The Naked Truth

Stopping the world’s spin.

Iraq War: Were Americans lied into conflict?

By Joseph C. Wilson 4th
Published: July 6, 2003 by the New York Times

Did the Bush administration manipulate intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs to justify an invasion of Iraq?

Based on my experience with the administration in the months leading up to the war, I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq’s nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.

For 23 years, from 1976 to 1998, I was a career foreign service officer and ambassador. In 1990, as chargé d’affaires in Baghdad, I was the last American diplomat to meet with Saddam Hussein. (I was also a forceful advocate for his removal from Kuwait.) After Iraq, I was President George H. W. Bush’s ambassador to Gabon and São Tomé and Príncipe; under President Bill Clinton, I helped direct Africa policy for the National Security Council.

It was my experience in Africa that led me to play a small role in the effort to verify information about Africa’s suspected link to Iraq’s nonconventional weapons programs. Those news stories about that unnamed former envoy who went to Niger? That’s me.

In February 2002, I was informed by officials at the Central Intelligence Agency that Vice President Dick Cheney’s office had questions about a particular intelligence report. While I never saw the report, I was told that it referred to a memorandum of agreement that documented the sale of uranium yellowcake — a form of lightly processed ore — by Niger to Iraq in the late 1990’s. The agency officials asked if I would travel to Niger to check out the story so they could provide a response to the vice president’s office.

After consulting with the State Department’s African Affairs Bureau (and through it with Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, the United States ambassador to Niger), I agreed to make the trip. The mission I undertook was discreet but by no means secret. While the C.I.A. paid my expenses (my time was offered pro bono), I made it abundantly clear to everyone I met that I was acting on behalf of the United States government.

In late February 2002, I arrived in Niger’s capital, Niamey, where I had been a diplomat in the mid-70’s and visited as a National Security Council official in the late 90’s. The city was much as I remembered it. Seasonal winds had clogged the air with dust and sand. Through the haze, I could see camel caravans crossing the Niger River (over the John F. Kennedy bridge), the setting sun behind them. Most people had wrapped scarves around their faces to protect against the grit, leaving only their eyes visible.

The next morning, I met with Ambassador Owens-Kirkpatrick at the embassy. For reasons that are understandable, the embassy staff has always kept a close eye on Niger’s uranium business. I was not surprised, then, when the ambassador told me that she knew about the allegations of uranium sales to Iraq — and that she felt she had already debunked them in her reports to Washington. Nevertheless, she and I agreed that my time would be best spent interviewing people who had been in government when the deal supposedly took place, which was before her arrival.

I spent the next eight days drinking sweet mint tea and meeting with dozens of people: current government officials, former government officials, people associated with the country’s uranium business. It did not take long to conclude that it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place. (emphasis mine)

Given the structure of the consortiums that operated the mines, it would be exceedingly difficult for Niger to transfer uranium to Iraq. Niger’s uranium business consists of two mines, Somair and Cominak, which are run by French, Spanish, Japanese, German and Nigerian interests. If the government wanted to remove uranium from a mine, it would have to notify the consortium, which in turn is strictly monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Moreover, because the two mines are closely regulated, quasi-governmental entities, selling uranium would require the approval of the minister of mines, the prime minister and probably the president. In short, there’s simply too much oversight over too small an industry for a sale to have transpired.

(As for the actual memorandum, I never saw it. But news accounts have pointed out that the documents had glaring errors — they were signed, for example, by officials who were no longer in government — and were probably forged. And then there’s the fact that Niger formally denied the charges.)

Before I left Niger, I briefed the ambassador on my findings, which were consistent with her own. I also shared my conclusions with members of her staff. In early March, I arrived in Washington and promptly provided a detailed briefing to the C.I.A. I later shared my conclusions with the State Department African Affairs Bureau. There was nothing secret or earth-shattering in my report, just as there was nothing secret about my trip.

Though I did not file a written report, there should be at least four documents in United States government archives confirming my mission. The documents should include the ambassador’s report of my debriefing in Niamey, a separate report written by the embassy staff, a C.I.A. report summing up my trip, and a specific answer from the agency to the office of the vice president (this may have been delivered orally). While I have not seen any of these reports, I have spent enough time in government to know that this is standard operating procedure.

I thought the Niger matter was settled and went back to my life. (I did take part in the Iraq debate, arguing that a strict containment regime backed by the threat of force was preferable to an invasion.) In September 2002, however, Niger re-emerged. The British government published a “white paper” asserting that Saddam Hussein and his unconventional arms posed an immediate danger. As evidence, the report cited Iraq’s attempts to purchase uranium from an African country.

Then, in January, President Bush, citing the British dossier, repeated the charges about Iraqi efforts to buy uranium from Africa.

The next day, I reminded a friend at the State Department of my trip and suggested that if the president had been referring to Niger, then his conclusion was not borne out by the facts as I understood them. He replied that perhaps the president was speaking about one of the other three African countries that produce uranium: Gabon, South Africa or Namibia. At the time, I accepted the explanation. I didn’t know that in December, a month before the president’s address, the State Department had published a fact sheet that mentioned the Niger case.

