Thursday, October 28, 2004

Here's a decent overview from AP of the missing explosives problem, laid out in question and answer format, listing what we do and do not know.

Let me start by saying that I really, honestly don't care about the politics of this story. I do, however, want the facts to keep coming out so that the American people can come to an informed decision next Tuesday.

What do we know so far? We know that 377 tons of RDX and HMX explosives are missing. They were in powdered form, making them stable and easy to transport, but still fairly easy to make into a weapon. We know that RDX and HMX can be used as rocket fuel, made into plastic explosives, or mixed with binders and formed into a variety of shapes, including innocuous ones (toys, stereos, etc.) that could easily be smuggled past any security that doesn't sniff for explosives. We also know they could be used to make a nuclear weapon, but that's less of a worry, given the difficulty of getting fissionable material. A dirty bomb, on the other hand, is a real danger. Remember the unsecured nuclear waste dumps? We know that, by themselves, these explosives have a total concussive force around 4,000 times that of the Oklahoma City bomb.

We know that the Bush White House was warned by the IAEA before, during and after the invasion that these explosives were there. We know that the explosives were sealed in January 2003, and that the seals were intact in early March, 2003. We know that American troops were in the compound in early April and didn't see them, but that they hadn't been told about the explosives, and didn't perform an exhaustive search. We know there was extensive looting at the site both before and after the Americans came through.

What's been claimed? The Iraqis claim they told Paul Bremer about the missing explosives in May, 2004, and that they were told not to tell anyone else. The White House claims they didn't hear about the missing explosives until October, 2004, the same time as the UN, the New York Times, and you and I. The White House has also claimed that the explosives were moved in the two week window before the war, rather than during the months after the war in which the site was left unsecured, but there's no evidence for this claim, and some evidence against it. A number of people and organizations have claimed that the White House has known about this at least since May, and rather than trying to find the explosives, has concentrated its energy on keeping this story out of the media before the election.

What don't we know? We don't know where the explosives are, if they're being used against us, or if they even still exist. We don't know when they were removed from the depot, nor have I been able to find a clear answer on when, if at all, our military was ordered to secure the munitions dump. We don't know if our military did an exhaustive search in April 2003, but we do know that neither the 101st Airborne (who was there on April 10) or the 3rd Infantry Division (April 3-4) did so. Obviously, though, it cannot be true that we found the explosives to be missing in April 2003 and that we didn't know the explosives were missing until October, 2004.

The White House is treating this as a political story, attacking Kerry for "blaming the troops", when he's very clearly holding Bush responsible, or talking about how untrustworthy Saddam Hussein was. But this is not a story about politics, it is a story about whether the invasion of Iraq has made us more or less safe, and it is a story about the competence and honesty of the Bush administration. In other words, it's not about rhetoric, it's about reality.

If the White House is right, and the explosives were removed before the war, why didn't they know about it sooner? Why are we just hearing about it now, when it's too late to get a full picture before the election? If the White House is right, why didn't they know about the missing explosives before the Iraqis told them in May 2004? And why didn't the White House know until October if Paul Bremer knew in May? Why did the chain of command break down? And why isn't Paul Bremer talking to the press?

Given the unknowns, there's a wide matrix of possible realities, but I'll boil it down to two:
  1. We left the site unsecured, and the explosives were stolen on our watch If true, then the invasion of Iraq has made us, and the world, less safe, but putting 377 tons of plastic explosives on the black market.
  2. The explosives were moved before the war, but we didn't find out about it for months, and made no effort to find them until very recently, when the story was on the verge of breaking in the press. This is the current White House version (it took them a while to settle on a story, which is never a good sign). If true, this would mean they took us to war under the pretext of making us safer, then made no attempt for months to secure a major threat to US security.
I've tried, but I really can't see a way that this isn't a firing offense.

Update: Click here to see pictures of the explosives taken in Al Qa Qaa taken on or around April 18th by a news crew accompanying US troops. Click here to see the IAEA seals.

No comments: