Without much ado this past week, Washington closed the lid on its last remaining formal inquiry into one of the greatest lies in American history.
At some moment on April 25, the CIA posted several Addendums to last fall’s speculative epic by the Iraq Survey Group on the former regime in Baghdad’s nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs, capabilities—and fantasies. With this posting, the prewar warnings of the inspectors with the International Atomic Energy Agency and the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission, as well as the independents such as the American Scott Ritter, to the effect that they had “found no weapons of mass destruction” even though they and had “carried out inspections at sites given…by U.S. and British intelligence” (to quote the former UNMOVIC head Hans Blix, here commenting on a related matter), were proven right once again. In the words of the Special Advisor to the Director of Central Intelligence on Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction, Charles A. Duelfer:
After more than 18 months, the WMD investigation and debriefing of the WMD-related detainees has been exhausted. As matters now stand, the WMD investigation has gone as far as feasible.
Notice, however, that I opened by writing lies—as in one of the greatest lies in American history—and not mistakes or errors or something similarly misleading. Among the greatest lies that properly-schooled Americans learn from a very young age onward is the Big Lie that whenever their government does something really awful in the world—such as commit crimes against the peace, crimes against humanity, crimes of war; the sponsorship of terrorism; violations of the Geneva Conventions, customary and treaty law with respect to the use of torture and the denial of the right to food and medicine and the like; even violations of the U.S. Constitution’s vesting of powers over war and peace in the Congress rather than in the Imperial Presidency—these cannot possibly be the willful, deliberate, and intentional acts of a state whose policymakers are pursuing what they perceive to be the self-interests of American Power, in the singular manner with which they are most intimately familiar, both in terms of their history and in terms of the supremacy their state enjoys over the rest of the world: Violently. Belligerently. And with a take-no-prisoners brutality. (So to speak. As the taking of some prisoners also has become a major instrument of statecraft. (Just don’t tell anybody.))
Rather. Ultimately, each and every one of these awful policies and their awful consequences must be dismissible. If certain facts about them are even acknowledged at all, they must be acknowledged as mistakes. As errors. As slip-ups and oversights. Or, in worst case scenarios, as cases of American boys and girls gone wild and getting carried away with themselves. No harm intended. Even if harm is caused.
As anything, that is, but the deliberately and maliciously crafted policies that they are.
And this, no matter how many times the same course of action winds up pursued. By one and the same state. In no matter how many different regions around the world.
No matter how many different victims. Over how many consecutive decades.
“Prepared Testimony of Charles A. Duelfer,” Senate Armed Services Committee, October 6, 2004
Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the Director of Central Intelligence on Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction, U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, September, 2004 (a.k.a. Duelfer Report)
Addendums to the Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the Director of Central Intelligence on Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction, March, 2005
Iraq Special Weapons Guide (Homepage), Federation of American Scientists
In Focus: IAEA and Iraq (Homepage), International Atomic Energy Agency
United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC Homepage)
Twelfth quarterly report of the Executive Chairman of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission in accordance with paragraph 12 of Security Council resolution 1284 (1999) (S/2003/232), UNMOVIC, February 28, 2003
Thirteenth quarterly report of the Executive Chairman of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission in accordance with paragraph 12 of Security Council resolution 1284 (1999) (S/2003/580), UNMOVIC, May 30, 2003
Twentieth quarterly report on the activities of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission in accordance with paragraph 12 of Security Council resolution 1284 (1999) (S/2005/129), UNMOVIC, February 28, 2005
“Arms Move to Syria ‘Unlikely,’ Report Says,” David E. Sanger, New York Times, April 26, 2005
“Report Finds No Evidence Syria Hid Iraqi Arms,” Dana Priest, Washington Post, April 26, 2005
“US team concludes Saddam had no WMD,” Demetri Sevastopulo, Financial Times, April 27, 2005
“Interrogators ‘botched hunt for WMDs’,” Julian Borger, The Guardian, April 27, 2005
“Search for Iraqi WMD ‘Has Been Exhausted’, Says Report,” Andrew Buncombe, The Independent, April 27, 2005
“Blix insists there was no firm weapons evidence,” Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian, April 28, 2005
“Zarqawi Attack on Inspector Cut Short the Hunt for WMD,” Anne Penketh, The Independent, April 28, 2005
“Ex-CIA chief eats humble pie,” Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian, April 29, 2005
“CIA can’t rule out WMD move to Syria,” Rowan Scarborough, Washington Times, April 27, 2005
“CIA reports Saddam pushed to restart arms effort,” Rowan Scarborough, Washington Times, April 28, 2005
“Misreporting the Duelfer report, again,” Editorial, Washington Times, April 28, 2005
Ending Secret Detentions, Deborah Pearlstein et al., Human Rights First, June, 2004
Behind the Wire: An Update to Ending Secret Detentions, Deborah Pearlstein and Priti Patel, Human Rights First, March, 2005. (And the accompanying Media Release.)
