We spend the hour with Lauri Fitz-Pegado, the woman who ran the PR campaign for Hill and Knowlton, and John Stauber, co-author of "Weapons Of Mass Deception."
On December 19, 1990, Amnesty International published an 84-page report on human rights violations in occupied Kuwait. The report stated that, "300 premature babies were reported to have died after Iraqi soldiers removed them from incubators, which were then looted."
This allegation, which was widely reported by the global media, became one of the most often cited justifications for the 1991 Gulf War. On January 9 1991, President George HW Bush cited Amnesty’s report in a letter sent to campus newspapers across the country. In the Senate, six senators specifically cited the story in their speeches supporting the resolution to give Bush authorization to use American forces in Kuwait. That vote ultimately passed by a mere half-dozen votes.
But the most dramatic moment in this story came on October 10, 1990, when a 15 year old Kuwaiti girl, identified simply as Nayirah testified in front of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus that she had personally witnessed 15 infants taken from incubators by Iraqi forces who she said, "left the babies on the coal floor to die." California Democrat Tom Lantos explained that her identity would be kept secret to protect her family.
What was not said at the time is that Nayirah was the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the US, Saud Nasir al-Sabah. By March of 1991, Amnesty International took the unprecedented move of retracting its report, saying it had become clear that the allegations were baseless. [Includes transcript]
On October 17, Democracy Now! spoke with author and PR Watch co-founder John Stauber as well as retired Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner about the U.S. government’s use of psy-ops, propaganda and information warfare in the build up to the Iraq invasion.
Within that conversation John Stauber spoke about his findings that a new Jessica Lynch-related book is: "being promoted by … [the] Livingston Group’s Lauri Fitz-Pegado. She is infamous for her work at Hill & Knowlton PR in 1990 coaching the Kuwaiti girl called "Nayirah" in her shocking but phony testimony on Congressional hill that she’d seen Iraqi soldiers murdering Kuwaiti babies. That stunt helped propel the U.S. to war against Iraq in 1991. Fitz-Pegado’s client was the ruling family of Kuwait and the baby-killing claims were later shown to be false."
- "Toxic Sludge is Good for You" — excerpt of a documentary about the book Weapons of Mass Deception co-authored by PR Watch editors John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton.
- Lauri Fitz-Pegado, principal at the Livingston Group. She formerly worked at Gray and Company and Hill and Knowlton. Lauri Fitz-Pegado also served as Assistant Secretary and Director General of the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service at the Department of Commerce under former President Clinton. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
- John Stauber, co-founder of PR Watch and co-author of the book, Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush’s War on Iraq which takes a look at how the Bush administration’s highly successful public relations campaign sold the Iraqi war to the American public.
AMY GOODMAN:In a moment, we’re going to hear from the public relations consultant who ran Hill and Knowlton’s P.R. campaign around this issue. But first we’re going to go to an excerpt of the documentary, "Toxic Sludge Is Good For You," which begins with the retired Washington Post reporter, Arthur Rouse.
ARTHUR ROUSE:During the gulf war buildup during 1990, Hill & Knowlton, which was the public relations firm handling the account for the royal family of Kuwait, set up this separate organization called Citizens for a Free Kuwait. This was purely a public relations organization, and it was set up to make it look as if American citizens were joining together; and, of course they had only one or two American citizens involved in it. I think one of the most effective parts of this campaign to get the country to go to war was the testimony given by a young girl who was 14 years old, named Nayirah. She testified before a congressional committee. Unbeknownst to the public, this whole hearing was set up with the help of Hill & Knowlton. She testified that she saw Iraqi soldiers come into a hospital and dump babies out of incubators.
NAYIRA: ….took incubators and left the children to die on the cold floor.
ARTHUR ROUSE: But what’s so insidious about all of this is that in the Gulf War case, the reporters reported these things as straight news. They reported these demonstrations as straight news. They reported the hearing that Nayirah was at as straight news. They reported the U.N. Security council meeting as straight news, even though it was very clear evidence that this was a public relations effort. The reporters know — they can see, and they know people in the public relations industry very well. They can see them around there. They could see all of the fingerprints. It wasn’t until five months later that ABC sent a reporter named John Martin over there to the hospital where she was working as a volunteer, and discovered that there was nothing to the story at all. There might have been an accidental fall of a baby out of an incubator, but that was the only part of the story that was true.
IRAQI WOMAN: No, they didn’t take them away from the incubator. To tell you the truth, there was no nurses — that’s why they died.
