Sam Husseini: The Entire US Establishment Helped Lie Their Way into the Iraq War

by Slava Zilber, published in the American Herald Tribune, October 14, 2019

Slava Zilber: Sam Husseini is a senior analyst with the Institute for Public Accuracy, independent journalist and contributor to The Nation and FAIR.

Sam, three years ago, you appeared on Talk Nation Radio with David Swanson and spoke about the case of the GCHQ whistleblower Katharine Gun. You pointed out that the people involved in the spying on the UN and the people authorizing the Iraq War were not held accountable:

“Virtually everybody who went along with the war, whether it is Kerry or Clinton, of course, the Bush administration themselves has falsified their own records in terms of why, what they did, when they did, why they did it, to the extent that they’ve been scrutinised at all.”

You also address it in a recent article. And recently, Joe Biden has beenlying about his position on the Iraq War. How can such an important issue escape meaningful scrutiny?

Sam Husseini: Because the media and the political system uses constant distractions of other issues, of personalities, of punditry to distract from these core issues. The entire US establishment helped lie their way into the Iraq War. More than that, the Katharine Gun case, which is featured in a new movie, Official Secrets, shows how the US attempted to blackmail other members of the Security Council by spying on them to try to get a second UN Security Council resolution authorizing the Iraq War. It shows the length to which they wanted to go to make sure that they got their war, both the US and Britain and others.

So all of these diabolical efforts to launch an aggressive war haven’t been seriously held accountable to it. Biden is a very notable example. I mean, the entire political system is guilty, but he is incredibly important because he was head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2002, during the build-up of the Iraq War. It is not just that he voted wrong, as some people say. Even somebody like Bernie Sanders says it was the wrong vote. It was far worse than the wrong vote. Biden, in his hearings, prevented meaningful scrutiny and dissent and the basic facts from being highlighted in terms of the false case that was being put forward for war in 2002 and in 2003.

And he has continued to lie about his own record. Biden recently has said all kinds of things: That he was opposed to the war as soon as it started, which is totally false. He continued to back it. He even said at one point that he was always against it, which is utterly ridiculous. I mean, he always couched his criticism in bizarre ways basically agreeing with the war but saying that Bush had to do a better job of getting the UN on board. Well, as the Katharine Gun case shows, the Bush administration and the Blair government were going so far as to spy on other countries to blackmail them in order to get them on board. So saying that the US needed to do a better job of getting the UN on board is a way of saying that it should have been even more coercive than it was. His story is, in a sense, an indictment of the entire political system since before the Iraq War because he, in the 1990s, said all kinds of aggressive things about Iraq.

Slava Zilber:And it is also an indictment of the media. Do you see you a connection to what you describe in another FAIR article titled “Triumph of Conventional Wisdom: AP Expunges Iran/Contra Pardons from Barr’s Record”? Are they giving those lies a pass for the same reason they are doing this with the record of Attorney General William Barr?

It is funny that you mention that. Part of what I know about Barr is that Biden was a big backer of his.

The really notable thing about Barr’s record is that he was Attorney General for George H. W. Bush and when Iran/Contra pardons happened. This was a huge scandal during the Reagan/Bush years, and at the end of it, it was basically ended. As the prosecutor, L. Walsh, a straight-shooting Republican, said, it was a cover-up pardon. Bush pardoned Caspar Weinberger and others. And Barr basically approved all of that. And what’s remarkable about that is that just as Barr was rehabilitated by the media, so too was – Biden helped rehabilitate him as well.

Biden’s record closely parallels that of the major media. Very often, his claims dovetail very strongly with them. He is sort of the closest thing that the Democrats have to a John McCain: Somebody who constantly appeared on the Sunday morning talk shows and pulled together what the late great journalist Robert Parry called conventional wisdom. So a whole series of fabrications about the Iraq War, before and after it happened, were perpetrated by the major media as well as people like Joe Biden. And Biden was rehabilitating criminal, basically, figures like Barr who was Bush’s Attorney General and helped cover-up the Iran/Contra scandal and who now is Trump’s Attorney General and, I think, playing a major role in terms of ensuring that the Trump administration maintains an establishment orientation in terms of foreign policy as well as other things. I think that he is playing a very nefarious role, and he was largely rehabilitated by Biden. We have transcripts of Biden in the mid-1990s talking him up: “What a great guy! And we have disagreements, but I have a lot of respect for you” and so on and so forth. So Biden continuously helps resurrect figures like that and does other things to maintain a very militaristic orientation in terms of foreign policy.

