained, tortured and humiliated thousands at prisons like Abu Ghraib; and it left the nation destitute, creating the political and military vacuum that led to the rise of the Islamic State.

At the outset of the U.S. invasion, “We thought we would breathe freedom, we would become like Europe,” an Iraqi general said in 2018. Instead, “We returned to the Dark Ages.”

In 2004, The Times editors published an evaluation of their coverage of Iraq. The piece — which freely admits that its Iraq coverage was littered with misinformation and falsehoods — reads like an excuse for the newspaper’s complicity in leading the U.S. down the warpath. It was too late for Iraq.