Audiotapes of Saddam Hussein and his aides underscore the Bush administration’s argument that Baghdad was determined to rebuild its arsenal of weapons of mass destruction once the international community had tired of inspections and left the Iraqi dictator alone.
In addition to the captured tapes, U.S. officials are analyzing thousands of pages of newly translated Iraqi documents that tell of Saddam seeking uranium from Africa in the mid-1990s.
The documents also speak of burying prohibited missiles, according to a government official familiar with the declassification process.
But it is not clear whether Baghdad did what the documents indicate, said the U.S. official, who asked not to be named.
“The factories are present,” an Iraqi aide tells Saddam on one of the tapes, made by the dictator in the mid-1990s while U.N. weapons inspectors were searching for Baghdad’s remaining stocks of weapons of mass destruction.
“The factories remain, in the mind they remain. Our spirit is with us, based solely on the time period,” the aide says, according to the documents. “And [inspectors] take note of the time period, they can’t account for our will.”
The quote is from roughly 12 hours of taped conversations that unexpectedly landed in the lap of Bill Tierney, a former Army warrant officer and Arabic speaker who was translating for the FBI tapes unearthed in Iraq after the invasion.
Mr. Tierney made a copy, which he provided to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. The committee in turn gave a copy to intelligence analysts who authenticated the voice as that of Saddam.
Mr. Tierney said that the quote from the Saddam aide, and scores of others, show Saddam was rebuilding his once-ample weapons stocks.
“The tapes show that Saddam rebuilt his program and successfully prevented the U.N. from finding out about it,” he said.
There also exists a quote from the dictator himself, who ordered the tapings to keep a record of his inner-sanctum discussions, that Mr. Tierney thinks shows Saddam planned to use a proxy to attack the United States.
“Terrorism is coming … with the Americans,” Saddam said. “With the Americans, two years ago, not a long while ago, with the English I believe, there was a campaign … with one of them, that in the future there would be terrorism with weapons of mass destruction.”
The tapes are spurring a new debate over Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction stocks more than a year after the CIA’s Iraq Survey Group (ISG) completed a lengthy postwar inspection. It concluded that Iraq did not possess stocks of weapons of mass destruction when the U.S-led coalition invaded in March 2003.
There is more to come. House intelligence committee Chairman Rep. Peter Hoekstra, Michigan Republican, told The Washington Times that about 500 hours of additional Saddam tapings are still being translated and analyzed by the U.S. In addition, in Qatar, U.S. Central Command’s forward headquarters in the Persian Gulf, sit 48,000 boxes of Iraqi documents, of which the military has delivered 68 pages to the committee.
“I don’t want to overstate what is in the documents,” Mr. Hoekstra said. “I certainly want to get them out because I think people are going to find them very interesting.”
He said the office of John D. Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, is now weighing the congressman’s request to release 40 of the 68 pages.
Of the tapes released so far, Mr. Hoekstra said, “Everything [Saddam] is doing is saying, ‘Let’s take it and hide it’ with a clear intent. ‘As soon as this is over, we’re going to be back after this.’ ”
So far, the tapes do not shed light on what ultimately happened to Saddam’s large stocks of weapons of mass destruction. None were found by the ISG, whose director, Charles Duelfer, filed a final report in 2004.
Some pundits and recently retired military officers are convinced that Saddam moved his remaining weapons to Syria. They cite satellite photos of lines of trucks heading into the neighboring country before the invasion and the fact Saddam positioned his trusted Iraqi Intelligence Service agents at border crossings.
Mr. Duelfer said there were promising leads that weapons of mass destruction did go into Syria, but the security situation prevented him from closing the loop. Mr. Duelfer concluded that Saddam planned to resume weapons of mass destruction production once the United Nations lifted economic sanctions.
Mr. Tierney said he thinks the regime poured chemical weapons into lakes and rivers and sent other stocks over the border to Syria. Mr. Tierney served as a U.N. weapons inspector in the 1990s.
“The ISG, they were lied to in a very systematic way,” he said. “Lying. They were very good at it.”