PBS gave Perle hour to repeat debunked claims about Iraqi WMDs and links to Al Qaeda

››› ››› SIMON MALOY & RAPHAEL SCHWEBER-KOREN

On the PBS series America at a Crossroads, former Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle, in an April 17 segment titled "The Case for War: In Defense of Freedom," made a series of assertions about the Iraq war that have already been shown to be false. He claimed that "all of the intelligence available to us suggested that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction [WMD]. ... We all believed that, which is why I object to referring to some of the things that were said before the war as 'lies.' " In fact, the Bush administration made several statements about Saddam's WMD capabilities that "all of the intelligence available to us" did not support. Perle then claimed that prewar Iraq had a working relationship with Al Qaeda, a claim that has been debunked by the Senate Intelligence Committee. Finally, Perle claimed that Osama bin Laden's "network has been destroyed," even though U.S. intelligence officials' have reportedly said that bin Laden is rebuilding his network.

According to a November 1, 2006, New York Times article, Robert MacNeil, the host of the America at a Crossroads series, said, "Anybody who thinks that this is a piece of pro-Perle propaganda will be quite surprised." But although Perle, who narrated the segment, speaks with people who are critical of his positions on the war, the program never corrected Perle's false assertions. An April 17 New York Times review of the Perle segment noted that "Brian Lapping, the British producer who first proposed a film about Mr. Perle, turned out to be his friend. Mr. Lapping later recused himself from the project."

In the "Case for War" segment, Perle spoke with Stacy Bannerman, an author and member of Military Families Speak Out, at a May 2006 Iraq war protest in Washington, D.C. Bannerman said that the "scandal is that Americans' lifeblood and hundreds of billions of dollars are being sent to sustain an occupation that was never needed, for a war based on lies." She asked Perle, "Why did you think we had to go into Iraq?" Perle responded by claiming that "all of the intelligence available to us suggested that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction," adding: "We all believed that, which is why I object to referring to some of the things that were said before the war as 'lies.' "

In fact, as Media Matters for America has noted, not all of the available intelligence supported the Bush administration's claims about Saddam Hussein's purported WMDs. For example, both President Bush and then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell claimed that Iraq had attempted to purchase aluminum tubes that, as Bush put it in an October 7, 2002, speech, are "needed for gas centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons." U.S. intelligence agencies, however, disagreed over the purpose of the tubes. The Energy Department and the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research found that the tubes were ill-suited for uranium enrichment, and their findings were included in the classified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) provided to Congress in October 2002, and, reportedly, in the president's one-page summary of the NIE.

Similarly, Bush claimed during his October 5, 2002, radio address that "Iraq has stockpiled biological and chemical weapons, and is rebuilding the facilities used to make more of those weapons," even though the available intelligence did not justify such an unequivocal statement. A September 2002 Defense Intelligence Agency report found "no reliable information" to substantiate the claim that Iraq was producing or stockpiling chemical weapons. Moreover, while the intelligence community believed Iraq possessed biological agents that could be quickly produced and weaponized, the October 2002 NIE made clear that the agencies lacked hard evidence to back up this assumption: "We had no specific information on the types or quantities of weapons, agents, or stockpiles at Baghdad's disposal."

Perle claimed on the program that he has "heard many times the assertion that there was no link between Iraq and terrorism," which he called "simply false." But rather than claiming a vague "link between Iraq and terrorism," Perle specifically asserted a connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda on the program: "We know that Saddam Hussein's intelligence apparatus trained Al Qaeda terrorists. We saw the training facilities, and we have testimony from people who were there when the training took place." Both before and after the war began, numerous members of the Bush administration -- including Bush, Powell, Vice President Dick Cheney, and then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice -- also asserted a specific link between Saddam and Al Qaeda, as a March 2004 report by the minority staff of the House Committee on Government Reform documents. But as Media Matters has noted, a September 8, 2006, Senate Intelligence Committee report concluded, "Postwar findings support the April 2002 Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) assessment that there was no credible reporting on al-Qa'ida training at Salman Pak [training facility in Iraq] or anywhere else in Iraq." Moreover, the Senate report indicated that prewar assessments were uncertain, at best:

(U) The January 2003 Iraqi Support for Terrorism noted that uncorroborated reporting since 1999 indicated that Iraq sponsored terrorism training for al-Qa'ida at the Salman Pak facility. Iraqi Support for Terrorism also said that:

Reporting about al-Qa'ida activity at Salman Pak -- ultimately sourced to three Iraqi defectors -- surged after 11 September. The defectors claimed that al-Qa'ida and other non-Iraqis engaged in special, operations training at Salman Pak. It was subsequently determined, however, that at least one of these defectors, whose story appeared in [REDACTED] magazine, had embellished and exaggerated his access.

