Scott Ritter: The search for Iraqi WMD has become a public joke. But I, for one, am not laughing

Hutton stopped far short of a real investigation into the Blair government's abysmal abuse of power

Sunday 04 January 2004 01:00

President George Bush, in his State of the Union address in January last year, told the world that Saddam Hussein had promised he would disarm his weapons of mass destruction, and that this promise had not been fulfilled. Bush spoke of the Iraqi president retaining massive stocks of chemical and biological agent, as well as an ongoing nuclear weapons programme.

On 20 March 2003, Bush ordered American military forces, accompanied by the armed forces of Great Britain, to invade Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein from power. In hiding since the fall of Baghdad, Saddam was finally run to ground in December. On his capture, he is reported to have said that WMD was an issue created by George Bush to justify the invasion of Iraq. This is a claim that has increasing validity.

Tony Blair had already been embarrassed by a growing recognition that his own intelligence-based estimates regarding Iraqi WMD were every bit as cooked up as the American president's. He faced further ignominy when Paul Bremer, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, publicly mocked his assertions that David Kay, the former UN weapons inspector turned CIA agent who headed the so-far futile search for WMD in occupied Iraq, had found "massive evidence of a huge system of clandestine laboratories". Dismissed by Bremer as a "red herring", Blair's discredited comments only underscore the sad fact that the issue of Iraqi WMD, and the entire concept of disarmament, has become a public joke.

The misrepresentation and distortion of fact carried out by President Bush and Prime Minister Blair is no joke, but rather represent an assault on the very fabric of the concept of a free and democratic society which they espouse to serve. The people of the United States are still waiting for a heavily divided Congress to break free of partisan politics and launch a genuine investigation. This should certainly look at the massive intelligence failure surrounding the gross distortion of the Iraqi WMD threat put forward by the US intelligence community. But perhaps more importantly, the investigation should focus on the actions of the White House in shaping the intelligence estimates so that they dovetailed nicely with the political goals and objectives of the Bush administration's Iraq policy-makers.

Many in Great Britain might take some pride in knowing that their democracy, at least, has had an airing of the pre-war Iraq intelligence which has been denied their American cousins.

The Hutton inquiry has been viewed by many as an investigation into the politicisation, or "sexing up", of intelligence information by the British government to help strengthen its case for war. It stopped far short of any real investigation into the abysmal abuse of power that occurred when Blair's government lied to Parliament, and the electorate, about the threat posed by Iraq's WMD. There was no effort to dig deep into the systematic politicisation of

the British intelligence system, to untangle

the web of deceit and misinformation concerning Iraq peddled over the years by the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and British intelligence.

The damage done goes well beyond the borders of the US and Britain. One must also calculate the irreparable harm done to the precepts of international law, the viability of multilateral organisations such as the United Nations, and the concepts of diplomacy and arms control which kept the world from destroying itself during the last century.

Iran, faced with 130,000 American soldiers on its border, has opened its nuclear facilities to inspection. North Korea has done the same. Libya, in a surprise move, has traded in its own overblown WMD aspirations in exchange for diplomatic recognition and economic interaction with the West. But none of these moves, as welcome as they are, have the depth and reach to compare with the decision by South Africa or the former republics of the Soviet Union to get rid of their respective nuclear weapons. The latter represented actions taken freely, wrapped in the principles of international law. The former are merely coerced concessions, given more as a means of buying time than through any spirit of true co-operation. Sold by George Bush and Tony Blair as diplomatic triumphs derived from the Iraq experience, the sad reality is that these steps towards disarmament are every bit as illusory as Saddam's WMD arsenal. They are all the more dangerous, too, because the safety net of international law that the world could once have turned to when these compelled concessions inevitably collapse no longer exists.

Scott Ritter was a UN weapons inspector from 1991-98. He is the author of 'Frontier Justice: Weapons of Mass Destruction and the Bushwhacking of America'

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