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All the President’s Excuses

The White House, unable to explain how 380 tons of powerful explosives disappeared under its watch in Iraq, has instead tried to deflect blame with a series of excuses. None of them hold up.

The White House, unable to explain how 380 tons of powerful explosives disappeared under its watch in Iraq, has instead tried to deflect blame with a series of excuses. None of them hold up.

1. It’s the Iraqis’ Problem

Rhetoric:

“The sites now are the responsibility of the Iraqi government to secure…See, that’s…my understanding, they’re the responsibility of the Iraqi forces.” [White House spokesman Scott McClellan, 10/25/04]

Reality:

U.S. IS RESPONSIBLE: The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed the explosives were intact before the invasion, warned the U.S. about the potential danger posed by the explosives, and “specifically told United States officials about the need to keep the explosives secured.” International weapons inspectors told Washington that terrorists could help themselves “to the greatest explosives bonanza in history.” [New York Times, 10/25/04]

U.S. DISCOURAGING IAEA FROM LOOKING FOR EXPLOSIVES: The United States said yesterday “it saw no need for U.N. involvement in the search for nearly 380 tons of high explosives missing in Iraq.” The IAEA has been barred by the U.S. “from most of Iraq since the war and has watched from afar” as the former sites it monitored have been stripped by looters. [New York Times, 10/26/04]

ADMINISTRATION TRIED THIS BEFORE: This isn’t the first time the U.S. has tried to abdicate responsibility to the newly formed Iraqi government. Earlier this month, international U.N. weapons inspectors found that sensitive material and equipment had been looted from nuclear facilities in Iraq. State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said, “We work with them on export control, we work with them on border control…but they have the lead on this one.” [Reuters, 10/11/04]

2. We Didn’t Know About It

Rhetoric:

“We were informed on October 15th. Condi Rice was informed days after that. This is all in the last, what, 10 days now.” [White House Spokesman Scott McClellan 10/25/04]

Reality:

PAUL BREMER KNEW: “In May 2004, Iraqi officials say in interviews, they warned L. Paul Bremer III, the American head of the occupation authority, that Al Qaqaa had probably been looted.” [New York Times, 10/25/04]

3. They Were Gone When We Got There

Rhetoric:

“Now we’ve learned that these munitions may well have been removed by the regime prior to the military forces coming into – coming into or arriving at the site.” [Scott McClellan, 10/27/04]

“It is not at all clear that those explosives were even at the weapons facility when our troops arrived in the area of Baghdad.” [Vice President Dick Cheney, 10/27/04]

“There’s a very high probably that those weapons weren’t even there before the war. And as far as this facility being insecure.” [Administration Spokesman Dan Senor, 10/26/04]

Reality:

AFTER THE INVASION U.S. SOLDERS FOUND EXPLOSIVES AT THE FACILITY: AP reported, U.S. solders visited Al Qaqaa in April 2003, after the invasion, and “found thousands of five-centimeter by 12-centimeter boxes, each containing three vials of white powder.” Officials who tested the powder said it was “believed to be explosives.” [AP, 4/5/03]

PENTAGON OFFICIAL SAYS EXPLOSIVES WERE INTACT WHEN U.S. ARRIVED: In an Oct. 25 AP story, a Pentagon official said,”US-led coalition troops had searched Al-Qaqaa in the immediate aftermath of the March 2003 invasion and confirmed that the explosives, which had been under IAEA seal since 1991, were intact.” [AP, 10/25/04]

IRAQI SCIENTISTS SAY IT IS IMPOSSIBLE EXPLOSIVES WERE MOVED BEFORE WAR: A top Iraqi science official, Mohammed al-Sharaa, said, “It is impossible that these materials could have been taken from this site before the regime’s fall. The officials that were inside this facility (Al-Qaqaa) beforehand confirm that not even a shred of paper left it before the fall and I spoke to them about it and they even issued certified statements to this effect which the US-led coalition was aware of.” [AFP, 10/27/04]

4. NBC News Reported They Were Gone When We Got There

Rhetoric:

“NBC Nightly News Later Reported That On April 10, 2003, One Day After Iraq Was Liberated, US Troops Entered Al-Qaqaa And Did Not Find The Explosives.” [georgewbush.com, 10/26/04]

“The Bush campaign immediately pointed to our report as conclusive proof that the weapons had been removed before the Americans arrived.” [Tom Brokaw, 10/26/04]

Reality:

