The Taxi Driver Who Drove Us to War

Over on the other side of the pond, the British are doing something we would never ever do – aside, that is, from spreading Marmite on a tea biscuit and actually consuming it. They are investigating the origins of the Iraq war. They want to know how did they get lured into an operation that not only turned out badly, but also seems to have been based on a battery of ill-thought-out lies. A commission has been set up, and public hearings are being held: among the revelations is the information that a key source of claims for the existence of Iraq’s fabled "weapons of mass destruction" was the "intelligence" provided by an Iraqi taxi driver who said he overheard a conversation between two Iraqi military officers. According to a report written by Tory MP and defense specialist Adam Holloway, here‘s how it went down:

“Under pressure from Downing Street to find anything to back up the WMD case, British intelligence was squeezing their agents in Iraq for information. One agent did come up with something: the ’45 minutes’ or something about missiles allegedly discussed in a high level Iraqi political meeting.

“But the provenance of this information was never questioned in detail until after the Iraq invasion, when it became apparent that something was wrong. In the end it turned out that the information was not credible, it had originated from an émigré taxi driver on the Iraqi-Jordanian border, who had remembered an overheard conversation in the back of his cab a full two years earlier."

One can imagine the mindset that gave credibility to the taxi driver’s recollections over the testimony of Scott Ritter and Hans Blix: our elites may be out of touch with the sweating insensate masses, but they know where to go to get in touch with "the people" – yes, the back seat of a taxi, where the collected wisdom of this mobile intelligence-gathering vehicle is disseminated daily.

Actually, this is giving them too much credit: the idea that they cared about such outdated concepts as "truth" and "falsehood" seems, in retrospect, naïve. The decision to go to war had already been made: it remained only to justify the conclusion insofar as the public was concerned. That they proceeded to do with the full complicity of the "mainstream" media, which dutifully reported their successive revelations as if they were incontestably confirmed. The Holloway report continues:

"Indeed, in the intelligence analyst’s footnote to the report, it was flagged up that part of the report probably describing some missiles that the Iraqi government allegedly possessed was demonstrably untrue. They verifiably did not exist. 

“The footnote said it in black and white ink. Despite this glaring factual inaccuracy, which under normal circumstances would have caused the reliability of the intelligence to be seriously questioned, the report was treated as reliable and went on to become one of the central planks of the dodgy dossier."

Footnotes were the only way honest analysts inside the British government could record their dissent, and this method was also employed by their American counterparts, who vainly tried to derail our march to war and were outmaneuvered – and effectively silenced – by the neocons. In the US, as Bob Woodward pointed out in his book Plan of Attack, the neocons – who controlled the policymaking apparatus – in effect set up a "separate government," and did an end run around the US intelligence community, establishing what Mother Jones magazine rightly called a "lie factory" to churn out "talking points" based on raw intelligence – such as the ruminations of an anonymous Iraqi taxi driver, whose unverifiable claims were utilized to justify a war that wound up killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

The fires of postwar outrage have been stoked by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s admission that the evidence – either one way or the other – didn’t make a bit of difference. Says Bush’s poodle:

"I would still have thought it right to remove him (Saddam Hussein). Obviously you would have had to use and deploy different arguments, about the nature of the threat. It was the notion of him as a threat to the region, of which the development of WMD was obviously one, and because you’d had 12 years of United Nations to and fro on this subject, he used chemical weapons on his own people – so this was obviously the thing that was uppermost in my mind."

Truth, falsehood, facts, made-up "notions" – it’s all the same to Tall Tale Tony. When one phony argument based on nothing but supposition and sexed-up "factoids" fails, it’s just a matter of "deploying" another one. The "dodgy dossier" was compiled and "deployed" by people for whom dodginess is a virtue.

One trusts a Catholic priest will instruct the recently converted Blair as to why he’ll burn in hell for all eternity. Of course, there’s always the possibility of confession, and redemption – and he’ll have the opportunity to do so, when he’s hauled up before the Chilcot commission next year. Yet I wouldn’t hold out too much hope for his immortal soul: he’s already admitted he doesn’t care about the facts, and he’d do it all over again given the opportunity.

In the American colonies, of course, the Iraq war is already forgotten, consigned to a large storage locker labeled "Bush’s sins," one that no one in the US Congress – aside from Ron Paul and a few antiwar Democrats with no power – is inclined to open. The much-vaunted "phase two" [.pdf] of the Senate intelligence committee’s investigation into how we were bamboozled into invading Iraq has long since been consigned to the Memory Hole, and is highly unlikely to be resurrected. The reason for that is not the waning of partisanship – after all, one would think the Democrats have nothing to lose and everything to gain by opening a lockbox containing Bush’s worst sins. What prevents a probe is a bipartisan unwillingness to pry too deeply into the War Party’s institutional hegemony in Washington, which is stronger than ever.

