On February 14, 2003, Mohamed ElBaradei, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), submitted, in accordance with U.N. Resolution 1441, his second report to the Security Council on Iraq's nuclear non-capability.
Much to the chagrin of President Bush and Colin Powell, the nuclear inspection chief's findings not only cleared the smoke from the imagined "smoking gun," but also dissipated the smog of misinformation with which the American government, hungry for war, has surrounded this issue.
The matters raised by ElBaradei merit further comment.
The inspectors, the IAEA head reported, collected hundreds of soil, air and water samples, and installed and reinstalled dozens of radioactivity detectors -- including gamma-ray surveillance instruments both airborne and ground based -- during 177 inspections and visits to 120 nuclear related locations in the past nine weeks.
What is not generally known is that when Hans Blix, a month ago, challenged Bush and Blair to put up or shut up, in effect challenging them to produce their "sensitive" intelligence on suspected sites in order to allow the inspectors to verify the vociferous claims of the likes of White House spokesman Ari Fleischer's "we know they have it," a list of 25 sites was quietly provided.
The inspectors visited each one of these sites and found nothing. The total sum of all these samples, detectors and visits, as far as the nuclear weapon program is concerned, was nil.
Powell's insinuations about Iraq's imagined nuclear capabilities (fissile ore importation, secret laser enrichment techniques, nefarious aluminum tubes, etc.) now echo with a hollow ring. One wonders of what sort of scientific information he availed himself, if any, before presenting such flimsy allegations as evidence. Perhaps he confined himself to advice from "consultants" in ivory think tanks such as the Nuclear Control Institute.
One might humbly ask what is stopping his "scientists" and consultants now from "advising" their government regarding the extreme unlikelihood that ongoing work related to research and development of a nuclear weapon program would not leave a trace, even in minute amounts, of certain half-life isotopes that would surely be susceptible to detection by the latest highly-touted, ultra sensitive instruments employed by the IAEA inspectors?
In succinct terms, should not the "no finding" be a finding in itself, especially in a place where something was specifically alleged to be a major finding?
Having raised the false specter of an Iraqi mushroom cloud for a decade, Powell's scientists should consider it a matter of conscience to enlighten their government with their expertise in these matters.
The aluminum tubes fanfare so brazenly trumpeted by Powell is reduced to whether the reverse-engineering attempt by Iraqi military engineers amounted to anything more than extra precaution on the part of the engineers. They were most probably demanding definite tolerances in order to ensure the success of their attempt to manufacture locally the combustion chamber for a solid propellant rocket. Powell's only claim to annoyance is that they were more expensive than American aluminum tubes used for this purpose.
The fact is that aluminum tubes have been used to build tens of thousands of rockets. The hypothesis is that the tubes might be diverted for centrifuges. The "coating" applied to the tubes found in Iraq confirms the reason for why they were purchased.
It was also amusing to realize, while I watched the generous outpouring by American "scientists" of detailed technical information in support of Powell's fallacious claim, that they were, in fact, explaining to Iraqi ears actually how to convert these aluminum tubes to centrifugal isotope enrichment cylinders! I can only hope that the "scientists" will not want to be paid for their generous technical advice from the Oil for Food program revenue.
ElBaradei confirmed in his report that it was "intelligence" information that led UNMOVIC to the invasion of the private home of Faleh Hamza -- the supposedly "secret" keeper of the laser enrichment technique -- and the consequent confiscation of 2000 pages of personal documents. Powell had pursued this case in a pathetic attempt to provide "evidence" for the third enrichment process. One wonders what kind of arm-twisting was applied to UNMOVIC (reminding me of their CIA infiltrated UNSCOM predecessors) to carry out this James Bond style fiasco, since the IAEA itself was already fully aware of the insignificance to the Iraqi nuclear program of Faleh Hamza's work on laser enrichment.
We, the Iraqi nuclear team, declared as much in our final report to the IAEA in 1997, pointing clearly to the demise in 1988 of Faleh Hamza's line of research. ElBaradei confirmed that fact the day after Blix brought it up in his first report to the Security Council two weeks ago. He pointed to the personal nature of the seized papers and even chided Blix for referring to it.
One would wonder whether this rejuvenated "intelligence" might not have been the stale information provided by CIA mouthpiece Khidhir Hamza, perhaps in an attempt to stay on their payroll.
In an interview with Hamza published in the Washington Post on February 6, 2003, Powell, in his report to the Security Council two weeks ago, referred to information gleaned from "another defector in 1995." "He was referring to me," Hamza boasts.
If Khidhir Hamza has indeed managed, through his connections with Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, and Donald Rumsfeld, to bypass the entire intelligence community, which disposed of him years ago, if his information is false or silly, if he was not there when Iraq began its serious weaponization program, if he has no new sources, if his testaments are filled with personal diatribes against Iraq, why would the Secretary of Defense turn to him for information?
The U.S. could save billions in the intelligence budget if they would just use what they do find and discard what they know is false!
At the end of his report, ElBaradei unequivocally stated that the Iraqi nuclear weapon program was "neutralized" and that there is "no evidence" of its rejuvenation. Being part of the U.N. system, he felt the need to add a few politically correct question marks concerning "speed," "assurance" and "patterns" of intentions and actions.
Certain European countries are rightly asking how long Bush and Powell can blow into a balloon full of holes. One might also reasonably ask about Bush and Powell's "speed," "assurances" and "patterns" in the misinformation game.
Powell is certainly not new to it.
From The Scourging of Iraq, by Geoff Simons: "Washington lied persistently and comprehensively to gain the required international support [for the Gulf war]. For example, the U.S. claimed to have satellite pictures showing a massive Iraqi military build-up on the Saudi/ Iraqi border. When sample photographs were later obtained from Soyuz Karta by an enterprising journalist, no such evidence was discernible."
Simons makes reference to an article by Maggie O'Kane, published in the Guardian Weekend, 16 December 1995, which revealed that the enterprising journalist was Jean Heller of the St. Petersburg Times in Florida.
Eventually, the U.S. commander -- none other than Colin Powell himself -- admitted that there had been no massing of Iraqi troops. But by then, the so-called evidence had served its purpose.
Yet with a tongue in his own cheek, Powell claimed on February 14, 2003 in the Toronto Star, while still blistering under Blix's and ElBaradei's reports, that "force should always be a last resort -- I have preached this for most of my professional life as a soldier and as a diplomat."
Perhaps this time history should not be allowed to repeat itself.
Imad Khadduri has an MSc in Physics from the University of Michigan (United States) and a PhD in Nuclear Reactor Technology from the University of Birmingham (United Kingdom). Khadduri worked with the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission from 1968 till 1998. He was able to leave Iraq in late 1998 with his family. He now teaches and works as a network administrator in Toronto, Canada. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. This article first appeared at Yellow Times.org