I had to think about a recent incident: The talkshow host Ellen DeGeneres attended a game with former President G.W. Bush. Could you please talk about what her response to the criticism that followed and the reactions from, for example, Obama administration officials Samantha Power and David Axelrod indicate? Is it also this kind of cooperation that you have just described with Mr. Barr and Mr. Biden?

Sam Husseini: Yes, I think since the Bush administration there’s been an attempt to rehabilitate it and that has gone into overdrive during the Trump administration: That is the establishment media attempt to contrast the gentlemanly Bushes, both of them, the father and the son now, as fundamentally decent, earnest people who are trying to do the right thing in contrast to this crass baffoon Donald Trump. So you had literal Obama embrace of the Bushes since Bush leaving the White House and then his father’s funeral a year ago. Barr was brought on as Attorney General just after Bush the father’s funeral at the National Cathedral. And in the Trump years, you had a total Trumpwashing of Bush and other people in his administration, much of the former CIA officials some of whom actually were already Trumpwashed before Trump because Obama brought them into his administration. Obama brought in Brennan. Obama even brought in Gates. He kept the same so-called “Defense Secretary” that Bush had. So there is a longstanding cooperation between what are sometimes called liberal interventionists and sometimes called neocons. But they all fundamentally share the same neo-imperial, colonialist mindset in terms of how the US should deal with the rest of the world. And I think that does include certain people like Samantha Power. Her rationale around the Iraq War – sort of backing it without backing it or backing it and facilitating it while attempting to pretend that they had a critique of how Bush was doing it – is actually quite similar to Biden’s as I recall. I have not looked at her record recently but recalling that record, there is a serious interplay there. So it is interesting that you’ve mentioned her as well. But it’s all based on the same sort of falsifications for war.

But again, they started and they were articulated by the major media and by figures like Biden before the Iraq War itself. For example, the weapons inspections regime of the 1990s was ended because then-President Clinton bombed Iraq and withdrew the weapons inspectors. And then he had to figure what the heck you were going to do after that. The media and people like Joe Biden continually talked about: ‘Saddam Hussein kicked out the weapons inspectors’ and ‘When are we going to get them back in?’ The weapons inspections regime didn’t end because Saddam Hussein kicked out the weapons inspectors. It ended because the US government pulled them out in order to launch a bombing campaign which people might recall happened just as Clinton’s scheduled impeachment vote was supposed to happen in 1998. And you saw much the same thing happen in 2003. How did the Iraq War begin? It didn’t begin because Saddam Hussein was not cooperating with the weapons inspectors. He was totally cooperating with the weapons inspectors. He said over and over again, including on US shows like 60 Minutes, that he had no weapons of mass destruction. So how did the war begin? The war began with G. W. Bush saying: ‘This process has gone on long enough. You, Saddam Hussein, have 48 hours to get out of Bagdad with your sons.’ And then they put out a statement that even if he got out of Iraq in 48 hours with his sons, they would still start the bombing. And they told the UN to get the weapons inspectors out of the country so they wouldn’t bomb them. And then they started their shock and awe bombing campaign. That’s how the war started.

Some people claim that Biden is now becoming senile or something. And that’s why he hasn’t been able to articulate his position on Iraq. Hardly! He has been lying about his position on Iraq for years. In 2007, he was asked about his Iraq War vote, and he actually had the temerity to say: ‘Why didn’t Saddam Hussein say that he didn’t have the weapons!’ Of course, Saddam Hussein was saying that he didn’t have the weapons! But there he is: Biden pretending that it wasn’t known that Saddam Hussein was denying they had the weapons. And that’s also another lie that major media themselves perpetrated, including 60 Minutes itself. 60 Minutes had an interview with Saddam Hussein before the Iraq War in which he said ‘I don’t have any weapons of mass destruction.’ And then several years later, after the Iraq War, they did some so-called reporting about: ‘Why didn’t Saddam Hussein say that he didn’t have any weapons of mass destruction?’ So it’s the level of absurdity you have with the record of establishment media and establishment figures like Joe Biden. And there is a remarkable lack of scrutiny, especially when it most matters. One of Biden’s falsifications, when he had an interview with NPR, got a little bit of scrutiny. It wasn’t nearly enough, and sometimes the scrutiny actually helped build up other Iraq War lies. But none of the scrutiny in the major media happened right after the Democratic debates. He has lied about his Iraq War record during each of the Democratic debates. It is Sanders who I think needs to be far more forceful if he is to comport with the indicting facts in this case. But he at least brought it up. In his words: He led the effort against the Iraq War in the Senate, and Biden voted for it. That’s an understatement again. But at least he has brought it up, and that has compelled Biden to explain his position and lie about it in the process.

