WASHINGTON, AP – The Bush administration claimed trailers captured soon after the fall of Baghdad proved Iraq had weapons of mass destruction even though U.S. intelligence officials had strong evidence that was not the case, The Washington Post reported.
When the two small trailers were seized in late May 2003, President Bush proclaimed a fresh victory for his administration in Iraq. The administration said they were mobile “biological laboratories,” and Bush declared, “We have found the weapons of mass destruction.”
The claim, repeated by top administration officials for months afterward, was cited at the time as supporting evidence for the decision to go to war.
But a secret mission to Iraq had already concluded the trailers had nothing to do with biological weapons. Leaders of the Pentagon-sponsored mission sent their findings to Washington in a report on May 27, 2003, two days before the president’s statement, the Post reported on its Web site Tuesday night.
The brief initial report and a 122-page final report finished soon after that were shelved. Meanwhile, for nearly a year, administration and intelligence officials continued to publicly claim the trailers were weapons factories.
The actions of the special team were described to a Washington Post reporter in interviews with government officials and weapons experts who participated in the mission or had direct knowledge of it. None would agree to be named because of fears that would cost them their jobs. The final report remains classified.
The trailers along with aluminum tubes acquired by Iraq for what was believed to be a nuclear weapons program — were primary pieces of evidence offered by the Bush administration before the war to support its contention that Iraq was making weapons of mass destruction.
Intelligence officials and the White House have repeatedly denied claims that intelligence was exaggerated or manipulated in the months before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
Asked about the Post report, a Pentagon spokesman, Navy Lt. Cmdr. J.D. Gordon, referred calls to the Defense Intelligence Agency. Attempts to reach someone from the DIA late Tuesday night were unsuccessful.
The Post quoted a DIA spokesman as saying the team’s findings were incorporated into the work of the Iraqi Survey Group, which led the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The survey group concluded the trailers were “impractical” for biological weapons production and were probably intended for manufacturing hydrogen for weather balloons.