Those are the facts surrounding my efforts. The vice president’s office asked a serious question. I was asked to help formulate the answer. I did so, and I have every confidence that the answer I provided was circulated to the appropriate officials within our government.

The question now is how that answer was or was not used by our political leadership. If my information was deemed inaccurate, I understand (though I would be very interested to know why). If, however, the information was ignored because it did not fit certain preconceptions about Iraq, then a legitimate argument can be made that we went to war under false pretenses. (It’s worth remembering that in his March “Meet the Press” appearance, Mr. Cheney said that Saddam Hussein was “trying once again to produce nuclear weapons.”) At a minimum, Congress, which authorized the use of military force at the president’s behest, should want to know if the assertions about Iraq were warranted.

I was convinced before the war that the threat of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Saddam Hussein required a vigorous and sustained international response to disarm him. Iraq possessed and had used chemical weapons; it had an active biological weapons program and quite possibly a nuclear research program — all of which were in violation of United Nations resolutions. Having encountered Mr. Hussein and his thugs in the run-up to the Persian Gulf war of 1991, I was only too aware of the dangers he posed.

But were these dangers the same ones the administration told us about? We have to find out. America’s foreign policy depends on the sanctity of its information. For this reason, questioning the selective use of intelligence to justify the war in Iraq is neither idle sniping nor “revisionist history,” as Mr. Bush has suggested. The act of war is the last option of a democracy, taken when there is a grave threat to our national security. We have a duty to ensure that their sacrifice came for the right reasons.

Joseph C. Wilson 4th, United States ambassador to Gabon from 1992 to 1995, is an international business consultant.


March 18, 2008 Posted by | iraq, war | , , , , , | Leave a comment

China Supplying Arms in the Darfur Conflict

Chinese sales of assault rifles and other weapons to Sudan have grown rapidly during the conflict in the Darfur region despite a UN arms embargo, according to a US-based rights group.

Human Rights First said on Thursday that a study of Sudanese and UN trade data showed that China was virtually the only supplier of small arms to Sudan.

Khartoum pays for the weapons it buys from Beijing with its growing oil revenues, the rights group said.

“The people of Sudan’s Darfur region will endure more death, disease and dislocation, and this will be due in no small part to China’s callousness,” the report said.

The group called on Beijing to stop all arms sales to Sudan and urged the world to link that campaign to the Beijing Olympics.

“We believe that China is particularly vulnerable in the lead up to the Olympics, Betsy Apple, a spokeswoman for Human Rights First, said.

“We want to see China’s concrete action that matches its rhetoric.”

The report came as Britain’s Channel 4 television’s Unreported World programme interviewed Mohammed Hamdan, a commander of the Arab Janjiwid militia accused of carrying out attacks on Darfur’s black African population.

Hamdan said that his men had received orders and weapons from the Khartoum government, including heavy artillery which appeared to have Chinese markings.

The Human Rights First report said that Chinese-made AK-47 assault rifles, grenade launchers and ammunition for rifles and heavy machine guns have all flowed into Darfur.

China sold Sudan $55 million worth of small arms from 2003-2006 and has provided 90 per cent of Sudan’s small arms since 2004 when a UN arms embargo took effect, according to the report.

China’s embassy in Washington said, in a response to the Channel 4 programme, that China, “in line with relevant UN resolutions and China’s own policies regarding arms sales, requires normal defensive usage by the buyer country”.

Khartoum has previously denied any connection to the Janjiwid groups who are accused of abuses and crimes across the region.

Peacekeeping mission

Meanwhile, the commander of the international peacekeeping force in Darfur has admitted they may have to stay in the region for up to 10 years before they will see a resolution to the conflict.

“There are so many factors that have to come into play. We have to have a peace deal. We have to go through a period of disarmament,” General Martin Luther Agwai, a Nigerian army officer, said.

“If all these things happen quickly and everyone is committed to it, it could be a matter of two or three years. But if people don’t want a peace deal and people are not committed, we could be here for many years.”

Officials with the joint United Nations-African Union mission on Thursday said that there had been two confrontations with Darfur’s warring parties in the past week.

On Saturday, Sudanese soldiers opened fire for more than 15 minutes when a Unamid vehicle approached a government checkpoint close to South Darfur’s capital Nyala, Adrian Edwards, a Unamid official, told the Reuters news agency in Khartoum.

“It was dark so it was unclear whether they were firing into the air or targeting anyone,” he added.

“No one was injured and we received an apology from the local authorities.”

A day later, Unamid officers had to cut short a meeting with rebels in the Jabel Moun area of west Darfur, when they received reports of nearby fighting.

March 16, 2008 Posted by | Africa, china | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Combating Blood Diamonds – The Diamond Industry’s Failure

Wars need money.  Natural resources such as timber, diamonds and minerals play an increasingly prominent role in providing this money, which is often used to fund armies and militias who murder, rape and commit other human rights abuses against civilians. 