REPORTER:This is very specific, Iraqi soldiers took them out of the incubators and put them on the floor to die.
IRAQI MAN: I think that this is something else — for propaganda.
ARTHUR ROUSE: In fact, it wasn’t until over a year later that another reporter, Rick McArthur of Harpers magazine, called the Kuwaiti embassy and asked who Nayirah was. Any reporter could have done this, but nobody had. He found out that she was the daughter of the ambassador from Kuwait to this country. I don’t think this country would have gone to war, really — sitting there at that point, if it hadn’t been for this story, because this was such a powerful story and kept being repeated over and over again.
VARIOUS SPEAKERS: They stole the incubators, and threw the babies out of the incubators.
Twenty-two newborn babies were in incubators at the hospital, and the troops, the Iraqi troops turned off the oxygen.
14 newborn babies that had been taken from their incubators.
Whose troops have bayoneted pregnant women and have ripped babies from their incubators in Kuwait.
They had kids in incubators, and they were thrown out of the incubators so that Kuwait could be systematically dismantled.
AMY GOODMAN: Excerpt of the film, "Toxic Sludge Is Good For You." On October 17, Democracy Now! spoke with author and P.R. Watch co-founder John Stauber as well as retired Air Force Colonel Sam Gardner about the US Government’s use of psyops, psychological operations and propaganda information and warfare in the buildup to the Iraq invasion. In that conversation, John Stauber spoke about his findings that a new Jessica Lynch-related book, is being promoted by the Livingston Group’s Laurie Fitz-Pegado. He said she is the woman who worked for Hill & Knowlton in 1990 around the Nayirah testimony that was presented to the human rights caucus, now working for the Livingston group, which is promoting the book, "because each life is precious–why an Iraqi man came to risk everything for Private Jessica Lynch.
That book has just been released. It is by Mohammad Oda Al-Rahayf, who also works for the Livingston Group. He is the 33-year-old Iraqi lawyer who was granted asylum in the US for tipping the US Marines to Jessica Lynch’s whereabouts in the hospital in Iraq.
Today we are joined by Laurie Fitz-Pegado to respond to John Stauber, who joins us as well from Madison, Wisconsin. We welcome you both to Democracy Now! We start off with Laurie Fitz-Pegado to respond to what has been laid out. Welcome to Democracy Now!.
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be here. I would — Amy, there’s quite a bit to respond to, but let me say in summary that you did begin your program with quite a compelling piece about Amnesty International and their belief that indeed this had occurred. At the time there was quite a bit of public, credible, reputable information about such events having occurred: incubators, babies taken out of incubators.
The testimony of Nayirah al-Sabah, who, by the way, testified using her first name at the request of the committee staff and member along with five other witnesses. She was not the only one who used only her first name. The fear was that there might be retribution on the families of those who were testifying, not only the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador but the other five witnesses who had equally compelling stories, but perhaps the media did not feel so, and they chose to promote the statement of Nayirah al-Sabah. She was not coached by me or anyone else. Her statement was made in what I considered to be an honest and credible fashion. I spent two-and-a-half hours with her alone, listening to her account of what she saw. It was proven that she was indeed in Kuwait at the time. She was visiting her sister, who was having a baby in a hospital in Kuwait City. It was quite credible, indeed, to me that she had witnessed such an event as she was a volunteer at a hospital there.
It was documented in the Kroll Report, a pre-eminent and globally recognized, credible organization, Kroll International. They did go and conduct an investigation, and did come back and write a report, which is available to all who would like to see it, I believe, if you contact them, where they did indeed substantiate the fact that she was in Kuwait. Her passport said so at that time. She was said to have been a volunteer at a hospital or to have been at a hospital at that time. And that it was indeed credible and possible that she saw this event take place. Amnesty International thought it took place, or similar events, and I, as a public relations executive representing not the government of Kuwait, but citizens for a free Kuwait, an organization of Kuwaitis-in-exile, who have been forced to leave their country upon the invasion of Iraq, had other accounts of equally atrocious events that had occurred. There were visual images all over our televisions of people who had been — who have suffered under these Iraqi forces in their invaded countries. There were numerous accounts, incredible news organizations, and just because a public relations firm is involved in a system, a group of exiles, to tell information little known to the United States about a country that’s little known, Kuwait, would not imply to me either, number one, that it was false, number two, that the daughter of a diplomat — I was a diplomat myself, and I would hope that my daughter would not be tarred with the imagery of being a liar simply because she’s a diplomat’s daughter.
So that in summary, Amy, is what occurred. I’m happy to answer any other specific questions. I believed it at the time. I had no reason not to. I checked every source I possibly could as a responsible public relations executive. It was corroborated in public, credible resources. Such events could have occurred. I believed the young woman. She provided a compelling account to me. I had a 15-year-old at the time. I think I was a good judge of whether a 15-year-old was lying or not. I was in the room with her alone. Her father introduced me and left. I spent two-and-a-half hours with her. She was not coached. Therefore, I stand by the story. I believe it. I believed it at the time. I believe it now. I have no reason not to. And that’s where I stand.
AMY GOODMAN: Laurie Fitz-Pegado, who worked for Hill & Knowlton at the time for the Citizens for a Free Kuwait.. When we come back from our break we’ll also be joined by John Stauber, whose latest book is "Weapons of Mass Deception." Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: As we continue our conversation with Laurie Fitz-Pegado now with Livingston Group, at the time of the Persian Gulf War with Hill & Nolton; as well as John Stauber, author of "Weapons of Mass Deception, and founder of P.R. Watch in Madison, Wisconsin. John Stauber, your response to Laurie Fitz-Pegado.
JOHN STAUBER: Well, first of all, I think that we need to put the Hill & Nolton campaign to sell the first Gulf War to the American public in some context. Never in the history of public relations or warfare had we ever seen anything like this. As we know, Saddam Hussein had been a close political ally of the Bush and previous Reagan-Bush administrations until he took over Kuwait’s oil fields. And at that point, the administration had to demonize the man that up to that point it had been primarily concerned with protecting, and his image, they had needed to improve. The Citizens for Free Kuwait is a classic public relations front group that was organized and funded primarily by the government of Kuwait and members of the Kuwaiti royal family. They hired the Hill & Nolton firm to make sure that the United States went to war, and they eventually paid that firm well over $10 million to organize a variety of media events, to produce video news releases. What we remember is this false and deceptive testimony given by the 15-year-old daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States.
Her testimony certainly was false and deceptive, and it isn’t just Sheldon Ramton and I who have written about this, in "Toxic Sludge Is Good For You," or in our most recent book, "Weapons of Mass Deception." Far from it. There have been a number of books and award winning tv documentaries really demonstrating beyond any doubt that Nayirah’s name was not provided openly to the public, that the public was deceived, and even the report by the Krull Detective Agency, which Laurie referred to, which was completely paid for by the Kuwaiti government long after this event, undermined Nayirah’s testimony. Nayirah testified that she personally saw 15 babies pulled from incubators and left to die when she was a volunteer in the hospital. And by the time the Kuwaiti-hired Krull Detective Agency came out with its report, that was down to her being in the hospital for seconds on one day in August and seeing perhaps one baby somewhere. So, even if you buy the Krull report funded by the government of Kuwait, it completely undermines this shocking testimony that was provided.
Now, Laurie had said that at the time there was credible information that corroborated what Nayirah was saying. No, that’s not true at all. In one of the best books written, Rick McArthur’s book, "The Second Front, Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War," he tries to trace where this baby killing rumor started. And while there were rumors circulating that were picked up in some media, there was absolutely no documentation. Almost — the first time most people heard about this was Nayirah’s false and phony testimony. An excellent book written in 2002 by Randall Marlin titled, "Propaganda and the Ethics of Persuasion," also takes a long look at this, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation won an Emmy for its documentary "To Sell A War," a decade ago. And all of these authors and investigators came to the same conclusion. In fact, in that Emmy-award-winning documentary, Dee Elsop who worked on this campaign as a member of the Worthling Group said that indeed there were trainings with these individuals and that that was one of the services that Hill & Nolton provided.
AMY GOODMAN: Laurie Fits-Pegado.
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: Yes, let me try to take these things point by point. Just because something is award-winning doesn’t mean it’s true. I think perhaps Mr. Stauber, who assumes that all journalists are honest, might assume that all public relations executives are honest or that all daughters of diplomats are honest. I think that he’s using a double standard here. Indeed, the facts had never come out, and I have been, unfortunately, along with Hill & Nolton and Frank Mankowicz and others, have been trying to get the facts out when no one has been interested in reporting the facts, but only their own story to promote books like his book, "Weapons of Mass Deception," and Rick McArthur’s book and movies, etc, that are for profit-making at the expense of the truth.
