Seattle Times
U.S. justification for war: How it stacks up now
Tue Aug 12 16:52:59 2003

U.S. justification for war: How it stacks up now

Editor's note: The most detailed U.S. case for invading Iraq was laid out Feb. 5 in a U.N. address by Secretary of State Colin Powell. Six months later, months of war and revelation, the Powell case can be examined in a new light.

By Charles J. Hanley
The Associated Press
On a February evening in Baghdad, Iraq, in a warm conference room high above the city's streets, Iraqi bureaucrats, European envoys and foreign reporters crowded before television screens to hear the reading of an indictment.

In a hushed U.N. Security Council chamber in New York, Secretary of State Colin Powell unleashed an 80-minute avalanche of accusations: The Iraqis were hiding chemical and biological weapons, were secretly working to make more banned arms, were reviving their nuclear-bomb project. He spoke of "the gravity of the threat that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction pose to the world."

It was the most comprehensive presentation of the U.S. case for war. Powell marshaled what were described as intercepted Iraqi conversations, reconnaissance photos of Iraqi sites, accounts of defectors and other intelligence sources. Since 1998, he told fellow foreign ministers, "we have amassed much intelligence indicating that Iraq is continuing to make these weapons."

In the United States, Powell's "thick intelligence file" was galvanizing, swinging opinion toward war.

But in Baghdad, when the satellite broadcast ended, Lt. Gen. Amer al-Saadi, a presidential science adviser, appeared before the audience and dismissed the U.S. case as "stunts" aimed at swaying the uninformed.

How does Powell's pivotal indictment look from the vantage point of today? Powell has said several times since February that he stands by it, the State Department said Wednesday. Here is an Associated Press review of major elements, based on what was known in February and what has been learned since:


• Powell presented satellite photos of industrial buildings, bunkers and trucks, and suggested they showed Iraqis surreptitiously moving prohibited missiles and chemical and biological weapons to hide them. At two sites, he said trucks were "decontamination vehicles" associated with chemical weapons.

• But these and other sites had undergone 500 inspections in recent months. Chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix, a day earlier, said his well-equipped experts found no contraband and no sign that items had been moved. Nothing has been reported found since.

Addressing the Security Council a week after Powell, Blix used one photo scenario as an example and said it could be showing routine as easily as illicit activity. Norwegian inspector Jorn Siljeholm told The Associated Press on March 19 that "decontamination vehicles" U.N. teams were led to invariably turned out to be water or fire trucks.


• Powell played three audiotapes of men speaking in Arabic of a mysterious "modified vehicle," "forbidden ammo" and "the expression 'nerve agents' " — tapes said to be intercepts of Iraqi army officers discussing concealment.

• Two of the brief, anonymous tapes, otherwise not authenticated, provided little context for judging their meaning. It couldn't be known whether the mystery vehicle, however "modified," was even banned. A listener could only speculate over the cryptic mention of nerve agents. The third tape, meanwhile, seemed natural, an order to inspect scrap areas for "forbidden ammo." The Iraqis had just told U.N. inspectors they would search ammunition dumps for stray, empty chemical warheads left from years earlier. They later gave four to inspectors.

Powell's rendition of that third conversation made it more incriminating, by saying an officer ordered that the area be "cleared out." The voice on the tape didn't say that, only that the area be "inspected," according to the official U.S. translation.


• Powell said "classified" documents found at a nuclear scientist's Baghdad home were "dramatic confirmation" of intelligence saying prohibited items were concealed that way.

• U.N. nuclear inspectors later said the documents were old and "irrelevant": some administrative material, some from a failed and well-known uranium-enrichment program of the 1980s.


• Powell noted Iraq had declared it produced 8,500 liters of the biological agent anthrax before 1991, but U.N. inspectors estimated it could have made 25,000 liters. None has been "verifiably accounted for," he said.

• No anthrax has been reported found. The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), in a confidential report in September, said that although it believed Iraq had biological weapons, it didn't know their nature, amounts or condition. Three weeks before the invasion, an Iraqi report of scientific soil sampling supported its contention that it destroyed its anthrax at a known site, the U.N. inspection agency said May 30.


• Powell said defectors told of "biological-weapons factories" on trucks and in train cars. He displayed artists' conceptions of such vehicles.

• After the invasion, U.S. authorities said they found two such truck trailers in Iraq, and the CIA said it concluded they were part of a bioweapons-production line. But no trace of biological agents was found on them, Iraqis said the equipment made hydrogen for weather balloons, and State Department intelligence balked at the CIA's conclusion. The British defense minister, Geoffrey Hoon, has said the vehicles aren't a "smoking gun."

The trailers have not been submitted to U.N. inspection for verification. No "bioweapons railcars" have been reported found.


• Powell said Iraq produced 4 tons of the nerve agent VX. "A single drop of VX on the skin will kill in minutes. Four tons," he said.

• Powell didn't note that most of that 4 tons was destroyed in the 1990s under U.N. supervision. Before the invasion, the Iraqis made a "considerable effort" to prove they had destroyed the rest, doing chemical analysis of the ground where inspectors confirmed VX had been dumped, the U.N. inspection agency reported May 30.

Experts at Britain's International Institute of Strategic Studies said any pre-1991 VX most likely would have degraded anyway. No VX has been reported found since the invasion.


• "We know that Iraq has embedded key portions of its illicit chemical-weapons infrastructure within its legitimate civilian industry," Powell said.

• No "chemical-weapons infrastructure" has been reported found. The newly disclosed DIA report of September said there was "no reliable information" on "where Iraq has — or will — establish its chemical-warfare-agent-production facilities." It suggested international inspections would keep Iraq from rebuilding a chemical-weapons program.


• "Our conservative estimate is that Iraq today has a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical-weapons agent," Powell said.

• Powell gave no basis for the assertion, and no such agents have been reported found. An unclassified CIA report in October made a similar assertion without citing evidence, saying only that Iraq "probably" concealed precursor chemicals to make such weapons. The DIA reported in September there "is no reliable information on whether Iraq is producing and stockpiling chemical weapons."


• Powell said 122-mm chemical warheads found by U.N. inspectors in January might be the "tip of an iceberg."

• The warheads were empty, a fact Powell didn't note. Blix said on June 16 the dozen stray rocket warheads, never uncrated, were apparently "debris from the past," the 1980s. No others have been reported found.


• "Saddam Hussein has chemical weapons. ... And we have sources who tell us that he recently has authorized his field commanders to use them," Powell said.

• No such weapons were used and none was reported found after the U.S. and allied military units overran Iraqi field commands and ammunition dumps.


• "We have no indication that Saddam Hussein has ever abandoned his nuclear-weapons program," Powell said.

• Chief U.N. nuclear inspector Mohamed ElBaradei told the council two weeks before the U.S. invasion, "We have to date found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear-weapons program in Iraq." On July 24, Foreign Minister Ana Palαcio of Spain, a U.S. ally on Iraq, said there were "no evidences, no proof" of a nuclear-bomb program before the war. No such evidence has been reported found since the invasion.


• Powell said "intelligence sources" indicate Iraq had a secret force of up to a few dozen prohibited Scud-type missiles. He said it also had a program to build 600-mile-range missiles and had put a roof over a test facility to block the view of spy satellites.

• No Scud-type missiles have been reported found. In the 1990s, U.N. inspectors had reported accounting for all but two of these missiles. No program for long-range missiles has been uncovered.

Powell didn't note that U.N. teams were repeatedly inspecting missile facilities, including looking under that roof, and reporting no Iraqi violations of U.N. resolutions.

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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