Reagan’s WMD Connection to Saddam Hussein

June 18, 2004 | Future of Freedom Foundation

by Jacob G. Hornberger

Given all the indignant neoconservative “outrage” over the financial misdeeds arising from the UN’s socialist oil-for-food program during the 1990s, when the UN embargo was killing untold numbers of Iraqi children, one would think that there would be an equal amount of outrage over a much more disgraceful scandal — the U.S. delivery of weapons of mass destruction to Saddam Hussein during the Reagan administration in the 1980s.

After all, as everyone knows, it was those WMDs that U.S. officials, from President Bush and Vice-President Cheney on down, ultimately used to terrify the American people into supporting the invasion and war of aggression against Iraq, a war that has killed or maimed thousands of innocent people — that is, people who had absolutely nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington.

In an October 1, 2002, article entitled “Iraq Got Germs for Weapons Program from U.S. in ’80s,” Associated Press writer Matt Kelly wrote,

[The] Iraqi bioweapons program that President Bush wants to eradicate got its start with help from Uncle Sam two decades ago, according to government records that are getting new scrutiny in light of the discussion of war against Iraq.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent samples directly to several Iraqi sites that U.N. weapons inspectors determined were part of Saddam Hussein’s biological weapons program, CDC and congressional records from the early 1990s show. Iraq had ordered the samples, saying it needed them for legitimate medical research.

The CDC and a biological-sample company, the American Type Culture Collection, sent strains of all the germs Iraq used to make weapons, including anthrax, the bacteria that make botulinum toxin, and the germs that cause gas gangrene, the records show. Iraq also got samples of other deadly pathogens, including West Nile virus.

The transfers came in the 1980s, when the United States backed Iraq in its war against Iran.

In a December 17, 2002, article entitled “Iraq Used Many Suppliers for Nuke Program,” the Associated Press stated,

Dozens of suppliers, most in Europe, the United States and Japan, provided the components and know-how Saddam Hussein needed to build an atomic bomb, according to Iraq’s 1996 accounting of its nuclear program….

Iraq’s report says the equipment was either sold or made by more than 30 German companies, 10 American companies, 11 British companies and a handful of Swiss, Japanese, Italian, French, Swedish and Brazilian firms. It says more than 30 countries supplied its nuclear program.

It details nuclear efforts from the early 1980s to the Gulf War and contains diagrams, plans and test results in uranium enrichment, detonation, implosion testing and warhead construction….

Most of the sales were legal and often made with the knowledge of governments. In 1985–90, the U.S. Commerce Department, for example, licensed $1.5 billion in sales to Iraq of American technology with potential military uses. Iraq was then getting Western support for its war against Iran, which at the time was regarded as the main threat to stability in the oil-rich Gulf region.

In a September 26, 2002, article entitled “Following Iraq’s Bioweapons Trail,” columnist Robert Novak wrote,

An eight-year-old Senate report confirms that disease-producing and poisonous materials were exported, under U.S. government license, to Iraq from 1985 to 1988 during the Iran-Iraq war. Furthermore, the report adds, the American-exported materials were identical to microorganisms destroyed by United Nations inspectors after the Gulf War. The shipments were approved despite allegations that Saddam used biological weapons against Kurdish rebels and (according to the current official U.S. position) initiated war with Iran.

In a September 18, 2002, ABC article entitled “A Tortured Relationship,” reporter Chris Bury wrote,

Indeed, even as President Bush castigates Saddam’s regime as “a grave and gathering danger,” it’s important to remember that the United States helped arm Iraq with the very weapons that administration officials are now citing as justification for Saddam’s forcible removal from power.

In a March 16, 2003, article entitled “How Iraq Built Its Weapons Program,” in the St. Petersburg Times, staff writer Tom Drury wrote,

Yet here we are, on the eve of what could turn into a $100-billion war to disarm and dismantle the Iraqi dictatorship. U.N. inspectors are working against the clock to figure out if Iraq retains chemical and biological weapons, the systems to deliver them, and the capacity to manufacture them.