The Krull Report was indeed commissioned by the government because the government, in the form of the ambassador, had been attacked, and his young daughter had been attacked for being a liar when she wasn’t. If I were a father, I perhaps would have commissioned such a report as well by a credible organization. And Mr. Stauber has misrepresented that report. I hope the listeners will get a copy of the report and read it themselves so they can interpret indeed what the Krull Report said about her indeed being there, which in many books and accounts has said that she wasn’t even in the country, which is a complete and total lie. The Krull Report does say that she was there and that indeed she likely did witness such an event. The question is how many babies she saw taken out of incubators, which is the point that Rick McArthur has made repeatedly and has accused me of misrepresenting. And I would say at this point, if it were one baby, it’s too many. The fact of matter is not how many babies but the fact that the event occurred and the atrocity that that denotes.
In terms of the names of the people who testified, it was public record, Mr. Stauber. All you have to do is go to the Human Rights Caucus, go to October, 1990, and you will find on the record the full names of every witness who testified. It was the journalists’ sloppy reporting and perhaps Mr. McArthur’s as well, that did not go to the committee and look at the record to see that it was available to the press, had they chosen to look for it. Number three, corroborated in press, I believe, and if someone would do some serious investigative journalism, that they would find that indeed the Amnesty report was reported in "The New York Times" at the time that Nayirah testified. Reports of incubaters and babies were reported in A.P., in "The New York Times," in U.P.I., and several other credible wire services. It was indeed in the press at the time. Not after the fact.
On the issue of Worthling and Dee Elsop. He was indeed with the Worthling group. It was an associate firm of Hill & Nolton. He was not involved in media training, and therefore, I think it’s difficult for him to comment on what occurred. There was some training provided for some individuals who were unfamiliar with the U.S. press and this is an example of being unfamiliar and having to be prepared to indeed address some of the misperceptions and allegations that aggressive press people bring out when one is being interviewed or is appearing before the press. We thought it was only responsible for us, representing again Citizens for a Free Kuwait, that was headed by a former Dean of the Kuwaiti University, Hassan Al Ibrahim, that included a former World Bank official, Fazzi Al Fattan(?). These were credible individuals in their own right. They were not part of the government. If there was money, which we did indeed discover after the fact, or along the way, that some of the money was coming from the government, we received checks that said Citizens for a Free Kuwait, which was registered as a non-profit organization. If indeed some of the money came from the government, that was not our responsibility. We received checks and payments from a non-profit organization headed by a former Dean of the Kuwaiti University, and including individuals who were private sector oil executives, some were in London, some were in the United States, some were students spread across the United States who paid dues to the organization.
AMY GOODMAN: John Stauber?
JOHN STAUBER: Well, you know, I think it’s interesting that Laurie Fitz-Pegado is really the only person I’m aware of who is out there still spinning these half-truths and fairy tales. Now, her bosses during this massive deception that was orchestrated by Hill & Nolton, were Craig Fuller who was actually in charge of this account. Laurie’s title I believe as Vice President at Hill & Nolton was, correct me if I’m wrong Laurie, Account Supervisor. —
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: No, my title was Senior Vice President, Managing Director, International Division, Hill & Nolton, Washington, D.C.
JOHN STAUBER: Were you the accounts supervisor?
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: Yes, i was.
JOHN STAUBER: Thank you —
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: Manager of the whole account.
JOHN STAUBER: —And your boss was Craig Fuller?
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: Part of the time. My boss was Robert Gray when it began and Craig Fuller took over.
JOHN STAUBER: And Craig Fuller was the person most directly in charge of —
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: —- Only for a couple of months.—-
JOHN STAUBER: — of running the account for the Citizens for a Free Kuwait. Isn’t that correct?
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: No, that is not correct. Craig Fuller wasn’t even at the firm until midway. He was not there in August of 1990 when Citizens for a Free Kuwait in the form of Hassan Al Ibrahim and Farbdul Al Fahan(?) approached our firm and asked us to represent their interests. There was no Craig Fuller at the firm at the time.
JOHN STAUBER: So he came on shortly after that?
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: Well, we only had this account, sir from August until December.
JOHN STAUBER: But he worked on the account?
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: He did come onboard, and I can’t recall exactly what month, but it was —
JOHN STAUBER: Well, the reason —
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: — toward the end of the account, perhaps sometime in the late —- after -—
JOHN STAUBER: —- The reason -—
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: — I think it was even was after the Human Rights Caucus Hearing. It might have been in November or October of that year when the account was over in December.
