by Bill Berkowitz / WorkingForChange –
(January 16, 2004) — In early January, the Bush Administration withdrew the Joint Captured Material Exploitation Group — a 400-member team searching Iraq for military equipment — from the country, leaving about 1,000 people still involved in the hunt.
David Kay, the head of the team searching for weapons of mass destruction stockpiles, also appears ready to call it quits.
Hans Blix, the former United Nations chief weapons inspector, believes the Bush Administration may “have given up on [finding] the weapons.” In a television interview, President Bush wondered what the difference was between weapons of mass destruction and weapons of mass destruction “programs.”
Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair still claims the WMD exist, but by early January he allowed that he wasn’t sure they would ever be found. And allegations are circulating in British intelligence circles that Saddam Hussein may have been fooled into believing he actually had weapons of mass destruction when he didn’t.
Iraq ‘Had No Funcitoning WMDs’
An early-January story in the Washington Post and a recent report from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace confirms what all but administration true believers have suspected to be true for some time: Iraq had no functioning weapons of mass destruction programs that could immediately threaten the United States.
In a long piece dated January 7, the Washington Post‘s Barton Gellman wrote: “Investigators have found no support for the two main fears expressed in London and Washington before the war: that Iraq had a hidden arsenal of old weapons and built advanced programs for new ones.”
The Carnegie report, entitled “WMD in IRAQ: Evidence and Implications,” concludes that Bush Administration “officials misrepresented [the] threat from Iraq’s WMD and ballistic missiles programs over and above intelligence findings.” One of the report’s authors, Joseph Cirincione, senior associate and non-proliferation project director at Carnegie — a Washington, DC-based think tank that opposed the war — stated: “We think it’s highly unlikely that there will be any significant finds from now on.”
The findings in the report were the result of more than six months of work, and were based on hundreds of documents and dozens of interviews with specialists, former weapons inspectors and current and former US officials.
These days, if the Bush Administration has its way, the phrase “weapons of mass destruction” would disappear into the ether the way the term “Chads” did after it received more than its 15 minutes during the counting of the ballots in Florida in 2000. And while “chads” evoked an almost-playful mockery of all things that could go wrong politically, the more sinister-sounding “weapons of mass destruction” (WMD) — which became President Bush’s mantra while arguing for his invasion of Iraq — was aimed at signifying a serious threat to America. (In 2002, “weapons of mass destruction” was cited by yourDictionary.com as the second top phrase of the year; WMD still resonated in 2003, but it dropped to fourth in the Web site’s rankings.)
Bush on Saddam’s WMD
Just how widespread was Bush’s WMD-speak? In a June 2003 article published at FindLaw.com, John Dean, former White House Counsel to President Richard Nixon, put together a collection of the president’s comments relating to weapons off mass destruction:
• “Right now, Iraq is expanding and improving facilities that were used for the production of biological weapons.”
— United Nations Address, September 12, 2002
• “Iraq has stockpiled biological and chemical weapons, and is rebuilding the facilities used to make more of those weapons.”
• “We have sources that tell us that Saddam Hussein recently authorized Iraqi field commanders to use chemical weapons — the very weapons the dictator tells us he does not have.”
— Radio Address, October 5, 2002
• “The Iraqi regime . . . possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons. It is seeking nuclear weapons.”
• “We know that the regime has produced thousands of tons of chemical agents, including mustard gas, sarin nerve gas, VX nerve gas.”
• “We’ve also discovered through intelligence that Iraq has a growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas. We’re concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using these UAVS for missions targeting the United States.”
• “The evidence indicates that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program. Saddam Hussein has held numerous meetings with Iraqi nuclear scientists, a group he calls his “nuclear mujahideen” — his nuclear holy warriors. Satellite photographs reveal that Iraq is rebuilding facilities at sites that have been part of its nuclear program in the past. Iraq has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes and other equipment needed for gas centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons.”
— Cincinnati, Ohio Speech, October 7, 2002
• “Our intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent.”
— State of the Union Address, January 28, 2003
• “Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.”
— Address to the Nation, March 17, 2003
Who’s got the WMD•
For months, conjecture about Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons stash ran the gamut from Saddam Hussein having shipped them to Syria for safe-keeping (On Friday, January 9, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice admitted there was no evidence that this had happened), sold them to terrorist organizations, or hid them in the desert in a country, administration officials grew fond of noting, that was about the size of California.
“Perhaps,” wrote Gerald Baker in the Financial Times, the capture of Saddam Hussein “will unravel the puzzle of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) that continues to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the invasion.” Thus far Saddam’s capture hasn’t produced any revelations about stockpiles of weapons.
