New York Times Exposes Another Bush WMD Deception
The New York Times had published a new report detailing the numerous cases of American and Iraqi soldiers accidentally exposed to chemical agents from Saddam Hussein's decaying Gulf War era weapons. But as disturbing as the fact that there were "17 American service members and seven Iraqi police officers who were exposed to nerve or mustard agents after 2003" is the secrecy the U.S. government has maintained ever since. To put it another way, first the Bush administration lied to the American people about the weapons of mass destruction Saddam did not have, only then to stay silent about the chemical munitions he actually had hidden or abandoned many years earlier.
But as the Times makes clear, far from confirming ongoing conservative claims that Iraq possessed stockpiles of WMD ready for use in 2003, the new revelations prove the reverse:
The discoveries of these chemical weapons did not support the government's invasion rationale.
After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Bush insisted that Mr. Hussein was hiding an active weapons of mass destruction program, in defiance of international will and at the world's risk. United Nations inspectors said they could not find evidence for these claims.
Then, during the long occupation, American troops began encountering old chemical munitions in hidden caches and roadside bombs. Typically 155-millimeter artillery shells or 122-millimeter rockets, they were remnants of an arms program Iraq had rushed into production in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq war.
All had been manufactured before 1991, participants said. Filthy, rusty or corroded, a large fraction of them could not be readily identified as chemical weapons at all. Some were empty, though many of them still contained potent mustard agent or residual sarin. Most could not have been used as designed, and when they ruptured dispersed the chemical agents over a limited area, according to those who collected the majority of them.
"'Nothing of significance' is what I was ordered to say," said Jarrod Lampier, an Army major whose unit discovered 2,400 nerve-agent rockets unearthed in 2006 at a former Republican Guard compound. And as the Times C.J. Chivers explained:
Participants in the chemical weapons discoveries said the United States suppressed knowledge of finds for multiple reasons, including that the government bristled at further acknowledgment it had been wrong. "They needed something to say that after Sept. 11 Saddam used chemical rounds," Mr. Lampier said. "And all of this was from the pre-1991 era."
Bush's war may be over, but his insults to the American people continue. The decrepit weapons were built during Iraq's war with Iran, with assistance from the U.S. and Germany. As U.S. troops happened upon decaying shells, neither the American public nor Congress were informed. Told to keep word of their discoveries and medical conditions quiet, American servicemen did not get the treatment they required. As the Times lamented, "First, the American government did not find what it had been looking for at the war's outset, then it failed to prepare its troops and medical corps for the aged weapons it did find." And now the fear is that some of these decades-old munitions will fall into the hands of the Islamic State.
In August 2002, Vice President Dick Cheney warned, "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us." But as Karl Rove later wrote in his memoir Courage and Consequences, his own greatest failure was not pushing back harder against the allegation that President George W. Bush had taken the country to war under false pretenses. As Peter Baker explained in the New York Times in 2010 ("Rove on Iraq: Without W.M.D. Threat, Bush Wouldn't Have Gone to War"):
"Would the Iraq War have occurred without W.M.D.? I doubt it," he writes. "Congress was very unlikely to have supported the use-of-force resolution without the W.M.D. threat. The Bush administration itself would probably have sought other ways to constrain Saddam, bring about regime change, and deal with Iraq's horrendous human rights violations."
He adds: "So, then, did Bush lie us into war? Absolutely not." But Mr. Rove said the White House had only a "weak response" to the harmful allegation, which became "a poison-tipped dagger aimed at the heart of the Bush presidency."
As it turned out, President Bush's WMD deception was a poison-tipped dagger aimed at the heart of American democracy. And for the 4,500 Americans who died in Iraq, the 30,000 wounded--including those sickened and suffering from accidental exposure to the remnants of Saddam's decrepit, decaying and obsolete pre-Gulf War chemical arsenal--the poison is still very much with us.