Secretary of State Colin Powell’s presentation wasn’t likely to win over anyone not already on his side. He ignored the crucial fact that in the last several days (in Sunday’s New York Times and yesterday’s briefing of UN journalists) Hans Blix has denied key components of Powell’s claims. Blix said UNMOVIC has seen “no evidence” of mobile biological weapons labs, has “no persuasive indications” of Iraq-Al Qaeda links, no evidence of Iraq hiding and moving WMD material either outside or inside Iraq, none of Iraq sending scientists out of the country, none on Iraqi intelligence agents posing as scientists, none on UNMOVIC conversations being monitored and none on UNMOVIC being penetrated.

Furthemorer, CIA and FBI officials still believe the Bush Administration is “exaggerating” information to make their political case for war. Regarding the alleged Iraqi link with Al Qaeda, US intelligence officials told the New York Times, “We just don’t think it’s there.”

Powell’s assessment of Iraq-Al Qaeda links was arguably his most compelling point. He played on the very real and reasonable fears of Americans and others about the capacity of Al Qaeda, focusing specifically on the potential threat posed by the al Zarqawi network.

But the disingenuous component was his clever segue from “al Zarqawi as danger” to “Iraq is harboring al Zarqawi,” a claim that is fundamentally unproven. There is simply no clear evidence of these links; US intelligence officials (both CIA and FBI), have accused the Bush Administration of politicizing–cooking–the evidence to bolster the political case for war. UNMOVIC chief Blix said that there are other countries with far greater links to Al Qaeda than Iraq.

Powell did acknowledge that the Al Qaeda-linked Islamist organization operating in Northern Iraq is “outside Saddam Hussein’s control.” But he does not mention the crucial matching factor, that that area is inside US control–and in fact the US has troops entering Northern Iraq on a daily basis, who presumably could deal with that group if it indeed posed such a danger. Powell quotes an alleged associate of al Zarqawi saying that “the situation in Iraq is good,” as evidence of al Zarqawi’s links with the government in Iraq. In fact, such a remark, if it occurred at all, could as easily have referred to Al Qaeda operatives being pleased that the likelihood of a US attack in Iraq could well lead to increased support for them, as the population in Iraq and across the region turns against a US invasion.

It was in this section that Powell returned again and again to “detainees tell us…,” “senior Al Qaeda operatives now detained…,” “detainees tell their story…” In this context, we have particular need to be vigilant regarding the question of torture. Detainees may indeed tell “a story”; given that they may well be undergoing or threatened with torture, their stories must be taken with significant caution.

And finally, the fear-mongering regarding the potential power of Al Qaeda networks should not be broadened to sweep Iraq into its orbit.

Powell said one thing at least partially true: “1441 is to try to preserve the peace” (although it’s not true that the US “wrote 1441 to try to preserve the peace”). We should take that commitment to peace as the right approach, continue inspections.

Finally, the “even if” rule applies. “Even if” everything Powell said was true, there is simply not enough evidence for war. There is no evidence of Iraq posing an imminent threat, no evidence of containment not working. Powell is asking us to go to war, risking the lives of 100,000 Iraqis in the first weeks, hundreds or thousands of US and other troops, political and economic chaos and more, because he thinks maybe in the future Iraq might rebuild its weapons systems and might decide to deploy weapons or might give those weapons to someone else who might use them against someone we like or give them to someone else who we don’t like. We reject going to war on spec.