The program "Wide Angle" this evening aired a film chronicling Iraq's 1987 chemical and nerve agent attacks against Kurdish villages. Most of the film was a fairly true to life account of the horror that overtook the civilian population of those villages, and the medical nightmare that continues to this day in the form of untreatable diseases, neurological disorders, and birth defects. There is no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein was directly responsible for these attacks, or that they were carried out as "payback" for the Kurds opposition to his regime.
However, after about a half hour of rather compelling historical documentary, the film departed to drawing a present day link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda terrorists. The commentator conducted a series of interviews (through a translator) with an alleged Iraqui intelligence officer imprisoned in Kurdistan, and a claimed graduate of the Iraqui super secret "999" special operations unit. Both men requested anonymity and were not shown on camera. However, both claimed to have personal knowledge of a close connection between the government of Iraq and the Al Quaeda organization. Both stated that Osama bin Laden himself had visited Iraq in 1998 as a guest of Saddam Hussein, and was present when a large group of his Al Quaeda fighters graduated from a special Iraqui intelligence school. Bin Laden's men purpotedly had been trained by the Iraquis in the use of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and were said to have reaffirmed their determination to use these skills against America. I personally found these claims of Iraqui collaboration with Al Quaeda difficult to swallow.
In a brief follow up to the film, Richard Pearl made a very strong pitch for attacking Iraq, the sooner the better. He stated that every day the US waits was allowing Saddam Hussein to further develop weapons of mass destruction that could be used against America and its allies.
There is no question that Saddam is a megalomaniacal tyrant (in a way not unlike G. W. Bush himself), but most of the film used what is now rather dated history to shock the viewer into accepting the conclusions delivered by Mr. Pearl that America has no choice but to invade Iraq. There was no up-to-date intelligence to support this conclusion, however, only dated footage of admittedly terrible atrocities against the Kurds and the questionable statements of anonymous individuals who claimed to be ex Iraqui intelligence officers.
PBS severely damaged its credibility tonight, in my opinion, by airing what is clearly propaganda designed solely to whip up support for the Bush administration's war aims, although the so-called documentary (at least the second half of it) was about as subtle as a meat axe and not very artfully conceived. I could hardly believe what I was seeing.
PBS, you have departed from a long tradition of not engaging in government sponsored propaganda - at least not at this low level. Shame on you!