The media ignored the real WMD news
DAVID KAY, the US government's top weapons inspector in Iraq, reported last week on his team's first three months of searching for weapons of mass destruction. "We have not yet found stocks of weapons," he testified, nor anything to corroborate "prewar reporting that Iraqi military units were prepared to use CW" -- chemical weapons -- "against coalition forces." Moreover, "to date we have not uncovered evidence that Iraq undertook significant post-1998 steps to actually build nuclear weapons or produce fissile material."
Kay's report drew heavy media attention. "Tonight," began Tom Brokaw on NBC's evening news, "the man in charge of finding those weapons in Iraq, David Kay, went before Congress and said so far he has come up dry: no weapons, no mobile labs, no nuclear weapons or even an advanced program." Brokaw made clear that this was a black eye for the Bush administration, since it justified war on the grounds that "Saddam Hussein had to be overthrown because of his vast stocks of weapons of mass destruction."
The papers struck the same note. "Search in Iraq finds no banned weapons," was The Washington Post's headline the next day.
Other headlines sounded the same note: "No illicit arms found in Iraq, US inspector tells Congress" (New York Times), "Search yields no weapons" (Miami Herald), "US inspectors find no evidence of banned arms" (Baltimore Sun).
But Kay's report was only one summary of WMD findings in Iraq to be released last week. At about the same time that Kay was on Capitol Hill, an international organization called the Iraq Survey Group, or ISG, was disclosing what its highly regarded scientists -- many of them former UN inspectors -- had discovered about Saddam's weapons programs. Far from undermining the administration's rationale for war, many of the ISG's findings strengthened it -- decisively.
It found, for example, that Iraqi officials engaged in "deliberate dispersal and destruction of material and documentation related to weapons programs" before, during, and after the war.
It found proof that WMD supplies and facilities had been concealed from UN inspectors, including "a clandestine network of laboratories and safe houses . . . that contained equipment . . . suitable for continuing" chemical and biological warfare research.
It found, in a grisly echo of Dr. Mengele's sadistic experiments, "a prison laboratory complex, possibly used in human testing of BW agents, that Iraqi officials . . . were explicitly ordered not to declare to the UN." ISG inspectors interviewed one Iraqi scientist who had hidden in his home "a vial of live C. botulinum Okra B." -- a precursor for botulism toxin, the deadliest poison known. They spoke with a Iraqi chemical weapons official who said Saddam's regime could have produced weaponized mustard gas within two months and Sarin, a lethal nerve agent, within 24 months. And they concluded that only the US invasion stopped Saddam from assembling missiles with ranges of up to 600 miles -- far more than the 90-mile range Iraq was allowed.
There is much more, but the ISG's bottom line removes any doubt that Saddam was in flagrant violation of Security Council Resolution 1441: "We have discovered dozens of WMD-related program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations during the inspections that began in late 2002."
In short, what President Bush asserted in his State of the Union address -- "The dictator of Iraq is not disarming; to the contrary, he is deceiving" -- has now been confirmed. The ISG has vindicated the administration's case for war: that Saddam continued to flout the UN's explicit mandates; that his WMD programs had not been dismantled; that he went to elaborate lengths to conceal them; and that it was only a matter of time before he used them to unleash another 9/11.
So why did the ISG's highly newsworthy findings get so much less press attention than David Kay's announcement that he hadn't found any WMD weapon stockpiles -- something we already knew anyway? That's a good question. Especially since the Kay report and the ISG report are in fact one and the same.
It's true: There was only one report last week, not two. Kay is head of the 1,200-person ISG, and he briefed Congress on everything his team has learned to date, not just the failure (so far) to find stores of ready-to-fire WMDs. That failure is puzzling, and it raises tough questions about the quality of our prewar intelligence.
But far more significant was what the Kay/ISG inspectors did find: massive evidence that an unrepentant Saddam was in willful defiance of Resolution 1441 right up to the end. That was the menace Bush repeatedly cited -- the threat he said must be crushed before it grew imminent. Kay's report proves he was right. You wouldn't have known it from the headlines.
Jeff Jacoby's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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