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Questions for Condoleezza

THE COLD WAR QUEEN remained frozen in facts that melted into fiction as she talked. Speaking last week before the National Association of Black Journalists, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said, "Let us be very clear about why we went to war against Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein's regime posed a threat to the security of the United States and the world. This was a regime that had pursued, had used, and possessed weapons of mass destruction."

Rice did not dare tread upon the issues that were not clear. Her cocksure posture could not hide the fact that she made no other mention of weapons of mass destruction in her prepared remarks. The United States has yet to find any after nearly five months of war and occupation. This was after a war buildup where Bush officials boasted they were certain where the weapons were.

Just as significant is that there was not a single reference in her set speech about Saddam trying to acquire nuclear weapons. Before the war, Rice said, "we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." The scary vision of mushroom clouds was repeated by Bush and General Tommy Franks, head of Central Command. Vice President Dick Cheney declared Saddam to be a "mortal threat" on his way to "nuclear blackmail."

In a question-and-answer session after her speech, Rice continued to assert that she was "certain to this day that this regime was a threat, that it was pursuing a nuclear weapon."

This is brazen, as Rice has yet to produce even a smoking gun. President Bush has already been shamed by his usage in his State of the Union address of the discredited claim that Saddam was trying to buy uranium in Africa.

Now there is more news that Bush officials trumped up the nuclear threat. The Washington Post reported over the weekend that administration officials repeatedly made claims in diplomatic and weapons inspections briefings that were not backed up, even by our own intelligence.

In scaring Americans into accepting an invasion of Iraq, the administration relied on earlier intelligence that Saddam was constructing new facilities at the site of a former nuclear weapons program. But just before the war, American investigators could not find evidence that the new buildings were connected to a new nuclear program.

In his personal effort to send nuclear shivers up the American spine, Cheney said, "We now know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. Among other sources, we've gotten this from firsthand testimony from defectors, including Saddam's son-in-law."

But the son-in-law, Hussein Kamel, was murdered seven years ago. More insidious is that the testimony he did give, in 1995, Kamel said that Iraq in fact had not resumed any uranium enrichment programs after the 1991 Gulf War.

The administration also made a big leap, saying that Iraq's attempt to acquire high-strength aluminum tubes was for centrifuges to enrich uranium for nukes.

But all that United Nations weapons inspectors and US Energy Department experts could conclude was that the tubes were for conventional rockets. "Gas centrifuge experts consulted by the US government said repeatedly for more than a year that the aluminum tubes were not suitable or intended for uranium enrichment," the Post wrote.

The Bush administration raised the scare level to red in another way, telling Americans that Saddam was having meetings with nuclear scientists. Bush did not tell Americans there was no evidence the three top gas centrifuge experts were running anything other than a copper factory, a graphite extraction plant, and a mechanical engineering design center.

The Post reporters wrote, "The danger of a nuclear-armed Saddam Hussein, more potent as an argument for war, began with weaker evidence and grew weaker still in the three months before the war."

The only nuclear event going on concerning Iraq is a meltdown of the Bush administration.

The death toll of US soldiers is now 257. The death toll of Iraqi soldiers and civilians is in the thousands. No weapons of mass destruction have been found. No nuclear program has been found.

Cheney's claim of a mortal threat continues to grow into a mortal wound for the moral justification for the invasion. Rice continues to say we were right not to wait for Saddam's smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud. She told the conference, "The threat could not be allowed to remain unaddressed."

With no smoking gun of the threat, the plume Americans should be looking for is the one over the White House, growing into the most deadly lie since Vietnam.

Derrick Z. Jackson's e-mail address is

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