In his syndicated column, Media Research Center president L. Brent Bozell III claimed that "[t]he hardened historical narrative" on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq "needs to be amended" because of the assertion by Sen. Rick Santorum and Rep. Peter Hoekstra that a recently declassified report found there were WMDs in Iraq prior to the U.S.-led invasion. Bozell ignored conclusive declarations by intelligence officials that the degraded chemical munitions hyped by Santorum and Hoekstra were not, in fact, in the category of "weapons of mass destruction."
In his June 28 nationally syndicated column, Media Research Center president L. Brent Bozell III claimed that "[t]he hardened historical narrative" on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq "needs to be amended" because of the June 21 assertion by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) and House Intelligence Committee chairman Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) that a recently declassified report found there were WMDs in Iraq prior to the U.S.-led invasion. According to Bozell: "There were WMDs in Iraq that could have been used against our troops or acquired by terrorists." Bozell also faulted the "media" for not "correct[ing] the record," writing: "[T]he reception of this declassified memo shows we do not have an honest, nonpartisan news media."
Bozell, however, ignored conclusive declarations by intelligence officials that the degraded chemical munitions hyped by Santorum and Hoekstra were not, in fact, in the category of "weapons of mass destruction" that the United States was looking for at the time of the invasion in March 2003. Bozell also ignored the Iraq Survey Group's (ISG) September 2004 final report (known as the Duelfer report, for former ISG head Charles Duelfer), which noted that degraded chemical munitions had already been found in Iraq and that they were not proof of a chemical weapons stockpile or of a renewed Iraqi chemical weapons program. Indeed, Duelfer stated that the munitions referred to by Santorum and Hoekstra do not qualify as WMDs, though they may still pose a local hazard. David Kay, also a former ISG head, claimed that the degraded chemicals in the weapons were "less toxic than most things that Americans have under their kitchen sink at this point."
So it was surprising to Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., and Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., who were investigating whispers that weapons of mass destruction have actually been found by American troops in Iraq, to learn the rumors were true. After badgering administration officials for several months, the government gave the legislators a declassified memo stating that some 500 weapons of mass destruction have been found by coalition forces in Iraq, mostly sarin and mustard-gas agents, some of which "remain hazardous and potentially lethal."
But when the legislators released this information, some Bush administration officials poor-mouthed the findings, noting that these old WMDs were hardly evidence of an ongoing post-Gulf War WMD program by Saddam, the fearful scenario that dominated the pre-war debate. Others, like Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, emphatically declared that this was hard evidence. Regardless, this memo packs an important rhetorical punch. How many hundreds of times have our major media told us there were "no weapons of mass destruction" found? And how many thousands of times have leftists jumped off that springboard to an elaborate Bush-lied-people-died jeremiad?
This discovery should be a crucial, corrective turning point to the stuck-in-2003, pre-war obsessives. The hardened historical narrative needs to be amended. There were WMDs in Iraq that could have been used against our troops or acquired by terrorists.
An honest, nonpartisan news media that cared about the facts without political calculation would have taken care to correct the record, even if the findings were comparatively underwhelming to the pre-war scenarios. A fair and balanced story could be done. But the reception of this declassified memo shows we do not have an honest, nonpartisan news media, and political calculation is everything.
As Media Matters for America noted, the Duelfer report concluded that "old, abandoned chemical munitions" found in Iraq -- such as the ones hyped by Santorum and Hoekstra -- are not part of a "chemical weapons stockpile." According to the report [emphasis in original]:
While a small number of old, abandoned chemical munitions have been discovered, ISG judges that Iraq unilaterally destroyed its undeclared chemical weapons stockpile in 1991. There are no credible indications that Baghdad resumed production of chemical munitions thereafter, a policy ISG attributes to Baghdad's desire to see sanctions lifted, or rendered ineffectual, or its fear of force against it should WMD be discovered.
- The scale of the Iraqi conventional munitions stockpile, among other factors, precluded an examination of the entire stockpile; however, ISG inspected sites judged most likely associated with possible storage or deployment of chemical weapons.
Duelfer appeared on the June 22 broadcast of National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation, where he stated that these munitions are not weapons of mass destruction:
NEAL CONAN (host): The report says hundreds of WMDs were found in Iraq. Does this change any of the findings in your report?
DUELFER: No, the report -- the findings of the report were basically to describe the relationship of the regime with weapons of mass destruction generally. You know, at two different times, Saddam elected to have and then not to have weapons of mass destruction. We found, when we were investigating, some residual chemical munitions. And we said in the report that such chemical munitions would probably still be found. But the ones which have been found are left over from the Iran-Iraq War. They are all almost 20 years old, and they are in a decayed fashion. It is very interesting that there are so many that were unaccounted for, but they do not constitute a weapon of mass destruction, although they could be a local hazard.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. So these -- were these the weapons of mass destruction that the Bush administration said it was going into Iraq to find before the war?
DUELFER: No, these do not indicate an ongoing weapons of mass destruction program as had been thought to exist before the war. These are leftover rounds, which Iraq probably did not even know that it had. Certainly, the leadership was unaware of their existence, because they made very clear that they had gotten rid of their programs as a prelude to getting out of sanctions.
DUELFER: Sarin agent decays, you know, at a certain rate, as does mustard agent. What we found, both as U.N. and later when I was with the Iraq Survey Group, is that some of these rounds would have highly degraded agent, but it is still dangerous. You know, it can be a local hazard. If an insurgent got it and wanted to create a local hazard, it could be exploded. When I was running the ISG -- the Iraq Survey Group -- we had a couple of them that had been turned into these IEDs, the improvised explosive devices. But they are local hazards. They are not a major, you know, weapon of mass destruction.
Kay was quoted in a June 22 Associated Press article dismissing the danger of the degraded chemical munitions:
They probably would have been intended for chemical attacks during the Iran-Iraq War, said David Kay, who headed the U.S. weapons-hunting team in Iraq from 2003 until early 2004.
He said experts on Iraq's chemical weapons are in "almost 100 percent agreement" that sarin nerve agent produced from the 1980s would no longer be dangerous.
"It is less toxic than most things that Americans have under their kitchen sink at this point," Kay said.
And any of Iraq's 1980s-era mustard would produce burns, but it is unlikely to be lethal, Kay said.