Iraq and the Boys Who Cried "Wolf"

By Wayne Grytting

Would the Bush Administration mislead us about Iraq? I'd like to believe the President. That's why I'm asking supporters of a new war against Iraq to help out. Could you clear up a few nagging doubts from the last Gulf War that have led critics like Rep. Jim McDermott to question the credibility of our leaders? In case you've forgotten, here is a brief review.

1. The Incubator Babies. When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, Americans were appalled by reports of at least 312 babies ripped from their life support systems by marauding Iraqi troops. More than any other story, it helped sway public opinion in favor of the war. George Bush Sr. repeated the story endlessly. When the Senate narrowly decided by five votes to authorize an invasion, nine senators referred to these atrocities as a reason for their votes.

Who could not have been moved by the testimony of a 15 year-old Kuwaiti girl known only as "Nayirah," before the Congressional Human the cold floor to die" by indifferent soldiers looting a hospital?

At the time, neither Congress nor the public knew she was actually the daughter of Kuwait's ambassador to the U.S., Saud al-Sabah, and had never been near these hospitals. Nor did the public know this "testimony" had been "facilitated" by a PR firm named Hill and Knowlton and financed by the government of Kuwait.

These facts came out after the war, when hospital employees in Kuwait universally denied this atrocity story. But the tale had done its damage.

2. The Phantom Troops. In September of 1990 the Pentagon reported that 250,000 Iraqi troops with 1,500 tanks stood poised in Kuwait, ready to attack Saudi Arabia. These reports lent a real urgency to our need to send in troops.

One lonely newspaper, the St. Petersburg Times of Florida, pursued this story. They obtained Russian commercial satellite photos of Kuwait and then showed them to military experts. None could find a troop build-up.

Peter Zimmerman, a George Washington University satellite imagery expert reported, "all of us agreed that we couldn't see anything in the way of (Iraqi) military activity in the pictures" despite the fact that the images were "astounding in their quality." They could make out the build-up of U.S. jet fighters but few if any Iraqi military installations near the Saudi border.

The St. Petersburg Times contacted the office of Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney with their evidence of the non-existent invasion force, asking for refuting evidence. Their answer, as Harper's publisher John Macarthur reports in his award winning book Second Front, was "Trust us." The Pentagon would revise its troop estimates way downward -- after the war ended.

3. "Collateral Damage." The Orwellian highpoint of the Gulf War was the discovery of the anti-septic phrase "collateral damage" to cover over the harsh realities of innocent civilian deaths. Thousands died in the bombings, but far more devastating were the effects of our economic blockade after the war. A United Nations investigation found our blockade of Iraq led to the deaths of an estimated half-million young children from disease and malnutrition.

CBS reporter Lesley Stahl had a chance to interview our soon-to-be Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in 1996 about this sensitive issue on 60 Minutes. Asked Stahl: "We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And - and you know, is the price worth it?"

To this Albright responded, "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price - we think the price is worth it."

One half million dead children. We were never told our nation would exact this kind of a price on another country.

It strikes me there comes a point where the killing of the innocent, even indirectly by withholding medicine, destroys the credibility of the noblest of ideals. I'm not sure exactly when that point comes, but some say it comes after the death of one child.

Supporters of a war against Saddam owe it to us to come out from behind the sanitized walls, to go beyond the language of distancing and denial that produced "collateral damage" and speak directly. If your cause is just, then how many dead Iraqi children is it worth? A hundred? A thousand? Ten thousand? A hundred thousand? State your figure.

I know this is ancient history. I know George Bush Jr. was not on watch then. But he walks in the footsteps of government officials who have misled and manipulated us. We are not buying swampland again.

______________________________________________ Wayne Grytting is the author of American Newspeak: The Mangling of Meaning for Profit and Power (New Society Publishers, 2002). He can be reached at or at Feel free to distribute this widely.