It is such a loser strategy as well because it’s quite similar to Kerry’s position. You remember Kerry looked ridiculous in 2004 because he was forced to explain his position then, and he was saying things like ‘I was for the war before I was against it’ and this kind of doubletalk. Biden, if anything, is even worse than that. So it’s factually vacuous and demented, and it is probably not going to galvanize voters and be a very poor strategy electorally. 

Slava Zilber:You have been covering the Iraq War and the discourse about the Iraq War. Do you have the impression that invading another country and causing immense suffering is either considered irrelevant or treated just as something one disagrees with, especially from episodes like the one with Ms. DeGeneres, Samantha Power, and David Axelrod? Do you think it would have been different had there been an Iran/Contra trial with convictions and had the Obama administration prosecuted the people involved in torture? Would it have made a difference?

Sam Husseini: Yes, I think it would have made a difference. All of those things could have made some difference to try to have some kind of meaningful accountability in US law and political life, that people who engage in torture or launching war of aggression or other war crimes be held accountable for that. It would get those people out of public life, make them pay some measure of penalty for their own conduct, and become an example so that others don’t simply perpetuate as it is. We have some of the same figures coming back. There you have Elliott Abrams, and John Bolton, who committed criminal acts under the Bush administrations, come back under the Trump administration. In spite of its isolationist veneer, it has basically adopted a Bush type of foreign policy in many respects.

And I mean this ‘Let’s all get along even if we have disagreements!’ Well, you know, ok. So I fully expect Ellen DeGeneres to have somebody from ISIS on to talk about how she can have disagreements with him. But perhaps they can be fond of each other personally. Or pick the group of your choice that is totally distasteful or allegedly totally distasteful. I mean, in some ways, people allege the US has coordinated with groups like ISIS in terms of destabilizing Syria. But pick whatever group the US establishment most despises, and it’s not as if their members or leadership are humanized. I mean Hezbollah and Hamas are regarded as terrorist organizations even though they are political parties that do a lot of good for people. I have serious disagreements with them. And they do use violence, on a far smaller scale than the US and Israel and other states do. But it would be very refreshing if Ellen DeGeneres and other political talk show hosts took their word seriously, that they want to have a dialogue with people, even people they disagree with, and they still view them as human. So let’s have Nasrallah and the leader of Hamas on late-night talk shows. Well, I don’t think it is going to happen any time soon. It is just an exercise in making the criminality of the US establishment palatable to the public.

And it is interesting that in this case there was a fair amount of pushback. I think that’s partially because you still have some semblance in social media of evenhandedness of discourse, but I think that that has been pushed away gradually as Twitter and Facebook and other social media are tilting the playing field more and more, excluding voices, using opaque algorithms to marginalize some voices further and increase others. So the war against accountability and for meaningful dialogue about issues of war and peace – on many levels, that fight is happening.

Slava Zilber:Sam, are there cases where the question of whether one opposed the war in Iraq or supported it is being reduced to a talking point, for example, in 2016 against Hillary Clinton? How many people actually care about the human cost of that war to Americans and Iraqis?

