Star Witness on Iraq Said Weapons Were Destroyed
Date: Thursday, February 27 @ 19:07:40 UTC
Bombshell revelation from a defector cited by White House and press
On February 24, Newsweek broke what may be the biggest story of the Iraq
crisis. In a revelation that "raises questions about whether the WMD
[weapons of mass destruction] stockpiles attributed to Iraq still exist,"
the magazine's issue dated March 3 reported that the Iraqi weapons chief
who defected from the regime in 1995 told U.N. inspectors that Iraq had
destroyed its entire stockpile of chemical and biological weapons and
banned missiles, as Iraq claims.
Until now, Gen. Hussein Kamel, who was killed shortly after returning to
Iraq in 1996, was best known for his role in exposing Iraq's deceptions
about how far its pre-Gulf War biological weapons programs had advanced.
But Newsweek's John Barry-- who has covered Iraqi weapons inspections for
more than a decade-- obtained the transcript of Kamel's 1995 debriefing by
officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the U.N.
inspections team known as UNSCOM.
Inspectors were told "that after the Gulf War, Iraq destroyed all its
chemical and biological weapons stocks and the missiles to deliver them,"
Barry wrote. All that remained were "hidden blueprints, computer disks,
microfiches" and production molds. The weapons were destroyed secretly, in
order to hide their existence from inspectors, in the hopes of someday
resuming production after inspections had finished. The CIA and MI6 were
told the same story, Barry reported, and "a military aide who defected
with Kamel... backed Kamel's assertions about the destruction of WMD
But these statements were "hushed up by the U.N. inspectors" in order to
"bluff Saddam into disclosing still more."
CIA spokesman Bill Harlow angrily denied the Newsweek report. "It is
incorrect, bogus, wrong, untrue," Harlow told Reuters the day the report
But on Wednesday (2/26/03), a complete copy of the Kamel transcript-- an
internal UNSCOM/IAEA document stamped "sensitive"-- was obtained by Glen
Rangwala, the Cambridge University analyst who in early February revealed
that Tony Blair's "intelligence dossier" was plagiarized from a student
thesis. Rangwala has posted the Kamel transcript on the Web:
In the transcript (p. 13), Kamel says bluntly: "All weapons-- biological,
chemical, missile, nuclear, were destroyed."
Who is Hussein Kamel?
Kamel is no obscure defector. A son-in-law of Saddam Hussein, his
departure from Iraq carrying crates of secret documents on Iraq's past
weapons programs was a major turning point in the inspections saga. In
1999, in a letter to the U.N. Security Council (1/25/99), UNSCOM reported
that its entire eight years of disarmament work "must be divided into two
parts, separated by the events following the departure from Iraq, in
August 1995, of Lt. General Hussein Kamel."
Kamel's defection has been cited repeatedly by George W. Bush and leading
administration officials as evidence that 1) Iraq has not disarmed; 2)
inspections cannot disarm it; and 3) defectors such as Kamel are the most
reliable source of information on Iraq's weapons.
* Bush declared in an October 7, 2002 speech: "In 1995, after several
years of deceit by the Iraqi regime, the head of Iraq's military
industries defected. It was then that the regime was forced to admit that
it had produced more than 30,000 liters of anthrax and other deadly
biological agents. The inspectors, however, concluded that Iraq had likely
produced two to four times that amount. This is a massive stockpile of
biological weapons that has never been accounted for, and capable of
* Secretary of State Colin Powell's February 5 presentation to the U.N.
Security Council claimed: "It took years for Iraq to finally admit that it
had produced four tons of the deadly nerve agent, VX. A single drop of VX
on the skin will kill in minutes. Four tons. The admission only came out
after inspectors collected documentation as a result of the defection of
Hussein Kamel, Saddam Hussein's late son-in-law."
* In a speech last August (8/27/02), Vice President Dick Cheney said
Kamel's story "should serve as a reminder to all that we often learned
more as the result of defections than we learned from the inspection
* Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley recently wrote in the
Chicago Tribune (2/16/03) that "because of information provided by Iraqi
defector and former head of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs,
Lt. Gen. Hussein Kamel, the regime had to admit in detail how it cheated
on its nuclear non-proliferation commitments."
The quotes from Bush and Powell cited above refer to anthrax and VX
produced by Iraq before the 1991 Gulf War. The administration has cited
various quantities of chemical and biological weapons on many other
occasions-- weapons that Iraq produced but which remain unaccounted for.
All of these claims refer to weapons produced before 1991.
But according to Kamel's transcript, Iraq destroyed all of these weapons
According to Newsweek, Kamel told the same story to CIA analysts in August
1995. If that is true, all of these U.S. officials have had access to
Kamel's statements that the weapons were destroyed. Their repeated
citations of his testimony-- without revealing that he also said the
weapons no longer exist-- suggests that the administration might be
withholding critical evidence. In particular, it casts doubt on the
credibility of Powell's February 5 presentation to the U.N., which was
widely hailed at the time for its persuasiveness. To clear up the issue,
journalists might ask that the CIA release the transcripts of its own
conversations with Kamel.
Kamel's disclosures have also been crucial to the arguments made by
hawkish commentators on Iraq. The defector has been cited four times on
the New York Times op-ed page in the last four months in support of claims
about Iraq's weapons programs--never noting his assertions about the
elimination of these weapons. In a major Times op-ed calling for war with
Iraq (2/21/03), Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution wrote that
Kamel and other defectors "reported that outside pressure had not only
failed to eradicate the nuclear program, it was bigger and more cleverly
spread out and concealed than anyone had imagined it to be." The release
of Kamel's transcript makes this claim appear grossly at odds with the
defector's actual testimony.
The Kamel story is a bombshell that necessitates a thorough reevaluation
of U.S. media reporting on Iraq, much of which has taken for granted that
the nation retains supplies of prohibited weapons. (See FAIR Media
Advisory, "Iraq's Hidden Weapons: From Allegation to Fact.) Kamel's testimony
is not, of course, proof that Iraq does not have hidden stocks of chemical
or biological weapons, but it does suggest a need for much more media
skepticism about U.S. allegations than has previously been shown.
Unfortunately, Newsweek chose a curious way to handle its scoop: The
magazine placed the story in the miscellaneous "Periscope" section with a
generic headline, "The Defector's Secrets." Worse, Newsweek's online
version added a subhead that seemed almost designed to undercut the
importance of the story: "Before his death, a high-ranking defector said
Iraq had not abandoned its WMD ambitions." So far, according to a February
27 search of the Nexis database, no major U.S. newspapers or national
television news shows have picked up the Newsweek story.