The Worst of Intentions
by Christopher S. Carson (March 2010)
–Dr. “Germ” Rihab Taha, former head of Saddam’s bioweapons program, in response to UNSCOM inspectors when asked why she continued to lie in the face of proof, 1995
Although it hardly made the American news, the Rt. Hon. Anthony Blair, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1997 to 2007, was called to the hot seat in London in February, testifying before Britain’s Chilcot “Iraq Inquiry” in what was ubiquitously referred to as his “Day of Judgment.” It seemed the political and media classes in Great Britain expected him to beat his breast in biblical lamentation for his vile sin of deposing Saddam Hussein’s monstrous regime in 2003. Perhaps the media and political classes at least hoped to see him sweat, or even see him beg for forgiveness, the way Richard Clarke did when he testified histrionically before the 9-11 Commission just as his Bush-bashing book hit the stores.
But Mr. Blair disappointed them all. "The decision I took - and frankly would take again - was if there was any possibility that he could develop weapons of mass destruction (WMD) we should stop him," he said. "That was my view then and that is my view now." Dressed in an impeccable suit, he used his considerable charm to tell the colorlessly verbose members of the Board that he had made the judgment that Britain should not "run the risk" of allowing Saddam to remain in power. "This isn't about a lie or a conspiracy or a deceit or a deception. It's a decision. And the decision I had to take was, given Saddam's history, given his use of chemical weapons, given the over one million people whose deaths he had caused, given 10 years of breaking UN resolutions, could we take the risk of this man reconstituting his weapons programmes or is that a risk that it would be irresponsible to take?" He went on: "I had to take the decision. I believed, and in the end the Cabinet believed - so did Parliament incidentally - that we were right not to run that risk."
Mr. Blair was his usual polite self, effortlessly addressing the Board members by their knightly titles and displaying a remarkable self assurance during his six hours of historical reckoning. Of course he was savaged for it—for not apologizing, for not groveling, for not admitting he had been wrong to ally his government with the hated Texan in 2003 over WMD and Iraq’s ties to terrorists.
The savaging was universal, across all the newspapers and media outlets. Brian Reade of the Daily Mirror noted how Blair had “sneaked in the back gate” and lamented that his verbally challenged interlocutors “seemed unable to contradict him. Even though you found yourself internally screaming at him: "’Why don't you just own up and say a big Texan boy made me do it.’"
John Kampfner of the Daily Mail derided Blair as “A man who creates his own truths,” professing shock that “there appeared to be no link in Blair's mind between cause and effect: for neither Iraq's hostile neighbour nor Osama bin Laden's terrorist network had any foothold in Iraq before 2003. He seemed to forget that they gained popularity only after the invasion and the anger and frustrations among civilians that followed. Again, he was allowed to make his tendentious assertions unchallenged….he seems genuinely to believe all this.”
Although Blair reminded the Inquiry that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, was actually in-country before the invasion, assisted by Saddam, neither Kampfner nor anyone else felt the slightest need to defend their received template of derision. (Inconveniently for Fleet Street, Zarqawi was a Jordanian and all his chief henchmen were foreigners, not Iraqi civilians angry and “frustrated” over their liberation.) I’ve always been confused by the liberal notion that al-Qaeda in Iraq was bred by Operation Iraqi Freedom—as if giving the people free elections and democracy would self-evidently lead to a strange mania for Youtube-beheadings and mass suicide bombings of schools, The Grand Ali Mosque and crowded marketplaces. This “logic” was of course slavishly followed by the New York Times. “Frustrated” by Americans in your country? Oh I know—let’s blow up the Grand Ali Mosque.
Dominic Lawson of the venerable Times of London indulged in a bit of soft-option psychotherapy to explain the mysterious enigma of a man who really believed he was right in deposing the Baathist dictatorship:
This finding, questionable as it was in the light of my article, was the only thing the American and British media ever reported on. But Mr. Duelfer had some important qualifications, too, and naturally these were ignored:
This was particularly important. Inasmuch as it is possible to gauge the intent of criminal, secretive regime, Saddam made every effort to retain the technical know-how and structural ability to rapidly surge production of CW precursors and chemical weapons themselves. The sanctions regime was eroding, and the UN’s Oil-for-Food program turned out to be a personal gravy train for both Saddam’s regime (not, of course, his people) and the UN bureaucrats like Kojo Annan and the French government ministers who “administered” it.