And here’s the strange part, easily forgotten in the barrage of recent rhetoric: It was Western governments and businesses that helped build that capacity in the first place. From anthrax to high-speed computers to artillery ammunition cases, the militarily useful products of a long list of Western democracies flowed into Iraq in the decade before its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

Unfortunately, the U.S.-WMD connection to Saddam Hussein involved more than just delivering those WMDs to him. In an August 18, 2002, New York Times article entitled “Officers Say U.S. Aided Iraq in War Despite Use of Gas,” Patrick E. Tyler wrote,

A covert American program during the Reagan administration provided Iraq with critical battle planning assistance at a time when American intelligence agencies knew that Iraqi commanders would employ chemical weapons in waging the decisive battles of the Iran-Iraq war, according to senior military officers with direct knowledge of the program.

Those officers, most of whom agreed to speak on the condition that they not be identified, spoke in response to a reporter’s questions about the nature of gas warfare on both sides of the conflict between Iran and Iraq from 1981 to 1988. Iraq’s use of gas in that conflict is repeatedly cited by President Bush and, this week, by his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, as justification for regime change in Iraq.

As writer Norm Dixon put it in his June 17, 2004, article “How Reagan Armed Saddam with Chemical Weapons,”

While the August 18 NYT article added new details about the extent of US military collaboration with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein during Iraq’s 1980-88 war with Iran, it omitted the most outrageous aspect of the scandal: not only did Ronald Reagan’s Washington turn a blind-eye to the Hussein regime’s repeated use of chemical weapons against Iranian soldiers and Iraq’s Kurdish minority, but the US helped Iraq develop its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs.

Immediately prior to the US invasion of Iraq, Saddam Hussein delivered a WMD declarations report to the United Nations in an attempt to avert a U.S. invasion. Do you recall that U.S. officials intercepted the report and removed special sections of it, based on claims of “national security”? Well, it turned out that the removed sections involved the delivery of those WMDs by the United States and other Western countries to Saddam Hussein, information that obviously caused U.S. officials a bit of discomfort on the eve of their invasion.

In a February 3, 2003, Sunday Morning Herald article entitled, “Reaping the Grim Harvest We Have Sown,” writer Anne Summers wrote,

What is known is that the 10 non-permanent members had to be content with an edited, scaled-down version. According to the German news agency DPA, instead of the 12,000 pages, these nations — including Germany, which this month became president of the Security Council — were given only 3,000 pages.

So what was missing?

The Guardian reported that the nine-page table of contents included chapters on “procurements” in Iraq’s nuclear program and “relations with companies, representatives and individuals” for its chemical weapons program. This information was not included in the edited version.

In a June 9, 2004, article “Reagan Played a Decisive Role in Saddam Hussein’s Survival in Iran-Iraq War,” Agence France Presse points out,

In February 1982, the State Department dropped Baghdad from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, clearing the way for aid and trade.

A month later, Reagan ordered a review of US policy in the Middle East which resulted in a marked shift in favor of Iraq over the next year.

“Soon thereafter, Washington began passing high-value military intelligence to Iraq to help it fight the war, including information from US satellites that helped fix key flaws in the fortifications protecting al-Basrah that proved important in Iran’s defeat in the next month,” wrote Kenneth Pollack in his recently published book “The Threatening Storm.” …

By March 1985, the United States was issuing Baghdad export permits for high tech equipment crucial for its weapons of mass destruction programs, according to Pollack.

In his June 8, 2004, article “Reagan and Saddam: The Unholy Alliance,” Alex Dawoody states,

By 1982, Iraq was removed from the list of terrorist sponsoring nations. By 1984, America was actively sharing military intelligence with Saddam’s army. This aid included arming Iraq with potent weapons, providing satellite imagery of Iranian troops deployments and tactical planning for battles, assisting with air strikes, and assessing damage after bombing campaigns.

One of the most fascinating parts of this entire sordid U.S. foreign-policy episode is that none other than Donald Rumsfeld played a key role in it. Yes, the same Donald Rumsfeld who, as U.S. Secretary of Defense, scared the American people to death with the thought that Saddam Hussein was about to employ the WMDs (which the U.S. had delivered to him) against them.

A December 31, 2002, CBS story entitled “U.S. and Iraq Go Way Back,” put it this way:

Newly released documents show that U.S. officials, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, played a leading role in building up Iraq’s military in the 1980s when Iraq was using chemical weapons, a newspaper reports.

It was Rumsfeld, now defense secretary and then a special presidential envoy, whose December 1983 meeting with Saddam Hussein led to the normalization of ties between Washington and Baghdad, according to the Washington Post.

