Reagan's WMD Connection to Saddam
by Jacob G. Hornberger
www fff.org, June 18, 2004
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
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
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
In a September 26, 2002, article entitled
"Following Iraq's Bioweapons Trail," columnist Robert
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
" 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
"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
"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
According to the article by Anne Summers
"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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