Getting Away with Torture? Command Responsibility for the U.S. Abuse of Detainees, Reed Brody et al., Human Rights Watch, April 25, 2005. (And the accompanying Media Release.—For the complete PDF version of the same.)
FYA (“For your archives”): According to the testimony of Charles Duelfer, the Iraq Survey Group has produced the “best picture that could be drawn concerning the events, programs, policies, and underlying dynamics of the relationship of the former Regime to WMD over the last three decades.” (“Note for the Comprehensive Report with Addendums,” March, 2005.)
Still. Several cracks have been designed-into the sarcophagus wherein the Iraq Survey Group’s exhaustive findings have been interred. The most useful of these cracks appears to be the so-called “Residual Proliferation Risks” associated with the personnel of the former regime carrying their knowledge and expertise with them to other would-be proliferators, and the “Prewar Movement of WMD Material out of Iraq.” Chief among this second category is Syria. And though Duelfer’s latest report concludes that “it was unlikely that an official transfer of WMD material from Iraq to Syria took place,” anyone interested in spinning this probabilistic kind of conclusion into a latent threat to the United States is free to do so.
With this caveat in mind, I’m going to deposit here the five paragraphs that Duelfer’s latest report devoted to this single possibility, followed by three items drawn from the Washington Times, one of the leading right-wing newspapers in the United States. The contrast between Duelfer’s conclusion (i.e., “the evidence available at present”) and how a dedicated, fear-mongering, right-wing rag goes about exploiting it, is worth observing carefully, I think. (When the editorial voice of the Washington Times stated that “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” I wanted to scream.)
What this example illustrates is that in the American political system, no lie, no matter how dead and deeply buried, ever quite goes away. Frequently, they even enjoy a healthy afterlife.
Doubtless, this WMD-Syria connection awaits re-animation, should the American state ever need it.
“Prewar Movement of WMD Material Out of Iraq”
Excerpted from Charles Duelfer’s Addendums to the Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the Director of Central Intelligence on Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction, March, 2005
ISG formed a working group to investigate the possibility
of the evacuation of WMD-related material
from Iraq prior to the 2003 war. This group spent
several months examining documents, interviewing
former Iraqi offi cials, examining previous intelligence
reports, and conducting some site investigations. The
declining security situation limited and fi nally halted
this investigation. The results remain inconclusive,
but further investigation may be undertaken when
circumstances on the ground improve.
The investigation centered on the possibility that
WMD materials were moved to Syria. As is obvious
from other sections of the Comprehensive Report,
Syria was involved in transactions and shipments of
military and other material to Iraq in contravention
of the UN sanctions. This indicated a fl exibility with
respect to international law and a strong willingness
to work with Iraq—at least when there was considerable
profi t for those involved. Whether Syria received
military items from Iraq for safekeeping or other
reasons has yet to be determined. There was evidence
of a discussion of possible WMD collaboration initiated
by a Syrian security offi cer, and ISG received
information about movement of material out of Iraq,
including the possibility that WMD was involved. In
the judgment of the working group, these reports were
suffi ciently credible to merit further investigation.
ISG was unable to complete its investigation and
is unable to rule out the possibility that WMD was
evacuated to Syria before the war. It should be
noted that no information from debriefi ng of Iraqis
in custody supports this possibility. ISG found no
senior policy, program, or intelligence offi cials who
admitted any direct knowledge of such movement of
WMD. Indeed, they uniformly denied any knowledge
of residual WMD that could have been secreted to
Nevertheless, given the insular and compartmented
nature of the Regime, ISG analysts believed there
was enough evidence to merit further investigation.
It is worth noting that even if ISG had been able to
fully examine all the leads it possessed, it is unlikely
that conclusive information would have been found.
At best, barring discovery of original documentary
evidence of the transfer, reports or sources may have
been substantiated or negated, but fi rm conclusions on
actual WMD movements may not be possible.
