I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Santorum's "Discovery"

By Anonymous Liberal

(updated below - by Glenn)

By Anonymous Liberal - On Wednesday afternoon, Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum--along with Michigan Congressman Peter Hoekstra--held a press conference where they breathlessly announced that WMD had in fact been found in Iraq. Santorum's office billed this as a "major announcement." The press release quotes Santorum as saying: "This is critically important information that the world community needs to know." At the press conference, Santorum said:

This is an incredibly -- in my mind -- significant
finding. The idea that, as my colleagues have
repeatedly said in this debate on the other side of
the aisle, that there are no weapons of mass
destruction, is in fact false.

We have found over 500 weapons of mass
destruction. And in fact have found that there are
additional weapons of mass -- chemical weapons,
still in the country, that need to be recovered.

So what exactly was found? According to the document Santorum cites:

Since 2003 Coalition forces have recovered
approximately 500 weapons munitions which
contain degraded mustard or sarin nerve agent.

Since 2003? Degraded? These hardly seem like the long lost, mythical WMD. And if they are, why have several independent commissions and the White House itself subsequently acknowledged that there were no WMD?

If you're guessing that the answer to this riddle is that Santorum is a clown, you're right. According to Dafna Linzer of the Washington Post (page A10):

The lawmakers [Santorum and Hoekstra] pointed
to an unclassified summary from a report by the
National Ground Intelligence Center regarding
500 chemical munitions shells that had been
buried near the Iranian border, and then long
forgotten, by Iraqi troops during their eight-year
war with Iran, which ended in 1988.

The U.S. military announced in 2004 in Iraq that
several crates of the old shells had been uncovered
and that they contained a blister agent that was no
longer active. Neither the military nor the White
House nor the CIA considered the shells to be
evidence of what was alleged by the Bush
administration to be a current Iraqi program to
make chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

Last night, intelligence officials reaffirmed that the
shells were old and were not the suspected
weapons of mass destruction sought in Iraq after
the 2003 invasion.

Of course, that didn't stop Santorum and Hoekstra from pretending like this was earth-shattering news and thereby intentionally misinforming a lot of people. Santorum went on Hannity & Colmes last night to hype the story. Various right wing pundits and blogs quickly picked up the story and ran with it (though, to be fair, some of the more intelligent ones saw right through the stunt). Sadly, even my local news picked up on the story, reporting in somewhat confused fashion that weapons of mass destruction had at long last been discovered in Iraq. Sigh.

This is how GOP political propaganda works. You hype a completely trivial fact in an entirely misleading way in order to make a point that is the opposite of the truth. The claim is then repeated by the unscrupulous and the confused, and a significant percentage of the public ends up hearing it. The next day the claim is debunked in a story on page A10 of the paper, but by then the damage has already been done. Wash, rinse, repeat.

UPDATE (by Glenn): Even the Defense Department is so embarrassed by Santorum's claims that they have repudiated them, and the DoD isn't exactly known for excessive caution when it comes to making claims designed to bolster the administration's pro-war case. But A.L. is absolutely right that despite the self-evident absurdity of Santorum's claims, the Powerlines and Instapundits of the world will spend the next six months insisting that we really, really did find WMDs in Iraq. They've already begun, although even Powerline acknowledges:

. . . . but what they're talking about is old munitions left over from, presumably, before the first Gulf War. This doesn't appear to constitute evidence that Saddam's regime had continued to manufacture chemical weapons in more recent years.

And one last point: It seems that Santorum and Hoekstra took it upon themselves to disclose this information because the administration kept it classified and did not want it disclosed. Santorum revealed that other parts of the memo, which are classified, references other chemical munitions. Shouldn't a Justice Department investigation be opened immediately to determine whether Santorum should be criminally prosecuted for violations of the Espionage Act? Maybe he can share a cell with Jim Risen and Dana Priest.

UPDATE II (by Glenn): Fox News has a screaming headline which still reads: "Report: Hundreds of WMDs Found in Iraq," even though the article itself, buried deep down, contains these paragraphs:

Offering the official administration response to FOX News, a senior Defense Department official pointed out that the chemical weapons were not in useable conditions.

"This does not reflect a capacity that was built up after 1991," the official said, adding the munitions "are not the WMDs this country and the rest of the world believed Iraq had, and not the WMDs for which this country went to war."

Pete Hoekstra, who breathlessly touted this "discovery," was asked why he thought the administration hadn't talked about these developments and this is what he said:

Asked why the Bush administration, if it had known about the information since April or earlier, didn't advertise it, Hoekstra conjectured that the president has been forward-looking and concentrating on the development of a secure government in Iraq.

So, according to Congressman Hoekstra, the administration found compelling evidence that shows that Iraq had WMDs after all and that everything the administration said was true. But the President didn't have time to talk about it, because he's focused on the future and not the past, and is too busy trying to stabilize the Iraqi Government. That is really what he said.

That is the funniest thing I've read since . . . yesterday, when I learned from The Weekly Standard that the reason George Bush did not attack Zarqawi in 2002 when he knew his location is because he was concerned about what The New York Times Editorial Board, international law professors, and Jacques Chirac would think. Each time you think you've scraped the bottom of the integrity and truth barrel, you wake up another day and find that there is still more space in which we can all descend.

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