Sam Husseini: I think a lot of US political system is trying to make the Iraq War an irrelevant thing in the distant past and the decision and the mechanisms used to launch the Iraq War. It is not a coincidence that Obama cast himself as an anti-war candidate. And he won. Trump cast himself as an anti-war candidate. And he won. I think there is a hunger in the American public for a different way to orient itself to the rest of the world. It’s a very difficult thing for the American public to sort out because it doesn’t get adequate information. Instead, it gets lies upon lies upon lies. But it is notable that the candidates that were brazenly part of the pro-war establishment have generally lost on the national stage. Now, Obama and in different ways, Trump were deceitful in casting themselves as anti-war. But I think it doesn’t change the fact that there is this underlying hunger. And there are serious opportunities because the wars continue and they continue to threaten to spiral further out of control, and they continue to have this devastating effect as most recently Turkey killing Kurds not only on its side of the border but dramatically escalating their killing of Kurds on the Syrian side of the border. And the colonial prerogatives are still the same: We can invade Iraq because we can invade Iraq. And now we can do all kinds of things in Syria because we can do all kind of things in Syria.

I think there is an attempt to reduce the Iraq War to a mere talking point. And it is facilitated in part because virtually nobody left in ruling circles got it right. Sanders did not get the Iraq War right. He bought some of the establishment lines. And I think it would do him some good to say: ‘Even I bought part of the establishment line!’ Sanders was not out there saying: ‘Iraq doesn’t have weapons of mass destruction.’ There were some people like Scott Ritter, who was saying that. I was saying there has been no evidence for saying that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. But Sanders was not saying that. He was simply saying: ‘War is a bad idea. It is going to make things worse. It could compel Saddam Hussein to use his weapons of mass destruction.’ Sanders actually made that argument. Pelosi and others made even worse arguments even though they cast their votes against war. Some of them actually helped to facilitate war even though they technically cast their votes against it.

So the entire political system – right now, I feel the correct analogy is geology in the 17th century. Geology in the 17th century was a debate between people who thought that the earth was 5000 years old versus people who thought that the earth was maybe a hundred million years old. The correct answer – that the earth was over a billion years old – was off the charts. It wasn’t part of the mainstream discussion. And I think we have a similar thing right now with coming to grips with fundamental questions of US foreign policy like the Iraq War. The correct, empirically-driven answer is well outside the current acceptable discourse. And this leads to all kinds of perversities one of which is the rise of somebody like Trump who does say perverse truths at times and that grants him a measure of legitimacy because nobody who articulates those truths in a principled way is allowed to take part in a meaningful way in public discourse because of the constrictions of major media. So these are some of the problems that have to be overcome.

Slava Zilber:Do you see them being overcome? What can be done to change things?

Sam Husseini: There is a pat answer to that: Getting information out, doing what you can. And there are all kinds of good webpages and periodicals out there. And some people try to use social media as best they can. Your program is a very good example, as well.

But I think we need to get to concrete proposals. One proposal I wanted to start building for some time and perhaps some of your listeners can help is to build what would now be called a Wiki with the relevant lies and fabrications of the establishment figures: In very short concise format so there would be a go-to place for whatever establishment figure, whether it is Biden or Wolf Blitzer or Samantha Power, to in very concise form have a thing contríbuted to by many people doing research, but then distilled so it is not a mass of treaties. So it is literally about 500 words but linked to, with substantial documentation of their various fabrications, whether it is about Iraq WMDs or other issues that we might achieve a culture of accountability so that these people could be challenged when they speak at universities or elsewhere. You could have it as a PDF so that it can be printed out and then distributed at events where these individuals are speaking. It could be distilled into a graphic form that could proliferate over social media, for example. I think it is a matter of people who do have a commitment to relevant facts and to a fundamental humanity, driven by respect for things like opposing aggressive war to organise our efforts better so we can more effectively challenge and expose people who deceit on such a massive scale to do things that have caused such harm and will continue to cause more and more harm, potentially threatening nuclear war.

I’ve been doing work lately with the Institute for Public Accuracy about the Plowshares actions. They have had an action in Georgia with these religiously-driven activists to destroy nuclear weapons symbolically. And many of them have spent much of the last year and a half in jail. Now they are facing decades in prison, and their trial begins in a couple of weeks.

I wanted to be inspired by their dedication in terms of their actions: to try to have the same dedication for laying out the critical facts in a way that is irrefutable and solidly documented and working with others to do that so that the force of that is so great that it, in effect, winds its way into the mechanisms of war and the lies that feed them and causes them to come to a grinding halt.

*Top image: Sam Husseini, the communications director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. Credit: YouTube

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