The defector who convinced the White House that Iraq had a secret biological weapons programme has admitted for the first time that he lied about his story, then watched in shock as it was used to justify the war.
Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, codenamed Curveball by German and American intelligence officials who dealt with his claims, has told the Guardian that he fabricated tales of mobile bioweapons trucks and clandestine factories in an attempt to bring down the Saddam Hussein regime, from which he had fled in 1995.
"Maybe I was right, maybe I was not right," he said. "They gave me this chance. I had the chance to fabricate something to topple the regime. I and my sons are proud of that and we are proud that we were the reason to give Iraq the margin of democracy."
The admission comes just after the eighth anniversary of Colin Powell's speech to the United Nations in which the then-US secretary of state relied heavily on lies that Janabi had told the German secret service, the BND. It also follows the release of former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld's memoirs, in which he admitted Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction programme.
The careers of both men were seriously damaged by their use of Janabi's claims, which he now says could have been – and were – discredited well before Powell's landmark speech to the UN on 5 February 2003.
Discredited well before 2003. That's important to note because we still get hacks parroting the conservative shibboleth that "every intelligence agency in the world thought Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction when we went in there."
Janabi claimed he was first exposed as a liar as early as mid-2000, when the [German Secret Service] travelled to a Gulf city, believed to be Dubai, to speak with his former boss at the Military Industries Commission in Iraq, Dr Bassil Latif.
The Guardian has learned separately that British intelligence officials were at that meeting, investigating a claim made by Janabi that Latif's son, who was studying in Britain, was procuring weapons for Saddam.
That claim was proven false, and Latif strongly denied Janabi's claim of mobile bioweapons trucks and another allegation that 12 people had died during an accident at a secret bioweapons facility in south-east Baghdad.
The German officials returned to confront him with Latif's version. "He says, 'There are no trucks,' and I say, 'OK, when [Latif says] there no trucks then [there are none],'" Janabi recalled.
The source for the bioweapons trucks admitted there were none in mid-2000. Three years later, the United States Secretary of State presented the information from these retracted claims (from a mentally unstable man whom the CIA had never met) as "facts" that helped justify the case for war:
Ladies and gentlemen, these are not assertions. These are facts, corroborated by many sources, some of them sources of the intelligence services of other countries.For its part, senior intelligence officers told CIA Director George Tenet about their doubts, but he dismissed them, as did the Bush administration. According to the commission that investigated the intelligence failures leading to the Iraq war
Up until the days before U.S. troops entered Iraqi territory that March, the [U.S.] intelligence community was inundated with evidence that undermined virtually all charges it had made against Iraq...Curveball says he lied because it was the only way to bring freedom to Iraq. "There were no other possibilities," he says.
Well, that's hard to say. Seeing Eqyptians peacefully overthrow a dictator and refuse to have his son replace him gives us food for thought. Is it so unthinkable that Saddam Husssein could've been "kept in his box" over the past seven years, perhaps (in the view of some realpolitickers) as a helpful counterweight to Iran? In this alternate universe, would we now be cheering a homegrown twitter-lution in Iraq, as an elderly, rich dictator loses his grip on power? Perhaps we'd also be out of Afghanistan by now.
First we were told Iraq had WMD's. Then we were told Iraq was flypaper that would attract all the bad guys-- better over there than over here. Then we were told Iraq would transform the Middle East. Now some ideological "dead enders" are still peddling the "well, we might've erred, but everyone else believed the same crap we did" justification, even as a vast majority of their fellow-travelers believe the war was a "horrible mistake".
So is it fair to ask, as young people protest throughout the region-- frustrated but hopeful, and connected in new ways by social media-- What has done more to positively transform the Middle East: Facebook, or the Neo-Con's War in Iraq?