Saturday, January 24, 2004

The U.S. government knew since mid-1995 there were no WMD. Why hasn't this become bigger news? Why aren't there more follow-up stories on this issue? It's important news that Colin Powell now concedes there may not have been illegal weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. It's important news that David Kay has left his post, declaring that the WMD didn't exist when Bush's war started. Kay is right to ask how U.S. intelligence could be so wrong, suggesting in interviews that scientists conned Saddam about non-existent programs. But why did U.S. intelligence officials ignore reliable evidence that the weapons had been destroyed in the early '90s? So it's even even more damning that a veteran CIA analyst, Ray McGovern, has written a little-noticed op-ed piece reporting that U.S. officials had solid information from Saddam Hussein's son-in-law, a defector who oversaw Iraq's weapons program, that Iraq's biological weapons were destroyed in 1991. While drawing on an earlier Washington Post article about the discovery of an authentic Iraqi document confirming that the weapons were in fact destroyed, he adds fresh analysis. McGovern's key points are disturbing:

"But the most damaging revelation came from an internal Iraqi document -- this time, happily, not a forged one -- confirming that a high-level order to destroy all chemical and biological weapons was carried out in the summer of 1991 (there were no nuclear weapons). U.S. officials learned of this in mid-1995 from what intelligence officers would call ''a reliable source with excellent access.'' Everything else he told us has checked out.

"That source was none other than the person in charge of Iraq's nuclear, chemical, biological and missile programs: Saddam Hussein's son-in-law Hussein Kamel -- the one who gave the order to destroy those weapons. Kamel defected in August 1995.

"Documentary corroboration that Kamel's order was carried out surfaced this month in a handwritten letter obtained by Barton Gelman of The Washington Post. The letter was written by Hossam Amin, director of the Iraqi office overseeing U.N. inspectors, five days after Kamel's defection. It confirms that Iraq had in fact destroyed its entire inventory of biological weapons during the summer of 1991, before U.N. inspectors even knew of their existence.

"Does this mean that Kamel's testimony had been known in Washington and London more than seven years before Bush's address last January, and that during that entire period no evidence had come to light poking holes in the information he provided? Yes."

Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld and other Bush advisers presumably had access to this information. Key Clinton administration officials also should have known about Kamel's disclosures. So why was there a charade about Iraq's imminent threat and a rush to war?

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