I just finished reading and reviewing Joost Hiltermann’s A Poisonous Affair, which looks back at the diplomatic reaction and inaction surrounding the chemical bombardment of Halabja by Saddam’s regime. In general, it’s a good book, although Hiltermann overreaches in his conclusions a bit. I’ll save my review until the Summer 2008 Middle East Quarterly, when it will come out.
That said, I found pages 202-205 interesting in relation to earlier Corner discussions about how intelligence officials seek to freelance policy through selective leaking. Most striking is that Pat Lang, the person who made it his crusade at the time to defend Saddam against accusations of involvement in the chemical attack, remains a conduit for questionable and politicized intelligence community leaks and the source for much of the conspiratorial nonsense leaked to the press surrounding the Iraq war (during which time he did not acknowledge to journalists that he was registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act).
A few excerpts from Joost Hiltermann’s book:
The two most visible proponents of the Iran/Halabja thesis are Stephen Pelletière and Col. Walter “Pat” Lang…
“Pat Lang [then at the Defense Intelligence Agency] was talking to Pat Tyler [then at The Washington Post] all the time.”
The original source for Pelletière’s claims [about Iranian, not Iraqi responsibility for the Halabja attack] was Pat Lang, a Vietnam veteran and the Pentagon’s chief of intelligence for the Middle East from 1985 to 1992, the favored unnamed official whom many journalists relied upon for comment… In Halabja, Lang claimed, Iran used crop dusters to drop chemical gas, rigging tanks to the plane to spray the has like an aerosol, but admitted that this “was a deduction on our parrt; we didn’t see them.” The hard evidence, he said, was classified. Lang did not mention any chemical shells in the interview… In an earlier interview by telephone, Lang explained he had fought a hard bureaucratic battle over this: “Nobody wanted to hear” about Iran’s chemical weapons use. “The Israelis played a considerable role in this.” When reports of Iranian chemical weapons use and programs came out, “they pooh-poohed them via their allies inside the US government.”
Historical revisionism took over: Journalists were reminded of alleged Iranian chemical attacks that had occurred earlier and somehow escaped notice. The canard entered the literature on the war, and after that, even those who had seen no convincing evidence that Iran had used chemical weapons were compelled to concede it might have…”