Dittoheads grasp at WMD straws

All of a sudden, the right-wing blogs and pseudo-news sources (MichNews, PostChronicle) are rallying around bogus claims that WMD really were found in Iraq. One who has actually written a book arguing this transparently ridiculous case is Richard Miniter:

WMDs Found in Iraq
Posted Nov 9, 2005

Contrary to ongoing reports by mainstream media outlets, WMDs have been found in Iraq, so reports New York Times best-selling author Richard Miniter in his new book, Disinformation.

Consider these shocking facts:

• Found: 1.77 metric tons of enriched uranium
• Found: 1,500 gallons of chemical weapons
• Found: Roadside bomb loaded with sarin gas
• Found: 1,000 radioactive materials–ideal for radioactive dirty bombs
• Found: 17 chemical warheads–some containing cyclosarin, a nerve agent five times more powerful than sarin

This is only a partial list of the deadly weapons Miniter reveals in his new book, Disinformation. Miniter systematically dissects the “No-WMD Myth” (how it started, and why it continues), as well as 21 other War-on-Terror myths perpetuated by the media. (Human Events, “The Nation Conservative Weekly”)

These claims may make the unrepentant dittoheads feel better about themselves, but they will bear not the slightest degree of scrutiny.

The Energy Department announced in July 2004 that it had removed from Iraq “radiological and nuclear materials that could potentially be used in a radiological dispersal device or diverted to support a nuclear weapons program.” This included the “1.77 metric tons of low-enriched uranium.” (Emphasis added.) The reason the Administration is not now touting this as evidence of WMD is because they would be laughed at by anyone with more expertise than MichNews or Richard Miniter. Low-enriched uranium cannot be used in an atomic weapon—only as reactor fuel, a purpose which Iraq was entirely free to pursue under the Non-Proliferation Treaty and UN-imposed WMD restrictions. Pointing to the applicability of nuclear materials in a “radiological dispersal device” is utterly disingenuous—these materials exist, legally, in nearly every country on earth. One might as well point to cutlery in someone’s kitchen to “prove” he is plotting murder. In fact, the hideous irony is that in the chaos of the 2003 invasion, nuclear facilities were plundered and much nuclear material was indiscriminately released—resulting in a real radiological hazard for local Iraqis (as we reported at the time). Leave it to Bush to actually create the very danger he uses to justify his military adventure.

Then, there’s the supposed “chemical weapons.” Oops! Turns out when you actually read the original source (Washington Post, Aug. 14, 2005) it wasn’t “1,500 gallons of chemical weapons,” but just “1,500 gallons of chemicals.” These were potential “precursor agents” for chemical weapons, the Pentagon boasted upon the discovery—but the fact that the Administration is no longer touting these claims is evidence the supposed weapons program didn’t get very far, if it existed at all.

As for the chemical-weapons warheads and artillery shells, former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter cast doubt upon their significance immediately upon their discovery. He wrote for the Christian Science Monitor May 21, 2004:

As a former UN inspector, I’m…familiar with the level of disarmament achieved concerning Iraq’s banned WMD. And during my time in Iraq, 95 percent of the WMD produced by Iraq were verifiably accounted for. But I’ve always contended that Iraq is a WMD archaeological site, and that if one digs long enough, vestiges of these past WMD programs will be uncovered. Determining whether the discovery of the sarin artillery shell represents such an archaeological discovery, or is part of Saddam Hussein’s alleged stockpile of WMD, rests with a full forensic exam of the shell… Given what’s known about sarin shells, the US could be expected to offer a careful recital of the data with news of the shell. But facts that should have accompanied the story – the type of shell, its condition, whether it had been fired previously, and the age and viability of the sarin and precursor chemicals – were absent. And that’s opened the door to irresponsible speculation that the shell was part of a live WMD stockpile.

Even Fox News had to admit that the cyclosarin warheads found by Polish troops in July 2004 “date back to Saddam Hussein’s war with Iran in the 1980s.” The BBC added that “the US military said the agent was so deteriorated it posed no threat.”

Once again, if these finds had been determined to have indicated an active WMD program, or even a significant survival of weapons from the ’80s program, you’d think the White House would be parading them aggressively, no? Instead, the Administration has let them slip quietly down the Memory Hole, leaving it to suckers like Miniter to dredge them up to propagandize the unsophisticated. (Another irony: these chemical agents are almost certainly left over from Sadddam’s 1980s WMD program, which was intended for use against Iran, and therefore undertaken with Washintgon’s active connivance—see Global Security‘s page on the program.)

As for “why the ‘No-WMD Myth’ continues”—you don’t have to resort to any conspiracy theories. It is because the Administration’s own search for evidence of an active WMD program came up totally cold. As we noted in July:

In his official final word in April, Charles Duelfer, the CIA’s top weapons inspector in Iraq, said that the search for weapons of mass destruction had “gone as far as feasible” and resulted in nothing. “After more than 18 months, the WMD investigation and debriefing of the WMD-related detainees has been exhausted,” wrote Duelfer, head of the Iraq Survey Group, in an addendum to the 1,500-page final report he issued last fall.

In the 92-page addendum, Duelfer gave a final look at the investigation that employed over 1,000 military and civilian translators, weapons specialists and other experts. Duelfer said there is no purpose in keeping the detainees who are being held because of their supposed knowledge on Iraq’s weapons, although he did not provide details about the current number of such detainees. (AP, April 25, 2005)

We have also noted how the Administration’s own rhetoric on the Iraqi WMD question went from certainty before the invasion to increasing evasion and equivocation in its aftermath as the trail went cold. Similar evidence—again, in the Administration’s own words—is provided by Andy Ostroy in a commenary now on OpEd News. Elizabeth Sullivan notes in a Nov. 18 op-ed for the Cleveland Plain Dealer the most hideous irony: having used Saddam’s almost certainly non-existant chemical weapons threat to justify the war on Iraq, the US has apparently used real chemical weapons against Iraq, in the recently-admitted white phosphorus attack on Fallujah.

See our last post on Iraq.