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An unconfirmed report of Iraqi soldiers entering a Kuwaiti hospital during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait (see August 2, 1990) and removing newborns from their incubators causes a sensation in the US media. The rumor, which later turns out to be false, is seized upon by senior executives of the PR firm Hill & Knowlton, which has a $11.9 million contract from the Kuwaiti royal family to win support for a US-led intervention against Iraq—the largest foreign-funded campaign ever mounted to shape US public opinion. (Under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, the firm should have been held accountable for its marketing campaign, but the Justice Department fails to intervene.) The firm also has close ties to the Bush administration, and will assist in marketing the war to the US citizenry. (Regan 9/6/2002; Buncombe 10/19/2003; Stauber and Rampton 6/3/2007) Hill & Knowlton uses a front group, “Citizens for a Free Kuwait” (see August 11, 1990), to plant the stories in the news media.
Congressional Hearings - Hearings on the story, and other tales of Iraqi atrocities, are convened by the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, chaired by Representatives Tom Lantos (D-CA) and John Porter (R-IL). Reporters John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton will later characterize the caucus as little more than an H&K-funded sham; Lantos and Porter are also co-chairs of the Congressional Human Rights Foundation, a legally separate entity that occupied free office space in Hill & Knowlton’s Washington, DC offices. The star of the hearings is a slender, 15-year old Kuwaiti girl called “Nayirah.” According to the Caucus, her true identity is being concealed to prevent Iraqi reprisals against her or her family. Sobbing throughout her testimony, “Nayirah” describes what she says she witnessed in a hospital in Kuwait City; her written testimony is provided to reporters and Congressmen in a media kit prepared by Citizens for a Free Kuwait. “I volunteered at the al-Addan hospital,” she tells the assemblage. “While I was there, I saw the Iraqi soldiers come into the hospital with guns, and go into the room where… babies were in incubators. They took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators, and left the babies on the cold floor to die.” (Regan 9/6/2002; Marshall 1/5/2003; Stauber and Rampton 6/3/2007) The hearings, and particularly “Nayirah’s” emotional tale, inflame American public opinion against the Iraqis (see October 10, 1990 and After) and help drum up support for a US invasion of Iraq (see January 9-13, 1991).
Outright Lies - Neither Lantos, Porter, nor H&K officials tell Congress that the entire testimony is a lie. “Nayirah” is the daughter of Saud Nasir al-Sabah, the Kuwaiti ambassador to the US. Neither do they reveal that “Nayirah’s” testimony was coached by H&K vice president Lauri Fitz-Pegado. Seven other “witnesses” testify to the same atrocities before the United Nations; the seven use false names and identities. The US even presents a video made by Hill & Knowlton to the Security Council. No journalist investigates the claims. As author Susan Trento will write: “The diplomats, the congressmen, and the senators wanted something to support their positions. The media wanted visual, interesting stories.” It is not until after the war that human rights investigators look into the charges. No other witnesses can be located to confirm “Nayirah’s” story. Dr. Mohammed Matar, director of Kuwait’s primary care system, and his wife, Dr. Fayeza Youssef, who runs the obstretrics unit at the maternity hospital, says that at the time of the so-called atrocities, few if any babies were in incubator units—and Kuwait only possesses a few such units anyway. “I think it was just something for propaganda,” Dr. Matar will say. It is doubtful that “Nayirah” was even in the country at the time, as the Kuwaiti aristocracy had fled the country weeks before the Iraqi invasion. Amnesty International, which had supported the story, will issue a retraction. Porter will claim that he had no knowledge that the sobbing little girl was a well-rehearsed fabricator, much less an ambassador’s daughter. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reporters will ask al-Sabah for permission to question his daughter about her testimony; he will angrily refuse. “Naiyrah” herself will later admit that she had never been in the hospital herself, but had learned of the supposed baby murders from a friend. In a subsequent interview about media manipulation during the war, Fitz-Pegado will say: “Come on.… Who gives a sh_t whether there were six babies or two? I believed her.” She will later clarify that statement: “What I meant was one baby would be too many.” (Cohen 12/28/2002; Buncombe 10/19/2003; Stauber and Rampton 6/3/2007)
The book Because Each Life is Precious: Why an Iraqi Man Risked Everything for Private Jessica Lynch, is published by HarperCollins. It is co-written by Iraqi lawyer Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, who provided US forces with information necessary for the rescue of Lynch (see June 17, 2003). Al-Rehaief was rewarded for his contributions with political asylum in the US, a job with a Republican-owned lobbying firm, and a $300,000 book contract (see April 10, 2003 and After). The book was promoted by former US Information Agency official Lauri Fitz-Pegado, who in 1990 worked for public relations firm Hill & Knowlton. While at that firm, Fitz-Pegado helped run the propaganda campaign that alleged Iraqi forces had broken into a Kuwaiti infirmary, thrown Kuwaiti babies to the floor, and stolen their incubators. The story was catapulted into the headlines by the gripping testimony of a 15-year old girl, “Nayirah,” who testified before Congress that she had witnessed the atrocities (see October 10, 1990). The girl was actually the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the US and had been coached on what to say by Fitz-Pegado. Like Naiyrah’s, al-Rehaief’s story is riddled with apparent falsehoods, including the now well-known story of Lynch being slapped by a black-clad Iraqi Fedayeen, a tale disputed by the doctors and nurses at the hospital in which Lynch was receiving care. Executives of the Livingston Group, the lobbying firm which now employs al-Rehaief, say that his life is in danger from “terrorists,” though they give no details of the alleged threats; interestingly, the firm canceled an appearance by al-Rehaief at the National Press Club shortly before the book’s release, thus denying reporters a chance to question al-Rehaief about his version of events. In the book, al-Rehaief writes, “I cannot say how I had pictured this American POW but I never imagined her as quite so small or quite so young.” When he saw her being slapped, he writes: “In that moment I felt compelled to help that person in the hospital bed. I had no idea of what I could do, but I knew that I had to do something.” Independent reporter Andrew Buncombe calls the book an example of “the murky world where myth, reality and disinformation merge…” (Buncombe 10/19/2003; Horrock 10/23/2003; Stauber and Rampton 6/3/2007)
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