WASHINGTON, D.C.—The whole Saddam saga dribbles out in bits and pieces. It now appears that Bush claimed Saddam possessed not only weapons of mass destruction but the means to lob them into U.S. cities. In a conference call with reporters on Monday, Florida’s Democratic senator Bill Nelson said 75 senators got this bit of information as part of a classified briefing before last October’s vote to authorize the attack on Iraq. According to a report in Florida Today, senators learned in the secret briefing that Iraq had biological and chemical weapons—including anthrax—that could be dumped on east coast cities from unmanned drones. “They have not found anything that resembles a UAV [Unmanned Aerial Vehicle] that has that capability,” Nelson told the reporters. Nelson voted for the war.
Meanwhile, the inevitable stories suggesting the Saddam capture was a fake are beginning to circulate. One comes from debka.com, posted December 17. Many consider Debka an Israeli intelligence site. Whether that’s the case or not, it often turns up inside information about the Middle East and Central Asia that turns out to be true.
“Saddam Hussein was not in hiding; he was a prisoner,” headlined Debka. The story goes on to say that Hussein was seized on November 16, and held in the hole in Adwar for at least three weeks, while his captors attempted to get the $25 million that the U.S. promised to anyone who found the fallen ruler dead or alive.
That’s not the only rumor experts have had to contend with. One story making the rounds in Baghdad and Great Britain’s Iraqi community concerns a photograph of two American GIs standing beside a date palm tree. The photo was supposedly taken on the day of Saddam’s capture. But according to the story, any Iraqi would know that this picture was a fake, because date palms are usually harvested in the summer. In any case, unharvested dates fall off the tree before December, and even if they don’t, they are brown and dry, not yellow, as they are in the photo.
Then there were questions about how the Americans could pull off such a fast DNA test to verify that they had the real Saddam.
Normally, it can take up to a month to get a DNA study done, although if you pay more money, the process can be completed in five days. On Sunday, Dr. Robert Shaler, director of the department of forensic biology in the office of the city’s chief medical examiner, told Wired that he’s “not surprised” by reports that Saddam had been identified through DNA in less than 24 hours. “If you have a single sample and you stop everything else you’re doing, you can get it done,” he said. That would occur, for example, if police have arrested a suspect and can hold him only temporarily unless DNA matches him to a serious crime.
A senior administration official at the White House acted unsurprised when he said, “I don’t even know if that speculation dignifies comment.”
But some are still asking questions. Why, for instance, did Hussein look so bedraggled and confused shortly after his capture? On one Arab website, a former Republican Guard officer in the village of Al-Dor, near where Saddam was captured, claimed that some believe the hole had been hit with nerve gas. Dead birds and other apparently drugged animals were found around the hideout shortly after Hussein’s capture.
An official at the Pentagon said the military doesn’t have chemical weapons and hasn’t for decades, and stated that facts stand as they were presented in news briefings.
Told of the stories chalking up Saddam’s capture as a Bush campaign ploy, an official of the Republican National Committee burst into laughter.
Additional reporting: Ashley Glacel