!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News
Profile: Citizens for a Free Kuwait
Citizens for a Free Kuwait was a participant or observer in the following events:
Nine days after Iraq invades Kuwait (see August 2, 1990), the public relations firm Hill & Knowlton creates a front organization, “Citizens for a Free Kuwait,” almost entirely funded by Kuwaiti money. Hill & Knowlton’s point man with the Kuwaitis is Craig Fuller, a close friend and political adviser to President Bush (see July 23, 1986). Veteran PR reporter Jack O’Dwyer will later write, “Hill & Knowlton… has assumed a role in world affairs unprecedented for a PR firm.” [Christian Science Monitor, 9/6/2002; Public Relations Watch, 6/3/2007] Citizens for a Free Kuwait is one of about twenty PR and lobbying groups formed by the Kuwaiti government. Other American PR firms representing these groups include the Rendon Group and Neill & Co. Citizens for a Free Kuwait will spread a false story of Kuwaiti babies being killed in their incubators by Iraqi troops, a story that will help inflame US public opinion and win the Bush administration the authority to launch an assault against Iraq (see October 10, 1990). Another public relations and lobbying effort includes a 154-page book detailing supposed Iraqi atrocities, entitled The Rape of Kuwait, that is distributed to various media outlets and later featured on television talk shows and in the pages of the Wall Street Journal. The Kuwaiti embassy also buys 200,000 copies of the book for distribution to American troops. Hill & Knowlton will produce dozens of “video news releases” that are offered as “news stories” to television news broadcasters throughout America; the VNRs are shown on hundreds of US television news broadcasts, usually as straight news reports without being identified as the product of a public relations firm. [Public Relations Watch, 6/3/2007]
’Nayirah’ testifying before Congress. [Source: Web Fairy (.com)]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. [Christian Science Monitor, 9/6/2002; Independent, 10/19/2003; Public Relations Watch, 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.” [Christian Science Monitor, 9/6/2002; Los Angeles Times, 1/5/2003; Public Relations Watch, 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.” [CounterPunch, 12/28/2002; Independent, 10/19/2003; Public Relations Watch, 6/3/2007]
Entity Tags: Susan Trento, Tom Lantos, Sheldon Rampton, US Congress, United Nations Security Council, Saud Nasir al-Sabah, US Department of Justice, Mohammed Matar, Lauri Fitz-Pegado, Citizens for a Free Kuwait, ’Nayirah’, Amnesty International, Bush administration (41), John Stauber, Congressional Human Rights Caucus, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Fayeza Youssef, John MacArthur, John Porter, Hill and Knowlton, Congressional Human Rights Foundation, Jack O’Dwyer
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.