The Magical Transformation of the Supreme War Crime into a “Miscalculation”

The third anniversary of the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq has brought out the very worst in our national news media. Consider an item on yesterday’s Six O’Clock News on BBC1. Diplomatic Correspondent Bridget Kendall declared solemnly:

“There’s still bitter disagreement over invading Iraq. Was it justified or a disastrous miscalculation?” (Kendall, BBC Six O’Clock News, March 20, 2006)

How could the war possibly be justified when the ‘justification’ was said by Tony Blair to be the “serious and current threat” posed by Iraqi WMD? And how can “disastrous miscalculation” be presented as the opposing argument?

Many people, including UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, believe the invasion was “illegal”, clearly in breach of the UN Charter.

Many people believe, as did the prosecutors at the post-WW2 Nuremberg trials, that initiating a war of aggression is “the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole”. (Quoted, Walter J. Rockler, ‘War crimes law applies to U.S. too,’ Chicago Tribune, May 23, 1999)

By what right does the BBC airbrush from reality the huge swath of public opinion which sees the invasion as “the supreme international crime”? Why did the BBC adopt the far less damaging description of “a disastrous miscalculation”? The message is that viewers are to believe that our government can be guilty of mistakes and “miscalculations”, but not war crimes.

In similar vein, the BBC’s World Affairs Correspondent, Paul Reynolds, reported:

“The third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq prompts some melancholy thoughts about how it was supposed to be – and how it has turned out.

“By now, according to the plan, Iraq should have emerged into a peaceful, stable representative democracy, an example to dictatorships and authoritarian regimes across the Middle East.

“The invasion would have been a memory.” (Reynolds, ‘Iraq three years on: A bleak tale,’ March 17, 2006;

Imagine if Reynolds had been reviewing the horror in Kuwait after the 1990 Iraqi invasion – would it have prompted “melancholy thoughts”? Or would such thoughts have suggested that Saddam had been well-intentioned but, alas, in life sometimes things just don’t go as planned?

Reynolds would surely have been castigated for suggesting that a murderous, illegal invasion might have been downgraded to a mere “memory”, rather than remain a live issue to be addressed and passionately resisted by the international community.

Likewise, the suggestion that Saddam’s stated “plan” for Kuwait bore any relation to his actual plan – based on his real, hidden priorities – would have left many a head shaking in disbelief.

Have these reporters and editors no shame? Have they no compassion for the terrible suffering of Iraqi people; suffering in which our government, and a compliant media, is deeply complicit?


The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Write to Bridget Kendall, BBC Diplomatic Correspondent
Email: [email protected]

Write to Paul Reynolds, BBC World Affairs Correspondent
Email: [email protected]

Write to Peter Horrocks, head of BBC television news
Email: [email protected]

Write to Helen Boaden, head of BBC news
Email: [email protected]

Please consider submitting an official complaint to the BBC at: