Fifteen years ago today, March 20, the “Coalition of the Willing” declared war on Iraq. We now know that war was based on a monumental and inexcusable lie about Iraq possessing “weapons of mass destruction”, and that the war itself was a crime under international law. But we tend to forget that WMDs wasn’t the only lie told to us at the time. There was also the lie about the anthrax attacks in the USA, which in some ways can be counted even more egregious and cold-blooded.
We were told the anthrax that killed five people and harmed 17 others had been positively identified as originating in Iraq. Colin Powell’s famous “test tube full of washing powder” was a bit of theatre designed to sell us on this alleged fact. But it wasn’t true.
Almost immediately after the attacks the FBI knew the anthrax must have been homegrown,or at least produced somewhere with sophisticated laboratory equipment. But since this fact didn’t fit with the al Qaeda narrative it was sppressed from public knowledge. By October 2001 the Guardian was reporting “Iraq ‘behind US anthrax outbreaks’.” All the usual suspects in promoting imperialist war soon followed suit.
The narrative at this time was clearly intended to be that Iraq was the state-sponsor of al Qaeda terror, and had not only been a supporter of the 9/11 attacks but had provided Osama’ boys with the goods to murder even more Americans with anthrax. This, obviously, was intended to act as the rationale for attacking those two vitally strategic countries in the the US’s project for dominance in the Middle east and Asia – Iraq and Afghanistan.
But, as so often seems to happen, this narrative was almost immediately undermined by official White House statements (perhaps originating in elements of the government anxious to preserve the administration from outright association with a lie) that the anthrax in question showed no signs of coming from Iraq, because they specifically lacked an ingredient called bentonite. Which, as we now know, was true.
This official denial, based on solid scientific evidence, should have been an end to the story. But, as the film above shows, owing to a vast campaign of distraction and deception by politicians and the media, the completely discredited story of Iraqi responsibility for the anthrax attacks continue to flourish and even gain momentum. Outlets such as ABC and, most prominently, from Judith Miller (whose pre-2001prescience about the dangers of anthrax in the US seems truly breathtaking) in the New York Times, brazenly continued to sell the idea in feature articles, specials and endless repetition in the nightly news.
And what was the central “fact” on which the media story of Iraq’s guilt was built?
Nothing less than the completely and provably false claim the White House had already denied – that there was bentonite in the anthrax.
Even the White House, the same White House that had officially denied the presence of bentonite and therefore ruled out Iraq involvement, continue to use implications, lies by omission and weasel words to enable the opposite view to become lodged in the public mind.
These people didn’t just bend the truth, or fudge or obfuscate. They lied. They invented whole narratives, they made up whole back stories, they looked us in the camera’s eye on TV and completely deceived us. The media’s Anthrax Meme never existed. Not one single part of it. And even while Colin Powell was allowing us to believe the story he had known for more than a year that it was a complete fabrication
The UK government is currently lying to us about the Skripal poisoning. We know that already to be beyond doubt. The only question is how deep the lie goes this time.
When we look back at 2001 we have to realise it could be very deep indeed.