The worst possible news yet

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Hesham A. Hassaballa’s Column

The recent news regarding Iraq is not good. Almost every day another American soldier is killed. More soldiers, in fact, have been killed by hostile fire during this war than during Gulf War I. Soldier morale is taking a nose dive. Every day, more and more doubt is cast on the intelligence that shaped the decision to go to war with Iraq. The weapons of mass destruction that Iraq reportedly had have yet to be found. In fact, the BBC has reported that “very senior sources” in the British government have virtually ruled out the possibility of ever finding weapons of mass destruction (WMD). They believe the weapons were there, but were either hidden or destroyed before the war.

This last piece of news, which did not cause a stir in the U.S., is the most troubling of all. The failure to find weapons of mass destruction can only mean one of three things: (1) senior UK officials were correct; (2) the weapons were never there to begin with; (3) in the chaos and confusion of the war and its aftermath, some or all of the weapons that were in existence ended up in the hands of terrorist groups.

It is this third possibility that makes me so nervous even thinking about it. In the weeks and months leading up to the war, President Bush and his Administration continually insisted that Iraq indeed possessed WMD, and these weapons may end up in the hands of terrorists. In the light of Sept. 11, the argument went, military action was needed to disarm Saddam Hussein. Now, 100 days after the war “ended,” there are no weapons in sight.

Could it be that they ended up in the hands of terrorists? Could it be that anthrax, or botulinum toxin, or processed uranium was looted out of Iraq along with priceless artifacts of antiquity? Could it be that the very same war that was supposed to prevent WMD from ever getting into the hands of terrorists actually be the thing that directly lead to terrorists getting their hands on weapons of mass destruction? If senior UK officials are correct–weapons were there in Iraq but were destroyed before the war–how can we be sure that all the weapons that were there were destroyed? Even if some WMD are eventually found, how can we be sure that they have all been accounted for?

There is only one way out of this whole weapons mess: the Bush Administrations must come clean and reveal that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq after all. True, it would be confirmed that the war was totally unjust and unjustified, but more and more people around the world, including more Americans, are coming to this conclusion, if they do not believe so already. If there were no weapons in Iraq to begin with, then there is no possibility that they could have ended up in the hands of murderous terrorists who are bent upon killing innocent Americans. Yes, we may have egg on our face, but that is certainly better than blood on our streets from another terrorist attack using Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Besides, the Bush Administration–racked with a hubris that is proving to be dangerous to the country–could use some humility.

Earlier this month, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said, “The coalition did not act in Iraq because we had discovered dramatic new evidence of Iraq’s pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.” On July 12, CIA Director George Tenet publicly took the blame for the false claim made by President Bush in his State of the Union address that Iraq sought to acquire processed uranium from Niger. Retired State Department official Greg Thielmann told the Associated Press that “There was no solid evidence that indicated Iraq’s top nuclear scientists were rejuvenating Iraq’s nuclear weapons program.” All these revelations seem to suggest that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before the war. That would be great! No weapons means no way those weapons could be in the hands of terrorists.

Yet, the Bush Administration continues to insist there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before the war. In fact, on July 18, a senior Administration official held an unusually long briefing session with reporters outlining a recently declassified intelligence document which indicated there was “compelling evidence” of Iraq’s attempt to procure nuclear weapons. So where are the weapons? Former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told the BBC that if the weapons had existed before but had not been found by coalition forces, officials should be “unable to go to sleep at night” for fear that those weapons are in terrorists’ hands. I hope and pray those officials are sleeping like babies.

Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago physician and columnist for Beliefnet.com and Media Monitors Network (MMN)He is author of “Why I Love the Ten Commandments,” published in the book “Taking Back Islam: American Muslims Reclaim Their Faith” (Rodale Press), winner of the prestigious Wilbur Award for Best Religion Book by the Religion Communicators Council.

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