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Yes, They Lied
By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
The President of the United States and the Secretary of Defense would not assert as plainly and bluntly as they have that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction if it was not true, and if they did not have a solid basis for saying it.
- Ari Fleischer, 12/4/2002
Find a defender of the White House on your television these days, and you are likely to hear them blame Bill Clinton for Iraq. Yes, you read that right. The talking point du jour lately has focused on comments made by Clinton from the mid-to-late 1990s to the effect that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and was a threat. The pretzel logic here, of course, is straightforward: this Democratic president thought the stuff was there, and that justifies the claims made by the Bush crew over the last few years about Iraqi weapons.
Let's take a deeper look at the facts. Right off the bat, it is safe to say that Clinton and his crew had every reason to believe Iraq was in possession of weapons of mass destruction during the 1990s. For one thing, they knew this because the previous two administrations - Reagan and Bush - actively assisted the Hussein regime in the development of these programs. In other words, we had the receipts.
After the first Gulf War, the United Nations implemented a series of weapons inspections under the banner of UNSCOM, and scoured Iraq for both weapons and weapons production facilities. They lifted bombed buildings off their foundations, they used a wide range of detection technologies, and after seven years of work, they disarmed Iraq.
A good place to start any detailed discussion of this matter is with former UNSCOM chief weapons inspector Scott Ritter, who spent seven years in Iraq searching out and destroying Iraq's weapons and weapons manufacturing capabilities. "After 1998," Ritter reports in a book I wrote in 2002 titled War on Iraq, "Iraq had been fundamentally disarmed."
What this means is that 90%-95% of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capability, including all of their factories used to produce chemical, biological, nuclear long-range ballistic missiles, the associated equipment of these factories, and the vast majority of the product produced by these factories, had been verifiably eliminated."
The Joe Wilson/Valerie Plame scandal that has recently encompassed the White House stems from claims made by Bush in 2003 that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger for use in a nuclear weapons program. In 2002, Ritter described the status of Iraq's nuclear program. "The infrastructure, the facilities, had been 100% eliminated," he said. "In this, there is no debate. All of their instruments and facilities had been destroyed. The weapons design facility had been destroyed. The production equipment had been hunted down and destroyed, and we had in place one of the more effective monitoring mechanisms - gamma detection - that we operated in Iraq both from vehicles and airborne, looking for gamma rays that would be emitted if Iraq was seeking to enrich uranium or plutonium. We never found anything. The fact is, in terms of the industrial infrastructure needed by Iraq to produce nuclear weapons, this had been eliminated."
Ritter went into great detail on the status of Iraq's chemical weapons capabilities during our 2002 interview. "The Iraqis were able to produce a nerve agent of sarin and tabun successfully and stabilize it," said Ritter, "but even stabilized stuff stored under ideal conditions will degenerate within five years. The sarin and tabun were produced in the Muthanna State establishment - a massive chemical weapons factory - and this place was bombed during the Gulf War, and then weapons inspectors came and completed the task of eliminating this facility. What that means is that Iraq lost its sarin and tabun manufacturing base."
"Let's also keep in mind," he continued, "that we destroyed thousands of tons of chemical agent. It's not as though we said, 'Oh we destroyed a factory, now we're going to wait for everything else to expire.' No. We had an incineration plant operating full-time for years, burning tons of the stuff every day. We went out and blew up in place the bombs and missiles and warheads filled with this agent. We emptied out SCUD missile warheads filled with this agent. We destroyed this stuff - we hunted it down and we destroyed it."
"Now, there are those who say that the Iraqis could have hid some of this from us," continued Ritter. "The problem with that scenario is that whatever they diverted would have had to have been produced in the Muthanna State establishment, which means that once we blew up the Muthanna State establishment, they no longer had the ability to produce new agent, and in five years science takes over. Sarin and tabun will degrade and become useless sludge. It's no longer a viable chemical agent that the world needs to be concerned about."
"So," concluded Ritter, "all this talk about Iraq having chemical weapons - most of it is based upon speculation that Iraq could have hid some of this from UN weapons inspectors. That speculation is no longer valid, not in terms of the Iraqi ability to hide this stuff from inspectors - although I believe we did such a good job of inspecting Iraq that if they had tried to hide it, we would have found it. But let's just say that they did try to hide it, and we never found it. So what? It's gone today, so let's throw out that hypothetical. It's not even worth the time to talk about it anymore."
