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Remember Dead Babies in Iraq?

Updated: Oct 16, 2023

October 1990 - The day "Nayirah" changed public opinion and Fake News Propelled the US into the First Gulf War.

Back in the fall of 1990, there was a jaw-dropping moment on Capitol Hill. A fifteen-year-old Kuwaiti girl, known as "Nayirah," stepped up to testify before the Congressional Human Rights Caucus. Her story was nothing short of horrifying, a chilling account of the atrocities committed by Iraqi soldiers in her war-torn homeland. It was a tale that sent shockwaves through the halls of Congress and played a role in the U.S. decision to enter the Gulf War later that year.


Nayirah's heart-wrenching account was etched into the collective memory of the American public. She described how Iraqi soldiers callously removed innocent babies from their incubators, leaving them to suffocate in the hot desert air. Her testimony struck a chord and seemed to be corroborated by others, including respected organizations like Amnesty International and fellow Kuwaiti evacuees who had witnessed the horrors.



"Public relations" or "fake news"? Fast forward to 1992, and the New York Times dropped a bombshell that would shake the foundations of Nayirah's testimony. It turned out that her heartrending account was meticulously orchestrated by the high-powered public relations firm Hill & Knowlton, acting on behalf of their client, the Kuwaiti-sponsored Citizens for a Free Kuwait. Their ultimate goal? To rally support from the United States by highlighting the perceived threat posed by Saddam Hussein, Iraq's dictator.



What made this revelation all the more astonishing was the discovery that Nayirah was no ordinary civilian caught up in the chaos of war. In fact, she was none other than the daughter of the Kuwaiti Ambassador to the United States, adding another layer of complexity to an already convoluted story.


So, what prompted this contested testimony? Well, it all began when a Kuwaiti expatriate in New York approached Hill & Knowlton. Sensing an opportunity, the firm agreed to collaborate with Citizens for a Free Kuwait. To bolster their cause, a substantial $1 million study was commissioned to determine the most effective strategy for garnering support.



Enter the Wirthington Group, tasked with conducting focus groups to uncover the best way to sway public opinion. Their findings pointed towards emphasizing tales of Iraqi atrocities, with the incubator story taking center stage as the most compelling narrative.


As the dust settled, it was estimated that Hill & Knowlton had received a staggering $12 million from their Kuwaiti patrons for their formidable public relations campaign. The revelation of this grand orchestration left many questioning the authenticity of the narrative that had played a pivotal role in shaping the course of history.



Nayirah's testimony reverberated across the nation. Hill & Knowlton, wasted no time in spreading the word. They packaged the entire hearing into a video news release and dispatched it to Medialink, a firm with ties to nearly 700 television stations throughout the United States.


That night, the American public tuned in to hear snippets of Nayirah's harrowing account on ABC's "Nightline" and NBC's "Nightly News." It was a moment that gripped the nation, with an estimated viewership ranging from 35 to 53 million Americans.



The echoes of Nayirah's words reached even the highest echelons of power. President George Bush and several senators invoked her testimony as they made their case for the use of force in the impending war in the weeks that followed.


However, on the other side of the world, Iraq vehemently denied the allegations. On October 16, 1990, Iraqi Information Minister Latif Nassif al-Jassem retorted through the Iraqi News Agency, accusing President Bush of exploiting Nayirah's testimony for political gain. He chided, "Now you [Bush] are using what he [Sheikh Jaber] told you to make Congress ratify the budget which is in the red because of your policies." Al-Jassem didn't stop there, adding a stinging rebuke: "You, as the president of a superpower, have to weigh words carefully and not act as a clown who repeats what he is told."



As time marched on, the narrative of the incubator story began to unravel, confronted by a mounting body of contradictory evidence.


On October 21, 1990, journalists were granted access to Kuwait, escorted by Iraqi information ministry officials. What they discovered contradicted Nayirah's claims as doctors at a Kuwaiti maternity facility vehemently denied the incubator allegations.


When Kuwait was liberated in March 1991, reporters flooded into the country. An ABC report uncovered a tragic reality: "Patients, including premature babies, did die when many of Kuwait’s nurses and doctors fled." However, the shocking revelation was that Iraqi troops had "almost certainly not stolen hospital incubators and left hundreds of Kuwaiti babies to die."



A year later, The New York Times dropped a bombshell exposé, laying bare the apparent web of deception woven by Hill & Knowlton. In response, the firm staunchly defended its actions, insisting that no media outlets had been permitted entry into Kuwait after Nayirah's testimony to either substantiate or refute her accounts.


In 1992, Middle East Watch, a division of Human Rights Watch, waded into the fray. They conducted a thorough investigation into the claims surrounding the incubator story and issued their findings. "While it is true that the Iraqis targeted hospitals, there is no truth to the charge which was central to the war propaganda effort that they stole incubators and callously removed babies, allowing them to die on the floor," stated its director, Andrew Whitley. He didn't mince words, adding, "The stories were manufactured from germs of truth by people outside the country who should have known better." Even Amnesty International chimed in, asserting that they found no evidence to support these alleged Iraqi atrocities.



You know me; I'm not here to dictate the truth, but as the events of this past week unfolded, witnessing the entire media landscape and the reaction of the U.S. administration to the distressing reports of casualties in Israel, including the tragic deaths of babies and harrowing accounts of Holocaust survivors subjected to violence, it compelled me to reflect on how such news can quickly propagate fear, outrage, and revulsion. These emotions can reach a point where the public, especially in the Western world, becomes primed to endorse extreme responses.



I'm by no means implying that these situations are equivalent. I've personally seen videos that I wish I hadn't, but when we delve into history, it can offer insights into the present. Perhaps, just perhaps, we should pause for a moment before rushing into any decisions that could potentially spark a third world war merely out of our immediate outrage.


Well, that's it for today, folks. Stay tuned for more insights from yours truly.


Stay Safe, Stay Curious and for goodness sake, dont believe anything you hear from the 10,000.


Jesse


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