Thursday, April 8, 2004

In the year since Saddam Hussein was deposed, insurgents have killed nine former Iraqi weapons officials. All had been questioned by the Iraq Survey Group (ISG); at least two had been cooperating with it. Last October, ISG head David Kay said that one scientist was killed because “he was engaged in discussions with us.” The most recent victim was Majid Hussein Ali, a well-known nuclear scientist. He took two bullets to the back in February.

Charles Deulfer, the CIA representative to the ISG, did not directly address the apparent assassinations in his declassified testimony to the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence committees last week, but he did say that many scientists “perceive a great risk in speaking with us … . A fear that former regime supporters will extract retribution.” As Rep. Steve Buyer, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, argued, “Pure logic leads you to conclude that those leading scientists who spoke to David Kay were not mugged and are being selectively assassinated.”

Mr. Buyer, who learned about the issue during classified briefings with Mr. Kay, recently raised the issue. He wondered why such scientists would be eliminated if they had no knowledge of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs and why public officials seem to be taking so little note of the directed killings.

The bloodshed has had a chilling effect on Iraqi scientists. Fearing they might be targeted, at least 50 have fled the country. Many others have refused to cooperate with coalition authorities. Mr. Deulfer said he was struck by the “extreme reluctance of Iraqi managers, scientists and engineers to speak freely.”

A way must be found to protect these Iraqi scientists. They are a critical source of information about the development and production of Iraqi WMD. That data is desperately needed to determine what Iraq’s capabilities and intentions actually were before the war, and why U.N. and U.S. intelligence assessments missed so badly. Those scientists might also hold clues to what happened to the WMD stocks that did exist — whether they were destroyed, hidden or sent across Iraqi borders.

Regardless of the means, coalition authorities must end the silencing of Iraqi scientists.

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