NBC PULLED THE PLUG ON THE STORY: “Military officials tell NBC News that on April 10, 2003, when the Second Brigade of the 101st Airborne entered the Al Qaqaa weapons facility, south of Baghdad, that those troops were actually on their way to Baghdad, that they were not actively involved in the search for any weapons, including the high explosives, HMX and RDX…And because the Al Qaqaa facility is so huge, it’s not clear that those troops from the 101st were actually anywhere near the bunkers that reportedly contained the HMX and RDX.” [Jim Miklaszewski, NBC, 10/26/04]

NBC REPORTER ON THE SCENE SAYS THERE WAS NO SEARCH: “There wasn’t a search. The mission that the brigade had was to get to Baghdad. That was more of a pit stop there for us.” [Lai Ling Jew, MSNBC, 10/26/04]

5. The Explosives Were Hidden, Not Looted

Rhetoric:

“Although some believe the Al-Qaqaa facility may have been looted, there is no way to verify this. Another explanation is that regime loyalists or others emptied the facility prior to Coalition forces arriving in Baghdad in April.” [DOD Talking Points, 10/26/04]

“That’s a likely possibility, that the regime could have removed those explosives before that time period.” [Scott McClellan, 10/27/04]

“Do you remember when the museum – everyone said the museum was looted?…It turns out that I talked to a person who’d been to the museum two weeks before the war started and he said it was almost empty at that moment. Clearly, the curators had gone in and taken much of that and put it into a safe place.” [Donald Rumsfeld, 10/26/04]

Reality:

THE EXPLOSIVES COULD NOT HAVE BEEN HIDDEN: “Given the size of the missing cache, it would have been difficult to relocate undetected before the invasion, when U.S. spy satellites were monitoring activity.” [LA Times, 10/26/04]

EXPLOSIVES COULD NOT HAVE BEEN MOVED THAT QUICKLY: “It is impossible that these materials could have been taken from this site before the regime’s fall,” said Mohammed al-Sharaa, who heads the science ministry’s site monitoring department. “The officials that were inside this facility (Al-Qaqaa) beforehand confirm that not even a shred of paper left it before the fall.” [AFP, 10/27/04]

6. Explosives Were Not A Priority

Rhetoric:

“Obviously, remember, when we went into Iraq, one of the priorities was to look for the weapons of mass destruction. These – as I pointed out the other day – are not a proliferation risk. These are conventional weapons that we are talking about.” [Scott McClellan, 10/27/04]

Reality:

U.S. TROOPS NOT GIVEN ORDERS TO SEARCH FOR STOLEN EXPLOSIVES: According to Lt. Col. Fred Wellman, spokesman for one of the first units to reach Al Qaqaa, soldiers “secured the area they were in and looked in a limited amount of bunkers to ensure chemical weapons were not present in their area.” However, “orders were not given from higher to search or to secure the facility or to search for [explosives], as [high-explosive weapons] were everywhere in Iraq.” [Associated Press, 10/27/04]

PHANTOM WMD SEEN AS A HIGHER PRIORITY: “It’s not nuclear material, but it’s explosives and it’s serious. We take it very seriously, so we’re looking into it.” [Ambassador John Danforth, 10/25/04]

OIL WAS A HIGHER PRIORITY: “At the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom there were a number of priorities. It was a priority to make sure that the oil fields were secure, so that there wasn’t massive destruction of the oil fields, which we thought would occur.” [Scott McClellan, 10/25/04]

7. We’ve Secured 400,000 tons of munitions

Rhetoric:

“Weapons searches have been successful in Iraq. The Duelfer Report states that since mid-September, Coalition forces have reviewed and cleared more than 10,000 caches of weapons and destroyed more than 240,000 tons. Another 162,000 tons of munitions are awaiting destruction.” [Department of Defense Talking Points, 10/26/04]

“This was a dangerous regime that had munitions literally spread throughout the country…more than 400,000 tons of munitions have been seized or destroyed by coalition forces; more than 10,000 caches have been cleared.” [White House spokesman Scott McClellan, 10/27/04]

Reality:

COMPARING EXPLOSIVES TO MUNITIONS IS COMPARING APPLES TO ORANGES: The 400,000 tons the White House cites refers to munitions – guns and ammunition. Pound for pound, the 380 tons of explosives are much, much more powerful. For example, “the bomb that brought down Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 used less than a pound of the same type of material.” By that math, the size of the explosives cache looted would be enough to bring down 760,000 planes. [New York Times, 10/25/04]

EASY TO SMUGGLE: The chemical makeup of these explosives make them “insensitive to shock and physical abuse during handling and transport,” making it particularly easy to smuggle the explosives to terrorists. [New York Times, 10/25/04]


Contact: The Progress Report Team, Christy Harvey, charvey@amprog.org; Judd Legum, jlegum@amprog.org

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