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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Washington File

06 June 2003

Bennett Defends Administration on Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction

(Utah Republican says U.S. looked at the totality of the Iraq
situation) (1620)
By Steve La Rocque
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- Senator Robert Bennett (Republican of Utah) defended the
Bush administration's decision to confront Iraq over its weapons of
mass destruction in a speech to the Senate June 5, while suggesting
that some critics of the administration are practicing a type of
historical revisionism made famous in George Orwell's novel 1984.
Bennett, as Chief Deputy Republican Whip, is the third ranking
Republican in the Senate. He is the chairman of the Joint Economic
Committee of the Congress, and serves on the Senate Appropriations
Committee, and its subcommittee on Foreign Operations, as well as the
Senate Government Affairs Committee, where he sits on both the
Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and the Subcommittee on
Financial Management, the Budget and International Security.
"We are being told over and over again that the world was lied to, the
American people were lied to, the Congress was lied to because we were
told that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (WMD),"
Bennett said.
The argument continues, he said, that since the United States hasn't
found any WMD, "that means we were deceived at the very beginning when
the justification was given to us by the Bush administration to move
ahead with respect to the operation in Iraq."
Critics of the Bush administration's Iraq policy who make that
argument "have tried to reconstruct their own memory holes," said
Bennett, "They have tried to take past information and scrub it from
the record and pretend it was never there."
Alluding to the main character in the Orwell novel, Winston Smith,
Bennett said the record is very clear and firm, "And unless Winston
Smith is suddenly somehow materialized to change history," there were
past statements on Iraq's WMD program.
"I remember going to S-407 in this building, the room on the fourth
floor where we go to receive confidential, highly classified briefings
from administration officials," Bennett said.
"I remember sitting there and listening to Madeleine Albright,
Secretary of State, outline for us in detail the reasons we had to
attack Iraq," he said.
"President Clinton, who appointed her Secretary of State, was even
more pointed in his public statements of the fact that Iraq possessed
weapons of mass destruction," said Bennett, "In the President's
phrase, 'Saddam Hussein will surely use them.'"
According to then-President Clinton and then-Secretary of State
Albright, Bennett reminded his Senate colleagues, the United States
needed to move ahead militarily in Iraq.
"I remember walking out of that meeting in S-407 convinced that the
bombs would start falling within days," said Bennett.
"As it turned out, the administration changed its mind and moved away
from that particular decision," he said, "They backed off."
But, said Bennett, the Clinton administration never "backed off" the
statement that WMD were in Iraq, that they would be used, and that
Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein could not be trusted in the long term
with such weapons.
Using the type of logic critics of the Bush administration have
employed regarding the issue of WMD, Bennett noted that the United
States has yet to find Saddam Hussein.
"Does that mean he never existed or he was never in Iraq?" he asked,
"Of course not."
"The same thing applies to the weapons of mass destruction," Bennett
said.
"As I have demonstrated, starting with President Clinton, we have
known they were there, we have known they had them," Bennett said.
"If we cannot find them all, that means either they were destroyed by
us or by the Iraqis or they have been moved somewhere," Bennett said,
"It doesn't mean they never existed."
The evidence that WMD existed, he said, "cannot go down the memory
hole just to make the present arguments sound more convincing."
Bennett said it was clear that if President Bush were involved "in
some kind of slight of hand to pretend that weapons were there when
they were not, and create some sort of conspiracy among the members of
his administration to peddle this false notion, former Vice President
Gore would not be part of that conspiracy."
Then-Vice President Al Gore, who later led a hard-fought and bitter
election campaign against then-Governor Bush saw the intelligence
briefings on Iraq's WMD capabilities, he added.
"He was in a position to evaluate how accurate they were," Bennett
said, adding that the former Vice President said publicly on the
record, about Saddam Hussein on September 23: "'We know that he has
stored secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons throughout
his country.'"
He noted how Iraq prepared artillery shells for weapons of mass
destruction by having them hollowed out, without the chemical or
biological weapon being placed in the shell, and then stored the
shells that way, with the plan to put the WMD in the shells just
before use.
So finding hollowed out artillery shells doesn't prove there was no
Iraqi capability in chemical or biological weaponry, he suggested,
"the reverse is actually true," said Bennett.
"We do not have a storehouse in the American military of hollow
artillery shells because we don't use chemical weapons," he noted.
The Iraqis had hollow shells because they expected to "put chemical
agents in those shells," Bennett said.
He noted how Senator Robert Graham (Democrat of Florida), the ranking
minority member on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, backed
Secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation to the United Nations
on Iraq's threat to international security.
Graham approved of Powell, Bennett said, "'finally making available to
the world the information on which this administration will base its
actions in Iraq,'" adding that what Graham considered most significant
was "'the confirmation of a linkage between the shadowy networks of
international terrorists and Saddam Hussein, the true coalition of
evil.'"
Bennett noted that all of that information was available to "all these
individuals prior to the time we went into Iraq, and all of them were
satisfied that it was sound information."
All of them, he added, "were satisfied that it was real."
Now some assert that "nobody - nobody -- believed there were weapons
of mass destruction in Iraq except the Bush administration, and that
everybody simply took the Bush administration at its word," Bennett
said.
The other reasons leading to confrontation with Iraq by the Bush
administration should be seen in what Bennett termed "the totality of
the situation."
The Bush administration wanted to deal with the problem of WMD, he
said, but it also wanted to deal with "a tyrant who was brutalizing
his own people," and a regime involved in terrorism, and that was
threatening its neighbors.
"If you take that criteria and apply it to all the countries in the
world, you come up with only one that qualifies on every count," said
Bennett.
WMD was not, he said, "the single issue that current commentators and
candidates, pundits and pollsters are talking about that prompted
President Bush to give the order to go ahead" against the Baghdad
regime of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
"It is a distortion of history to hammer again and again on the fraud
that says only weapons of mass destruction drove us to go into Iraq,
and it is our failure to find weapons of mass destruction in this time
period in Iraq that demonstrates we were wrong," said Bennett.
Yet, he noted, no one has said that the United States was wrong to
have deposed Saddam Hussein.
"They come close to that in their attack on the President," Bennett
said.
"They say he lied," Bennett continued, that President Bush manipulated
and distorted the facts.
"But they cannot quite bring themselves to say we were wrong to have
done it, and no one will say the world would have been a better place
if we had not," Bennett said.
"Why?" he asked, "Because we have discovered some other things we did
not know."
Bennett then listed some other intelligence failures.
"Our intelligence community did not know until we got into Iraq about
the mass graves," he said, "We did not know about the prisons holding
children who were put in there as young as 4 and 5 years of age and
have been there for 5 years or more."
The United States, he continued, "did not know the details of the
brutality of this man."
Bennett said the United States "did not know that he treated his own
population, those who were hostile to him or, indeed, simply suspect
in his eyes, as brutally as Adolf Hitler treated the Jews" in wartime
Germany.
"What the Bush administration has done in Iraq was the right thing to
have done; it was based on sound and careful analysis that ran over
two administrations; that was vetted thoroughly with our allies
abroad, bringing Great Britain, Australia, Poland, and others, into
the fight, and the result has demonstrated that the world is a safer
place," Bennett said.
"The Iraqi people live in a safer society, and the prospects for the
future are better than would have been the case if we had gone to the
brink, as President Clinton did, and then changed our minds," he said.
"President Clinton thought the evidence was overwhelming but decided
not to act," said Bennett, while President Bush "thought the evidence
was overwhelming and did act, and the rafters should ring with at
least one speech that applauds that decision and that level of
leadership."
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:
http://usinfo.state.gov)



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