Sean Hannity criticized both the media and the Bush administration for not "paying attention to what was the biggest story in the lead-up to the [Iraq] war": the discredited June 21 claim by Sen. Rick Santorum and House Intelligence Committee chairman Peter Hoekstra that a recently declassified intelligence report found that there were "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq prior to the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion. But intelligence officials, military officials, and the Bush administration have all confirmed that the pre-1991 shells were not the WMDs that the Bush administration cited in its argument for war.
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On the July 5 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, co-host Sean Hannity criticized both the media and the Bush administration for not "paying attention to what was the biggest story in the lead-up to the [Iraq] war": the discredited June 21 claim by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) and House Intelligence Committee chairman Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) that a recently declassified intelligence report found that there were "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq prior to the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Later, while interviewing Hoekstra, Hannity wondered why "the administration [didn't] go out and tout, 'In fact, yes, we were right' " about prewar WMD claims and again chastised Democrats for refusing to "acknowledge" that "they were wrong when they call the president a liar every day." In fact, as Media Matters for America has previously noted (here and here), intelligence officials, military officials, and the Bush administration have all confirmed that the pre-1991 shells were not the WMDs that the Bush administration cited in its argument for war.
On June 21, Santorum and Hoekstra announced that a recently declassified intelligence report summary showed that WMDs, specifically chemical weapons, were present in Iraq prior to the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Santorum and Hoekstra said U.S. troops have recovered at least 500 of these chemical munitions and touted the report as proof that WMDs were present in Iraq prior to the 2003 U.S. invasion.
To bolster his claim that the mainstream media is ignoring Hoekstra and Santorum's announcement, Hannity noted three mainstream media outlets -- The Washington Post, The New York Times, and NBC News -- that did report on the congressmen's munitions claims. But Hannity neglected to note that each of the media outlets he highlighted noted that the munitions were "old news," as co-host Alan Colmes put it, and not proof that Iraq had usable WMDs before the U.S. invasion.
For instance, a June 22 Times article on Hoekstra and Santorum's announcement noted intelligence officials assessments that:
- "All the chemical weapons found to date were manufactured before the 1991 gulf war and have been found in 'small numbers' in various places."
- "The munitions are 'generally in poor condition' and 'are not in condition to be used as designed.'"
- "[M]ilitary and intelligence agencies had no evidence of unconventional weapons produced in Iraq after 1991 or of stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons that President Bush and other top administration officials cited as a potential threat in justifying the invasion in 2003."
Similarly, a June 22 NBC News report noted that Pentagon officials quickly dismissed the recently declassified report by telling "reporters the shells are old and inactive, dating from the Iran/Iraq war of the 1980s and that the shells are not the weapons of mass destruction we were looking for when U.S. forces went into Iraq." As Media Matters previously noted, The Washington Post also reported on June 22 that "[n]either the military nor the White House nor the CIA considered the shells to be evidence of what was alleged by the Bush administration to be a current Iraqi program to make chemical, biological and nuclear weapons."
Moreover, on June 29, the House Armed Services Committee held a hearing in which a panel of intelligence experts testified about the declassified intelligence report. Witnesses included intelligence officials from the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency, as well as other experts. At the hearing, former chief United States weapons inspector in Iraq David Kay testified that, while the discovered weapons are technically chemical weapons, categorized as WMDs, they are probably no more toxic than some household products. As Salon.com's Michael Scherer reported:
Kay said, the decades-old sarin nerve gas was probably no more dangerous than household pesticides -- and far more likely to degrade at room temperature. "In terms of toxicity, sir," Kay told [Rep. Curt] Weldon [R-PA] at one point, "I suspect in your house, and I know in my house, I have things that are more toxic than sarin produced from 1984 to 1988."
Kay also made clear that the recovered chemical munitions in question are most likely not usable weapons today. In his opening statement, Kay stated that Congress should not be surprised about the weapons discovery and that the risk they posed were minimal:
It should not be surprising that chemical munitions produced by Iraq beginning in the early 1980's and continuing until 1991 have been found in Iraq during the course of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Such rounds continued to be found during the entire course of the United Nations inspection activities in Iraq between 1991 and 1998 and during the brief resumed activities of the UN prior to the onset of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The mustard produced by Iraq was of reasonable quality but had been put into containers and munitions that were of such poor quality that, by the mid-1990's - they were generally leaking and very dangerous to handle. It was generally believed therefore that the chemical rounds that would be found would be of such low quality that they would not be effective weapons - self-policing in terms of the harm they could do to US forces and Iraqi civilians.
Additionally, as CNN national security correspondent David Ensor reported on the June 29 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, National Ground Intelligence Center director Col. John Chiu testified that the "munitions that were found were badly corroded in most cases" and apparently no longer usable as weapons. Chiu added, as noted by Scherer, "Some were deliberately dismantled, if you will, to prevent them from being used." Scherer also noted that "Terence Taylor, a former member of the U.N. Special Commission on Iraq, testified that the warheads' designs made the nerve gas almost impossible to use outside of its original purpose."
Further, according to Ensor, Kay "told the committee he always expected old shells to be found" and that "they did not prove Saddam Hussein had an active weapons program."
Previously, Hannity claimed that Santorum and Hoekstra's announcement "vindicated" the Bush administration's prewar Iraqi WMD claims and declared: "[I]t's time" for "liberal[s] ... that attacked the president ... to come out and admit they were wrong and apologize."
From the July 5 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:
HANNITY: Last month, Congressman Pete Hoekstra and Senator Rick Santorum announced that a newly declassified report stated that coalition forces have, in fact, found 500 munitions in Iraq that contain sarin or mustard nerve agents. Now, their announcement has gotten very little attention. Now, in fact, in the first few months of 2005, The Washington Post had five stories about the lack of WMDs found. The New York Times had five stories. The L.A. Times had three. On the network newscasts, CBS had three stories about no WMDs, NBC had four, ABC had two. But, since Senator Santorum and Congressman Hoekstra's announcement, although The Washington Post did, in fact, have three stories about the weapons being found, The New York Times only had one story, the L.A. Times, no stories. NBC ran one story about it, but ABC and CBS, no stories about it. So why is nobody paying attention to what was the biggest story in the lead-up to the war? Congressman Hoekstra, he joins us now for a report on this. Congressman, I just want to get these facts on the table. These were weapons that we were told had all been destroyed, correct? These were the weapons we were talking about?
HOEKSTRA: That's correct. During the 1990s, Saddam Hussein repeatedly told the U.N. inspectors, the international community, that he had destroyed all of his WMDs. That clearly is not true.
HANNITY: And these were weapons that could still be used. We don't -- the fact that liberals are saying, "Well, but they were degraded." I doubt they'd want these degraded weapons in their back yard.
HOEKSTRA: Right. The evidence says that they probably couldn't be used in their intended format, meaning you wouldn't want to put it into a howitzer and shoot it, but the material inside the shell was still very, very deadly.
HANNITY: All right. You have hinted, Senator Santorum has hinted, Senator [Bill] Frist [R-TN] has hinted that there is still a lot more to be declassified. Here is my point: Why do you think, a) the media is not covering it? Why didn't the administration go out and tout, "In fact, yes, we were right"? And would we ever expect Democrats to acknowledge, in fact, they were wrong when they call the president a liar every day?
HOEKSTRA: Well, I think you hit on a couple of points there that are very important, Sean. The media does not want to move away from the story that characterizes the president as a liar. There's been no evidence since 9-11, since the war in Iraq, that the president misled the Congress or misled the American people.
COLMES: Congressman Hoekstra. You know, it's misleading to claim that these were the weapons the president was talking about. It's not liberals that said it was degraded, it was our own Defense Department. The White House isn't coming forward with this story because even its own Iraq Survey Group said that, yeah, there were some weapons still buried in Iraq, but not of military significance. They've said it all along. This is not new information.
From the June 22 broadcast of NBC's Nightly News:
CHIP REID (NBC correspondent): That's right, Brian [Williams, anchor]. While this big debate was going on in the Senate floor, there's a side battle brewing over weapons of mass destruction, and at the center of it all, Republican Senator Rick Santorum.
The story begins Wednesday afternoon, with the release of a one-page summary of a Pentagon report stating that "approximately 500 weapons munitions which contain degraded mustard or sarin nerve agent" have been found in Iraq since 2003. Republican Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum rushes out a press release and heads for the Senate floor --
SANTORUM: This is an incredibly significant document.
REID: -- where he declares that the elusive weapons of mass destruction have been found.
SANTORUM: We now have found stockpiles.
REID: The claim quickly becomes a hot topic on cable TV and the Internet, but just as quickly, Pentagon officials pour cold water on the story, telling reporters the shells are old and inactive, dating from the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, and that the shells are not the weapons of mass destruction we were looking for when U.S. forces went into Iraq.