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Powell's shrinking credibility on Iraq

SECRETARY OF State Colin Powell was a huge loser in last week's report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace that said Saddam Hussein's weapons program was not an immediate threat to the United States or even his neighbors. The report said Saddam's nuclear program had been dismantled, his large-scale chemical weapons capabilities had been destroyed, and "there was no solid evidence of a cooperative relationship between Saddam's government and Al Qaeda."


Powell was asked about the report at a news conference last week. He was forced to cough up: "I have not seen smoking-gun, concrete evidence about the connection, but I think the possibility of such connections did exist and it was prudent to consider them at the time that we did."

Powell did more than "consider" the possibilities. He was the man who went before the United Nations Security Council last Feb. 5 to persuade the world that Saddam was an imminent threat. In the march to war, he had come in for perhaps the least criticism among top White House officials, as he was considered by both supporters and critics of the administration as being its least rash figure and the one least likely to cherry-pick intelligence reports only for what he wanted to hear.

The image holds up no more. In its report, the endowment highlighted several of Powell's most important assertions about Saddam. In September 2002 Powell said of Saddam, "There is no doubt that he has chemical weapons stocks." In December 2002 a State Department fact sheet asked, "Why is the Iraqi regime hiding their uranium procurement?" In January 2003 Powell said, "Iraq continues to conceal quantities, vast quantities of highly lethal material and weapons to deliver it."

Then came the presentation on Feb. 5. Powell said: "We have no indication that Saddam Hussein has ever abandoned his nuclear weapons program. On the contrary, we have more than a decade of proof that he remains determined to acquire nuclear weapons. . . . Saddam Hussein is determined to get his hands on a nuclear bomb. He is so determined that he has made repeated covert attempts to acquire high-specification aluminum tubes from 11 different countries, even after inspections resumed. . . . We also have intelligence from multiple sources that Iraq is attempting to acquire magnets and high-speed balancing machines . . . to enrich uranium."

Powell also said, "Our conservative estimate is that Iraq today has a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons agent. That is enough agent to fill 16,000 battlefield rockets. Even the low end of 100 tons of agent would enable Saddam Hussein to cause mass casualties across more than 100 square miles of territory, an area nearly five times the size of Manhattan. . . . When will we see the rest of the submerged iceberg? Saddam Hussein has chemical weapons."

Powell said: "One of the most worrisome things that emerges from the thick intelligence file we have on Iraq's biological weapons is the existence of mobile production facilities used to make biological agents. . . . We have firsthand descriptions of biological weapons factories on wheels and on rails. . . . We know that Iraq has at least seven of these mobile biological agents factories. . . . Saddam Hussein has investigated dozens of biological agents causing diseases such as gas gangrene, plague, typhus, tetanus, cholera, camelpox, and hemorrhagic fever. And he also has the wherewithal to develop smallpox. . . . There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more."

At one point Powell said: "This is evidence, not conjecture. This is true. This is all well documented."

But no stockpiles of either chemical or biological weapons have been found. There was no effective nuclear program. The United States still invaded Iraq.

Powell told the UN that his intelligence told him Saddam had ballistic missiles that could "dispense these lethal poisons and diseases in ways that cause massive death and destruction." Powell talked of small planes with "a wingspan of only a few meters to deliver biological agents to its neighbors, or if transported, to other countries, including the United States."

To date no such missiles or planes have been found. The United States still invaded. Nearly 500 American soldiers and thousands of Iraqi civilians have died. Just before the war, Powell proclaimed that Iraq's 2002 claim to the UN that it had no weapons of mass destruction "repeated the biggest lie of all. . . . Inspections will amount to little more than casting at shadows unless Iraq lifts the fog of denial and deception that prevents inspectors from seeing the true magnitude of what they're up against."

With report after report coming in showing that weapons of mass destruction did not exist or were destroyed over the past decade, it is clear that Powell can no longer be seen as the softer face of the White House. No matter how cautious he was, he still perpetuated the lie. He rolled in the fog for America's denial and deception.

Derrick Z. Jackson's e-mail address is

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