Appearing on the Charlie Rose program on public television, former CNN military analyst General Perry Smith said that CNN had inflicted serious damage on U.S. foreign policy by airing false charges about the use of nerve gas by American soldiers. Smith, who says reporter Pete Arnett should be fired over the incident, noted that the nerve gas charges played into the hands of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, who is under international pressure to come clean regarding his stockpiles of nerve gas. Smith indicated that, even though the CNN story has been retracted and an apology issued, the damage has already been done. Saddam will claim that the United States has been guilty of what he is being accused of.
Incredibly, a variation of this argument of moral equivalence appeared in the Washington Post on July 5th in an article that ran under the headline, “Iraqis Blame U.S. for Cancers.” The article was filed by Doug Struck reporting from Iraq. Although it was carried back on page 17, this article was extremely useful to Saddam Hussein. The article publicized charges by Iraqi officials that the use of special weapons by U.S. and British troops during the Gulf War was causing a marked increase in cancer among Iraqi civilians. The weapons are depleted uranium-tipped, armor-piercing shells that gave our forces a significant advantage on the battlefield.
Driving the point home, reporter Struck said “…the question of whether the American-led ‘clean war’ left a dirty killer in the air and soil of Iraq will not go away,” despite Pentagon denials. Struck interviewed several Iraqi officials, including the director of something called the “Mother of All Battles Research Center,” who said Pentagon denials were “lies, all lies.”
But according to the article itself, the Iraqi officials were the ones lying. More than half-way into the article, Struck reported that the chance that depleted uranium is causing an excess of cancer “is highly unlikely.” Any such cancers would take decades – not years – to develop. Struck quoted an American expert on the subject as saying that a person would have to eat about a half teaspoon of depleted uranium mixed with dirt every day for 50 years to get just one-thousandth of the radiation dose experienced, on average, by nuclear industry workers.
Interestingly, Struck noted that Iraqi officials have generally been quiet about the depleted uranium, content to allow “Western groups” to criticize the weapons. One of them, called Swords to Plowshares, was mentioned in the article. It is an anti-war group that opposed any kind of military action against Iraq. Now, it is agitating to lift the economic sanctions that were imposed against Iraq after its war of aggression against Kuwait and after it was defeated in the Gulf War.
Doug Struck’s Post article may not be as objectionable as the CNN nerve gas story. But it serves the same purpose—to equate U.S. conduct of a war with charges that are made against Iraq. Putting this story back on page 17 doesn’t make it any less objectionable. Clearly, blame-America journalism didn’t end with the controversy over CNN’s nerve gas story.