Pure Propaganda on '60 Minutes'
Jude Wanniski
May 14, 2002


Memo To: Ed Bradley, 60 Minutes reporter
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Saddam Hussein Did Not Gas the Kurds

What a disappointment! For three days before 60 Minutes aired Sunday night, I heard promo commercials promising me that if I ever had doubts about Saddam Hussein gassing his own people, I would not after watching your report! The report was laughable, Ed Bradley, absolutely laughable, maybe the worst piece of journalism you ever participated in. All you did was find a little old lady doctor from Liverpool who four years ago went to Halabja, the town in Iraq where Saddam supposedly killed thousands of his own Kurdish citizens with poison gas in March of 1988. You simply interviewed the doctor, Christine Gosden, and used her films of hospital scenes of grotesque, malformed children and adults with cancerous sores on their faces. And that was the full extent of your PROOF that Saddam Hussein was the culprit!! You never set foot in Iraq and made no attempt to go over the arguments pro and con that abound and are available on the internet.

Instead, we get this from you at the outset: "When Dr. Gosden reached Halabja, it looked as if the Iraqi bombing had just happened yesterday." Hey, Ed Bradley, not only does Iraq absolutely deny bombing their own citizens, but the only authoritative report of the U.S. government agrees with Iraq that the Iraqi Kurds died at the hands of the Iranian army.

Your report never mentioned the fact that in March 1988, when this monstrous deed supposedly occurred, the Iraqi army was engaged with the Iranian army in a battle for control of Halabja. The whole PREMISE of your report was that Saddam Hussein suddenly decided to have some fun and drop chemical weapons on his own citizens. There has been no disputing the fact that the Iranian army overcame the Iraqi garrison at Halabja and drove it from the town. According to the account of the Army War College, which investigated, the Iraqi commander used mustard gas to hit the Iranians, and the Iranians used a cyanide-based gas to retake the town. According to Stephen Pelletiere, the lead author of the 1990 report, said the number of dead were in the hundreds, not thousands, and that reporters who came in to witness the devastation said most of the dead were "blue in their extremities, implying that they had been killed by a blood agent, a chemical that Iraq did not use and, at this time, lacked the capacity to produce. This fact was noted in the press accounts and also by officials of several nongovernmental agencies called to inspect the scene. Later, the U.S. government confirmed the fact that the both sides had used gas and averred that, in all likelihood, Iranian gas killed the Kurds."

Anticipating your Sunday show, Ed, I asked my friend Dr. Gordon Prather to be sure and tune in. While he is a nuclear physicist, not a physiologist, he was assistant secretary of the US Army for science and technology in the Reagan years, and informed himself on chem/bio agents because of his oversight responsibilities in that realm. He clearly knows more about chem/bio warfare than your Liverpool lady, a doctor of genetic medicine. Here is what he wrote after watching:

My sense is that 60Min has bought a pig some group of activists put in a poke four years ago that no one else has since been stupid enough to buy. The value-added by poor gullible 60Min was the recent footage, wherein this Brit 'medical expert' claims that -- in terms of birth defects and cases of cancer -- there is some sort of conversion factor for equating the effects of ionizing radiation and chemical agents. In particular, she said something about an equivalence between Halabja and Hiroshima!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Jude, if you want to continue to beat this 'saddam-gas-kurds' dead horse, you need to find someone -- if such a person exists -- who is truly an expert on [1] carcinogenic effects and [2] chromosome damage, OF [a] ionizing radiation vis a vis [b] chemical agents. I AM NOT SUCH AN EXPERT. But I do know this. There have been far, far fewer cases of cancer among survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki than "expected", thereby discrediting the 'zero threshold' model. In fact, the incidence of cancer among survivors has been less than that of the general Japanese population. Furthermore, there has been no significantly greater rate of birth defects among the progeny of Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors. So much for comparing Halabja to Hiroshima.

And I believe I know this. Mustard gas is a blister agent, period. If you get it on your retina it can blind you. If you get it in your lungs it can cause a pneumonic-like congestion that can kill you. But, I have never before heard anyone claim that mustard gas could CAUSE cancer or chromosomal damage. [Or course, some eco-wackos claim that anything and everything can cause cancer or chromosomal damage. She claimed -- without offering any proof whatsoever -- that Saddam had mixed a bunch of other bad things in with his mustard gas, and she implied those other bad things must have caused the effects she 'discovered'.] In summary, this Brit 'medical expert' made a number of what I consider to be outrageous statements. I would be very much surprised if any peer-reviewed research could be found to support her cause-effect claims.

When I then asked Dr. Prather about the doctor's assertion that Iraq had used a "cocktail" of mustard gas, sarin gas and VX nerve gas, he replied:

I have no idea how anyone would go about weaponizing a chemical-agent "cocktail". [nor know why anyone would want to. When you mix chemicals together, they have a nasty habit of chemically reacting with each other.]

In 1998, Ed Bradley, when the UNSCOM inspectors in Iraq suddenly demanded to reinspect a site they had already checked out in 1991, they went straight to a spot of shell fragments destroyed by Iraq in accordance with the UN order. They "found" a fragment with traces of "VX nerve gas." At the time, I asked Dr. Prather about the finding and he told me he could not imagine Iraq attempting to weaponize VX, as the components would have to be kept separate in a bomb casing until impact, or they would react prematurely. When the fragments were sent to a US lab, the traces of VX were found! But when Iraq asked for other verification, the material was sent to laboratories in Switzerland and Paris, where they found nothing suspicious. I smelled a rat then and I smell it again with this "cocktail" story.

As for the rest of the report, it is filled with junk that could never get past a competent fact checker. You note in your introduction, for example, that in the Iran/Iraq war, the Kurds fought on the side of the Iranians. Wrong. A small number of rebels did, but almost all of the Iraqi Kurds fought on the Iraqi side, in uniform, and celebrated when Iraq won the war.

Your lady doctor's assertion that Iraq bombed 280 villages with poison gas is a joke you should have seen without a fact-checker. There were hundreds of villages cleared by Baghdad on the Iraqi border, but the residents were moved to new villages built for them in the interior. Western journalists were invited in to observe the process, including Karen Eliot House of the Wall Street Journal, now the president of Dow Jones International. The big problem, Ed Bradley, is that you knew going in that you could take a cheap shot, because everyone knows Saddam Hussein is a Monster, so you could coast through your reporting responsibilities and enjoy the soft assignment in lovely Liverpool. Meanwhile, President Bush is planning to go to war with Iraq, partly based on the phony stories about Saddam gassing his own people. Why don't you call him up and tell him you goofed? Otherwise, when the body count runs up into the thousands, I'll write you again and remind you of the unintended consequences of sloppy reporting.