JOHN STAUBER: The reason Craig Fuller was so important, of course, is because he was Chief of Staff to George Bush, and this work that Hill & Nolton did representing the front group, Citizens for a Free Kuwait, to sell the first Gulf War to the American public was tremendously orchestrated with the Bush administration.
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: May I make a comment, Amy?
JOHN STAUBER: There was — well, actually, I’m just beginning to respond —to
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: Sorry.
JOHN STAUBER: —- to your comments. You know, this Nayirah testimony was sort of the best example of the deception, but we also had the prayer days organized around the country. We had false and deceptive testimony provided before the U.N. Security Council. We had dozens of video news releases prepared by Hill & Nolton that were aired by the media as news. I mean, this was a huge public relations campaign with one purpose, to make sure that the U.S. went to war, and the story of baby killing was the perfect hook for the media. Now, to say that Nayirah’s identity was available is just absurd. If her identity -—
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: Why don’t you check the record, Mr. Stauber? Why don’t you check the record instead of saying it was absurd. You know, I would really appreciate it if you would not continue —
JOHN STAUBER: What record? Today’s record? All you have to do is —
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: No, no. I want you to go to the Human Rights Caucus and look at the record from October, 1990, and determine whether was was a witness list with first and last names on it.
JOHN STAUBER: This is a little like "Alice In Wonderland." —
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: — No, it’s not, sir. You keep saying deceptive — (argument)
AMY GOODMAN: one at a time. one at a time. laurie fitz-pegado’s point is you could have figured out that nayirah was the daughter of the kuwaiti ambassador. people there could have figured this out, john stauber.
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: Absolutely. Thank you, Amy.
JOHN STAUBER: Well, possibly a good hard-nosed journalist who really wanted to question this and did the digging that Rick McArthur or the C.B.C. Fifth of State or others did later when Amnesty International and others disowned and disavowed and condemned this stunt might have figured it out at the time, but the truth is that none of the journalists who were covering that hearing reported who this young girl was, and that information was —
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: Why didn’t they?
JOHN STAUBER: —- that information was not announced to them, because -—
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: —- because they were lazy? -—
JOHN STAUBER: —- because it was meant to be kept secret. Here’s one for you, Laurie: Since you were reading all of the press clippings and watching the massive television coverage of it, why didn’t you just pick up the phone and say, 'to improve your coverage, why don't you mention that this young girl is the daughter of the ambassador.’? You did not -—
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: Let me answer that, may I answer that?
AMY GOODMAN: Laurie Fitz-Pegado.
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: The reason I did not do that, Mr. Stauber, which you are missing here, there were people’s lives at risk! Do you have any concept — ? You are talking about lies and cheating and misrepresentation. Do you believe that the Iraq invasion of Kuwait was justified? Do you believe there were no atrocities committed by Saddam’s fedayeen and by the troops in Kuwait? Do you believe that it is impossible to think that there could be any coverage that is accurate, that conveyed human rights violations and violence and abuse? You are implying, Mr. Stauber, that anyone who wrote, talked about, produced a video release, that all of this was somehow contrived. I don’t understand how you as an intelligent, thinking human being could possibly assume that. Could you respond to that for me please?
AMY GOODMAN: John Stauber.
JOHN STAUBER: What I heard you say is that you kept her name secret because in your opinion that was —
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: —- Not my opinion. The opinion of the Human Rights Caucus, sir. It was the Human Rights Caucus -—
JOHN STAUBER: — that kept her name secret?
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: —- who recommended that we protect the identity of every single witness, all six of them -—.
JOHN STAUBER: Okay. —
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: — by using their first names only. It was not my suggestion. I wasn’t smart enough to think of that.
JOHN STAUBER: Now, listen to what you are saying. On one hand, you are saying that everyone should have known who she was. On the other hand you’re saying there was a deliberate effort by the Human Rights Caucus to —.
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: —- because they are responsible, sir, and they are familiar with human rights abuses and cases and what happens to families of people who testify before their caucus. -—
AMY GOODMAN: So, just to clarify, just to clarify, Laurie Fitz-Pegado, in fact, her name was kept secret, and you’re saying that the Human Rights Caucus had a reason for that.
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: Her name was not kept secret!
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Senator —
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: Her first name was used, Nayirah, that is her real name!
AMY GOODMAN: But that would not identify her as the daughter of the ambassador. —
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: No, but, but —- Hassan and Ibrahim. -—
AMY GOODMAN: — These identities were kept secret during the Congressional Caucus.
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: Everyone’s first name was used!
