"While I was there, I saw the Iraqi soldiers come into the hospital with guns. They took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators and left the children to die on the cold floor. It was horrifying. I could not help but think of my nephew who was born premature and might have died that day as well."
It was this tear-filled testimony before Congress in 1990 that arguably tipped the balance in both public and political opinion for Gulf War
One. It was given by a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl who was only identified as Nayirah (ostensibly for reasons of security her real identify was kept secret). Nayirah claimed to be a volunteer nurse
in a preemie
ward at the al-Adan Hospital and witnessed this horror. Reports claimed up to 300 preemies died. Amnesty International
backed up Nayirah's story.
The problem was, none of it was true. It was a story concocted by the American PR firm Hill and Knowlton
(one of the world's largest PR firms and presumably one of the least discriminating1
). Hill and Knowlton coached Nayirah's "testimony" right down to which parts she should cry. Hill and Knowlton themselves were hired by a state-side group called Citizens for a Free Kuwait
, which was bank rolled by the Kuwaiti government. Hill and Knowlton were paid over $11 million for an America-should-kick-the-shit-out-of-Iraq
They would have gotten away with it too if it weren't for, initially, an ABC
news story in March 1991 that cast some doubt on Nayirah's testimony. Kuwaiti hospital officials denied Iraqi soldiers dumped any babies out of incubators. Incredibly no major media organization followed up, although a red-faced Amnesty International removed the incident from their database
The story probably would have died another death if Harper's magazine publisher John R. MacArthur
didn't then pick up the fumbled ball and run with it. A January 1992 op-ed piece in the New York Times
penned by MacArthur revealed "Nayirah" was in fact the Kuwaiti ambassador's daughter. What's more, she was no where near Kuwait when the invasion began. She was living it up in her dad's DC-area mansion. Oddly enough her neighbor was none other than Ted Kennedy
. Rather odd Senator Kennedy didn't recognize her.
As it turns out, Hill and Knowlton hatched the incubator baby story after they conducted a $1 million R&D effort to determine what would swing American opinion. Americans, still not over Vietnam
, were not entirely keen to see America commit upwards of half a million troops to "free" a nation ruled by a monarchy
that only let a minority of its citizens vote.
Sure America managed to invade a couple golf courses in the '80s without massive loss of life but Americans generally understood the Iraqi army to be large and well trained. This time American troops wouldn't face soccer players armed with AK47s that they encountered in Grenada
but, ostensibly, battle-hardened warriors lead by a military genius.
So, how to get America to over come its fear of laying down thousand of American lives to put a king back in power. Wasn't America founded when people deposed their king? It all seemed ass backwards
. Free a people by giving them back their king. Okay, whatever you say Chester
Hill and Knowlton's research concluded stories of atrocities, particularly against defenseless babies
, would do the trick. It was money well spent, although they could have done it on the cheap if they checked out posters and PR the Brits used during World War I
to get America on side in the Great War
. The Hun
, the American public was told, were subhuman killers. For fun and sport, the Hun would take Belgium
babies, throw them into the air, and try to spear them on the end of bayonet
s. They would nail babies to the wall and use them as target practice!
The two House Representatives who got the congressional hearing going actually received $50,000 the Citizens for a Free Kuwait organization to set up their own foundation, the Congressional Human Rights Foundation. They also got swank
offices in Hill and Knowlton's swank Washington
There's a famous story, passed around in the PR world, that a Hill and Knowlton executive once quipped "We'd represent Satan
, if he paid."