U.S. intelligence veterans recall the real story of how New York Times reporter Judith Miller disgraced herself and her profession by helping to mislead Americans into the disastrous war in Iraq. They challenge the slick, self-aggrandizing rewrite of history in her new memoir.
MEMORANDUM FOR: Americans Malnourished on the Truth About Iraq
FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)
SUBJECT: A New “Miller’s Tale” (with apologies to Geoffrey Chaucer)
On April 3, former New York Times journalist Judith Miller published an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “The Iraq War and Stubborn Myths: Officials Didn’t Lie, and I Wasn’t Fed a Line.” If this sounds a bit defensive, Miller has tons to be defensive about.
In the article, Miller claims, “false narratives [about what she did as a New York Times reporter] deserve, at last, to be retired.” The article appears to be the initial salvo in a major attempt at self-rehabilitation and, coincidentally, comes just as her new book, The Story: A Reporter’s Journey, is to be published today.
In reviewing Miller’s book, her “mainstream media” friends are not likely to mention the stunning conclusion reached recently by the Nobel Prize-winning International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and other respected groups that the Iraq War, for which she was lead drum majorette, killed one million people. One might think that, in such circumstances – and with bedlam reigning in Iraq and the wider neighborhood – a decent respect for the opinions of mankind, so to speak, might prompt Miller to keep her head down for a while more.
In all candor, after more than a dozen years, we are tired of exposing the lies spread by Judith Miller and had thought we were finished. We have not seen her new book, but we cannot in good conscience leave her WSJ article without comment from those of us who have closely followed U.S. policy and actions in Iraq.
Miller’s Tale in the WSJ begins with a vintage Miller-style reductio ad absurdum: “I took America to war in Iraq. It was all me.” Since one of us, former UN inspector Scott Ritter, has historical experience and technical expertise that just won’t quit, we asked him to draft a few paragraphs keyed to Miller’s latest tale. He shared the following critique:
Miller’s Revisionist History
“Judith Miller did not take America to war in Iraq. Even a journalist with an ego the size of Ms. Miller’s cannot presume to usurp the war power authorities of the President of the United States, or even the now-dormant Constitutional prerogatives of Congress. What she is guilty of, however, is being a bad journalist.
“She can try to hide this fact by wrapping herself in a collective Pulitzer Prize, or citing past achievements like authoring best-selling books. But this is like former Secretary of State Colin Powell trying to remind people about his past as the National Security Advisor for President Reagan or Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
“At the end of the day Mr. Powell will be judged not on his previous achievements, but rather on his biggest failure – his appearance before the United Nations Security Council touting an illusory Iraqi weapons-of-mass-destruction threat as being worthy of war. In this same vein, Judith Miller will be judged by her authoring stories for the ‘newspaper of record’ that were questionably sourced and very often misleading. One needs only to examine Ms. Miller’s role while embedded in U.S. Army Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha, hunting for weapons of mass destruction during the 2003 invasion, for this point to be illustrated.
“Miller may not have singlehandedly taken America and the world to war, but she certainly played a pivotal role in building the public case for the attack on Iraq based upon shoddy reporting that even her editor at the New York Times has since discredited – including over reliance on a single-source of easy virtue and questionable credibility – Ahmed Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress. The fact that she chose to keep this ‘source’ anonymous underscores the journalistic malfeasance at play in her reporting.
“Chalabi had been discredited by the State Department and CIA as a reliable source of information on Iraq long before Judith Miller started using him to underpin her front-page ‘scoops’ for the New York Times. She knew this, and yet chose to use him nonetheless, knowing that then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was fully as eager to don the swindlers’ magic suit of clothes, as was the king in Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale. In Ms. Miller’s tale, the fairy-tale clothes came with a WMD label and no washing instructions.
“Ms. Miller’s self-described ‘newsworthy claims’ of pre-war weapons of mass destruction stories often were – as we now know (and many of us knew at the time) – handouts from the hawks in the Bush administration and fundamentally wrong.
“Like her early reporting on Iraq, Ms. Miller’s re-working of history to disguise her malfeasance/misfeasance as a reporter does not bear close scrutiny. Her errors of integrity are hers and hers alone, and will forever mar her reputation as a journalist, no matter how hard she tries to spin the facts and revise a history that is highly inconvenient to her. Of course, worst of all, her flaws were consequential – almost 4,500 U.S. troops and 1,000,000 Iraqis dead.”
Relying on the Mistakes of Others
In her WSJ article, Miller protests that “relying on the mistakes of others and errors of judgment are not the same as lying.” It is almost as though she is saying that if Ahmed Chalabi told her that, in Iraq, the sun rises in the west, and she duly reported it, that would not be “the same as lying.”
Miller appears to have worked out some kind of an accommodation with George W. Bush and others who planned and conducted what the post-World War II Nuremburg Tribunal called the “supreme international crime,” a war of aggression. She takes strong issue with what she calls “the enduring, pernicious accusation that the Bush administration fabricated WMD intelligence to take the country to war.”
Does she not know, even now, that there is abundant proof that this is exactly what took place? Has she not read the Downing Street Memorandum based on what CIA Director George Tenet told the head of British Intelligence at CIA headquarters on July 20, 2002; i. e., that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy” of making war for “regime change” in Iraq?
Does she not know, even at this late date, that the “intelligence” served up to “justify” attacking Iraq was NOT “mistaken,” but outright fraud, in which Bush had the full cooperation of Tenet and his deputy John McLaughlin? Is she unaware that the Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence at the time, Carl Ford, has said, on the record, that Tenet and McLaughlin were “not just wrong, they lied … they should have been shot” for their lies about WMD? (See Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War by Michael Isikoff and David Corn.)
Miller’s tale about Hans Blix in her WSJ article shows she has lost none of her edge for disingenuousness: “One could argue … that Hans Blix, the former chief of the international inspectors, bears some responsibility,” writes Miller. She cherry-picks what Blix said in January 2003 about “many proscribed weapons and items,” including 1,000 tons of chemical agent, were still “not accounted for.”
Yes, Blix said that on Jan. 27, 2003. But Blix also included this that same day in his written report to his UN superiors, something the New York Times, for some reason, did not include in its report:
“Iraq has on the whole cooperated rather well so far with UNMOVIC in this field. The most important point to make is that access has been provided to all sites we have wanted to inspect and with one exception it has been prompt. We have further had great help in building up the infrastructure of our office in Baghdad and the field office in Mosul. Arrangements and services for our plane and our helicopters have been good. The environment has been workable.
“Our inspections have included universities, military bases, presidential sites and private residences. Inspections have also taken place on Fridays, the Muslim day of rest, on Christmas day and New Years day. These inspections have been conducted in the same manner as all other inspections.” [See “Steve M.” writing (appropriately) for “Crooks and Liars” as he corrected the record.]
Yes, there was some resistance by Iraq up to that point. Blix said so. However, on Jan. 30, 2003, Blix made it abundantly clear, in an interview published in The New York Times, that nothing he’d seen at the time justified war. (The byline was Judith Miller and Julia Preston.)
The Miller-Preston report said: “Mr. Blix said he continued to endorse disarmament through peaceful means. ‘I think it would be terrible if this comes to an end by armed force, and I wish for this process of disarmament through the peaceful avenue of inspections,’ he said. …
“Mr. Blix took issue with what he said were Secretary of State Colin L. Powell’s claims that the inspectors had found that Iraqi officials were hiding and moving illicit materials within and outside of Iraq to prevent their discovery. He said that the inspectors had reported no such incidents. …
“He further disputed the Bush administration’s allegations that his inspection agency might have been penetrated by Iraqi agents, and that sensitive information might have been leaked to Baghdad, compromising the inspections. Finally, he said, he had seen no persuasive indications of Iraqi ties to Al Qaeda, which Mr. Bush also mentioned in his speech. ‘There are other states where there appear to be stronger links,’ such as Afghanistan, Mr. Blix said, noting that he had no intelligence reports on this issue.”
Although she co-authored that New York Times report of Jan. 30, 2003, Judith Miller remembers what seems convenient to remember. Her acumen at cherry picking may be an occupational hazard occasioned by spending too much time with Chalabi, Rumsfeld and other professional Pentagon pickers.
Moreover, Blix’s February 2003 report showed that, for the most part, Iraq was cooperating and the process was working well:
“Since we arrived in Iraq, we have conducted more than 400 inspections covering more than 300 sites. All inspections were performed without notice, and access was almost always provided promptly. In no case have we seen convincing evidence that the Iraqi side knew in advance that the inspectors were coming. …
“The inspections have taken place throughout Iraq at industrial sites, ammunition depots, research centres, universities, presidential sites, mobile laboratories, private houses, missile production facilities, military camps and agricultural sites. …
“In my 27 January update to the Council, I said that it seemed from our experience that Iraq had decided in principle to provide cooperation on process, most importantly prompt access to all sites and assistance to UNMOVIC in the establishment of the necessary infrastructure. This impression remains, and we note that access to sites has so far been without problems, including those that had never been declared or inspected, as well as to Presidential sites and private residences. …
“The presentation of intelligence information by the US Secretary of State suggested that Iraq had prepared for inspections by cleaning up sites and removing evidence of proscribed weapons programmes.
“I would like to comment only on one case, which we are familiar with, namely, the trucks identified by analysts as being for chemical decontamination at a munitions depot. This was a declared site, and it was certainly one of the sites Iraq would have expected us to inspect.
“We have noted that the two satellite images of the site were taken several weeks apart. The reported movement of munitions at the site could just as easily have been a routine activity as a movement of proscribed munitions in anticipation of imminent inspection.”
Blix made it clear that he needed more time, but the Bush administration had other plans. In other words, the war wasn’t Blix’s fault, as Judy Miller suggests. The fault lay elsewhere.
When Blix retired at the end of June 2004, he politely suggested to the “prestigious” Council on Foreign Relations in New York the possibility that Baghdad had actually destroyed its weapons of mass destruction after the first Gulf War in 1991 (as Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law, Hussein Kamel, who had been in charge of the WMD and rocket programs assured his debriefers when he defected in 1995). Blix then allowed himself an undiplomatic jibe:
“It is sort of fascinating that you can have 100 per cent certainty about weapons of mass destruction and zero certainty of about where they are.”