MAXWELL:   Bush’s deception on Iraq

1/11/2004 – Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of The St Petersburg Times Newspaper

Most Americans have never heard of the Joint Captured Materiel Exploitation Group.

Let me bring them up to speed: It is the 400-member military team whose job was to search every inch of Iraq for any and all military equipment. Well, guess what? The Bush administration has quietly pulled the team out of Iraq. Many members are back on U.S. soil, and others have been reassigned to duties related to insurgent fighters in Iraq.

Why has the administration recalled the team? Because Bush’s deceptions and outright lies have pretty much come home to roost.

Some military officials say that bringing the team home is an embarrassing acknowledgement that Bush has no realistic expectations of finding the caches of biological and chemical weapons that he and others cited as the imperatives for invading Iraq last year.

The New York Times reports that another team, the Iraq Survey Group, whose job is to dispose of biological and chemical weapons, has spent hundreds of millions of dollars and has not found a single WMD to destroy.

According to the Washington Post, a document recently made public indicates that Iraq probably destroyed its WMDs as far back as 1991, and the regime had not restored its capability of producing such weapons since. The Post states that the purported WMD program was a maze of exaggeration and lies on the part of Iraqi officials and scientists who were trying to curry favor with Saddam Hussein and promote their personal careers.

In other words, experts cannot establish any credible evidence that Iraq had the illicit weapons that Bush claimed or show that Hussein was an “immediate” threat to American shores and the rest of the world.

Iraq had to be “disarmed,” Bush and his people intoned time after time as the reason for toppling Hussein. When inspectors did not find WMDs, however, the administration shifted gears and suggested that the wily Hussein had destroyed the weapons or had hidden them on the eve of the U.S. invasion in March or had shipped them to neighboring terrorist countries.

But a new report by the nonpartisan Carnegie Endowment for International Peace disputes the administration’s claims. The report asserts that Iraq could not have destroyed tons of WMDs or hidden them or sent them out of the country without the international community noticing. Certainly, the large team of U.N. weapons inspectors on the ground each day would have seen something and would have sounded the alarm.

In another blow to Bush’s credibility on Iraq, David Kay, leader of the survey group, along with his deputy, is said to be leaving the post soon because his work is done. His efforts came up virtually empty. If Kay were on the trail of WMDs or had found them, he would have told the world.

Referring to Kay and his work, a weapons disposal team official told the New York Times: “They picked up everything that was worth picking up.” Which turns out to be next to nothing.

Jane Harman of California, the head Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Bush hyped the Iraqi menace. About Kay’s hunt for WMDs, she said: “I am sure that if they had found important evidence, we would know about it.”

In response to the Carnegie report, Secretary of State Colin Powell acknowledged that despite his pinpoint, high-tech presentation before the United Nations last February justifying the war, he had no “smoking gun” evidence linking Hussein to al-Qaida and the World Trade Center attacks.

At a news conference, Powell said: “I have not seen smoking-gun, concrete evidence about the connection. But I think the possibility of such connections did exist, and it was prudent to consider them at the time that we did.”

Like the president, Powell has not come clean with the American people. And like the president, he seems to be cynically satisfied that many people believe _ with the administration’s encouragement _ that Hussein played a direct role in bringing down the World Trade Center.

As long as this powerful, false notion lives, the administration will continue to mislead and control a frightened, gullible public. Meanwhile, U.S. and coalition troops and civilians, on both sides, will continue to die in a war that was initiated by George W. Bush _ who was going to war no matter what.