Duelfer added that site visits and debriefs revealed that Iraq maintained its ability for reconfiguring and ‘making-do’ with available equipment as substitutes for sanctioned items; he noted that Iraq at the time of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) probably had a capability to produce large quantities of sulfur mustard within three to six months.
A former nerve agent expert indicated that Iraq retained the capability to produce nerve agent in significant quantities within two years, given the import of required phosphorous precursors. However, ISG said that it had no credible indications that Iraq acquired or attempted to acquire large quantities of these chemicals through its existing procurement networks for sanctioned items. But Saddam kept strangely close tabs on the industries that employed dual-use process equipment. This provided Iraq, wrote Duelfer, “the ability to rapidly reallocate key equipment for proscribed activities, if required by the Regime.”
While I certainly appreciate Mr. Duelfer’s academic modesty of expression here, common sense tells you that Saddam wouldn’t be experimenting on live people, with special poisons and gasses, in secret undeclared labs, under the control of his intelligence service, no less, for the good of mankind. He wasn’t working on vaccines or his famous “baby milk” formulas. He might actually have even been working on smallpox, for example, as Duelfer discusses in his Report. (Smallpox was the worst killer disease in the history of mankind before its supposed eradication in the early 1970’s by the WHO.)
Maybe this is why Dr. David Kay, Duelfer’s predecessor at ISG, reported to Congress in October 2003 that one scientist was ordered to conceal reference strains of BW organisms like anthrax, ricin and Crimean Congo Hemorrhagic Fever in his own refrigerator, which he turned over to ISG. The scientist knew of the location of other, much larger seed stockpiles, but these were unsurprisingly missing when ISG investigators showed up to collect them. Similarly, most of the hard drives, written reports, and lab samples suspected of being BW in refrigerators were deliberately and selectively vandalized and destroyed shortly before the coalition forces arrived, according to Dr. Kay.
Keep in mind: the real danger to Americans was not that Saddam would use chemical weapons in a final battle against American forces invading his country. Our forces can protect themselves against nearly every unconventional weapon with the gear and supplies they’re trained to use. The real danger was that Saddam would hand over smaller quantities (not battlefield quantities) of his anthrax spores to the next Mohammed Atta, who would then rent a crop-duster plane in Cedar Rapids and spray the good stuff all over Des Moines at rush hour. That was the danger we went to war over. It doesn’t take much more than one 155 millimeter shell filled with mustard gas to dump into the HEVAC system of the NBC Building in Chicago. Shortly before OIF, Hans Blix, of all people, found fourteen of these 155 mm shells filled with mustard gas, which totaled approximately 49 liters and was still at high purity (more than 90% concentrate). Blix’s UNMOVIC also found, among other things:
But Santorum pointed out another interesting revelation that had not been reported in the media, this time about the ISG:
In other words, the ISG of Kay and Duelfer, due to the deteriorating security situation, stopped exploiting field sites only “five months” after they arrived in a country the size of California. They spent the remaining 11 months of their tenure interviewing high-value detainees in jail, who might or might not have been lying to them. In his memoirs, Mr. Duelfer, for his part, seemed rather credulous about the veracity of the detainees like Saddam Hussein, Presidential secretary Abed Hamid Mahmud, Dr. Germ (Rihab Tahab) and the infamous Chemical Ali. After all, they had every reason to cooperate with us, now that they’re in custody, right? After all, they wanted things to go easier for them when the handover to Iraqi sovereignty occurred in mid-2004.
One of my personal favorites is a document from 2001, not 1991:
1. On 10/12/2000 a laboratory test was done on the new equipment and the results of the test was similar to the required quality compared with the Russian equipments
2. On the light of the above (1) a second equipment was received from the Ministry of Industry and Minerals and the total tests were done on it on 24/12/2000 using laboratory equipment to Chemical Detection Device (GSU-12) and with the presence of the Chemical Class representatives and the manufacturing party and its success was proven from the perspective of detection and reaction to NERVE AGENTS.
It seemed almost superfluous for Mr. Shahda to translate Iraqi document CMPC-2003-002284, which helpfully tells its readers where the WMD research was being conducted:
While doing so, he certainly had plenty of time, in the words of Colin Powell, “to keep, to hide from the inspectors.” While Powell was repudiating his own UN speech to the media, the Pentagon released one of its DOCEX Project Harmony documents, CMPC-2003-00011084-HT-DHM2A.
This document is a letter from the Director of the Criminal Department, Na'man Ali Muhammad, to the Director of the Iraqi Intelligence Service, dated September 4, 1999. It stated in part:
In his memoir, he certainly seems to have a selective memory about his seven years leading UNSCOM. Still, it was hard to forget Dr. Rihab “Germ” Taha. Dr. Taha was normally mild-mannered, but according to a 1999 DIA report, when UNSCOM inspectors asked her about the al Hakam bioweapon facility, she flew into a satanic rage, screaming that it only processed chickenfeed. She literally smashed and trashed the furniture the inspectors were sitting on. Al-Hakam was later blown up by UNSCOM in 1996 under Duelfer's overall direction, so I guess he didn't believe it was a chickenfeed plant at the time. Indeed, even two years later, he still didn't think it had been, and not just because of the the missiles he had drily observed defending it. The reason is this: In 1998 UNSCOM discovered a 1994 document which proved that the Regime was making "nozzles for spray dryers to be delivered to Al Hakam." Chickenfeed? You don't need spray dryer nozzles to make that. You do need them to make nice, freeze-dried Anthrax.
I think she was protesting too much. In 1995, UNSCOM's principal weapons inspector, Dr. Rod Barton from Australia, showed Taha documents that showed the Iraqi government had just purchased 10 tons of growth medium from a British company called Oxoid. (Growth media is a mixture of sugars, proteins and minerals that provides nutrients for microorganisms to grow. It can be used in hospitals and microbiology/molecular biology research laboratories.) In hospitals, swabs from patients are placed in dishes containing growth medium for diagnostic purposes.
The only trouble was this: Iraq's hospital consumption of growth medium was just 200 kg a year; yet in 1988, Iraq imported 39 tons of it. Shown this evidence by UNSCOM, Taha admitted to the inspectors that she had grown 19,000 litres of botulism toxin; 8,000 litres of anthrax; 2,000 litres of aflatoxins, which causes liver failure; Clostridium perfringens, a bacterium that causes gas gangrene; and ricin, a castor-bean derivative which kills by cutting off your circulation. She also admitted conducting research into cholera, salmonella, foot and mouth disease, and camel pox, a disease that uses the same growth techniques as smallpox, but which is safer for researchers to work with. It was because of the discovery of Taha's work with camel pox that the U.S. and British intelligence services feared Saddam Hussein may have been planning to weaponize the smallpox virus. Iraq had a smallpox outbreak in 1971 and the Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation and Arms Control Center (WINPAC) believed the Iraqi government retained contaminated material.
But wait—she claimed she did all this before the Gulf War, and after it, she claimed she destroyed all her evil handiwork. I guess Iraq’s 1995 purchase of another 10 tons of growth media, four years after the Gulf War, was just to supply Iraq’s hospitals-- for the next hundred years. "We never intended to use [the weaponized agents],” she told journalist Jane Corbin of the BBC's Panorama program. "We never wanted to cause harm or damage to anybody." Duelfer now believes her.
Another problem for Dr. Germ’s credibility long after the Gulf War was those pesky, primate-sized inhalation chambers at al-Haditha. Humans are primates, but Taha denied ever using monkeys or other non-human primates for biological experiments and no evidence of ape use was ever adduced.
Actually Dr. Taha preferred people as her test subjects. According to Scott Ritter in his 1999 book Endgame: Solving the Iraq Crisis, UNSCOM learned that, between July 1 and August 15, 1995, 50 prisoners were transferred from Abu Ghraib to a base at al-Haditha. Dr. Ahmed Chalabi’s INC reported that Dr. Taha’s scientists sprayed the prisoners down with anthrax. During one experiment, the inspectors were told, 12 prisoners were tied to posts while shells loaded with anthrax were blown up nearby. Dr. Germ got to watch them wheeze and die.
Of course the trouble was that it had been Dr. Chalabi’s organization, in touch with the relatives, that reported what happened at al-Haditha, and the CIA had always hated Chalabi. In his book, Duelfer seems to agree: Years later, in 2003, when the newly installed Duelfer learned that one of the ISG’s sources of information was from the Chalabi organization, Duelfer immediately ordered that the cooperation be drastically limited. After all, you wouldn’t want to get any information, however useful, from a man everybody knows has his “own agenda,” to use Mr. Duelfer’s phrase in Hide and Seek.
But back in 1995, Scott Ritter was more suspicious—not of Dr. Chalabi, but of Dr. Germ. He was convinced she was killing people with her germs. His team demanded to see documents from Abu Ghraib prison showing a prisoner count. Ritter discovered that the records for July and August 1995 were, of course, mysteriously missing. Asked to explain the missing documents, the Iraqi government angrily accused Ritter of working for the CIA and summarily denied UNSCOM access to the Baath Party headquarters. Mr. Duelfer doesn’t mention any of this in his memoir, perhaps because it involved anthrax use after the Gulf War, and not before. It would upset his theory. [After resigning in protest from UNSCOM in 1998, Ritter told Congress and the media, "Iraq is not disarming," and "Iraq retains the capability to launch a chemical strike."]
Duelfer's memory of his fine work at UNSCOM seems almost to have evaporated. On September 17, 1997, while waiting for access to a site, his UNSCOM inspectors witnessed and videotaped Iraqi guards moving files, burning documents, and dumping waste cans into a nearby river. At the exact same time, a second UNSCOM team (UNSCOM 199/203), this one in central Baghdad, was barred entry to their own target facility for about an hour, all the while watching the exact same thing going on. Maybe this time the Iraqis were trying to conceal goat food.
But only one week later, Ritter had reason to believe that his ground teams' efforts were paying off. At least he was getting documents proving guilt. On September 25, 1997, UNSCOM inspected a "food laboratory." One of Duelfer's inspectors, Dr. Diane Seaman, entered the building, but this time she sidled through the back door. She caught several men running out with suitcases and started yelling for help. Ritter's men ran them down. It turned out that the suitcases contained "log books for the creation of illegal bacteria and chemicals. The letterhead comes from the president's office and from the Special Security Office (SSO)." UNSCOM immediately attempted to inspect the SSO headquarters but was of course blocked. Why was Iraq making "illegal bacteria and chemicals" in 1997? Somehow I don't think it was to feed all those herds of chickens and goats. But amazingly, this, or at least its moral equivalent, is what Duelfer seems now to believe.
Even the Iraqis, according to the UNSCOM reports from 1997, were fessing up to some things. Duelfer apparently forgot about the fact that he himself had been in overall charge of a major destruction of chemical weapons and related equipment the very next month, in October 1997. While UNSCOM arranged for the demolition, the Regime actually admitted that some of the exploding equipment had actually been used to produce VX nerve gas in May, 1997--not May 1990. By the spring of 1998, UNSCOM had physical confirmation of VX nerve gas in a hidden dump of undeclared missiles.
OPCW spokesman Michael Luhan was quick to minimize the significance of the Declaration, so as not to justify the invasion retroactively. "These are legacy weapons, remnants," Luhan told Global Security Newswire, but mysteriously wouldn’t say how many CW munitions were found or anything else about them, for that matter. The production facilities, he opined, were "put out of commission" by airstrikes during the 1991 conflict. But you would think that if these CW factories were reduced to rubble during the Gulf War, there wouldn’t be any need to declare them, would you? Apparently Iraq’s democratic government thought they were more important than Mr. Luhan did, or than Duelfer does now.
Ryan Mauro, founder of Worldthreats.com, interviewed Mr. Duelfer on February 24th, 2009 after a talk by Duelfer at the Free Library of Philadelphia. General George Sada, the former second-in-command of the Iraqi Air Force, explained in his 2006 book, Saddam's Secrets, that he personally knows two Iraqi pilots who flew most of the WMD’s into Syria over the summer of 2002. Sada also said there was a ground shipment that followed afterwards, which was partly corroborated by the DOD’s National Imaging and Mapping Agency’s photographs of the convoys. Nizar Najoef, a Syrian journalist who defected to France, told De Telegraaf on January 5, 2004 that his sources inside Syria identified the three locations where Iraq’s WMD had been shipped to.
Charles Duelfer was not terribly interested in this alternative theory to his own. “I did not interview the pilots nor did I speak with the Syrian journalist you mentioned,” Duelfer said. “We were inundated with WMD reports and could not investigate them all...To narrow the problem, we investigated those people and places we knew would have either been involved or aware of regime WMD activities.” Except that “narrowing the problem” evidently didn’t include reading the full 2002 NIE before tackling it. To his credit, however, Duelfer in Hide and Seek did confirm knowledge of Iraqi truck drivers working for a company linked to Uday Hussein transporting “sensitive” cargo into Syria shortly before the invasion started. He told Mauro that this was indeed a “loose end.” The truck drivers weren’t interviewed, however.
Duelfer figured that since none of the incarcerated Baathists he interviewed in
It was Saddam’s nuke program that should really have garnered the highest interest by the ISG.
We know about it not from Saddam’s jailhouse FBI interviews, where according to Duelfer’s memoir Saddam steadfastly denied everything except an intention to re-acquire WMD when sanctions had eroded. We know about it from his own mouth, in captured tape ISGQ-2003-M0007379, in which Saddam is briefed on his secret nuclear weapons project. This meeting must have taken place in 2002 or 2003.
According to John Loftus of the Intelligence Summit, which unveiled the tape at its annual convention in February 2006, the tape “describes a laser enrichment process for uranium that had never been known by the UN inspectors to even exist in Iraq, and Saddam's nuclear briefers on the tape were Iraqi scientists who had never been on any weapons inspector’s list. The tape explicitly discusses how civilian plasma research could be used as a cover for military plasma research necessary to build a hydrogen bomb.”
Another document was translated by the Intelligence Summit, dated November 2002, describing an expensive plan to remove radioactive contamination from an isotope production building before UNMOVIC inspectors showed up on-site. But Charles Duelfer, strangely, doesn’t mention any radioactive isotope production facilities in Saddam’s Iraq in 2002, or any plans for making Hydrogen Bombs. Of these tapes, Duelfer hastily told CNN, "The tapes tend to reinforce, confirm, and to a certain extent, provide a bit more detail, the conclusions which we brought out in the report." Really.
The final line of evidence is David Gaubatz. Mr. Gaubatz was an officer in the US Air Force for 23 years, usually investigating murder, drug and other criminal cases for the Office of Special Investigations. According to the New York Times, Gaubatz retired in 1999 and worked as an investigator for Target, the retail chain, but soon returned to the AFOSI as a civilian.
After 9-11, Mr. Gaubatz learned Arabic and shipped out to Iraq. He was stationed near Nasiriya, where he and a colleague headed out in a utility vehicle “at 6 a.m. each day and spent their time talking with anyone they saw — Bedouin tribesmen, farmers, hospital workers, former military officers, police officers and city bureaucrats,” in the words of the NYT article by Scott Shane on June 23rd, 2006.
Iraqi civilians led him to four places where they said they had seen chemical weapons being hidden in underground bunkers or, in one case, under the Euphrates River in a submerged set of concrete bunkers. They risked their lives in doing so, given the general Sunni hostility to helping Americans at the time.
Excited, Gaubatz called the ISG “every other day,” to no avail, pleading with them to send a team with heavy digging equipment. "They'd say, ‘We're in a combat zone. We don't have the people or the equipment,’ " recounted Mr. Gaubatz to the NYT reporter. The 75th Exploitation Task Force was also called regularly but likewise ignored Gaubatz’s pleas for excavation.
Mr. Gaubatz’s carefully cultivated Iraqi informants grew angry and frightened. "They said, 'We risked our lives and our families to help you, and nothing's happened,'" Mr. Gaubatz relayed. The sites were never searched. “I didn't imagine it would be a battle to get them to search," he said. "One of the primary reasons for going into combat was the W.M.D."
Christopher Carson, formerly of the American Enterprise Institute, holds a masters degree in Security Studies from Georgetown University, where he was Bradley Fellow. He practices law in Milwaukee.
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