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During an appearance on the August 22 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, radio talk show host and " 'Voices of Soldiers' Truth Tour" participant Mark Williams cited the "300,000 victims of Saddam's chemical weapons" to falsely imply that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction at the time of the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Williams also referred to his fellow Hardball guest, former FBI whistleblower and Minnesota Democratic congressional candidate Colleen Rowley as a "pathetic creature" and asked what she had done besides "flapping her jowls on MSNBC"; and attacked anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, saying that her son, who was killed in Iraq, was "spinning in his grave" because of her protest.
Williams's performance on Hardball followed that of another "Truth Tour" participant, radio talk show host and tour leader Melanie Morgan, who has appeared on the show four times in August. She has made numerous demonstrably false or misleading statements about what she claimed to have heard while on the "Truth Tour" through Iraq, as Media Matters for America has documented (see below). Williams was promoting the "You Don't Speak for Me, Cindy" tour from San Francisco to Crawford, Texas. The tour -- sponsored by Move America Forward, the conservative group led by Morgan that also sponsored the "Truth Tour" -- is described as "a caravan of military family members opposed to the anti-military antics of Cindy Sheehan."
Responding to Rowley's statement that the "weapons of mass destruction arguments" used to promote the Iraq war "were very misleading, false and deceptive," Williams said that she should "tell [that to] the 300,000 victims of Saddam's chemical weapons." He was presumably referring to Saddam Hussein's known history of using chemical weapons, notorious examples of which include Saddam's extensive use of them during the 1983-1988 Iran-Iraq war and his 1991 massacre of Iraqi Shi'a Muslims during an uprising in Southern Iraq. But it was Williams who was misleading viewers: The CIA's Iraq Survey Group concluded that, at the time of the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, Saddam did not possess chemical weapons stockpiles, having destroyed them in 1991 -- contrary to claims made by the administration to build support for the U.S. invasion.
During the course of the segment, Williams also unleashed a stream of invective at Rowley and Sheehan. "I just got back from Iraq, talking with the troops, talking with the Iraqis. And I see the damage that's done by pathetic creatures like the woman I'm talking to and Cindy Sheehan," said Williams. Sheehan is "aiding and abetting the enemies of this country and the people who killed her son," he said later on. "Right now, Casey Sheehan is spinning in his grave." Finally, he commented that he and others who support the Iraq war were "not just mouthing off. We're actually working towards supporting our troops and help the Iraqis build a country. What is this Democrat congressional representative candidate [Rowley] doing, besides flapping her jowls on MSNBC?"
The other Hardball guest from the "Truth Tour," Morgan, has appeared four times, on August 1, 11, 16, and 19. Media Matters has documented Morgan making false or misleading claims on three of those appearances:
- August 1: Morgan, contradicting public Pentagon statements and reports, falsely suggested that Iraqi forces were currently at 60 percent readiness. She based this false assertion on "some very good news" provided by "the Iraqi general in charge of training troops."
- August 11: Morgan falsely asserted that, according to the "troops" and "top brass" with whom she spoke on the trip, the Iraqi insurgency is in its "last gasps" and the U.S. can begin "drawing down" its troop deployments following election of a permanent constitutional government in Iraq in December. This statement contradicted military and defense officials' public assessments of the Iraqi insurgency, as well as statements by President Bush that U.S. troops would only leave Iraq when its military is ready.
- August 16: Morgan repeated discredited claims of an Al Qaeda-Iraq link. She claimed that "4,000 terrorists who were related to Al Qaeda" were working in Iraq under the direction of Saddam Hussein before the March 2003 U.S. invasion. While she attributed this information to the top-ranking Iraqi military leader, Gen. Abdul Qader Mohammed Jassim, whom she and the other radio hosts met with while touring Iraq, this claim has been previously debunked by the Senate Intelligence Committee.
During the same segment, Morgan also denied that the Bush administration had claimed that the costs of the Iraqi conflict would be paid for with Iraqi oil. "I never remember hearing that," she said. Media Matters subsequently noted statements to that effect from Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and then-White House press secretary Ari Fleischer.
From the August 22 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:
NORAH O'DONNELL (guest host): Why have you launched this ["You Don't Speak for Me, Cindy"] tour?
WILLIAMS: Well, the pontifications of a self-serving Democrat political candidate notwithstanding, this tour is neither anti-Cindy Sheehan, nor is it pro-war. I have not spoken with a single individual in the last three years who is pro-war, nor anybody who is anti-Cindy Sheehan. What we are against is the damage she is causing. I just got back from Iraq, talking with the troops, talking with the Iraqis. And I see the damage that's done by pathetic creatures like the woman I'm talking to [Rowley] and Cindy Sheehan.
O'DONNELL: What specifically do you mean, Mark?
WILLIAMS: I'm about to get to that. When they get up there and they present this country as divided, as still arguing issues that were decided, debated, and voted on three years ago, that both demoralizes our troops and invigorates the insurgency. And it's no mistake that the lion's share of the violence is in and around Baghdad. That's where there are more Western news cameras per capita than probably any other city on the planet Earth. Where they see this kind of division, they use it as a fund-raiser and a recruiting tool.
ROWLEY: Mark, if you don't mind, you're making the case that Cindy Sheehan is hurting the morale of our troops?
WILLIAMS: She is aiding and abetting the enemies of this country and the people who killed her son.
WILLIAMS: Right now, Casey Sheehan is spinning in his grave.
ROWLEY: The last speaker, of course, kind of exhibits this mentality that has not allowed us to have a fair debate. When he said that we debated this and voted on it, he is ignoring what most Americans know now -- now know that the weapons of mass destruction arguments that were used were very misleading, false, and deceptive.
WILLIAMS: Tell the 300,000 victims of Saddam's chemical weapons.
O'DONNELL: Mark, she's allowed you to finish.
WILLIAMS: And if the debate was unfair and undecided, why did John Kerry vote to authorize this war? Why did, through his entire presidency, Bill Clinton advocate taking down Saddam Hussein?
O'DONNELL: Mark, we play polite on this show.
O'DONNELL: Finally, Mark, finally, Mark, let me ask you, Mark, let me ask you, Mark, finally --
O'DONNELL: Thank you. What do you plan to do when you get to Crawford?
WILLIAMS: We are holding a press event and just a support-our-troops rally that Saturday afternoon. And that's what we're doing, we're showing support for our troops.
Deborah Johns, whose son has served two tours as a Marine and is now in forward recon training down in San Diego, is actually leading this group. She's -- she heads a group called Northern California Marine Moms, which I work with very closely, which is a support group for people who have people in the military.
O'DONNELL: All right.
WILLIAMS: She and some other people have also formed a group called caseyskids.org to reach out to Iraqis, to link up California and other U.S. schools with Iraqi schools to provide them with what they need.
O'DONNELL: All right.
WILLIAMS: We're working toward this, not just mouthing off. We're actually working towards supporting our troops and help the Iraqis build a country. What is this Democrat congressional representative candidate doing, besides flapping her jowls on MSNBC?
O'DONNELL: All right.