On the subject of Iraqi biological weapons, Ritter said in 2002, "The two main biological weapons weaponized by the Iraqis were anthrax and botulinin toxin. Both factories have been destroyed, the means of production destroyed, and even if Iraq was able to hide these weapons, they're useless today. For Iraq to have biological weapons today, they would have had to reconstitute a biological manufacturing base. And again, biological research and development was one of the things most heavily inspected by weapons inspectors. We blanketed Iraq - every research and development facility, every university, every school, every hospital, every beer factory, anything with a potential fermentation capability was inspected, and we never found any evidence of ongoing research and development or retention."
That's a lot of information, so let's boil it down. Yes, Iraq was at one time in the business of manufacturing weapons of mass destruction. By 1998, however, those weapons had been destroyed. The manufacturing base for the production of these weapons had been destroyed. Even if Iraq had been able to squirrel away a portion of these weapons, the basic chemistry involved means that the stuff degraded to utter uselessness within five years. Without a manufacturing base for the production of weapons material, said base having been eliminated by 1998, anything stashed away was pudding by 2003.
If Bush's people are going to argue that invading Iraq in 2003 because of weapons of mass destruction was the responsible thing to do, they must certainly acknowledge that the efforts of the Clinton administration and UNSCOM to eliminate these weapons was also responsible. The tough talk from the Clinton administration in 1998 regarding Iraq's WMD was of a piece with this process; they were keeping the heat on to make sure the threat was eliminated.
Flip to the end of the chapter, however, and you'll come across the pages being left out of the discussion by Bush's defenders. One, the stuff was destroyed by 1998, a fact that weapons inspections in 2003 could have easily established (and did establish, thanks to Bush's inspector, Dr. David Kay, who stated bluntly the stuff wasn't there, but only after the killing had begun). Two, Clinton did not invade Iraq and throw the United States into a ridiculous, endless, bloody quagmire. He managed to disarm Hussein without taking this disastrous step.
In short, the contortions that defenders of Bush are going through to justify the invasion do not hold water. Further, evidence that the Bush administration lied with their bare faces hanging out to get this war is piling up in snowdrifts.
Take, for example, the dire claims made by Bush administration officials about the imminent threat posed by Iraq, claims made as early as 2002. "The Iraqi regime," said Bush in October of 2002, "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."
If the threat was so dire, why is Sir Christopher Meyer, Britain's ambassador to Washington in the run-up to the war, claiming that the Bush administration would have been happy to hold off on invading Iraq until after the presidential election? Meyer, according to the UK Guardian, "reveals that Karl Rove, the political advisor to the president, told him there would have been no problem for Mr. Bush in waiting until the end of 2003 or even early 2004 and this would not have risked entanglement in the US presidential campaign."
Some dire threat.
Finally, there is the recent report in the New York Times about an al Qaeda operative captured in 2001 who deliberately lied to US interrogators about an al Qaeda presence in Iraq. The operative, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, was exposed as a liar by the Defense Intelligence Agency in February of 2002. Their report bluntly stated that al-Libi was deliberately misleading interrogators, and any information he provided was not to be trusted. By 2004, al-Libi had completely recanted all of his testimony.
"The (Defense Intelligence Agency) document provides the earliest and strongest indication of doubts voiced by American intelligence agencies about Mr. Libi's credibility," reported the Times. "Without mentioning him by name, President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Colin L. Powell, then secretary of state, and other administration officials repeatedly cited Mr. Libi's information as 'credible' evidence that Iraq was training al Qaeda members in the use of explosives and illicit weapons. Among the first and most prominent assertions was one by Mr. Bush, who said in a major speech in Cincinnati in October 2002 that 'we've learned that Iraq has trained Al Qaeda members in bomb making and poisons and gases.'"
It makes you wonder. Why did al-Libi lie about an al Qaeda presence in Iraq? Did he do this in order to help push the US into an invasion of that country? If true, this means that Bush, by invading Iraq, did exactly what Osama bin Laden wanted him to. He gave bin Laden the war, and the rallying cry, he was looking for. That's leadership.
