About the missing explosives. First this is old news repackaged for the election; once again we see CBS and IAEA with an agenda trying to pass this off. Second imbedded reporters with the 101st Airborne Division claimed the explosives were missing when they captured the base during OIF. This site has a nice clip of Kerry putting his foot in his mouth.Despite the smug and supercilious tone -- which, since this is my blog, I thought I had a corner on -- I would like to respond with some further evidence as the story takes shape.
It’s nice to see what the standard of evidence is and I can’t wait to use it in my career.
First, Stephen, is this old news or not news? You can't have it both ways.
Second, the government relying on NBC news for proof -- aren't they part of the liberal media conspiracy? -- doesn't comfort me. Shouldn't the government have its own source of information on this, since the IAEA had specifically warned them about this site? Since they knew about it before the war, shouldn't this have been a major priority from day one? Did they ignore the IAEA or did they have -- like Dick Cheney did during the Vietnam War -- "other priorities"? Like securing the oil ministry, perhaps?
Third, NBC news has disavowed the spin the Bush administration is putting on their report:
An NBC News crew that accompanied the U.S. soldiers who seized the base three weeks into the war said troops saw no sign of the missing HMX and RDX.This is how the Times reports the story today:
Reporter Lai Ling Jew, who was embedded with the Army’s 101st Airborne, 2nd Brigade, said Tuesday on MSNBC TV that the news team stayed at the base for about 24 hours.
“There wasn’t a search,” she said. “The mission that the brigade had was to get to Baghdad. That was more of a pit stop there for us. And, you know, the searching, I mean, certainly some of the soldiers headed off on their own, looked through the bunkers just to look at the vast amount of ordnance lying around.
“But as far as we could tell, there was no move to secure the weapons, nothing to keep looters away.”
Lt. Col. Fred Wellman, the unit’s spokesman, appeared to confirm NBC’s report in an e-mail message Tuesday to The Associated Press, saying the brigade did not have orders to search for the explosives that Iraqi officials say were stolen.
The soldiers “secured the area they were in and looked in a limited amount of bunkers to ensure chemical weapons were not present in their area,” Wellman wrote. “Bombs were found but not chemical weapons in that immediate area.
“Orders were not given from higher to search or to secure the facility or to search for HE type munitions [high-explosive weapons], as they were everywhere in Iraq,” he wrote.
Republican officials have sought to discredit the initial reports and seized on an NBC News account, broadcast Monday night, that said when troops from the 101st Airborne arrived at the vast site on April 10, 2003, they found conventional weapons but none of the extremely powerful high explosives, HMX and RDX, which can be used to set off a nuclear weapon. In an e-mail message sent to reporters on Monday evening, Scott Stanzel, a spokesman for the Bush campaign, said, "The weapons were not there when the military arrived, making John Kerry's latest ripped-from-the-headlines attack baseless and false."Digby has some thoughts on the issue, and quotes this exchange from NBC News:
But Tuesday evening, NBC again reported on the issue. This time it reported that it had not said that the explosives were gone before American troops arrived at Al Qaqaa. Instead, it reported that troops from the Third Infantry Division and the 101st Airborne searched bunkers at the site and had not found the powerful explosives. NBC reported that it was not clear whether American troops searched all of the bunkers.
"Last night on this broadcast we reported that the 101st Airborne never found the nearly 380 tons of HMX and RDX explosives,'' Tom Brokaw, the NBC anchor, said. "We did not conclude the explosives were missing or had vanished, nor did we say they missed the explosives. We simply reported that the 101st did not find them.''
"For its part, the Bush campaign immediately pointed to our report as conclusive proof that the weapons had been removed before the Americans arrived,'' Mr. Brokaw added. "That is possible, but that is not what we reported.''
For the second day Mr. Bush did not speak about the issue, twice ignoring questions from reporters.
