Dennis Hans: I Was Right
I Was Right
Before the war — when it mattered — I documented the Bush team’s
“techniques of deceit,” but the major media weren’t interested.
By Dennis Hans
John Edwards began his widely discussed guest column for the Washington Post, titled “The Right Way in Iraq,” with these dramatic words: “I was wrong.”
The former senator and vice presidential candidate now regrets his vote granting President George W. Bush the authority to invade Iraq in the event that Saddam Hussein thwarted peaceful international efforts to rid him of his presumed weapons of mass destruction and related programs.
The biggest mistake of Edwards and many other yes-voting Democrats as well as countless self-styled “liberal hawks” (many of whom release their droppings at the New Republic, Slate, Washington Monthly and American Prospect and might better be described as “easily suckered right-leaning centrists”) was to take Bush at his word when he promised to give inspections a fair chance and go to war only as a last resort. Just because someone speaks plainly, looks you in the eye and gives you a firm, manly handshake doesn’t mean he’s trustworthy. Such behavior is characteristic of genuine straight shooters, but also of con artists.
Unlike Edwards and the liberal hawks, I was right. Despite never having won a MacArthur “genius” award, in a series of prescient pre-war essays dating from October 2002 (links and excerpts are presented in this “Greatest Hits” piece: http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/print.html?path=HL0306/S00006.htm) I explained in great detail how Bush and his foreign-policy team were systematically and knowingly misleading Congress, the news media and the citizenry, and how most of the news media were letting the Bushies get away with it.
My writings cited and credited the exceptions to news media incompetence, slumbering and cowardice, including the Washington Post’s Joby “Aluminum Tubes” Warrick, Knight-Ridder’s Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel, the Los Angeles Times' Greg Miller and Bob Drogin, and a non-journalist who did more than all the mainstream reporters put together: Glen Rangwala of England’s Cambridge University. His pre-war writings, including a devastating dissection of Powell’s U.N. presentation, are collected at http://middleeastreference.org.uk/writings.html.
I introduced the con-artist metaphor Oct. 19, 2002, in the essay “Grifter-in-Chief Bush Aided by Media’s Wusses of Mass Credulity” ( http://www.democraticunderground.com/articles/02/10/19_grifter.html), which explained the process by which large sections of the public had come to believe two things — Iraq currently possessed a nuclear weapon and had participated in the 9-11 terror attacks — that the administration itself knew was not true and was careful not to make either claim. It’s all about the drumbeat, of one official pronouncement after another that overstates the evidence but not to the point of saying “Saddam has nukes” or “Saddam was definitely involved in 9-11” — and counting on the news media to treat such pronouncements respectfully.
My most widely posted and distributed pre-war piece was a 5,000-word opus titled “Lying Us Into War: Exposing Bush and His ‘Techniques of Deceit’” (Feb. 10, 2003). http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/print.html?path=HL0302/S00061.htm
I documented 15 such techniques, the first of which was “Stating as fact what are allegations — often highly dubious ones.”
I illustrated that technique with three examples, the first two from the Jan. 28, 2003 State of the Union address, the third from Bush’s Oct. 7, 2002 speech in Cincinnati. The lines may ring a bell:
“From three Iraqi defectors we know that Iraq, in the late 1990s, had several mobile biological weapons labs.”
“The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”
“We've learned that Iraq has trained Al Qaeda members in bomb making and poisons and deadly gases.”
I explained how those are examples of lying with verbs. “Know” and “learn” convey knowledge. In each case, neither the Bush or Blair administration knew any of these things for a fact. This was obvious AT THE TIME simply from what each administration stated was their source of knowledge: “defectors” on the mobile labs; unconfirmed “reporting” on the training; vague “intelligence”(a word that does not mean “proof”) on Saddam’s pursuit of African uranium — “intelligence” the Brits were not sharing with anyone, including the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency, which was aggressively seeking “actionable intelligence” on that very matter.
How would Bush like it if our mass media presented as established fact the unconfirmed tabloid story that, after nearly 20 years of sobriety, he is again drinking heavily? In that case, the Bush team would very loudly remind the public that allegation is not fact, and it would berate any media outlet that didn’t make that distinction.
Pretending an unconfirmed allegation is an established fact is LYING. Removing the caveats is LYING. Exaggerating for effect is LYING.
In each case, the speaker is intentionally conveying a false or misleading picture for the listener. It is this intent to deceive that is at the heart of lying.
Here are some other techniques of deceit I documented in “Lying Us Into War”:
Withholding the key fact that destroys the moral underpinning of an argument; Misrepresentation/Invention; Delegated lying/Team lying; Straw man; Withholding the key fact that would alert viewers that the purported grave threat is non-existent; Using mistranslation, misquotation and context-stripping to plant a frightening impression in the minds of trusting citizens that is the exact opposite of what you know to be true; Putting the most frightening interpretation on a piece of evidence while pretending that no other interpretation exists; Bold declarations of hot air; Creating in the public mind an intense but unfounded fear; Citing old news as if it’s relevant today, while leaving out the reason it’s not; Transference; and Hallucinatory lying.
I also wrote about the administrations’s knight in shining armor. In “An Open Letter to the U.N. About Colin Powell” ( http://commondreams.org/views03/0204-07.htm), posted the day before he addressed the Security Council, I laid out all the shady-lawyer techniques he was likely to use to mislead the world, and I showed that his track record marked him as a man not to be trusted.
I described Powell as “the ultimate ‘team player’ on a team that cheats” and raised the possibility he would stoop to presenting allegations obtained through torture. On both counts, Powell didn’t let me down. Here’s an excerpt:
“Powell’s presentation will be in the form of ‘here is the unvarnished truth as we understand it.’ But his will be a case for the prosecution and should be viewed as such. He will present only those tidbits that strengthen his case while suppressing tidbits that undermine it — and he will have a great advantage over a prosecutor in an American court.
“You see, that prosecutor would earlier have taken part in what is called the ‘discovery’ phase. The rules differ by state and by type of case, but the idea is that both sides in a trial get access to just about all the information and evidence the other side has gathered. You, on the other hand, will not be privy to the mountain of evidence from which Powell has selected his damning tidbits. You won’t have access to the material that places each accusation in its proper context, or the material that weakens or directly contradicts each accusation.
“Nor will you know if certain evidence is unreliable because it was obtained through torture. On Monday Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, wrote a letter to Powell ( http://hrw.org/press/2003/02/powell-ltr020303.htm) urging him to denounce the use of torture and not to include in his presentation any ‘information’ obtained through torture or severe mistreatment. (An in-depth story in the Dec. 26 Washington Post, cited by Roth, indicates the administration now countenances torture.) Would the Bush administration permit U.S. intelligence agencies to torture directly and/or ship detainees to foreign torture centers in hopes of extracting the magic words ‘Saddam and al Qaeda — all for one and one for all’? You might want to ask Secretary Powell.”
The answer, we now know, is yes. And though Powell may not have known that Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi cried “Uncle Sam” because of the threat or reality of torture by his Egyptian interrogators, Powell was surely aware of the possibility: months earlier he had lost the torture debate inside the administration. Hours before Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address, I explained something that is only now dawning on John Kerry and other dimwits of my own Democratic Party: “The Evidence Bush is Withholding Weakens, Not Strengthens the Case for War.” http://commondreams.org/views03/0128-08.htm
Inspired in part by what I had heard and read from gullible Bob Woodward, I wrote that “many in the news media are filing lame stories on the alleged dilemma facing the president - should he risk exposing intelligence ‘sources and methods’ to make the smoking-gun case against Saddam Hussein, or should he protect sources and methods even if it weakens his case? Such reporters are operating from a preposterous premise: This is an honest president in an honest dilemma, rather than a president who, when it comes to Iraqi policy, has never hesitated to misrepresent, exaggerate and lie.”
I used the aluminum tubes saga to illustrate how the Bush team deceived the public by withholding exculpatory evidence. Bush’s speeches gave nary a hint that those tubes could possibly serve a non-nuclear purpose, or that the specifications of the tubes made them a bad fit for nuclear centrifuges. But the IAEA had said BEFORE the State of the Union address that the tubes were a good fit for Iraq’s conventional rockets and, for a host of technical reasons, ill-suited for centrifuges. A few days before that address, Joby Warrick of the Washington Post penned a long story on the doubts of both the IAEA and U.S. government experts. Bush and all the people who signed off on that address and earlier ones were quite willing to leave viewers with a highly misleading impression.
On Feb. 19, 2003 I penned an advice column, “I’m Calling You Out,” directed primarily at journalists ( http://www.takebackthemedia.com/com-hans-2-20.html). Here’s what I told Bob Woodward:
“Go back and read pp. 124-29 of your 1987 book ‘Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA 1981-1987.’ Then write a front-page story about the precise parallels between the corruption of the intelligence process in 1981 under Reagan-Casey and today under Bush-Tenet.”
And I recommended that all journalists . . .
“Never use the verbs ‘think’ or ‘believe’ when reporting what Bush administration officials ‘say’ about Iraq or Saddam. You do not know what these officials ‘think’ or ‘believe’; you only know what they SAY they think and believe. Powell - the most credible administration official in the eyes of Americans and the world - almost certainly didn't ‘believe’ that Osama had formed a ‘partnership’ with Saddam when Powell went before the Senate and selectively quoted from Osama's latest message, leaving out the part where Osama calls Saddam an ‘infidel’ whose ‘jurisdiction . . . has fallen.’ If the most credible Bush administration official will deceive so brazenly - he knew that within hours the complete Osama transcript would be available worldwide - imagine what the ‘less credible’ members of this administration are capable of.”
That’s just the tip of my iceberg. I may have been ineffectual — thanks to countless rejections from incompetent or cowardly editors at mass-audience mainstream outlets, who when it mattered most were loathe to publish anything that challenged conventional wisdom and the administration’s integrity. But I was right.
Bio: Dennis Hans is a freelance writer who has taught courses in mass communications and American foreign policy at the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg; he’s also a basketball shooting instructor. Prior to the Iraq war, Hans penned the prescient essays “Lying Us Into War: Exposing Bush and His ‘Techniques of Deceit’” ( http://www.democraticunderground.com/articles/03/02/12_lying.html) and “The Disinformation Age” ( http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL0303/S00011.htm). He can be reached at HANS_D@popmail.firn.edu
©2005 by Dennis Hans