May 5, 2006
by Reb Yudel
Columbia Journalism Review looks at the illegal propaganda efforts behind the Iraq war.. and the Bush reeelection:
When the United States launched Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003, Sam Gardiner, a sixty-four-year-old retired Air Force colonel, was a regular on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS, where it was his job to place the day’s events in context. As the campaign wore on, and he monitored the press coverage and parsed the public statements of military and administration officials, he at first became uneasy, then deeply concerned.much more.... TrackBack
A longtime Defense Department consultant who has taught strategy at three of the military’s top war colleges, Gardiner had participated throughout the 1990s in a series of war games that simulated attacks on Iraq. He was familiar with Iraq’s military and was therefore surprised to hear officials, such as the Army Brigadier General Vincent Brooks, the deputy director of operations of Central Command’s headquarters in Qatar, tell the press of ongoing operations to eliminate “terrorist death squads.” The allegation struck Gardiner as odd. Matter-of-fact and precise in their speech, military officers would not typically refer to irregulars as “death squads.” More important, as far as Gardiner knew, in 2003, when the invasion began, Iraq had no “terrorist death squads.”
Gardiner believes that this formulation, which first entered the official vernacular a week after the invasion began, was a skillful execution of a classic propaganda technique known as the “excluded middle.” The excluded middle is premised on the idea that people, provided with incomplete but suggestive information, will draw false assumptions — in this case that Saddam Hussein had ties to terrorism and therefore to Al Qaeda (a connection that administration officials actively pushed during the run-up to the war).
As Gardiner further analyzed the coverage in the early days of the invasion, he saw what he believed was a pattern of misinformation being fed to the press. There was the report, carried by The Associated Press, CNN, and The New York Times, among many other news outlets, that Iraq was seeking uniforms worn by U.S. and British troops (“identical down to the last detail”) so that atrocities carried out on Iraqis by Saddam’s Fedayeen could be blamed on the coalition. There was the claim that prisoners of war had been executed by their Iraqi captors, and there was the announced surrender of Iraq’s entire Fifty-first Division. Government officials eventually eased off the POW assertion, and the story of the uniforms was never corroborated and soon disappeared. As for the Fifty-first Division, on March 21 a cascade of news stories, citing anonymous British and American military officials, reported its mass surrender. “Hordes of Iraqi soldiers, underfed and overwhelmed, surrendered Friday in the face of a state-of-the-art allied assault,” the AP reported. “An entire division gave itself up to the advancing allied forces, U.S. military officials said.” Unnamed “officials in Washington” told The Washington Post that the division had been taken “out of the fight for Basra.” Days later, however, coalition troops were still clashing with units of the Fifty-first there. And two days after it was reported that General Khaled Saleh al-Hashimi and the 8,000 men under his command had surrendered, the general was interviewed in Basra by Al Jazeera. “I am with my men . . . . We continue to defend the people and riches” of this city, he told the network. Was this the fog of war or was something else at play?
Gardiner believes that the story of the Fifty-first’s mass capitulation may have been part of a psychological operation, its goal to “broadcast to the other units in Iraq that troops were giving up en masse and very quickly, so there was no reason to resist,” he said. “That’s a valid psychological operation. But it was directly entered into a press briefing.” Gardiner eventually concluded that the flow of misinformation to the press was no accident. It was a well-coordinated campaign, intended not only to confound Iraqi combatants but to shape perceptions of the war back home.
Throughout the summer of 2003, Gardiner documented incidents that he saw as information-warfare campaigns directed both at targeted foreign populations and the American public. By the fall, he had collected his analysis into a lengthy treatise, called “Truth from These Podia,” which concluded that “the war was handled like a political campaign,” in which the emphasis was not on the truth but on the message.
As his paper circulated among government and military officials that fall, Gardiner says he received a call at home one night from a spokesman for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He told Gardiner that his conclusions were on target. “But I want you to know,” the spokesman added, “that it was civilians who did this.”