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Bush's State of the Union

Humility or More Hyperbole?

by RAY McGOVERN

Iraqi chickens are coming to roost as President Bush’s advisors attempt to draft a State of the Union Message without the embarrassing flaws of their last try. With last year’s hyperbole — replete with the knee-slapper about Baghdad’s seeking uranium in Africa — forming part of the backdrop, they have their work cut out for them.

And the facts are not cooperating. Administration claims originally adduced to justify war could not withstand close scrutiny, and even the likes of columnist George Will have disdainfully rejected ”retroactive” justifications. The gap between earlier claims about the Iraqi threat and last year’s experience on the ground has become a chasm too wide to be bridged by rhetorical finesse.

Damaging information

Consider these events and revelations earlier this month:

* The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace released an exhaustive study, which concluded: “Administration officials systematically misrepresented the threat from Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs.”

* On the same day, State Secretary Colin Powell finally conceded that there never had been any ”concrete evidence” of Iraqi ties to al Qaeda, contradicting himself on the ”sinister nexus” that he conjured up for the U.N. Security Council last February.

* Former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill has said that during his two years in the president’s cabinet, “I never saw anything I would characterize as evidence of weapons of mass destruction.”

* But the most damaging revelation came from an internal Iraqi document — this time, happily, not a forged one — confirming that a high-level order to destroy all chemical and biological weapons was carried out in the summer of 1991 (there were no nuclear weapons). U.S. officials learned of this in mid-1995 from what intelligence officers would call ”a reliable source with excellent access.” Everything else he told us has checked out.

Defector par excellence

That source was none other than the person in charge of Iraq’s nuclear, chemical, biological and missile programs: Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law Hussein Kamel — the one who gave the order to destroy those weapons. Kamel defected in August 1995.

Documentary corroboration that Kamel’s order was carried out surfaced this month in a handwritten letter obtained by Barton Gelman of The Washington Post. The letter was written by Hossam Amin, director of the Iraqi office overseeing U.N. inspectors, five days after Kamel’s defection. It confirms that Iraq had in fact destroyed its entire inventory of biological weapons during the summer of 1991, before U.N. inspectors even knew of their existence.

Does this mean that Kamel’s testimony had been known in Washington and London more than seven years before Bush’s address last January, and that during that entire period no evidence had come to light poking holes in the information he provided? Yes.

Well, maybe they didn’t tell the president. If that is true, ”they” should be fired.

There is, I suppose, a chance that Bush’s advisors missed the information from Kamel’s debriefing — or forgot it. But Newsweek on Feb. 24, 2003, reported Kamel’s assertion that the weapons of mass destruction had been destroyed. That was more than three weeks before our troops were sent into Iraq, ostensibly to ”disarm” Iraq of those same weapons.

Both Bush and Vice President Cheney have accorded Kamel fulsome praise as defector par excellence, emphasizing his revelations about the Iraqi biological and chemical weapons but not mentioning that Kamel also said that those same weapons were destroyed at his order in 1991. This brings the practice of ”cherry-picking” intelligence information to new heights — or lows.

To his credit, Bush did ask the head of his Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, Gen. Brent Scowcroft, to investigate how the canard about Iraq’s seeking uranium in Africa got into last year’s speech. According to press reports, Scowcroft has concluded that it was the work of overzealous functionaries eager to ”find something affirmative” to support claims like those of Cheney that Saddam Hussein had ”reconstituted” Iraq’s nuclear program.

Why not ask Scowcroft to lead an inquiry into which government officials and members of Congress were briefed on the full story provided by Kamel, and when? With 500 of our sons and daughters already killed in Iraq, we are due no less.

RAY McGOVERN, a 27-year veteran CIA analyst, is on the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity’s Steering Group. He is co-director of the Servant Leadership School, an inner-city outreach ministry in Washington, DC. He can be reached at: RRMcGovern@aol.com