In an August 18, 2002, MSNBC article entitled “Rumsfeld Key Player in Iraq Policy Shift,” Robert Windrem wrote,

State Department cables and court records reveal a wealth of information on how U.S. foreign policy shifted in the 1980s to help Iraq. Virtually all of the information is in the words of key participants, including Donald Rumsfeld, now secretary of defense.

The new information on the policy shift toward Iraq, and Rumsfeld’s role in it, comes as The New York Times reported Sunday that the United States gave Iraq vital battle-planning help during its war with Iran as part of a secret program under President Reagan — even though U.S. intelligence agencies knew the Iraqis would unleash chemical weapons.

In a February 24, 2003, article entitled “Who Armed Saddam?” writer Stephen Green wrote,

And he’d probably read the front page Washington Post story (“U.S. Had Key Role in Iraq Buildup,” 12/30/02) based upon recently declassified documents, which revealed that it was Rumsfeld himself who, as President Reagan’s Middle East Envoy, had traveled to the Region to meet with Saddam Hussein in December 1983 to normalize, particularly, security relations.

In her article “Reaping the Grim Harvest We Have Sown,” Anne Summers reinforced this point:

In December 1983, Rumsfeld, then a special envoy to the Middle East appointed by President Reagan, travelled to Baghdad to inform Saddam Hussein that the United States was ready to resume full diplomatic relations with Iraq. A lengthy report in the Washington Post on December 30, 2002 — based on analysing thousands of pages of declassified government documents and interviews with former policy-makers — said that “US intelligence and logistical support played a crucial role in shoring up Iraqi defences” following Rumsfeld’s visit.

So, what is Rumsfeld’s response to all this? Unfortunately, he suffers a malady that commonly afflicts Washington officials when a whiff of scandal is in the air: selective memory lapse. According to Matt Kelly’s article (cited above),

The disclosures put the United States in the position of possibly having provided key ingredients of the weapons it is considering waging war to destroy, said Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D., W.Va.), who entered the documents into the Congressional Record last month.

Byrd asked Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld about the germ transfers at a recent Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. Byrd noted that Rumsfeld met Saddam Hussein in 1983, when Rumsfeld was President Ronald Reagan’s Middle East envoy.

“Are we, in fact, now facing the possibility of reaping what we have sown?” Byrd asked Rumsfeld after reading parts of a Newsweek article on the transfers.

“I have never heard anything like what you’ve read, I have no knowledge of it whatsoever, and I doubt it,” Rumsfeld said. He later said he would ask the Defense Department and other agencies to search their records for evidence of the transfers.

Or as Robert Novak put it in his column (cited above),

Sen. Robert Byrd, a master at hectoring executive branch witnesses, asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld a provocative question last week: Did the United States help Saddam Hussein produce weapons of biological warfare? Rumsfeld brushed off the Senate’s 84-year-old president pro tem like a Pentagon reporter. But a paper trail indicates Rumsfeld should have answered yes.

According to the article by Anne Summers (cited above),

These days Rumsfeld likes to downplay or even deny his role in helping arm Iraq with the makings of weapons of mass destruction. He has been quoted as saying he had “nothing to do” with helping Iraq fight Iran in the ’80s. However, the Washington Post says, “The documents show that his visits to Baghdad led to closer US-Iraqi cooperation on a wide variety of fronts.”

Given that the WMDs that were used to justify the invasion and war against Iraq never materialized, one would think that the neoconservatives who pushed and misled America into the war, and those members of Congress who complacently rubber-stamped the president’s actions, and those members of the press who served as the administration’s cheerleaders would be at least mildly outraged over how Saddam Hussein acquired his WMDs in the first place — from the United States and other countries during the Reagan administration. Unfortunately, the response has been the standard ho-hum one hears whenever the rot at the center of the empire surfaces: “It was just a policy mistake; it happened a long time ago; we need to put it behind us; and it’s now time to move on.”

It is that mindset of denial, however, that is certain to doom our nation to increasing conflicts, crises, and turmoil. To restore political, moral, and economic health to our country, it is necessary to excise the cancer associated with the unrestrained — and oftentimes secret — exercise of government power. In order to excise such a cancer, however, it is first necessary to acknowledge and confront its existence.

Mr. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

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