AMY GOODMAN: But their identities were kept secret. First name doesn’t —
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: The identities were available on a piece of paper which was a witness list provided by the Committee for anyone who requested it.
AMY GOODMAN: As you said, though, the — Human Rights Caucus defended keeping the identities secret. In fact, Congressman Tom Lantos wrote a letter to "The New York Times" defending that decision to keep the identities secret.
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: Absolutely.
JOHN STAUBER: Laurie, do you have that piece of paper? I think you should provide it to Democracy Now! and I think you should provide a copy of the Krull Report to Democracy Now!. But —
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: Why don’t you look for it, Mr. Stauber. You are the investigative journalist who has written a book and you’re making money on it. Why don’t you go get the facts instead of promoting a book. —
JOHN STAUBER: Well, you know, when I tried to get the Krull Report —
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: You couldn’t get it?
JOHN STAUBER: —- it was not avaiable and—-
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: —- You could have called me. You never contacted me, Mr. Stauber -—
JOHN STAUBER: Well, I’m on the phone with you now, and I think you should just —
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: — you are already making money on your book. It’s after the fact. This is Monday morning quarterbacking, sir.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you, Laurie Fitz-Pegado, would you provide a copy of the Krull Report?
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: I certainly will.
AMY GOODMAN: Ok.
JOHN STAUBER: Let me just correct a couple of things. First of all, I don’t make any money on my book, Laurie. The books that Sheldon Ramton and I write are completely the property of a non-profit organization that we work for. We are paid salaries.
Secondly, you had said earlier that Amnesty International was out in front of the Nayirah story, and that is absolutely wrong. Amnesty International did not pick up on this until after the Nayirah testimony. The Nayirah testimony is the pivotal lie. It’s the point at which —
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: Why do you think it’s a lie, Mr. Stauber?
JOHN STAUBER: Yes, I do.
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: Why do you think it’s a lie, why?
JOHN STAUBER: Well, what did she say? She said she personally saw —
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: You believe she’s lying because she’s the Kuwaiti ambassador’s daughter.
JOHN STAUBER: If you read your own Krull Report, according to the "Washington Post" article on it —
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: You have not read the report.
JOHN STAUBER: Excuse me, according to the "Washington Post" — (argument)
AMY GOODMAN: Laurie Fitz-Pegado, let John Stauber explain.
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: Okay, go ahead (mumbles).
JOHN STAUBER: According to the "Washington Post" report on it, and according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation report on it, she admits that she was — if she was in the hospital at all, it was briefly, one day. She’s not even sure what day in August, for seconds, quote, unquote, seconds. And maybe she saw one child.
That is completely different than testifying that she saw 15 infants ripped from incubaters and left to die on the cold floor. That’s the news here. You’re a public relations expert and you understand exactly what was going on here. That news hook of Iraqi soldiers killing babies, that news hook is a proven way of gaining the attention of the media to drive home the central point of this whole P.R. campaign; which was to demonize a man who just months earlier had been an ally of the Bush administration, and convince the American public that this war was necessary. Were there real atrocities? Absolutely! In fact, some of the most horrible atrocities occurred while this man, Saddam Hussein, was an ally of the Bush administration. But those weren’t the atrocities that were highlighted in the Hill & Nolton campaign. You had to promote this phony story of baby killing.
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: May I respond, Amy?
AMY GOODMAN: Laurie Fitz-Pegado.
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: Thank you. Mr. Sauber, just a couple of points here. You know, I think it’s an insult to the American public and to any administration, Democrat or Republican — I happen to be a Democrat, and a very active one, and to allege that I was trying to help the first Bush administration in this effort is really quite interesting to me and probably to all of my friends, who know me and know my reputation and my politics. I had no intent of trying to help any administration go to war. Particularly the Bush administration during the Persian Gulf War.
JOHN STAUBER: Well, you did a good job of it.
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: Well, I don’t think I did. I think that you’re perhaps projecting here. The incident of the incubators and, as I said, I believed Nayirah. I believed her story. The Krull Report, — I think you should read it before you talk about what the press said it said. There may be a discrepancy in numbers, and, you know, I’m sorry if that’s the case. She said 15. That’s what her testimony said. Perhaps she was mistaken. I don’t know. You’ll have to ask her.
JOHN STAUBER: She’s not available, is she?