Based on the evidence available at present, ISG
judged that it was unlikely that an offi cial transfer of
WMD material from Iraq to Syria took place. However,
ISG was unable to rule out unoffi cial movement
of limited WMD-related materials.
The Washington Times
April 27, 2005 Wednesday
SECTION: PAGE ONE; Pg. A01
HEADLINE: CIA can’t rule out WMD move to Syria
BYLINE: By Rowan Scarborough, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Evidence ‘sufficiently credible’
The CIA’s chief weapons inspector said he cannot rule out the possibility that Iraqi weapons of mass destruction were secretly shipped to Syria before the March 2003 invasion, citing “sufficiently credible” evidence that WMDs may have been moved there.
Inspector Charles Duelfer, who heads the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), made the findings in an addendum to his final report filed last year. He said the search for WMD in Iraq – the main reason President Bush went to war to oust Saddam Hussein – has been exhausted without finding such weapons. Iraq had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons in the early 1990s.
But on the question of Syria, Mr. Duelfer did not close the books. “ISG was unable to complete its investigation and is unable to rule out the possibility that WMD was evacuated to Syria before the war,” Mr. Duelfer said in a report posted on the CIA’s Web site Monday night.
He cited some evidence of a transfer. “Whether Syria received military items from Iraq for safekeeping or other reasons has yet to be determined,” he said. “There was evidence of a discussion of possible WMD collaboration initiated by a Syrian security officer, and ISG received information about movement of material out of Iraq, including the possibility that WMD was involved. In the judgment of the working group, these reports were sufficiently credible to merit further investigation.”
But Mr. Duelfer said he was unable to complete that aspect of the probe because “the declining security situation limited and finally halted this investigation. The results remain inconclusive, but further investigation may be undertaken when circumstances on the ground improve.”
Arguing against a WMD transfer to Syria, Mr. Duelfer said, was the fact that all senior Iraqi detainees involved in Saddam’s weapons programs and security “uniformly denied any knowledge of residual WMD that could have been secreted to Syria.”
“Nevertheless,” the inspector said, “given the insular and compartmented nature of the regime, ISG analysts believed there was enough evidence to merit further investigation.”
He said that even if all leads are pursued someday, the ISG may never be able to finally determine whether WMDs were taken across the border. “Based on the evidence available at present, ISG judged that it was unlikely that an official transfer of WMD material from Iraq to Syria took place,” his report stated. “However, ISG was unable to rule out unofficial movement of limited WMD-related materials.”
Speculation on WMDs in Syria was fueled by the fact that satellite images picked up long lines of trucks waiting to cross the border into Syria before the coalition launched the invasion. Mr. Duelfer previously had reported that Syria was a major conduit for materials entering Iraq that were banned by the United Nations.
Saddam placed such importance on illicit trade with Syria that he dispatched Iraqi Intelligence Service agents to various border crossings to supervise border agents, and, in some cases, to shoo them away, senior officials told The Washington Times last year.
Today, U.S. officials charge that Syria continues to harbor Saddam loyalists who are directing and financing the insurgency in Iraq. The Iraq-Syria relationship between two Ba’athist socialist regimes has further encouraged speculation of weapons transfers.
Several senior U.S. officials have said since the invasion that they thought WMD went to Syria.
Retired Marine Lt. Gen. Michael DeLong, the deputy commander of U.S. Central Command during the war, said in his book, “Inside CentCom,” that intelligence reports pointed to WMD movement into Syria.
In October, John A. Shaw, then the deputy undersecretary of defense for international technology security, told The Times that Russian special forces and intelligence troops worked with Saddam’s intelligence service to move weapons and material to Syria, Lebanon and possibly Iran.
“The organized effort was done in advance of the conflict,” he said.
The Washington Times
April 28, 2005 Thursday
SECTION: NATION; Pg. A03
HEADLINE: CIA reports Saddam pushed to restart arms effort
BYLINE: By Rowan Scarborough, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Addendum cites anecdotes from three senior military officials
Saddam Hussein asked his weapons specialists about a timeline to restart production of deadly chemical weapons and the potential to have a fleet of bomb-laden boats to attack American ships in the Persian Gulf, a CIA report says.
The report from Charles Duelfer, the CIA’s chief weapons inspector for Iraq, shows Saddam consistently looked for ways to violate United Nations’ weapons prohibitions before the March 2003 invasion that knocked him from power.
Mr. Duelfer’s Iraq Survey Group found no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, despite intelligence reports before the war that Saddam still possessed the arsenal, as he did in the early 1990s. The inspector this week filed an addendum to his final report of last year.
