As we noted yesterday, the digging into the nearly 400,000 secret documents from the Iraq war released this week by Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks watchdog group is just beginning. The first nugget to earn a soundbite was the none-too-surprising claim that civilian casualties total at least 15,000 more than otherwise officially reported. Today’s revelation is potentially more unexpected and controversial: Did the United States, and specifically the Bush administration, forget to tell us that they found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?
A Wired report teases “surprising results” from the “WMD hunt” in Iraq, and notes that well after President Bush’s WMD narrative faded, sometime in late 2003, U.S. troops “continued to find chemical weapons labs, encounter insurgent specialists in toxins, and uncover weapons of mass destruction.” This sort of language may be overplaying the finds:
An initial glance at the WikiLeaks war logs doesn’t reveal evidence of some massive WMD program by the Saddam Hussein regime — the Bush administration’s most (in)famous rationale for invading Iraq. But chemical weapons, especially, did not vanish from the Iraqi battlefield. Remnants of Saddam’s toxic arsenal, largely destroyed after the Gulf War, remained. Jihadists, insurgents and foreign (possibly Iranian) agitators turned to these stockpiles during the Iraq conflict — and may have brewed up their own deadly agents.
Across the WikiLeaks war logs, “there are hundreds of references to chemical and biological weapons,” though Wired notes that most “are intelligence reports or initial suspicions of WMD that don’t pan out.” The instances that did pan out were typically mustard gas.
In August 2004, for instance, American forces surreptitiously purchased what they believed to be containers of liquid sulfur mustard, a toxic “blister agent” used as a chemical weapon since World War I. The troops tested the liquid, and “reported two positive results for blister.” The chemical was then “triple-sealed and transported to a secure site” outside their base.
The nearly 400,000 Iraq war log documents released by WikiLeaks on Friday were full of evidence of abuses, civilian deaths and the chaos of war, but clear evidence of weapons of mass destruction – the Bush administration’s justification for invading Iraq – appears to be missing.
So, “surprising results” or not (Wired‘s words), when it comes to justification, the findings are in the eye of the beholder. But don’t expect the argument to fade — in fact, the coming days will likely see a rising chorus of war hawks who have spent the last seven years quibbling about Saddam Hussein’s various weapon and abuses, though the war’s critics will likely be prepared too. On many levels, it becomes a semantic argument. Let’s see who can yell louder.