Tampering With the Evidence

Last year in Hamdania, west of Baghdad, eight U.S. soldiers abducted an Iraqi man from his home, threw him in a ditch, and shot him. The soldiers placed an AK-47 and a shovel near his body. They wanted to make it seem as though he were an insurgent digging holes to plant roadside bombs.

Planting the evidence to frame victims, whether by soldiers or by crooked police officers, ordinarily takes place after a crime is committed. In Hamdania, the U.S. soldiers were looking for an insurgent, didn’t find one, and decided to kill an innocent man instead. Then they tried to cover it up.

Over the last six years and on a much larger scale, the Bush administration has done the same thing, with a twist. Rather than planting the evidence after the crime, it has assumed a crime and then altered the evidence to prove guilt. In particular, the administration has cooked the evidence against the whole “axis of evil”—Iraq, Iran, and North Korea—in order to justify policies of invasion, isolation, and non-negotiation.

The latest revelation concerns North Korea. In the late 1990s, the Clinton administration knew that North Korea had imported items that could be used for a highly enriched uranium (HEU) program. It ultimately decided, however, that this information didn’t merit disclosure or confrontation with Pyongyang. In October 2002, the Bush administration made a different assessment. It openly accused North Korea of pursuing this second, secret path to a nuclear weapon. Claiming to possess evidence that couldn’t, for national security reasons, be revealed to the public, the administration effectively killed a 1994 agreement that froze North Korea’s plutonium program in exchange for a package of economic and diplomatic carrots. As a result, North Korea unfroze its plutonium program and last year joined the nuclear club.

When Korea hand Selig Harrison challenged the administration’s HEU evidence in Foreign Affairs in 2005, several heavy hitters in the Korea policy community (Mitchell Reiss, Bob Gallucci) inexplicably came to the administration’s defense. But now the administration itself is backpedaling on its claims, admitting that it didn’t really have any evidence of a significant HEU program in North Korea.

This is no mere disagreement over history. On February 13, North Korea and the United States signed an agreement, annotated here at FPIF, that again links denuclearization to a number of energy and economic incentives. North Korea’s full denuclearization theoretically would include the HEU program. Washington hardliners could insist that Pyongyang admit to a program that largely doesn’t exist before moving forward on implementing the agreement. As analyst David Albright concludes in a sober Nautilus Institute analysis of the evidence, “the flawed 2002 assessment must not be allowed to undermine this agreement or distort our reactions to declarations North Korea may make once it fulfills its obligations to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.”

Iraq and Iran

The HEU “evidence” unraveled a key U.S.-North Korean agreement and helped propel North Korea into the nuclear club. With Iraq, U.S. tampering with the evidence had even more devastating consequences.

Four years ago, Washington argued that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and hinted that he maintained links to al-Qaida. Colin Powell went before the United Nations to make this case to the world. But there were no such weapons and no such links. Saddam Hussein was certainly a tyrant and guilty of many crimes. But the U.S. invasion of Iraq was based on false claims.

Finally, in a disturbing echo, Washington is again preparing a case against Iran. It has argued recently that Iran is behind the bombs that are killing U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Iran is, like other countries, deeply involved in trying to influence the course of events in neighboring Iraq. But FPIF Middle East Editor Stephen Zunes has effectively debunked in an FPIF analysis the evidence supposedly linking Iran to the deaths of U.S. soldiers, a link that could serve as the justification for a U.S. attack on Tehran.

The Bush administration uses evidence not to build a case but to justify policies that have already been decided. The administration wanted to destroy the 1994 Agreed Framework and needed a plausible excuse. It wanted to invade Iraq and had to convince U.S. allies, Congress, and the American public. And now the administration wants to punish Iran for its challenge to U.S. power.

Those eight U.S. soldiers, who are now either in jail or on trial, did a terrible thing in Hamdania. They could argue in their defense of the cover-up, however, that they were only copying the U.S. government. The soldiers planted the AK-47 and the shovel just as the U.S. government “planted” WMD in Iraq and a robust HEU program in North Korea. No wonder the Bush administration opposes the International Criminal Court: its cases against the “axis of evil” would never stand up in a court of international law.

Nukes, Coups, and Climate

The U.S. case against Iran is particularly galling. At the same time that Washington is drawing up war plans to take out Iran’s nuclear capabilities, the Bush administration is moving forward on its own nuclear modernization plans. In her latest FPIF column, Frida Berrigan writes that the United States agreed under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty “to an ‘unequivocal undertaking’ to ‘eliminate’ its nuclear weapons arsenal. Honoring that commitment—and encouraging other declared and undeclared nuclear states to do the same—would undercut Tehran’s arguments about why nuclear firepower is necessary. Oh, and by the way, it would also make the world feel a whole lot safer.”

One might think that ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq plus a possible attack against Iran would be enough for the overstretched Bush administration. But no, Dick Cheney’s latest visit to Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad is a reminder that U.S. military air strikes in Pakistan may also be forthcoming. As FPIF contributor Najum Mushtaq writes in America’s Musharraf Dilemma, Washington is increasingly unhappy with its Pakistani ally’s handling of Islamic militants in its border regions. Cheney reportedly warned Musharraf that much is at stake. “Pakistan, the fifth-largest recipient of American aid, is set to get $785 million in President Bush’s next budget. That includes $300 million in direct military aid, a sop to Musharraf’s domestic power base in the armed forces,” Mushtaq writes. “More than just military aid is at stake. Worse could come to pass if the United States decided to take out al-Qaida targets in Pakistan with unilateral air strikes.”

Meanwhile, in Thailand, democracy is not just around the corner, despite what coup leaders there have been saying. “The restoration of Thai democracy depends on the military and monarch’s willingness to cede power to true civilian leaders,” FPIF contributor David Kampf writes in No Democracy Yet in Thailand. “As time passes there are more and more reasons to doubt the junta’s true intentions and their ability to improve Thailand’s government.”

And finally, as promised, our climate change roundtable is up on our homepage. Tom Athanasiou and Hoff Stauffer debate the need for draconian measures. William Coleman touts the virtues of geoengineering and Hope Shand counters. All of this and more at FPIF’s Climate Change Roundtable.