NY Times admits Saddam had WMDs (updated)

It's a stunning revelation: American soldiers in Iraq came across thousands of chemical weapons -- and a number of them suffered long-term injuries after being exposed to mustard and sarin gas.

And today, ISIS controls the territory where these chemical weapons were found.

These facts are laid bare by New York Times reporter C.J. Chivers in a long article, “The Secret Casualties of Iraq’s Abandoned Chemical Weapons.” How ironic that the left-leaning Times is presenting facts that are at odds with a favorite narrative of the anti-war left -- namely, that the mendacious Bush administration had lied about the existence of WMDs in Iraq.

Chivers, of course, can't very well say that Bush was right all along: His readers wouldn't stand for it. So he tosses a bone to them, claiming the Bush administration's goal in Iraq wasn't merely to disarm Saddam of his WMDs -- but to destroy “an active weapons of mass destruction program.” Instead he claims that American troops only found “remnants of long-abandoned programs, built in close collaboration with the West." Yet the fact remains that these chemical agents still had military value -- a fact that Chivers concedes. And while these chemical WMDs were not part of an "active" program, this does not refute the fact that Saddam was in violation of  U.N. Security Council resolutions requiring him to account for and destroy his WMDs.

Looking past The Times' spin, the article nevertheless offers some disquieting revelations -- revolving around military and bureaucratic bungling, incompetence, and mistreatment of American troops who, thanks to the military's obsession with secrecy, were unnecessarily exposed to mustard and sarin gas when uncovering hidden arsenals of aging artillery shells and rockets.

Elaborating on the magnitude of Saddam's WMD sites, Chivers writes:

From 2004 to 2011, American and American-trained Iraqi troops repeatedly encountered, and on at least six occasions were wounded by, chemical weapons remaining from years earlier in Saddam Hussein’s rule.

In all, American troops secretly reported finding roughly 5,000 chemical warheads, shells or aviation bombs, according to interviews with dozens of participants, Iraqi and American officials, and heavily redacted intelligence documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

Despite suggesting that all those aging chemical weapons had no military value, Chivers goes into much detail about how American troops who handled them suffered skin blisters and respiratory problems. Some initially received poor medical care, a problem attributed to the military's climate of secrecy. It was a policy that apparently was formulated in part to save the Bush administration from embarrassment that no “active” WMD programs were found.  

In some cases, servicemen were denied Purple Hearts after suffering injuries from chemical stockpiles; and the military's secrecy regarding chemical WMDs contributed to military physicians initially misdiagnosing injuries they were seeing that had been inflicted by chemical agents. Or as Chivers writes:

The New York Times found 17 American service members and seven Iraqi police officers who were exposed to nerve or mustard agents after 2003. American officials said that the actual tally of exposed troops was slightly higher, but that the government’s official count was classified.                     

The secrecy fit a pattern. Since the outset of the war, the scale of the United States’ encounters with chemical weapons in Iraq was neither publicly shared nor widely circulated within the military. These encounters carry worrisome implications now that the Islamic State, a Qaeda splinter group, controls much of the territory where the weapons were found.

The American government withheld word about its discoveries even from troops it sent into harm’s way and from military doctors. The government’s secrecy, victims and participants said, prevented troops in some of the war’s most dangerous jobs from receiving proper medical care and official recognition of their wounds.

There is much blame to go around here both for the Bush and Obama administrations. And while The Times doesn't say so, the Obama administration obviously knew of this problem -- yet did nothing to make sure that chemical-weapons sites weren't cleaned up. 

Obviously, the Obama administration was in an awkward spot, because to even have acknowledged the existence of these weapons would have given credence to the Bush administration's motives for invading Iraq. It is unclear why the Bush administration wouldn't have wanted discoveries of aging yet potent chemical weapons stockpiles to be publicized. How many of those chemical weapons were sent to Syria?

Chivers notes that when U.S. troops left Iraq, old stocks of chemical weapons were “still circulating” and that “finding, safeguarding and destroying these weapons was to be the responsibility of Iraq’s government. Iraq took initial steps to fulfill its obligations.”

Along these lines, three reporters from The Times visited a site last year named Al Muthanna, and they observed “a  knot of Iraqi police officers and soldiers guarded the entrance” of two bunkers — one containing cyanide precursors and old sarin rockets."

Whatever became of that site? Chivers writes: “The Iraqi troops who stood at that entrance are no longer there. The compound, never entombed, is now controlled by the Islamic State.

It will be interesting to see how all this plays out during the next White House press conference.

It will be hard to say it was all Bush's fault

Update from Richard N. Weltz:

Tuesday’s NY Post carried a very small article by staffer Joe Tacopino mentioning that IS fighters had uncovered and might use WMD – poison gas, in particular – stockpiled by Saddam Hussein. That’s the same stuff that inspectors couldn’t find before our invasion of Iraq in 2003 and formed part of the cause behind the unceasing left-wing slogan, “Bush lied; people died.”

Lo, and behold. Today’s (Wednesday) NY Times runs a three-column wide front-page article, continued into four full pages inside, with a finely detailed description of all the poison gas depots left behind by Saddam, their precise locations and contents – with illustrative maps – and even photos of the various shells that could be used for their delivery. Moreover, the Times claims that the US government knew all about this weaponry and kept it a secret throughout the latter part of the Bush administration and first six years of Obama’s White House occupancy.

That raises a few questions. How did the New York Times dig up all this information in a single day between Tuesday’s NY Post article and the Gray Lady’s next-day edition? Or did it know all along – in which case one must ask why this infamous leaker of government’s classified secrets, from the days of the Pentagon Papers to such more recent cases as its revelations of secret routes being flown by CIA aircraft or clandestine banking schemes to foil transfers of terrorist funds did not report this information much sooner than when it now became exposed by another news outlet?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Update from Dale T. Armstrong:

I wonder if all the commentators who told me I was lying, or making stuff up, or that they had personally visited Al Muthanna and that it was empty, when I published this article, would now be willing to apologize?