THIS WAS an important week to remember that Vice President Dick Cheney once said, "There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction." And that President Bush once said there is "no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised." And especially that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once said, "We know where they are."
The original justification for invading Iraq crumbled even more this week. A 5,000-word Washington Post story said that while Iraqi scientists were trying to sketch and design missiles, the weapons did not exist. While former Iraqi officials engaged in "abundant deception" about their dreams of future weapons, the dreams were nowhere near the nightmare depicted by Bush.
The Post reported: "Weapons investigators have found no support for the two main fears expressed in London and Washington before the war: that Iraq had a hidden arsenal of old weapons and built advanced programs for new ones. In public statements and unauthorized interviews, investigators said they have discovered no work on former germ warfare agents such as anthrax and no work on a new designer pathogen -- combining pox virus and snake venom -- that led US scientists on a highly classified hunt for several months.
"The investigators assess that Iraq did not, as charged in London and Washington, resume production of its most lethal nerve agent, VX, or learn to make it last longer in storage. And they have found the former nuclear weapons program, described as a `grave and gathering danger' by President Bush and a `mortal threat' by Vice President Cheney, in much the same shattered state left by UN inspectors in the 1990s.
"A review of available evidence, including some not known to coalition investigators and some they have not made public, portrays a nonconventional arms establishment that was far less capable than US analysts judged before the war."
The Post story detailed a battered Iraqi arms infrastructure that never recovered from the 1991 Gulf War. Its nuclear arms program was reduced to "less than zero," according to one of the would-be developers of an Iraqi nuke, Sabah Abdul Noor.
The Post obtained a document written by Hossam Amin, a top Iraqi official who was supposed to work with weapons inspectors. The document, written to Qusay Hussein, one of Saddam's sons killed by US forces, said that biological weapons were destroyed in 1991 after the Gulf War.
"Whatever its desire," the Post wrote, "Iraq did not possess the wherewithal to build a forbidden armory on anything like the scale it had before the 1991 Persian Gulf War."
That assessment was coincidentally seconded this week by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. In a 111-page report, the endowment concluded that while Saddam Hussein's desire for weapons was a "long-term danger that could not be ignored or allowed to fester unaddressed," the weapons program did not "pose an immediate threat to the United States, the region, or global security." The report said that "administration officials systematically misrepresented the threat from Iraq's nuclear, chemical, and biological weapon programs and ballistic missile programs."
On the restarting of a nuclear program, the endowment said, "Iraq's nuclear program had been dismantled and there was no convincing evidence of its reconstitution."
On the supposed ties between Saddam and Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, frequently alluded to by the Bush administration, the report said: "The most intensive searching over the last two years has produced no solid evidence of a cooperative relationship between Saddam's government and Al Qaeda." On weapons inspections, which the Bush administration repeatedly trashed, the report said: "Nine months of exhaustive searches by US and coalition forces and experts suggest that the UN inspection teams were actually in the process of finding what was there." The report also left the door open as to whether the US intelligence community had been unduly influenced by White House pressure as the administration escalated its anti-Saddam rhetoric. The report said "it strains credulity" to believe that White House actions "did not create an environment in which individuals and agencies felt pressured to reach more threatening judgments of Saddam Hussein's weapons programs than many analysts felt were warranted."
As the Post story and the Carnegie report drive home how much the White House lied, the administration has shown a major card of knowing it will never find any truly threatening number of weapons of mass destruction. The New York Times reported this week that a 400-member military weapons inspection team has left Iraq. Defense Department officials said the team left "because its work was essentially done" and that "they picked up everything that was worth picking up."
That is a haunting statement. If they had picked up anything worth a war, we would have heard about it a long time ago.
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.