- The Washington Times - Friday, May 21, 2004

You would have thought the discovery of an actual weapon of mass destruction (WMD) 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 largely ignored one of the major stories from Iraq this week.

On Monday, the Iraqi Survey Group, tasked with searching for Saddam Hussein’s WMD, confirmed 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. Fortunately, 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 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 to 4 liters of sarin were unactivated.

So how did the major dailies treat this story? They buried it. The Washington Post carried a story on Page 14, with a sub- title that dismissed its significance, “Weapon probably not part of a stockpile, experts say.” Despite the headline, the story said nothing of the sort. The Post reported David Kay, 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 it somehow proved the contrary.

The story quotes 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 also was dismissive. “Army discovers old Iraqi shell holding sarin, illicit weapon.” Most of the story rehashed complaints the Bush administration failed to find WMD that the president and his advisers had said Saddam possessed. The Times grudgingly admitted 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.”

One shell does not a stockpile make. But where there is one such weapon, there are likely to be others — dozens, maybe hundreds. In any case, this story is important. But most of the liberal media have been too busy focusing on the Abu Ghraib prison scandal or other bad news from Iraq to pay attention.

On the same day the Times put the WMD story on Page 11, it ran a Page One piece breathlessly reporting “MPs received orders to strip Iraqi detainees.” Since “strip-searches” are routine in most U.S. jails and prisons, and these detainees are arguably more dangerous than common criminals, this “revelation” seems a little overblown. Further, nothing in the article suggests there were any orders that prisoners be forced into sexually degrading behavior or soldiers encouraged to photograph naked prisoners, much less jump on them, punch them or have others abuse them.

No matter how the media try to turn a prison scandal involving a handful of rogue soldiers into an official policy of abuse, they haven’t produced a smoking gun. Yes, the soldiers involved should be punished. But that appears likely. Four soldiers faced military courts this week, one already pleading guilty. The only foot-dragging by the military so far involves the three implicated female soldiers still uncharged. Oddly, the media aren’t screaming foul on this apparent double standard.

Mark this: These proceedings will dominate the news in days ahead, even if we stumble upon more of Saddam’s WMD in Iraq.

Linda Chavez is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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