Conflict diamonds, also known as blood diamonds, have contributed to wars in Africa that have killed millions of people, destroying lives and wrecking countries. Since 2000, the diamond industry has not done enough to fulfil the pledges it has made to eradicate blood diamonds from international trade. In response to pressure from Global Witness, Partnership Africa Canada, and other civil society groups, the key trade bodies representing the global diamond industry agreed to a voluntary system of self-regulation aimed at helping to prevent the trade in blood diamonds and in supporting the government-run Kimberley Process Certification Scheme. The polished and retail sectors of the diamond industry opposed stringent government regulation when the Kimberley Process was being negotiated, and the industry was left to police itself.

Six years after the blood diamond issue came to international attention, the industry has failed to change its practices. International diamond trade bodies have issued countless press releases and statements claiming that the problem has been solved, but have provided little information on what they have actually done to fix it and fulfil their promises. Despite vast profits made by many in the diamond industry – in 2005 diamond jewellery sales were over US$60 billion – little has been invested to ensure that blood diamonds will not be able to enter the legitimate trade.


How the diamond industry has fallen short:

The diamond industry has failed to create an auditable tracking system to ensure that diamonds are conflict free. As a key part of the self-regulation, the diamond industry agreed to track diamonds from where they are mined to where they are sold through buying diamonds only from suppliers that provide a written guarantee on invoices that diamonds are conflict-free. The industry also committed to keep records of these invoices and have them audited every year. But the industry did not clarify how this tracking system would work or how it would be audited. A written guarantee simply stating that diamonds are not from conflict sources is meaningless unless it is backed up by actions and policies to monitor that the statement is true. However, there are no clear standards detailing how records are to be kept and other elements that should be examined. It is clearly not an auditable chain of warranties as there is very little for auditors to verify. A Global Witness investigation and a joint survey with Amnesty International showed that many in the industry do not meet even the basic measures of the self-regulation and that there is confusion throughout the industry about what the measures actually mean in practice. Research carried out by the Diamond Trading Company demonstrated that these findings are very largely correct. The World Diamond Council’s misleading public relations campaign is not matched with meaningful action. A new website provides education packs for consumers and retailers, but provides no information about how adoption of the self-regulation will be monitored and reviewed. This system of warranties is unable to prevent blood diamonds from entering the legitimate trade and to give consumers adequate assurances that diamonds are conflict-free. In response to pressure from Global Witness and other NGOs, major diamond mining companies and jewellery retailers have created the Council for Responsible Jewellery Practices (CRJP) to develop a chain of custody backed by independent, third-party auditing measures. While participants include a cross section from the diamond and jewellery supply chain, many in the diamond industry have not yet signed up, especially small and medium sized companies, and implementation will not begin until 2008. We welcome the initiative of the CRJP, but it is too early to say how effective it will be and what impact it will have in improving practices within all sectors of the diamond trade.

The diamond industry has failed to implement a code of conduct adequately to stop the trade in blood diamonds. Although there are fewer blood diamonds now than there were during the 1990s, this is largely due to the fact that wars in Angola and Sierra Leone have ended. However, diamonds are playing a role in the conflict in the Ivory Coast and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The illicit trade in smuggled diamonds is also flourishing which shows where there are weaknesses in control systems that can be used by those trading in blood diamonds. Global Witness’ field investigations in November 2005 found that diamonds mined in West Africa are regularly smuggled and given Kimberley Process certificates by countries other than their country of origin. Some of these are blood diamonds, and they are being certified as conflict-free.
Given this current situation and the destructive role diamonds have played in the past, diamond companies should be making every effort to carry out due diligence when selecting suppliers to make sure that the diamonds they purchase only come from legitimate sources. The Kimberley Process scheme and industry compliance with this must be robust so that consumers can buy diamonds originating in any country, confident that they are conflict-free. However, members of the industry continue to trade in conflict and illicit diamonds and diamonds are still being used by organised crime, for money laundering and for other illicit purposes. In Belgium, an ongoing investigation into illicit trading may involve up to half of the diamond trade there and millions of dollars in fraudulent activity.

The diamond industry has failed to clean up its membership and to operate in a more transparent manner. Major international trade bodies such as the International Diamond Manufacturers Association (IDMA) and the World Federation of Diamond Bourses (WFDB) agreed to expel members that do not meet the selfregulation requirements or comply with the Kimberley Process. They agreed to publicise names of the expelled members. However, these trade bodies have not provided any information to the public or to civil society about any members who have been expelled. Nor have they shown what measures are being taken to ensure that the self regulation is being adhered to. There has not been adequate monitoring to assess whether members are meeting these commitments. While many in the legitimate industry know who is trading in blood diamonds and using diamonds to fund criminal and other illegal activities, the trade is still secretive and unwilling to tackle this problem head on.

source:, also see the consumer’s guide on conflict diamonds.

March 12, 2008 Posted by | Human Rights | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment