As the furor grows over the continued failure to find Iraq’s supposed arsenal of weapons mass destruction, there is another twist to that story that is not receiving sufficient attention, and that is the fate of the Iraqi scientists who were supposedly working on the weapons.
Readers may recall that during the period prior to the invasion when the UN weapons inspectors were in Iraq, trying to find these weapons, the US government kept giving the inspectors so-called intelligence ‘leads’ as to where to find them, all of which turned out to be fruitless. This caused the inspectors to fume privately that their time was being wasted by these wild goose chases.
The US government then shifted its position and insisted that the weapons would soon be found if Iraqi scientists could be interviewed without the presence of intimidating government ‘minders’, so that the scientists could speak more freely. When that was done and did not produce the sought-for results, the US demand switched to insisting that the scientists and their families be allowed to leave the country and be given asylum elsewhere so that they would be truly free of Iraqi government influence and thus able to speak their minds. But the weapons remained elusive.
Now the government of Saddam Hussein is gone, and these same Iraqi scientists are in the hands of the US authorities. They have the most favorable conditions of all to reveal any damaging information that they might have since the US government, desperate to justify its invasion, would presumably reward any scientist who could point them to the weapons.
What is interesting is that nearly three months after Bush declared victory, not only do we not know whether these scientists revealed any important information, the scientists themselves are missing and being kept in undisclosed locations without contact with even their families. Their conditions are even worse than of those prisoners being held in Guantanamo Bay.
Jonathan Steele reporting from Baghdad in the Sunday July 20, 2003 issue of The Observer (London) states that:
"The International Committee of the Red Cross, with an internationally recognized mandate to inspect detention centers around the world, has been urging the US to clarify the status of the three dozen Iraqi scientists and officials it holds. The authorities have given no details of their whereabouts and, unlike Camp Delta in Guantanamo Bay, the place where they are held has not been shown to journalists. Some detainees are believed to be imprisoned in solitary cells or in swelteringly hot tents near the vast US base at Baghdad airport."
Steele also reports that around 30 other prominent Iraqis in the ‘pack of cards’ (people like the former Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz) are being held in similarly secret conditions.
Presumably all these people have been repeatedly questioned by US authorities. One has to assume that if even a single one of them had revealed the existence of actual weapons or their locations or even merely plans for weapons, the Bush and Blair governments, increasingly under siege by their continued failure to substantiate the major argument they made for the attack, would have gratefully seized upon the news and made it public.
It could be that these two governments have in fact obtained such information and are holding on to it, waiting to reveal it with a flourish at some auspicious time. It could also be that, for reasons unknown, these scientists are refusing to talk.
But it is most likely that all these scientist captives are being held incommunicado because they are saying now what they kept saying all along, that there are simply no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to find. To release them might result in them revealing yet another gaping hole in the case for war.
It is time to demand answers to the question of why the Iraqi scientists are being held prisoner. Is their only crime that they cannot say what their captors want them to say? Have they become, in essence, political prisoners?
MANO SINGHAM is a physicist and educator at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org