Missing HMX: It Really is Missing
The evidence accumulates hourly that deadly HMX explosives were at the al-Qaqaa facility on April 18 of 2003 and subsequently disappeared.
The allegation that the material was moved by the Saddam regime between March 16 and April 9 does not seem to me to get Bush off the hook. First, it is probably groundless. Josh Marshall points out that the photos released by the Pentagon of trucks at al-Qaqaaa are of a different part of the huge facility than where the HMX was stored.
Second, it wouldn’t account for all the material that disappeared, since a substantial amount was certainly looted after the US conquest, as television video from embedded reporters demonstrating that the material was there on April 18, suggests. Third, the US had complete control of the skies over Iraq and had al-Qaqaa under surveillance. If they did not want Saddam moving HMX around, all they had to do was take out some trucks that came up to al-Qaqaa, as a warning.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ran away from a lower-level bureaucrat’s crackpot conspiracy theory, of Russians moving the stuff to Syria, so fast that he could have been auditioning for a Nike commercial. The Russians rather exasperatedly denied the story. (The Russians haven’t been militarily involved in Iraq since the 1980s when they were part of the Soviet Union).
A new low was reached in the Republican Party, out of panic at this story, by Rudi Giuliani, who blamed our troops for the al-Qaqaa catastrophe, saying, ”No matter how you try to blame it on the president, the actual responsibility for it really would be for the troops that were there. Did they search carefully enough? Didn’t they search carefully enough?” So let’s get this straight. Bush sends only 100,000 US troops to Iraq, when 500,000 are needed to secure the country. Then when the troops don’t have te personpower to do their jobs properly, you blame them? The refreshing thing about Giuliani’s remark is its honesty. Surely a lot of fatcat Republicans who are always draping themselves in the flag and exploiting the heroism of US troops actually view them as little more than kitchen help, who can be blamed if the banquet doesn’t come off as brilliantly as hoped. Remember the images of Bush in white tie toasting his “base” among the super-wealthy, in Fahrenheit 9/11? It is not the corporals in the US army whom he was toasting.
ABC said experts who have studied the images say the barrels seen in the video contain the high explosive HMX, and U.N. markings on the sealed containers were clear.
“I talked to a former inspector who’s a colleague of mine. He confirms that, indeed, these pictures look just like what he remembers seeing inside those bunkers,” David Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq told the network.
ABC said the barrels seen in the video were found inside locked bunkers that had been sealed by inspectors from the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency just before the war began.
“The seal’s critical. The fact that there’s a photo of what looks like an IAEA seal means that what’s behind those doors is HMX,” Albright said.
The soldiers were not ordered to secure the facility, ABC reported.
The Pentagon yesterday released an aerial photograph taken two days before the Iraq war of two trucks at the site where nearly 400 tons of high explosives went missing, but it was unable to say they had anything to do with the disappearance.
The image of a small portion of the sprawling al Qaqaa arms storage site, taken on March 17, 2003, showed a large tractor-trailer loaded with white containers with a smaller truck parked behind it, the Pentagon said.
Chief Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita acknowledged that he could not say that the trucks were hauling away the explosives, or had anything to so with the disappearance of the material.
Earlier yesterday, the U.N. nuclear agency said U.S. officials had been warned about the vulnerability of explosives stored at al Qaqaa after another facility — the country’s main nuclear complex — was looted in April 2003.
The IAEA cautioned American officials directly about what was kept at al Qaqaa, the main storage facility in Iraq for so-called high explosives, spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said in Vienna.
And here is what weapons inspector David Kay had to say about the ABC News video from al-Qaqaa in April, 2003:
BROWN: I don’t know how better to do this than to show you some pictures, have you explain to me what they are or are not, OK? First, I’ll just call it the seal and tell me if this is an IAEA seal on that bunker at that munitions dump.
KAY: Aaron, as about as certain as I can be looking at a picture, not physically holding it, which obviously I would have preferred to have been there, that’s an IAEA seal. I’ve never seen anything else in Iraq in about 15 years of being in Iraq and around Iraq that was other than an IAEA seal of that shape.
BROWN: And was there anything else at the facility that would have been under IAEA seal?
KAY: Absolutely nothing. It was he HMX, RDX, the two high explosives.
BROWN: OK. Now, I want to take a look at the barrels here for a second and you can tell me what they tell you. They obviously to us just show us a bunch of barrels. You’ll see it somewhat differently.
KAY: Well, it’s interesting. There were three foreign suppliers to Iraq of this explosive in the 1980s. One of them used barrels like this and inside the barrel is a bag. HMX is in powdered form because you actually use it to shape a spherical lens that is used to create the triggering device for nuclear weapons.
And, particularly on the videotape, which is actually better than the still photos, as the soldier dips into it that’s either HMX or RDX. I don’t know of anything else in al Qa Qaa that was in that form.
BROWN: Let me ask you then, David, the question I asked Jamie. In regard to the dispute about whether that stuff was there when the Americans arrived, is it game, set, match? Is that part of the argument now over?
KAY: Well, at least with regard to this one bunker and the film shows one seal, one bunker, one group of soldiers going through and there were others there that were sealed, with this one, I think it is game, set and match.
There was HMX, RDX in there. The seal was broken and quite frankly to me the most frightening thing is not only is the seal broken and the lock broken but the soldiers left after opening it up. I mean to rephrase the so-called (UNINTELLIGIBLE) rule if you open an arms bunker, you own it. You have to provide security.
BROWN: That raises a number of questions. Let me throw out one. It suggests that maybe they just didn’t know what they had.
KAY: I think quite likely they didn’t know they had HMX, which speaks to the lack of intelligence given troops moving through that area but they certainly knew they had explosives.
And to put this in context, I think it’s important this loss of 360 tons but Iraq is awash with tens of thousands of tons of explosives right now in the hands of insurgents because we did not provide the security when we took over the country.
BROWN: Could you — I’m trying to stay out of the realm of politics.
KAY: So am I. BROWN: I’m not sure you can necessarily. I know. It’s a little tricky here but is there any reason not to have anticipated the fact that there would be bunkers like this, explosives like this and a need to secure them?
KAY: Absolutely not. For example, al Qa Qaa was a site of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) super gun project. It was a team of mine that discovered the HMX originally in 1991. That was one of the most well documented explosive sites in all of Iraq. The other 80 or so major ammunition storage points were also well documented.
Iraq had, and it’s a frightening number, two-thirds of the total conventional explosives that the U.S. has in its entire inventory. The country was an armed camp.
Laura Rozen has more.