Others repeated similar information but apparently did not have first-hand access to it. No al-Qa'ida associates detained since 11 September have said they trained at Salman Pak.

(U) The CIA noted that additional information was needed before validating the information, because of sourcing difficulties and the fact that, at the time, al-Qa'ida could have offered such training at its own camps in Afghanistan.

As Media Matters noted, a March 2, 2004, Knight-Ridder article cited "a secret report by the CIA's Directorate of Intelligence that was updated in January 2003" in reporting that "[s]enior U.S. officials now say there never was any evidence that Saddam's secular police state and Osama bin Laden's Islamic terrorism network were in league. At most, there were occasional meetings. Moreover, the U.S. intelligence community never concluded that those meetings produced an operational relationship, American officials said." Moreover, as Media Matters has noted, the September 8, 2006, Senate Intelligence Committee report broadly concluded that, based on postwar evidence, "Saddam Hussein was distrustful of al-Qa'ida and viewed Islamic extremists as a threat to his regime, refusing all requests from al-Qa'ida to provide material or operational support."

Later in the program, Perle discussed the war on terrorism with Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of the Arabic newspaper Al Quds, who stated that with the 9-11 attacks, Osama bin Laden wanted "to drag the Americans to the Middle East, where he can fight them in his own turf." Atwan remarked that "it seems [bin Laden has] trapped you." In response, Perle claimed that bin Laden "is cowering somewhere in hiding. Much of his network has been destroyed." But a February 19 New York Times article reported that, according to "American intelligence and counterterrorism officials," Al Qaeda senior leaders "have re-established significant control over their once-battered worldwide terror network and over the past year have set up a band of training camps in the tribal regions near the Afghan border. American officials said there was mounting evidence that Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, had been steadily building an operations hub in the mountainous Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan."

From the segment of PBS' America at a Crossroads titled "The Case for War: In Defense of Freedom":

PERLE (voiceover): These demonstrators have gathered on the [National] Mall and placed a pair of boots to commemorate every American soldier killed in Iraq. I talked to one of the organizers of the rally, Stacy Bannerman, whose husband served in Iraq.

BANNERMAN: Do you realize that within the last 48 hours, I've gotten notification that two more of my friends' children have died because of injuries that they sustained in Iraq? We need to get out of that country. The scandal is that Americans' lifeblood and hundreds of billions of dollars are being sent to sustain an occupation that was never needed, for a war based on lies. Why did you think we had to go into Iraq?

PERLE: Well, all of the intelligence available to us suggested that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. Not only available to us, but available to the United Nations, to the French, to the Germans. There were -- even [former head of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission] Hans Blix, the inspector, believed that Saddam was hiding things. We all believed that, which is why I object to referring to some of the things that were said before the war as "lies."

BANNERMAN: The lie I refer to is the lie that was sold to the American people that invading Iraq was somehow directly related to the attacks on America. That was a manipulation of the fear and the sorrow and the pain of the American people.

PERLE: I didn't hear statements to the effect that Iraq was responsible for 9-11. I did hear the argument, which I think is a valid argument, that weapons of mass destruction, in the hands of dictators who have relationships with terrorists, poses a danger to the United States and one that we have to find a response to.

[...]

PERLE: But I believe the case for intervening in Iraq was and remains valid. I've heard many times the assertion that there was no link between Iraq and terrorism, and that assertion is simply false. Abu Nidal, a well-known terrorist, lived and worked in Baghdad with the full support of the government of Iraq. We know that Saddam Hussein' s intelligence apparatus trained Al Qaeda terrorists. We saw the training facilities, and we have testimony from people who were there when the training took place. There were dozens of links between terrorist activity, terrorist organizations, Saddam Hussein' s intelligence apparatus, and even Al Qaeda. And the people who say there were no such links are simply wrong. Leading politicians from both political parties believed in Saddam' s sponsorship of terrorism before the invasion of Iraq.

[...]

ATWAN: I met Osama bin Laden, and he was actually very keen to drag the Americans to the Middle East, where he can fight them in his own turf. It seems when he went there to blow up the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, it seems you played to his hands. It seems he trapped you.

PERLE: First of all, he' s cowering somewhere in hiding. Much of his network has been destroyed.

ATWAN: You are trapped in Iraq. Now Osama bin Laden enjoying himself. He doesn't need to go and blow up the World Trade Center or the Pentagon. He got, you know, a very fat 140,000 Marines and American soldiers, and he open a branch, a franchise in Iraq now. There is no reconstruction process at all. There is no security. There is no law and order.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, International Conflicts, Terrorism, War in Iraq
Network/Outlet
PBS
Stories/Interests
Prewar Intelligence/WMD
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