As the Democrats’ Dear Leader launches a major military offensive in the hinterlands of Central Asia, an examination of the deeply flawed and inherently biased "intelligence-gathering" methods of the US government is the last thing either party wants. They are too busy handing trillions of dollars over to the big investment bankers who backed their political campaigns to be bothered with all that. Besides, public hearings into the "intelligence failure" that caused the death of all too many thousands of innocents might lead the American people to suspect they’re being fooled again: that the supposed "danger" emanating from Afghanistan and environs is based on the musings of a Pakistani kebab vendor who overheard Osama bin Laden telling one of his top lieutenants "We never had grub this good in Sudan: let’s settle down here and plan our next big attack."

Today, the "intelligence" that everyone knows for a fact has never been validated by any objective source, nor has the US government even tried to prove its thesis that al-Qaeda has established bases in Pakistan, or that bin Laden himself is holding court there. Yet our Secretary of State went to that country and practically accused them of hiding the terrorist leader – in the same breath as announcing a brand new multi-billion dollar aid package for Osama’s alleged enablers.

Bin Laden & Co. haven’t been shy about claiming responsibility for their mayhem, and yet when it comes to Pakistan they deny having anything to do with the recent spate of bombings – a curious deviation if their top leaders were really based in Waziristan, as US officials assert. There are so many different players in the region who might stand to gain by sowing terror and discord – India, for one, and any one of a number of indigenous factions – that no one can say with even a modest degree of certainty who or what is behind the ongoing destabilization of the country. In doing Washington’s bidding, and launching an offensive in the tribal regions, Islamabad has stirred up a hornet’s nest, and provoked enough "blowback" to last them a generation or two.

So, how do we "know" al-Qaeda is currently headquartered in Pakistan – as opposed to, say, Yemen, Somalia, or the wilds of rebel Chechnya? The answer is: we don’t. One can be reasonably sure of this, in spite of repeated assertions by US government officials, including the President, because – and this is the lesson of the Iraq war, and, indeed, all the wars of modern history – governments make up stuff when they’ve already decided on a course of action: they "sex up" dossiers, they "massage" the raw intelligence, and they "deploy" their arguments through their sock puppets in the media, creating an atmosphere of intellectual conformity that forbids questioning the conventional wisdom – until it’s far too late to do anything about it.

There’s talk that Blair is opening himself up to prosecution by making such damning admissions, but, really now, who would be charging him – and why just him? After all, the same people who went along with the game are still in charge, and certainly the Tories did nothing to question the rush to war. Similarly, in the US, the war guilt is a bipartisan affair, with both parties equally responsible for the systematic deception and subsequent cover-up. The Democrats stood idly by and let the war-crazed GOP steamroller them, silencing their antiwar "fringe" and marching in lockstep with George W. Bush and his neoconservative cheering section in the run-up to the invasion.

Why do we even have "intelligence" oversight committees in Congress, anyway? All they do is rubber-stamp what our spooks tell them, and hold closed sessions where they launder their lies for public consumption. And then they tell us that "everybody" thought Saddam had WMD. Well of course they did – because in Washington, D.C., to go up against the conventional wisdom as set down on the op ed pages of the WaPo, the Grey Lady, and the War Street Journal, is to achieve self-marginalization. Groupthink is the defining characteristic of the Washington hive, and if the "buzz" says one thing, woe be unto those who fail to take their cues from the accepted arbiters of Serious Opinion.

In short, we should be having public hearings on the methods used to lie us into war, but we won’t – for all of the reasons given above. And one more: our rulers don’t believe we are entitled to the truth, because, you see, only they can handle it. While we thrill to the latest revelation of Tiger Woods’ sexual prowess, they bravely face up to the cold hard facts we could never even bear to contemplate – because they’re better, wiser, richer, and undeniably more enlightened then the inhabitants of the distant hinterlands. We don’t deserve the truth, in their estimation, and wouldn’t care even if we did know it. Better to draw a curtain over it, and leave us to the latest edition of TMZ.

Secrecy in government has become the rule rather than the exception: they can’t put one over on us unless they do it in the dark. Which is why, in the end, darkness rules, and why, in these new Dark Ages we seem to be entering, there is nary even the hint of a light at the end of the tunnel.

The task is therefore left to us, here at Antiwar.com, to shine the spotlight on the War Party’s fabrications, which are coming, these days, faster and more furiously than ever.

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Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo is editor-at-large at Antiwar.com, and a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He is a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and writes a monthly column for Chronicles. He is the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].