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By Bill Gallagher

"I saw the Iraqi soldiers come into the hospital with guns. They took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators and left the children to die on the cold floor. It was horrifying." -- Nayirah, Kuwaiti Citizen, testifying before Congressional Human Rights Caucus, Oct. 10, 1990.

Her eyes were so sorrowful and she told her story with such painful poignance. As the tears streamed down her face, you were gripped with emotion, riveted to her compelling words spoken in perfect English.

She had seen the horror as a young volunteer at a Kuwaiti hospital and was here to tell the world the truth. She was anguished, convincing and beautiful. The world watched and believed.

Fifteen-year-old Nayirah could not reveal her last name, because of fear of reprisal against her family still in Kuwait.

Saddam kills babies. His troops kill helpless babies for sport. Saddam's invasion of Kuwait was now taking on the biblical dimensions of evil.

Baby killer, you say. That's like King Herod, who slaughtered the innocent, hoping to rid his kingdom of a rival, the feared messiah, the child he heard of from the Magi.

And this baby-killing stuff has happened before. Remember Pharaoh, who slaughtered the firstborn of all his Hebrew slaves? His intelligence sources told him that, among the Jews making bricks in Goshen, a child had been born who would lead his people from the bondage of Egypt.

Baby Moses was spared when Pharaoh's daughter plucked him from the Nile, but anyone who's read the Book of Exodus knows how bad those Egyptian soldiers were, hellbent on carrying out mass infanticide.

Baby killers in scripture and history are lightning rods for righteous indignation and draw out a visceral urge for vengeance. Now it is written: Pharaoh, Herod and Saddam are cut from the same murderous cloth.

After Nayirah's testimony, the United Nations Security Council heard more tales of horror. A man known as Dr. Issah Ibraham reported, "The hardest thing was burying the babies. Under my supervision, 120 newborn babies were buried in the second week of the invasion. I myself buried 40 newborn babies that had been taken from their incubators by soldiers."

The world was outraged, and the administration of former President George H.W. Bush and the government of Kuwait had just the right hook and public relations plan to show the world Saddam was a demon of the desert who had to be stopped.

Bush the Elder began using the stories in his speeches. He rallied public opinion to wage war against Iraq with indignant references to "newborn babies thrown out of the incubators and then the incubators being shipped to Baghdad."

Six times in a little over a month, Bush the Elder pointed to the story, and the American people and media nodded in shared rage. Saddam kills babies.

Within days of the Iraqi invasion, as Americans were being pumped up for war, the government of Kuwait formed a front group, Citizens for a Free Kuwait.

Hill & Knowlton, the powerful and politically well-connected public relations firm, was hired and collected $11 million in fees over the next several months to represent Citizens for a Free Kuwait. That meant selling the Congress and the American people on the wisdom of war.

With a huge war chest of money for propaganda, Hill & Knowlton did careful research on the public's attitudes toward Saddam. They organized focus groups to review the issues.

People were asked about Saddam's invasion of Kuwait. Most people didn't even know where Kuwait was and cared less.

What about Saddam's lust to control oil in the Middle East and possibly invade Saudi Arabia, "our friend"? What difference does it make which Arab despot we pay for our gas, the focus groups responded.

What about Saddam gassing the Kurds? "Who the hell are the Kurds?" they asked.

Aren't you worried about Saddam developing nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction? Sure, that's a problem, but the Indians and Pakistanis already have nuclear weapons in their volatile part of the world. So we have one more dictator with the bomb.

Now the clincher. What about Saddam killing babies? The focus group's measurement meters went right off the scale. Outrage, anger: "We must avenge this atrocity."

John MacArthur, author of "The Second Front," the story of the media and the Gulf War, wrote, "Of all the accusations made against the dictator, none had more impact on American public opinion than the one about Iraqi soldiers removing 312 babies from their incubators and leaving them to die on the cold hospital floors of Kuwait City."

Amnesty International issued a report on the human rights violations in occupied Kuwait, saying, "Babies in the premature unit of one hospital had been removed from their incubators so that these, too, could be carried off."

Six senators specifically pointed to the baby incubator stories in their speeches supporting the resolution to give the president power to use American forces in Kuwait. The measure passed the Senate by a narrow five-vote margin.

A bellicose Vice President Dan Quayle, pumped up with fervor from his National Guard experience during the Vietnam War, bellowed, "These are pictures Saddam doesn't want us to see. Pictures of premature babies that were tossed out of their incubators and left to die."

Well, there were no pictures, and for good reason. The entire incubator story was a colossal lie. It never happened. The story was a complete fabrication that many Americans still believe to this day.

It was a hoax the Kuwaiti government concocted, and their public relations firm propagated the big lie with great success.

First, the compelling Nayirah. She had good reason for keeping her last name secret. She was, in fact, the daughter of Sheik Saud Nasir al-Sabah, Kuwait's Ambassador to the United States.

She was never in a hospital in Kuwait. She never left Washington, D.C., and made up the entire story. A Hill & Knowlton staffer coached her on how to deliver the stream of lies that an uncritical media, ready to lead the jingoism parade, sold to the world.

The heartbroken doctor-turned-undertaker, who brought the hoax to the United Nations, was really a dentist, and was nowhere near Kuwait when the Iraqis invaded.

When U.S. troops "liberated" Kuwait, investigators from Amnesty International were quickly sent to the scene to document human rights abuses.

They could not find a single witness nor a scintilla of evidence to support the babies-thrown-from-incubators stories. Amnesty International, which had initially gone for the big lie, issued an embarrassed retraction.

The man who headed Hill & Knowlton's Washington office and handled the Citizens for a Free Kuwait account was Craig L. Fuller, an intimate of former President George H.W. Bush.

Fuller had been Bush's chief of staff when he was vice president and he had daily contact with his friends in the White House. It is beyond reasonable belief to think for a moment that the brass at Hill & Knowlton was unaware of Nayirah's outrageous lies and the fraud they helped spread.

What happened was an unconscionable perversion of the democratic process, used to sway public opinion and, ultimately, shape decisions on war and peace.

The wonderful Canadian television show, "The Fifth Estate," was one of the first in the media to blow the lid off the big lie. The CBC piece put the whole sordid story together and exposed the lies.

When the Canadians tried to get permission to interview Nayirah, her father, the ambassador, angrily refused.

Several months later, "60 Minutes" picked up on the story and aired a truncated, watered-down version of the CBC report. Much of the mainstream American media just ignored the truth.

Bush the Elder no longer tells the incubator stories, but still refuses to call the lies what they are: Lies. He brushes off the calculated deceptions, saying he knows "some babies" did die in Kuwait, and that's all there is to that.

Make no mistake about it, the United States is going to wage war on Iraq. Whatever the United Nations inspectors find or don't find makes no difference at all. The war plans are ready. The honor of Bush the Elder is at stake.

Saddam Hussein could repent for his sins, eat whatever enriched uranium he has, inhale his chemical and biological weapons, ask Billy Graham for forgiveness, become a Pentecostal and send his kids to Bob Jones University, and the Bushies would still bomb Baghdad.

It's an old saw that the first casualty in war is the truth. But it doesn't have to be, if we watch carefully and beware of the big lies.

Bush the Elder permitted major deceptions in Gulf War I. When Gulf War II begins, just remember that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Bill Gallagher, a Peabody Award winner, is a former Niagara Falls city councilman who now covers Detroit for Fox News. His e-mail address is WGALLAG736@aol.com.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com September 24 2002