Time for reckoning

October 21, 2003|By Greg Thielmann and Daryl G. Kimball

FOR MONTHS, President Bush has asked the American people for more time to find the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction he said the war was intended to counter. But David Kay and the U.S. survey team charged with finding Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons provide further evidence that the Bush administration's most dire claims about unconventional Iraqi weapons were wrong and based on discredited intelligence.

It is past time for Congress to hold Mr. Bush and his administration to account, beginning with an independent, public investigation of the gathering and handling of intelligence on Iraq.

Rather than admitting their errors, Mr. Bush and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell have attempted to portray the Kay report as consistent with the administration's pre-war warnings, adding to their WMD credibility gap. Administration officials now suggest that the Kay report, based on three months of work in Iraq, shows Saddam Hussein's WMD "intentions" and justifies the decision to invade. They are attempting to morph the original WMD rationale for the war into a campaign for human rights, Middle East democratization and anti-terrorism.

But the official justification for war that was presented to Congress was to enforce the U.N. Security Council requirement that Iraq's WMD be eliminated. The key question was never whether Mr. Hussein's Iraq sought WMD or had chemical or biological weapons and a nuclear weapons program before the 1991 gulf war. It clearly did.

Rather, the question was whether Iraq continued to have active, illicit programs or weapons that posed such an urgent threat that it could be addressed only by military action instead of continued robust weapons inspections backed by the U.N. Security Council. The accumulating evidence from the field suggests more strongly than ever that the answer is no.

No chemical or biological weapons or missiles capable of attacking significantly beyond Iraq's borders have been found. The Bush administration's claims that Iraq was gearing up its dormant nuclear weapons program have been exposed as either erroneously interpreted or completely bogus. As Mr. Kay said in his report, "To date we have not uncovered evidence that Iraq undertook significant post-1998 steps to actually build nuclear weapons or produce fissile material."

The report confirms that Mr. Hussein did not adequately account for the destruction of all WMD previously produced and that he probably maintained some WMD program capabilities. But this was essentially what Hans Blix and the U.N. inspectors found and reported before the war.

So what happened to Iraq's WMD?

The Kay report and additional evidence from the field makes it clearer than ever that nearly a decade of intrusive U.N. inspections and sanctions were not a failure, as alleged by the administration, but in fact dismantled the bulk of Iraq's unconventional arsenal and discouraged program reconstitution. Iraq's nuclear weapons program was inactive. Its chemical and biological weapons programs, while illegal and potentially dangerous, were apparently designed to support rapid production capabilities rather than maintain existing stockpiles.

That Congress and the American people were seriously misinformed about the relevant facts in the run-up to the war demands that an accounting be made.

Why did CIA Director George J. Tenet warn the White House not to use publicly the dubious allegation that Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa at the same time the CIA was using the allegation secretly to justify its conclusion that Iraq's nuclear program was being reconstituted?

Why did the White House so readily dismiss the expert opinion of the Energy Department that Iraq was not using aluminum tubes for uranium enrichment and of Air Force intelligence that Iraq was not using unmanned aerial vehicles to deliver chemical or biological weapons?

Why did the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency rush out a white paper after the war concluding that the two "mobile labs" found were being used for bioweapons production without vetting it in the intelligence community and before DIA engineers subsequently provided a contrary assessment?

In sum, why did the White House suggest that Iraq posed an urgent security threat when even the October 2002 U.S. intelligence assessment would not support such a conclusion?

Intelligence is meant to inform government decision-making, not to be invoked or discarded selectively to justify predetermined political decisions. The unjustified claims of the Bush administration on Iraq's illicit weapons capabilities have severely damaged the credibility of the U.S. government and the U.S. intelligence community.

The Kay report offers nothing to vindicate or excuse the administration in this matter. Congress, in whom the Constitution has invested the war powers function, has the responsibility to initiate an independent investigation on how and why the administration used discredited and disputed claims to launch a war, which continues to impose a costly and destabilizing burden on this nation.

Greg Thielmann was a senior official in the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Daryl G. Kimball is executive director of the Arms Control Association.

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