Posted: Jun 19, 2003 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- There is something obscene about the rising clamor for evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The cynical omniscient tone of career peaceniks such as Susan Sontag and of prehensile presidential candidates such as Dr. Howard Dean is repellent.

It is not only that for a dozen years there has been international agreement that Saddam Hussein's regime had these weapons and, in some instances, used them. It is what we have already found in abundance throughout Iraq that makes the sniping contemptible, namely: mass graves, torture chambers, hidden prisons.

The hubbub over the missing weapons of mass destruction, attendant as it is with suggestions that Prime Minister Tony Blair and President George W. Bush are liars, has gotten more attention than the existence of these grisly killing fields and of instruments of torture. In modern times, the aftermath of war is always very untidy -- more so than the aftermath of pre-modern wars, when normal life was not very tidy to begin with.

Thus it should not surprise us that we cannot find Saddam's henchmen, his weapons, his loot or, for that matter, him. Yet the omniscient second-guessing is, in its impertinence, a bit hard to take. Hearing Dean's smug complaints is like hearing an isolationist's smug complaint in 1946 that Hitler had not been found or really all that many concentration camps, or any other evidence of Nazi atrocity.

Of course, in 1946 no isolationist after opposing American entry into World War II would be so insolent as to rebuke our victorious government. Today, the insolence of Dean and his fellow self-regarding war critics is considered the mark of statecraft, at least by them. The fact is, the weapons of mass destruction and the whereabouts of Saddam are going to be discovered eventually. Just as the concentration camps, the Nazi experiments on humans and Hitler's teeth were eventually discovered and publicized.

In fact, I would not be surprised if evidence of the weapons has already been found. Iraq is a vast country. The materials taken by our troops constitute a huge melange, much of it still most likely uncatalogued and possibly even unidentified. I know of instances in which our soldiers came across equipment so old and useless they were bewildered by the discovery.

Yet there are other discoveries the military and a few journalists have made that ought to give the critics of this war reason for pause. From the Iraqi countryside the New York Sun's Adam Daifallah writes: "Mass graves of Iraqis were discovered at Mahaweel just outside the town of Hilla. Distraught Iraqis searched through piles of bones in a chaotic, impromptu scrum. The raw emotion of those who were there searching for their lost loved ones was overwhelming, and their thirst for revenge unquenchable. ... Every day, one hears of a new horror story. There are few Iraqi families who have not seen at least one loved one die in one of Saddam's wars."

It is about time that American journalists fasten on this story. Right up to the arrival of American troops in Baghdad, Saddam's agents were butchering those that roused their wrath. In a splendid Associated Press piece, Mark Fritz tells us that Saddam -- during his last dozen years of butchery -- had "enemies of state" executed who were as young as 11 years old. Sixty mass graves have been discovered. Owing to Saddam's episodic waves of war and rebellion, "beneath one layer of bodies is sometimes another."

It is frankly astounding to me that so little has been made of these discoveries. The New York Sun, The New York Times and The Associated Press have filed stories, but those should only whet the press's appetite for more. Instead, we are regaled with stories about what has not been found -- that is to say, weapons of mass destruction.

Why not more stories about the Iraqi killing fields? Is it because film coverage of the skeletons and the torture chambers is too upsetting for the evening news? Possibly it is, but the mass graves and torture chambers that we have now discovered should be publicized. Saddam was that evil, and if civilized government arises in Baghdad, the grisly evidence of his evil will be discovered for years to come.