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 Today's Take:  NCR's daily Web column
Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

January 20, 2004
Vol. 1, No. 184

 


 
 
 


 

Tom Fox Remember the tales from last year
 

By Tom Fox, NCR publisher

President Bush delivers his State of the Union address tonight.

It was just about one year ago -- Jan. 28, 2003 -- that he addressed the nation and frightened the American people into acquiescing to his war against Iraq. It is a war we recently learned from former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill that Bush began planning from his first cabinet meeting as president.

Other Today's Takes by Tom Fox
Jan. 20, 2004 Remember the tales from last year
Jan. 19, 2004 The last years of Martin Luther King
Nov. 20, 2003 (un)Holy Matrimony
Nov. 19, 2003 Talking about celibacy
Nov. 18, 2003 Why bishops won't talk about celibacy
Oct. 10, 2003 Why Catholics are jittery
Sept. 26, 2003 Priest of the poor
Sept. 25, 2003 A revolution deferred: sex and the church Part II
Sept. 24, 2003 Sex and the mission of the church
Last year's state of the union was filled with hair-raising lies, intended to creating an atmosphere of public support for the war. Before tonight's State of the Union is history it might be useful to go back a year and ponder the outright lies and deceptive half-truths Bush engaged in to sway the nation.

The two most frightening scenarios painted by Bush simplely turned out to be without any factual base. The first was that Saddam Hussein had developed weapons of mass destruction, was massing them, and was ready to use them against the United States. The second was that Saddam was cooperating with Al Qaeda, making it plausible that a Iraqi trained terrorist could smuggle a chemical or biological weapon into, say, New York, Washington, Chicago or San Francisco, release it, killing hundreds of thousands of Americans.

More than nine months after the U.S. invasion, no weapons of mass destruction have been found. Nor has any evidence surfaced that Saddam was cooperating with Al Qaeda terrorists. To the contrary, we have learned from papers Saddam was carrying when he was caught that he continued to encourage his followers to avoid working with outside Arab extremists.

Consider the following fear-mongering and/or factually baseless statements the president made in his 2003 State of the Union address.

  • "We have also discovered through intelligence that Iraq has a growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas."
  • "The United Nations concluded in 1999 that Saddam Hussein had biological weapons sufficient to produce over 25,000 liters of anthrax . . . 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin . . . materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent . . . upwards of 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents."
  • "Saddam Hussein had an advanced nuclear weapons development programů"
  • "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production."
  • "Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications, and statements by people now in custody reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of Al Qaeda."

You can stop reading this Today's Take right here if you like. However, for those who might want to recapture the full mood of Bush's terrifying State of the Union address what follows is that part that dealt directly with Iraq.

Twelve years ago, Saddam Hussein faced the prospect of being the last casualty in a war he had started and lost. To spare himself, he agreed to disarm of all weapons of mass destruction. For the next 12 years, he systematically violated that agreement. He pursued chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, even while inspectors were in his country. Nothing to date has restrained him from his pursuit of these weapons -- not economic sanctions, not isolation from the civilized world, not even cruise missile strikes on his military facilities.

Almost three months ago, the United Nations Security Council gave Saddam Hussein his final chance to disarm. He has shown instead utter contempt for the United Nations, and for the opinion of the world. The 108 U.N. inspectors were sent to conduct -- were not sent to conduct a scavenger hunt for hidden materials across a country the size of California. The job of the inspectors is to verify that Iraq's regime is disarming. It is up to Iraq to show exactly where it is hiding its banned weapons, lay those weapons out for the world to see, and destroy them as directed. Nothing like this has happened.

The United Nations concluded in 1999 that Saddam Hussein had biological weapons sufficient to produce over 25,000 liters of anthrax -- enough doses to kill several million people. He hasn't accounted for that material. He's given no evidence that he has destroyed it.

The United Nations concluded that Saddam Hussein had materials sufficient to produce more than 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin -- enough to subject millions of people to death by respiratory failure. He hadn't accounted for that material. He's given no evidence that he has destroyed it.

Our intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent. In such quantities, these chemical agents could also kill untold thousands. He's not accounted for these materials. He has given no evidence that he has destroyed them.

U.S. intelligence indicates that Saddam Hussein had upwards of 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents. Inspectors recently turned up 16 of them -- despite Iraq's recent declaration denying their existence. Saddam Hussein has not accounted for the remaining 29,984 of these prohibited munitions. He's given no evidence that he has destroyed them.

From three Iraqi defectors we know that Iraq, in the late 1990s, had several mobile biological weapons labs. These are designed to produce germ warfare agents, and can be moved from place to a place to evade inspectors. Saddam Hussein has not disclosed these facilities. He's given no evidence that he has destroyed them.

The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed in the 1990s that Saddam Hussein had an advanced nuclear weapons development program, had a design for a nuclear weapon and was working on five different methods of enriching uranium for a bomb. The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production. Saddam Hussein has not credibly explained these activities. He clearly has much to hide.

The dictator of Iraq is not disarming. To the contrary; he is deceiving. From intelligence sources we know, for instance, that thousands of Iraqi security personnel are at work hiding documents and materials from the U.N. inspectors, sanitizing inspection sites and monitoring the inspectors themselves. Iraqi officials accompany the inspectors in order to intimidate witnesses.

Iraq is blocking U-2 surveillance flights requested by the United Nations. Iraqi intelligence officers are posing as the scientists inspectors are supposed to interview. Real scientists have been coached by Iraqi officials on what to say. Intelligence sources indicate that Saddam Hussein has ordered that scientists who cooperate with U.N. inspectors in disarming Iraq will be killed, along with their families.

Year after year, Saddam Hussein has gone to elaborate lengths, spent enormous sums, taken great risks to build and keep weapons of mass destruction. But why? The only possible explanation, the only possible use he could have for those weapons, is to dominate, intimidate, or attack.

With nuclear arms or a full arsenal of chemical and biological weapons, Saddam Hussein could resume his ambitions of conquest in the Middle East and create deadly havoc in that region. And this Congress and the America people must recognize another threat. Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications, and statements by people now in custody reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of Al Qaeda. Secretly, and without fingerprints, he could provide one of his hidden weapons to terrorists, or help them develop their own.

Before September the 11th, many in the world believed that Saddam Hussein could be contained. But chemical agents, lethal viruses and shadowy terrorist networks are not easily contained. Imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans -- this time armed by Saddam Hussein. It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known. We will do everything in our power to make sure that that day never comes.

Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option.

The dictator who is assembling the world's most dangerous weapons has already used them on whole villages -- leaving thousands of his own citizens dead, blind, or disfigured. Iraqi refugees tell us how forced confessions are obtained -- by torturing children while their parents are made to watch. International human rights groups have catalogued other methods used in the torture chambers of Iraq: electric shock, burning with hot irons, dripping acid on the skin, mutilation with electric drills, cutting out tongues, and rape. If this is not evil, then evil has no meaning.

PS: By the way, the US National Debt surpassed $7 trillion this month. Remember a decade back when Republicans argued the mounting debt was the greatest threat to the health of the nation? Where are the "balance the budget" hawks today?

Tom Fox is NCR publisher. He can be reached at tfox@natcath.org

 
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