The stuff was destroyed by 1998. Bush and his crew were prepared to delay the invasion if it meant smoother sailing for the election, despite all their claims of an imminent threat. They used a fully discredited source to justify the invasion, even after being told the source was certainly making things up as he went along.
Tack this to the wall:
How the United States should react if Iraq acquired WMD. The first line of defense ... should be a clear and classical statement of deterrence - if they do acquire WMD, their weapons will be unusable because any attempt to use them will bring national obliteration.
- Condoleeza Rice, 2/1/2000
We are greatly concerned about any possible linkup between terrorists and regimes that have or seek weapons of mass destruction ... In the case of Saddam Hussein, we've got a dictator who is clearly pursuing and already possesses some of these weapons. A regime that hates America and everything we stand for must never be permitted to threaten America with weapons of mass destruction.
- Dick Cheney, 6/20/2002
Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.
- Dick Cheney, 8/26/2002
There is already a mountain of evidence that Saddam Hussein is gathering weapons for the purpose of using them. And adding additional information is like adding a foot to Mount Everest.
- Ari Fleischer, 9/6/2002
We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.
- Condoleeza Rice, 9/8/2002
Right now, Iraq is expanding and improving facilities that were used for the production of biological weapons.
- George W. Bush, 9/12/2002
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.
- George W. Bush, 10/5/2002
And surveillance photos reveal that the regime is rebuilding facilities that it had used to produce chemical and biological weapons.
- George W. Bush, 10/7/2002
After eleven years during which we have tried containment, sanctions, inspections, even selected military action, the end result is that Saddam Hussein still has chemical and biological weapons and is increasing his capabilities to make more. And he is moving ever closer to developing a nuclear weapon.
- George W. Bush, 10/7/2002
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.
- George W. Bush, 10/7/2002
Iraq could decide on any given day to provide biological or chemical weapons to a terrorist group or to individual terrorists ...The war on terror will not be won until Iraq is completely and verifiably deprived of weapons of mass destruction.
- Dick Cheney, 12/1/2002
If he declares he has none, then we will know that Saddam Hussein is once again misleading the world.
- Ari Fleischer, 12/2/2002
We know for a fact that there are weapons there.
- Ari Fleischer, 1/9/2003
The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production.
- George W. Bush, 1/28/2003
Our intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent.
- George W. Bush, 1/28/2003
We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction, is determined to make more.
- Colin Powell, 2/5/2003
There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more. And he has the ability to dispense these lethal poisons and diseases in ways that can cause massive death and destruction. If biological weapons seem too terrible to contemplate, chemical weapons are equally chilling.
- Colin Powell, 2/5/2003
If Iraq had disarmed itself, gotten rid of its weapons of mass destruction over the past 12 years, or over the last several months since (UN Resolution) 1441 was enacted, we would not be facing the crisis that we now have before us ... But the suggestion that we are doing this because we want to go to every country in the Middle East and rearrange all of its pieces is not correct.
- Colin Powell, 2/28/2003
Let's talk about the nuclear proposition for a minute. We know that based on intelligence, that has been very, very good at hiding these kinds of efforts. He's had years to get good at it and we know he has been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons. And we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.
- Dick Cheney, 3/16/2003
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.
- George W. Bush, 3/17/2003
Well, there is no question that we have evidence and information that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, biological and chemical particularly ... all this will be made clear in the course of the operation, for whatever duration it takes.
- Ari Fleischer, 3/21/2003
We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.
- Donald Rumsfeld, 3/30/2003
We are learning more as we interrogate or have discussions with Iraqi scientists and people within the Iraqi structure, that perhaps he destroyed some, perhaps he dispersed some. And so we will find them.
- George W. Bush, 4/24/2003
I'm absolutely sure that there are weapons of mass destruction there and the evidence will be forthcoming. We're just getting it just now.
- Colin Powell, 5/4/2003
It's going to take time to find them, but we know he had them. And whether he destroyed them, moved them or hid them, we're going to find out the truth. One thing is for certain: Saddam Hussein no longer threatens America with weapons of mass destruction.
- George W. Bush, 5/25/2003
But for those who say we haven't found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they're wrong, we found them.
- George W. Bush, 5/30/2003
No one ever said that we knew precisely where all of these agents were, where they were stored.
- Condoleeza Rice, 6/8/2003
Yes, they lied.
William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence.