Republican Congress members claim that evidence of Saddam's WMD have been identified
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Wednesday June 21, 2006
Latest Update: Pentagon official further confirms munitions can "not be fired as designed." (Full report here.) Earlier update: Pentagon says Iraq's 'WMDS' are too old to use (Full AFP story here). Earlier update: Santorum was informed live on Fox News that a Defense Department official disavowed his conclusions. More at end of article.
Republican Congress members claimed late today that evidence of weapons of mass destruction hidden by Saddam Hussein had at last been identified in Iraq.
Speaking at a late afternoon press conference, Michigan Rep. Pete Hoekstra, Chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, spoke with Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. They claimed that 500 chemical weapons shells allegedly containing degraded sarin or mustard gas have been recovered by coalition forces since 2003, and that other filled and unfilled munitions have been found.
Santorum also attacked his "colleagues...on the other side of the aisle" for "repeatedly" claiming that no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq.
Rep. Hoekstra has called strongly for the release of a large cache of Arabic-language documents, believing that they would clarify the original case for war with Iraq. It is not known at this time if the information in any of the documents, available online at this Defense Department site led to the cache of alleged weapons of mass destruction.
This is not the first time that such chemical shells have been found in Iraq. Fox News announced in May 2004 that a sarin gas shell had been detonated near Fallujah, dispersing a small amount of agent. It was not evident that the insurgents using the shell understood what they were using.
The discovery of poorly accounted for stocks of WMD is not unheard of around the world. Researcher Jonathan Tucker detailed in 2001 for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists the discovery of a significant number of chemical weapons shells in Northwest DC.
Think Progress counters Santorum's announcement with the words of President Bush backing up reports by his own WMD inspectors which said that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction.
"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," the Iraq Survey Group reported in 2004. "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 chief weapons inspector, Charles Duelfer, has now issued a comprehensive report that confirms the earlier conclusion of David Kay that Iraq did not have the weapons that our intelligence believed were there," said President Bush in October of 2004, as cited at Think Progress.
"There is nothing new here," said Congresswoman Jane Harman (D-CA) in a statement. "Nothing in this report, classified or otherwise, contradicts the Duelfer Report, which assessed that we would find degraded pre-1991 weaponry in Iraq.
Harman also blasted what she feels is selective declassification by the Bush administration. "When the intelligence community disseminated classified intelligence conclusively establishing that one of the Vice President's much-touted justifications for war was blatantly wrong, my request to declassify that information was denied," she added. "When the request comes from Republicans and can be spun in an attempt to support a Republican position, however, the answer is markedly different."
Santorum Blog, a "grassroots site dedicated to keeping Santorum supporters and political nerds up-to-date with the latest breaking Senate race news" unaffilliated with the Santorum for Senate campaign has a transcript of the press conference.
"I guess this debate hasn't yet ended," writes the site's editor.
A press release about the conference has been posted on Santorum's official Website.
"This is critically important information that the world community needs to know," reads a quote by Santorum above the press release.
Santorum's press release:
U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), Chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, joined Congressman Peter Hoekstra, (R-MI-2), Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, today to make a major announcement regarding the release of newly declassified information that proves the existence of chemical munitions in Iraq since 2003. The information was released by the Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte, and contained an unclassified summary of analysis conducted by the National Ground Intelligence Center. In March, Senator Santorum began advocating for the release of these documents to the American public.
“The information released today proves that weapons of mass destruction are, in fact, in Iraq,” said Senator Santorum. “It is essential for the American people to understand that these weapons are in Iraq. I will continue to advocate for the complete declassification of this report so we can more fully understand the complete WMD picture inside Iraq.”
The following are the six key points contained in the unclassified overview:
• Since 2003 Coalition forces have recovered approximately 500 weapons munitions which contain degraded mustard or sarin nerve agent.
• Despite many efforts to locate and destroy Iraq’s pre-Gulf War chemical munitions, filled and unfilled pre-Gulf War chemical munitions are assessed to still exist.
• Pre-Gulf War Iraqi chemical weapons could be sold on the black market. Use of these weapons by terrorists or insurgent groups would have implications for Coalition forces in Iraq. The possibility of use outside Iraq cannot be ruled out.
• The most likely munitions remaining are sarin and mustard-filled projectiles.
• The purity of the agent inside the munitions depends on many factors, including the manufacturing process, potential additives, and environmental storage conditions. While agents degrade over time, chemical warfare agents remain hazardous and potentially lethal.
• It has been reported in open press that insurgents and Iraqi groups desire to acquire and use chemical weapons.
In an appearance later in the evening on Fox News, Santorum was told that an unnamed Defense Department official speaking for the Administration objected to his conclusions.
"Fox News’ Jim Angle contacted the Defense Department who quickly disavowed Santorum and Hoekstra’s claims," reports Think Progress. A Defense Department official told Angle flatly that the munitions hyped by Santorum and Hoekstra are 'not the WMD’s for which this country went to war.'"
"I’d like to know who that is," Santorum responded. "The fact of the matter is, I’ll wait and see what the actual Defense Department formally says or more important what the administration formally says."
A Pentagon official officially speaking on background told American Prospect blogger Greg Sargent the following:
"These munitions are assessed to be pre-1991 vintage and were likely left over from previous conflicts. Given their condition and age, they have degraded. It is probable that most of these munitions could not be fired as designed. For operations security reasons, I cannot say where these munitions were found. Disclosure would place U.S. and coalition military forces at greater risk. The munitions were recovered during the course of military operations in Iraq. For operations security reasons, I can’t disclose the exact number of munitions that have been found because of possible force protection implications."