Published on Saturday, May 6, 2006 by the San Francisco Chronicle
Rumsfeld's New Line Contradicted
Record Disputes What He Says Now About Iraq's Weapons
by Eric Rosenberg
WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld tried to rewrite history this week when he denied making prewar claims that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.
Rumsfeld's latest attempt at backtracking on his prewar rhetoric came Thursday in Atlanta, at a contentious public forum where he faced a handful of hecklers and a war protester in the audience, who charged that he had lied about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction -- President Bush's top rationale for war.
The Pentagon chief denied that he lied, saying he had relied on official intelligence reports about Hussein's weapons.
His accuser persisted: "You said you knew where they were."
Rumsfeld shot back, "I did not. I said I knew where suspected sites were."
The record shows that in the weeks preceding the war, Rumsfeld flatly claimed to know the whereabouts of Hussein's weapons arsenal. On March 30, 2003 -- 11 days into the war -- Rumsfeld was asked in an ABC News interview if he was surprised that American forces had not yet found any weapons of mass destruction.
"Not at all," he said, according to an official Pentagon transcript. "The area in the south and the west and the north that coalition forces control is substantial. It happens not to be the area where weapons of mass destruction were dispersed. We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat."
His comments in Atlanta were in line with an attempted revision six months after the war started. On Sept. 10, 2003, Rumsfeld addressed the issue in remarks at the National Press Club. "I said, 'We know they're in that area.' I should have said, 'I believe they're in that area. Our intelligence tells us they're in that area,' and that was our best judgment."
Six months before the invasion, on Sept. 19, 2002, Rumsfeld testified about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Rumsfeld said Hussein "has amassed large clandestine stockpiles of biological weapons ... large, clandestine stockpiles of chemical weapons," according to the committee's transcript.
That theme continued right up to the weeks before the invasion. On Jan. 20, 2003, Rumsfeld told an audience at the Reserve Officers Association that Hussein "has large, unaccounted-for stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, including VX, sarin, mustard gas, anthrax, botulism and possibly smallpox."
At a Jan. 29, 2003, Pentagon news conference, Rumsfeld said that "the Iraqi regime has not accounted for some 38,000 liters of botulism toxin, 500 tons of sarin, mustard gas, VX nerve agent, upwards of 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical weapons," along with mobile biological weapons labs.
After U.S. inspectors failed to locate any weapons of mass destruction seven months after the invasion, a reporter at a Pentagon news conference asked Rumsfeld: "In retrospect, were you a little too far-leaning in your statement that Iraq categorically had caches of weapons, of chemical and biological weapons, given what's been found to date? You painted a picture of extensive stocks of Iraqi mass-killing weapons."
"Wait," Rumsfeld interjected. "You go back and give me something that talks about extensive stocks. The U.N. reported extensive stocks. That is where that came from. I said what I believed to be the case, and I don't -- I'd be surprised if you found the word 'extensive.' "
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