Iraq: “Mrs. Anthrax” freed —from bogus detainment?

From AP, Dec. 19:

They called the two ladies “Dr. Germ” and “Mrs. Anthrax.”

It was a breakthrough when U.S. forces arrested Rihab Taha, a British-educated biological weapons expert, and Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash, a former top Baath Party official, in May 2003, about two months after the American-led invasion.

But this past weekend, after more than 2½ years in detention, the scientists were quietly released without charges, a legal official in Baghdad said.

U.N. inspectors had given Taha the nickname “Dr. Germ” for her work in running the Iraqi biological weapons facility where scientists produced anthrax and botulinum toxin in the 1980s. Taha has said that Iraq never planned to use the biological agents it produced during that time.

Ammash was dubbed “Mrs. Anthrax” for her alleged role in trying to develop biological weapons. She was No. 39, or the five of hearts, on U.S. military’s deck of cards of most-wanted Iraqis – the only woman on the list.

Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, would say only that eight individuals formerly designated as high-value detainees were released Saturday after a board process found they were no longer a security threat and that no charges would be filed against them.

Neither the U.S. military or Iraqi officials would disclose any of the names, but the legal official said Taha and Ammash were among those freed.

Although few recall it now, there were charges at the time of her arrest that Ammash was detained for political reasons. As we reported at the time (WWR4 #85):

Some speculate on ulterior motives behind the arrest of at least one former Iraqi official on charges of building Saddam’s bio-war capacity–Dr. Huda Salih Mahdi (“Mrs. Anthrax”) Ammash, the only woman of the 55 Baath bureaucrats on the White House most-wanted list. Boston’s South End Press, publishers of the 2002 book Iraq Under Siege, which included Dr. Ammash’s essay “Toxic Pollution, the Gulf War, and Sanctions,” says there may be political imperatives behind her detention. Hiro Ueki, spokesperson for the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), confirmed to South End Press that “UNMOVIC did not single Dr. Ammash out for interviews because UNMOVIC did not have clear evidence to link Dr. Ammash to BW [biological weapons] programs” when visiting Baghdad University in January 2003.

Dr. Ammash, an environmental biologist and professor at Baghdad University, received her PhD. from the University of Missouri, and has documented of the rise in cancer among Iraqi children and war veterans since the 1991 Gulf War. In Iraq Under Siege, she writes: “Iraqi death rates have increased significantly, with cancer representing a significant cause of mortality, especially in the south and among children.” Dr. Ammash’s other publications include: “Impact of Gulf War Pollution in the Spread of Infectious Diseases in Iraq” (Soli Al-Mondo, Rome, 1999), and “Electromagnetic, Chemical, and Microbial Pollution Resulting from War and Embargo, and Its Impact on the Environment and Health” (Journal of the [Iraqi] Academy of Science, 1997). (South End Press press release, May 7, 2003)

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