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Truth, War and Consequences

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Frontline’s 90 minute examination of the war in Iraq shouldn’t be missed (it aired Thursday on most PBS stations, but check local listings, and can now be watched online).

Martin Smith (who is on today’s Fresh Air – you can listen online) interviews experts who question the evidence used to argue for the war and point out the failures of post-war policies. He asks critical questions of Iraqi exiles, military officers, and the officials who agreed to talk. Frontline asked for interviewes with Rumsfeld, Powell, Rice, and Cheney. They all declined (though they have been interviewed for past Frontline documentaries). An interview was scheduled with Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz’s deputy. The White House had him cancel the interview hours before it was to take place.

Greg Thielmann who analyzed intelligence for State for seven years says if you go through Powell’s UN speech point by point, “it was not a very honest explanation.” Jay Garner admits the Pentagon shouldn’t have ignored the State Department’s Future of Iraq Project.

Robert Perito who was on the staff of the NSC under Reagan and had studied post-war problems in Bosnia, Kosovo, Panama, East Timor, and Haiti warned the Pentagon there would be looting. He says, “…my presentation was largely about the kind of forces we would need to deal with that kind of violence. And those lessons were ignored. We had meetings with people on Garner’s staff and people…in the administration. Their basic approach was that, they couldn’t really forsee exactly what was needed, so they’re going to wait until they got there and then they were going to make recommendations.”

Perito calls Rumsfeld’s “stuff happens” response to the looting irresponsible and says, “the US could have been ready.” Marine Lt. General James Conway tell Smith, “…if we had been told to stop the looting and secure key elements of the city, we could have brought a force to do that.”

But the documentary shows some troops didn’t handle things well when they were finally told to stop the looting. Soldiers who catch some men taking wood use a tank to destroy their car. The owner says he worked as a taxi driver and the car was his source of income. It also shows the death and blood which have largely been missing from most coverage.

Iraqi National Congress head Ahmed Chalabi claims there were ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda. Smith asks for proof, but Chalabi fails to provide the promised document. The program also points out that Cheney continued to say a meeting between Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague was “pretty well confirmed” even after the FBI showed through rental car records he was in Florida at the time.

Smith enters Iraq in late April with Iraqi exile Kanan Mayiya who Fronline has been covering since 1992. Mayiya describes being with Bush in the White House when the statue of Saddam was pulled down six months ago. He also was profiled in Lawrence Weschler’s wonderful Calamities of Exile.

This is the kind of comprehensive documentary the networks should have done (Smith used to produce documentaries for Peter Jennings at ABC). It shows why PBS despite much valid criticism is still vital.

The program is available online along with background material. Next week’s show is Inside the Sleeper Cell is reported by Lowell Bergman.

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