IRAQ: 'Star witness' told US that weapons were totally destroyed


In a revelation that "raises questions about whether the [weapons of mass destruction] stockpiles attributed to Iraq still exist", Newsweek's March 3 issue reported that the Iraqi weapons chief who defected from the regime in 1995 told UN inspectors that Iraq had destroyed its entire stockpile of chemical and biological weapons and banned missiles, as Iraq continues to maintain.

Until now, General Hussein Kamel, who was killed shortly after returning to Iraq in 1996, was best known for exposing the extent of Iraq's pre-Gulf War biological weapons programs. Newsweek obtained the transcript of Kamel's 1995 debriefing by officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency and the UN inspections team, then 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", Newsweek wrote. "A military aide who defected with Kamel ... backed Kamel's assertions about the destruction of WMD stocks". These statements were "hushed up by the UN inspectors" in order to "bluff Saddam into disclosing still more".

CIA spokesperson Bill Harlow denied the Newsweek report. "It is incorrect, bogus, wrong, untrue", Harlow told Reuters on February 24. However, on February 26, a complete copy of the Kamel transcript — stamped "sensitive" — was obtained by Glen Rangwala, the Cambridge University analyst who in early February revealed British Prime Minister Tony Blair's "intelligence dossier" on Iraq was plagiarised from a student's thesis. In the transcript, Kamel states bluntly: "All weapons — biological, chemical, missile, nuclear, were destroyed."

Kamel was 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.

Kamel's defection has been cited repeatedly by US President George Bush and leading administration "hawks" as "evidence" that 1) Iraq has not disarmed; 2) inspections cannot disarm it, only war can; and 3) defectors such as Kamel are the most reliable source of information on Iraq's weapons.

The US administration has cited various quantities of chemical and biological weapons that remain "unaccounted for" on many other occasions. All of these claims refer to weapons produced before 1991. Washington asserts, and most corporate press reports imply, that if they are unaccounted for then they must exist and are being cleverly hidden.

But according to Newsweek, Kamel told CIA and British MI6 analysts in August 1995 that all banned weapons had been destroyed. Washington's repeated citations of Kamel's 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 US Secretary of State Colin Powell's February 5 presentation to the UN, which was widely hailed by the corporate press for its "persuasiveness". To clear up the issue, journalists might ask that the CIA release the full transcripts of its own conversations with Kamel.

Kamel's disclosures have also been crucial to the arguments made by pro-war 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 that Kamel's statements support Iraq's position that banned weapons no longer exist.

In a major February 21 NYT op-ed article calling for war with Iraq, 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 US media reporting on Iraq, much of which has taken for granted that Baghdad retains prohibited weapons. 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 US allegations than has previously been shown.

So far, according to a February 27 search of the Nexis database, no major US newspaper or national television news show had reported the Newsweek story.

[Abridged from a report by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. Visit <>. The Newsweek story is at <>. Glen Rangwala's analysis of the Kamel transcript is at <>.]

From Green Left Weekly, March 5, 2003.
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