Amy Robach: And it's still unclear exactly when those explosives disappeared. Here to help shed some light on that question is Lai Ling. She was part of an NBC news crew that traveled to that facility with the 101st Airborne Division back in April of 2003. Lai Ling, can you set the stage for us? What was the situation like when you went into the area?Josh Marshall, citing a Jerusalem Post article, includes this quote contradicting the current administration spin:
Lai Ling Jew: When we went into the area, we were actually leaving Karbala and we were initially heading to Baghdad with the 101st Airborne, Second Brigade. The situation in Baghdad, the Third Infantry Division had taken over Baghdad and so they were trying to carve up the area that the 101st Airborne Division would be in charge of. As a result, they had trouble figuring out who was going to take up what piece of Baghdad. They sent us over to this area in Iskanderia. We didn't know it as the Qaqaa facility at that point but when they did bring us over there we stayed there for quite a while. We stayed overnight, almost 24 hours. And we walked around, we saw the bunkers that had been bombed, and that exposed all of the ordinances that just lied dormant on the desert.
AR: Was there a search at all underway or did a search ensue for explosives once you got there during that 24-hour period?
LLJ: No. There wasn't a search. The mission that the brigade had was to get to Baghdad. That was more of a pit stop there for us. And, you know, the searching, I mean certainly some of the soldiers head off on their own, looked through the bunkers just to look at the vast amount of ordnance lying around. But as far as we could tell, there was no move to secure the weapons, nothing to keep looters away. But there was -- at that point the roads were shut off. So it would have been very difficult, I believe, for the looters to get there.
AR: And there was no talk of securing the area after you left. There was no discussion of that?
LLJ: Not for the 101st Airborne, Second Brigade. They were -- once they were in Baghdad, it was all about Baghdad, you know, and then they ended up moving north to Mosul. Once we left the area, that was the last that the brigade had anything to do with the area.
AR: Well, Lai Ling Jew, thank you so much for shedding some light into that situation. We appreciate it.
LLJ: Thank you.
At the Pentagon, an official who monitors developments in Iraq said US-led coalition troops had searched Al-Qaqaa in the immediate aftermath of the March 2003 invasion and confirmed that the explosives, which had been under IAEA seal since 1991, were intact. Thereafter the site was not secured by U.S. forces, the official said, also speaking on condition of anonymity.Further, the Times has another article today No Check of Bunker, Unit Commander Says:
The commander, Col. Joseph Anderson, of the Second Brigade of the Army's 101st Airborne Division, said he did not learn until this week that the site, Al Qaqaa, was considered sensitive, or that international inspectors had visited it before the war began in 2003 to inspect explosives that they had tagged during a decade of monitoring.Finally, as the Times reports in an article on their website posted today:
Colonel Anderson, who is now the chief of staff for the division and who spoke by telephone from Fort Campbell, Ky., said his troops had been driving north toward Baghdad and had paused at Al Qaqaa to make plans for their next push.
"We happened to stumble on it,'' he said. "I didn't know what the place was supposed to be. We did not get involved in any of the bunkers. It was not our mission. It was not our focus. We were just stopping there on our way to Baghdad. The plan was to leave that very same day. The plan was not to go in there and start searching. It looked like all the other ammunition supply points we had seen already."
President Bush addressed for the first time today the mysterious disappearance of 380 tons of explosives in Iraq, accusing his campaign rival, Senator John Kerry, of exploiting the issue without knowing, or caring about, the truth.I will leave my response to my man Wesley Clark (as posted by Atrios):
"Our military is now investigating a number of possible scenarios, including that the explosives may have been moved before our troops even arrived at the site," Mr. Bush told a Republican crowd in Lancaster, Pa. "This investigation is important and it's ongoing, and a political candidate who jumps to conclusions without knowing the facts is not a person you want as your commander in chief."
Today George W. Bush made a very compelling and thoughtful argument for why he should not be reelected. In his own words, he told the American people that “…a political candidate who jumps to conclusions without knowing the facts is not a person you want as your Commander in Chief.
President Bush couldn’t be more right. He jumped to conclusions about any connection between Saddam Hussein and 911. He jumped to conclusions about weapons of mass destruction. He jumped to conclusions about the mission being accomplished. He jumped to conclusions about how we had enough troops on the ground to win the peace. And because he jumped to conclusions, terrorists and insurgents in Iraq may very well have their hands on powerful explosives to attack our troops, we are stuck in Iraq without a plan to win the peace, and Americans are less safe both at home and abroad.
By doing all these things, he broke faith with our men and women in uniform. He has let them down. George W. Bush is unfit to be our Commander in Chief.