Then there’s the recent report in the Guardian: British officials are circulating a theory that Hussein “may have been hoodwinked into believing that Iraq really did possess weapons of mass destruction,” when in fact it didn’t. According to the Guardian‘s Richard Norton-Taylor and Julian Borger, “Saddam and his senior advisers and commanders were told by lower-ranking Iraqi officers that his forces were equipped with usable chemical and biological weapons. The officers did not want to tell their superiors that the weapons were either destroyed or no longer usable.” Does this mean that the war was legitimate, because although the emperor had no WMD, he didn’t know it?
‘Operation Mass Appeal’
On Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now in late December, Scott Ritter, a former UN weapons inspector in Iraq, talked about his work with “Operation Mass Appeal,” a propaganda campaign organized by British intelligence to funnel dubious data to the media aimed at “shap[ing] public opinion” in Great Britain and the United States about Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction.
Now, nearly ten months after invading Iraq, and months after launching its search for Iraq’s WMD, Hans Blix thinks that the Bush Administration may be about to call it quits. Asked by the BBC to comment on reports that David Kay, the head of the Iraq Survey Group — the US-led coalition’s weapons search outfit in Iraq — is about to leave his post, Blix said: “Certainly, it is an indication that the US government is giving much higher priority to the search for terrorists than the search for weapons.” He added that the Bush Administration “might even have given up on the weapons.”
“I think the vast majority of people are feeling there is very little likelihood that they [the Iraqis] had anything, and the biggest chance is that they destroyed them in 1991,” Blix added.
In late-December, the New York Times editorialized that Kay’s team “turned up little of significance so far, its work has been slowed by a lack of security, and some of its staff and budget is being diverted to help in the struggle against Iraqi insurgents.”
Blix’s BBC interview followed on the heels of recent comments by President Bush during an interview with ABC television’s Diane Sawyer. In the interview, the president indicated that he saw no difference between actual weapons of mass destruction — which the administration repeatedly claimed Iraq possessed — and weapons of mass destruction programs — a term the administration has used in recent months since actual WMD have not been discovered in Iraq.
“So what’s the difference?.. If he [Saddam] were to acquire weapons, he would be the danger,” Bush said. “A gathering threat, after 9-11, is a threat that needed to be dealt with, and it was done after 12 long years of the world saying the man’s a danger.” The president added: “I’m telling you and I made the right decision for America because Saddam Hussein used weapons of mass destruction, invaded Kuwait. But the fact that he is not there is, means America’s a more secure country.”
Senator Bill Nelson of Florida may have added a bit of fuel to the nearly extinguished WMD fire by claiming that the Bush Administration “told senators last year that Saddam Hussein definitely possessed biological and chemical weapons and that his unmanned drones could reach cities on the East Coast,” Harper’s Magazine’s “Weekly Review” recently pointed out.
So, it has come to this: After months of hyping Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction as a justification for invading Iraq, and after spending hundreds of millions searching for them, the administration is now saying goodbye to all that. And, they add, since we’ve captured Saddam Hussein it’s now time to move on.
“‘In my many years on (Capitol Hill),’ one veteran congressional staffer told IPS, ‘I don’t know that I’ve seen anything quite as cynical as this. They’re clearly hoping that Congress and the American public will just forget that they waged war because of a threat that never existed but that they hyped to kingdom come.'”
Ironically, or maybe not so unexpectedly, in a Washington Times op-ed piece, Helle Dale, the Deputy Director of The Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation, entitled “Goodbye To All That: 2003 was the year of Iraq,” doesn’t even mention the term “weapons of mass destruction.”
In his FindLaw.com piece, John Dean speculated that not finding Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction could be a scandal of greater proportion than Watergate: “To put it bluntly, if Bush has taken Congress and the nation into war based on bogus information, he is cooked. Manipulation or deliberate misuse of national security intelligence data, if proven, could be ‘a high crime’ under the Constitution’s impeachment clause. It would also be a violation of federal criminal law, including the broad federal anti-conspiracy statute, which renders it a felony ‘to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose.'”
At this point, if there’s any scandal at all it’s that the mainstream media is not holding the Bush Administration accountable for its misinformation and disinformation campaign about WMD stockpiles in Iraq. The “chad” crisis obfuscated the outcome of Election 2000 and brought us the presidency of George W. Bush; the “weapons of mass destruction” yarn has produced close to 500 US dead and thousands more wounded. Add that to the thousands of dead and injured Iraqis and we see the destruction caused by Bush’s weapons of mass devastation.
Upon the publication of the Carnegie Endowment’s report, Joseph Cirincione called for the creation of an independent commission to further investigate the study’s findings. In December, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, told CBS’ Face the Nation that there might be public hearings on the Bush Administration’s weapons of mass destruction claims, beginning sometime in February. With the Post’s story and the Carnegie report under their belts, the committee should have a lot more to work with. Will the mainstream media come along for the ride?
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