You would have thought that the discovery of an actual weapon of mass destruction in Iraq would be big news, especially since it was aimed at American soldiers. But apparently not in the eyes of most U.S. newspaper editors and network television producers, who chose largely to ignore one of the major stories coming out of Iraq this week.
On Monday, the Iraqi Survey Group, which is tasked with searching for Saddam Hussein's WMD, confirmed that an artillery round containing weaponized sarin nerve gas was detonated in an improvised explosive device (IED) aimed at U.S. troops in Baghdad on Saturday. Thankfully, the IED didn't kill anyone, and the sarin components dispersed without causing real harm because the 155-mm shell had not been used as an artillery round, as it was intended. The weapon's design required the shell to be fired from a launcher that would have allowed the binary components of the sarin to mix as the shell spun at high speed, which would have turned the relatively small artillery round into a devastating killer. Instead, the device detonated in an IED, and most of the 3-4 liters of sarin were not activated.
So how did the major dailies treat this story? They buried it. The Washington Post carried a story on page 14, with a subtitle that dismissed its significance, "Weapon Probably Not Part of a Stockpile, Experts Say." But despite the headline, the story said nothing of the sort. The Post reported that David Kay, the man previously in charge of the Pentagon's search for WMD, "said the discovery did not conclusively prove the existence of stockpiles of concealed chemical and biological weapons," which is very different than saying somehow it proved the contrary. The story goes on to quote Raymond Zilinskas, a former U.N. weapons inspector: "The question is: Was it part of a cache that contains another 10 or 20 of these, or is it one of a kind? ... We have no way of knowing at this point."
The New York Times headline on page 11 was also dismissive. "Army Discovers Old Iraqi Shell Holding Sarin, Illicit Weapon." Most of the story was a re-hash of the complaints that the Bush administration had failed to find the WMD the president and his advisers had said Hussein possessed. The Times only grudgingly admitted that the existence of the shell offers "some of the most substantial evidence to date that Mr. Hussein did not destroy all of the banned chemical agent, as he claimed before the war last year."
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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