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: Well, you don’t know that. Have you —- excuse me, I don’t want to go into that. She’s alive. She’s a mother. She’s married and she has had to carry the burden of this since she was 15 years old. -—
JOHN STAUBER: Maybe you could help her, unburden her —
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: It’s my time to speak, thank you. — which I wouldn’t wish on any teen-ager to have to carry that throughout her life. And as for, you know, whether this was the 'pivotal event', I would hope that the administration at the time and the United States public could not be so moved by a five minute testimony of a 15-year-old that that was the pivotal event that took them to war, for goodness sake. I have a lot more credibility in the American public, and in any administration, Republican or Democrat. So, I think that your allegations are really quite sensational, and unfounded, and that, you know, I just — I just cannot understand it.
AMY GOODMAN: We have to break for stations to identify themselves. We’re talking to Laurie Fitz-Pegado, who is now with Livingston Group. She was with Hill & Nolton, Senior Vice President there during the Persian Gulf War and the lead-up to it, and represented the organization Citizens for a Free Kuwait during this period leading up to the war, during the period that a young woman testified before the Human Rights Caucus, the Congressional Human Rights Caucus. John Stauber is with us. He is the author of "Weapons of Mass Deception." We’ll be back with them in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: You are listening to Democracy Now!. That was Marvin Gay, I’m Amy Goodman, this is the War and Peace report,Democracy Now!.
As we continue our debate with Lauri Fitz-Pegado, who works for the consulting firm, Livingston Group, at the time of the Persian Gulf War was the Senior Vice President at Hill & Knowlton. We’re also joined by John Stauber, who is the co-author of the book, "Weapons of Mass Deception."
We ended on the point of Lauri Fitz-Pegado talking about whether the testimony of the 15-year-old girl before the Congressional Human Rights Caucus had an effect.
Just to reiterate the kind of effect that it had: on January 8, Steven Solarz, who was then a congressman, Democrat on the House Committee of Foreign Affairs, quoted the report verbatim, Amnesty’s report, saying 300 premature babies were reported to have died after Iraqi soldiers removed them from incubators; the following day, President George Bush cited the Amnesty report in a letter sent to campus newspapers across the country; six Senators specifically cited the story in their speeches supporting the resolution to give Bush authorization to use force. That vote ultimately passed by a mere half dozen votes. Vice President Dan Quayle saying there are pictures that Saddam Hussein doesn’t want us to see, pictures of premature babies in Kuwait that were tossed out of their incubators and left to die.
Lauri Pitz-Pegado, Amnesty International retracted their Report in a very rare move. What is your response to that?
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: I don’t really have one. That was way after the fact. We ended that representation, as I mentioned in December or I believe early January 1991 well before any vote or major escalation about going to war.
We did it intentionally because Hill & Knowlton said from day one that it would never take a position pro or con the war. We are a bipartisan firm. there were democrats like me, and Frank Mankowicz and Joe Shooker and others who have worked hard to establish our democratic credentials. We do not take part in partisan politics.
AMY GOODMAN: So, the account was for four months, a $10 million account?
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: No, it was August to — August, September, October, November, December — it was five months. I think it ended officially in January. It was, as reported in the Foreign Agency Registration Act, which is required by the Justice and the U.S. government, every penny was reported.
A lot of that was for expenses. As Mr. Stauber has said, there were video news releases. There was travel. There were buttons, the banners, et cetera. So, a lot of it went into expenses. Probably a larger percentage than is the norm in the industry, which is usually around 20%, 25%. It was probably much higher than that for this particular account.
AMY GOODMAN: The account overall was $10 for million?
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: I think it was about $10 million, if I’m not mistaken. It was 12 years ago. So, my memory may fail me.
AMY GOODMAN: No, just to clarify something. You object when anyone says that Hill & Knowlton was representing the government of Kuwait; you say they were representing the non-profit citizens —
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: For a free Kuwait.
AMY GOODMAN: Hill & Knowlton would represent a government, and in the case of C.F.K., Citizens for a Free Kuwait, reported in the Justice Department receipts that $17,000 of Citizens for a Free Kuwait came from 78 individual U.S. and Canadian contributors and $11,852,000 came from the government of Kuwait. So, wouldn’t you actually say it was coming from the government of Kuwait?
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: I would today say that, but at the time, I believe that is also — you know, we’re doing a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking here.
When we reported to the Justice Department, we reported a receipt of funds from Citizens for a Free Kuwait. I believe that the source of that funding was discovered either midway or toward the end or after the account had actually ended, and there is nothing illegal about that. We simply had to report that we received money, what we received it for and what we did; which we did. There were no legal questions about Hill & Knowlton’s comportment.
AMY GOODMAN: Right. So, why say it was not from the Government?
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: Those were not the terms under which we took the account. I think it’s important that people understand that we were not retained by the government. We were retained by what we understood was a citizen’s group of exiles.
AMY GOODMAN: And now?
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: Now, I do understand and accept the fact that much of their money, the majority of their money, came from the government of Kuwait. But that doesn’t change what we did and why we did it.
JOHN STAUBER: Why did you do it?
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: We did it because we believed that it was a responsible thing to do to be retained by and to represent a group of Kuwaiti exiles whose country had been invaded before an American public that was very, very ignorant, unfortunately, about who and what Kuwait was. They —
JOHN STAUBER: A group that —
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: Most Americans could not put it on the map.
JOHN STAUBER: A group that wanted the United States to go to war to drive the Iraqi army out of their country.
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: I believe that you are accurate, Mr. Stauber, in saying that the people whose country had been invaded wanted it back. Now, how they got it back, I talked to hundreds of them. Not all of them were supportive of war. They wanted their country back. They wanted their homes. They wanted to take their families back. They didn’t really care how it occurred. They just wanted it to occur. Many of them were peace-loving, you know, normal citizens, people with families, with children, with aunts and uncles that were stuck over there, with mothers and fathers that we’re still in the country. They wanted peace. They wanted their country back.
JOHN STAUBER: Amy, could I respond?
AMY GOODMAN: John Stauber.
JOHN STAUBER: First of all, in — on our website at prwatch.org, if you go to prwatch.org and click on the cover of our book, "Toxic Sludge is Good for You," anyone can read our long excerpt from the book detailing the campaign by Hill & Knowlton on behalf of Citizens for a Free Kuwait to make sure that the U.S. went to war. But I want to read just a brief excerpt from that to give people an idea of the sense of the extensiveness of this campaign because it was unprecedented.
Jack O’Dwyer had reported on the PR business for more than 20 years, but he was awed by the rapid and expansive work of Hill & Knowlton on behalf of Citizens for a Free Kuwait. O’Dwyer reported (and he’s the premier PR trade press journalist at the time) Hill & Knowlton has assumed a role in world affairs unprecedented for a PR firm.
They have employed a stunning variety of opinion forming devices and techniques to help keep U.S. opinion on the side of the Kuwaitis.
The techniques range from full scale press conferences showing torture and other abuse by the Iraqis to the distribution of tens of thousands of Free Kuwait t-shirts and bumper stickers at college campuses across the U.S.
Then we write: Documents filed with the U.S. Department of Justice showed that 119 Hill & Knowlton executives in 12 offices across the U.S. were overseeing the Kuwait account. The firm’s activities is listed in this report to the Justice Department, including arranging media interviews for visiting Kuwaitis, setting up observances such as national free Kuwait day, national prayer day for Kuwait, national student information day, organizing public rallies, releasing hostage letters to the media, distributing news releases and information kits, contacting politicians at all levels and producing a nightly radio show in Arabic from Saudi Arabia. That was Arthur Rouse reporting in The Progressive after the war.
One of the things that the campaign did was produce dozens of video news releases. When Arthur Rouse, who was heard on the Toxics Sludge video earlier, tried to obtain those to analyze them for an article that he was writing in The Progressive, Hill & Knowlton would not provide them. I think it’s important to realize, just like the current war, the first Gulf War could never have been sold had the news media not gone along with the Hill & Knowlton and first Bush administration effort.
When Lauri talks about all of these images that we saw and all the TV reports, we’ll never know how many of those images—but I would suspect it was tremendously, a very high number— were the result of these video news releases that were actually produced by Hill & Knowlton and aired by the media as if it were news.
AMY GOODMAN: Lauri Gitz-Pegado, did you feel that the video news releases had a big effect in the United States when the media used them?
LAURI FITZ-PEGADO: I think it’s unfair to say that the only source of news information and images was Hill & Knowlton’s video news releases. Let’s talk about the others. You are giving the impression, Mr. Stauber, that Hill & Knowlton was this machine that was the only source of information for the government, for the American public on what was happening in Kuwait.
AMY GOODMAN: On that note, we’re going to have to wrap up the discussion, but I would ask that you both come back and we continue it because it’s a very important one to look at the relationship of public relations firms and the press.
Lauri Fitz-Pegado of the Livingston group now, formerly with Hill & Knowlton. John Stauber, his latest book, "Weapons of Mass Deception." Thank you for being with us. Our website is democracynow.org.