Anecdotes about the dictator’s weapons ambitions came principally from three senior defense ministry officials who are incarcerated in Iraq. The most talkative, the report indicates, was Abduallah al Mullah Huwaysh, a key defense industry official from 1997 until the fall of Baghdad in April 2003.
“Huwaysh recalled that Saddam approached him immediately following a ministers’ meeting to ask how long it would take to restart production of chemical agents,” the report says. Huwaysh told Saddam in 2001 that Iraq could make mustard gas almost immediately, but two other deadly agents previously produced by Iraq, VX and sarin, would take much longer.
Huwaysh said that a year later Saddam inquired again, asking “Do you have any programs going on that I don’t know about?” He told investigators Saddam was increasingly worried about his declining conventional forces and feared an attack from Iran. Saddam’s forces used chemical weapons to kill thousands of Iranians in the 1980s.
Huwaysh said that as far as he could determine no element of the regime had restarted production of weapons of mass destruction before the 2003 invasion.
He told of another conversation with Saddam in 2002 when the leader ordered Huwaysh to begin production of a ballistic missile that could travel more than 300 miles and be able to hit targets in Israel and Iran.
Such a weapon would be in violation of U.N. cease-fire resolutions. Saddam also said he had decided not to let U.N. weapons inspectors re-enter the country, after thwarting their efforts in 1998. His move led to President Clinton’s ordering the bombing of Iraq for four days in Operation Desert Fox.
“To avoid disclosure of this program, Saddam ordered that no written documentation and no phone calls were allowed,” the Duelfer report states. “By early 2002, Saddam was convinced support for sanctions was eroding and they would soon disappear irrespective of what happened with Iraqi missile programs.”
In 1997, Saddam ordered the establishment of a secretive arms developing unit called the 28 Nisan Group. One task was to develop eavesdropping equipment. Another was to build remotely controlled, explosives-laden boats that would target U.S. shipping in the Gulf. Saddam agreed to cancel the program after his intelligence chief said meeting the goal was impossible.
The Washington Times
April 28, 2005 Thursday
SECTION: EDITORIALS; Pg. A22
HEADLINE: Misreporting the Duelfer report, again
BYLINE: By THE WASHINGTON TIMES
The mainstream media is playing another misbegotten round of “gotcha” with President Bush on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. This week, the CIA issued a follow-up to its October 2004 Iraqi Survey Group report, saying its investigations into possible WMD transfers from Iraq to Syria before the war were inconclusive and warranted further investigation. Predictably, the media did not convey that message. Instead, it cherry-picked the findings.
“Report Finds No Evidence Syria Hid Arms,” The Washington Post’s headline blared. Actually, the report, by the CIA’s chief weapons inspector, Charles A. Duelfer, made no such claim. Here’s what the CIA said: It is “unable to rule out the possibility that WMD was evacuated to Syria before the war”; it was “unlikely that an official transfer of WMD material from Iraq to Syria took place”; and it found “no senior policy, program, or intelligence officials who admitted any direct knowledge of such movement of WMD.”
But it said nothing about what Syria did or did not do, as The Post claimed. Instead, the report held out the possibility that an “unofficial” transfer – that is, a secret one that the Iraqi officials the CIA interviewed didn’t know about – may have taken place.
In fact, the report says, “there was evidence of a discussion of possible WMD collaboration initiated by a Syrian security officer,” and the CIA “received information about movement of material out of Iraq, including the possibility that WMD was involved.” These reports “were sufficiently credible to merit further investigation” – especially “given the insular and compartmented nature of the [Saddam Hussein] regime.” But in the end, since the CIA was unable to complete its investigation owing to the situation in Iraq, it is unable to say whether illicit weapons were moved to Syria. It held out the possibility of reopening the investigation once security in Iraq improves. It declines to rule out the possibility that WMD were shipped across the border.
Clearly, the media needs an object lesson in an old truth: Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. That was true back in October, and it is true now. Back then, The Post was so eager to declare the Bush administration wrong that it shoved someone else’s words into the chief weapons inspector’s mouth. The Post was forced to issue a correction when the headline of its above-the-fold story on the initial report erroneously claimed that Mr. Duelfer said the United States was “almost all wrong.” Mr. Duelfer said no such thing; his predecessor, David Kay, did.
The fact is this: We still don’t know whether illicit weapons were secreted out of Iraq in the months before the war. That doesn’t make for catchy anti-Bush headlines. But then, the truth is sometimes like that.