Botched investigation

A new CIA report offers scathing critcism of U.S. military interrogators' hunt for WMD in Iraq.

Published April 27, 2005 2:01PM (EDT)

U.S. military interrogators botched the questioning of Iraqi scientists in the search for weapons of mass destruction and their detention "serves no further purpose," a new CIA report has found. The report says that in many cases the wrong people were detained, and subjected to questioning by "inexperienced and uninformed" interrogators. It estimates that 105 scientists and officials suspected of involvement in WMD programs are still in detention.

"Others may have reasons for not letting them go. I wanted to be on the record that, in respect to the WMD inquiry, we're done," the report's author, Charles Duelfer, the head of the Iraq Survey Group, told the Guardian.

The report is an addendum to a more comprehensive document published last September that concluded that Iraq had abandoned almost all of its WMD programs more than 10 years before the 2003 invasion. The addendum finds no evidence to support a theory raised by Vice President Dick Cheney, and still circulating in right-wing circles, that Iraqi WMD were smuggled to Syria before the invasion. Duelfer adds that the deteriorating security situation made it impossible for the ISG to carry out further investigation.

The report suggests the threat to coalition forces from explosives looted from unguarded sites after the invasion was probably far greater. It also found that dual-use equipment, which could be used to build chemical, biological and even nuclear weapons, had gone missing.

The report reserves its most scathing remarks for the manner in which military intelligence went looking for weapons immediately after the war. First, the U.S. "blacklist" of scientists wanted for questioning was full of holes. "Some very despicable individuals who should have been listed were not, while many technocrats and even opponents of the Saddam regime made the list and hence found themselves either in jail or on the run," Duelfer wrote, adding that some of the former had been released in the first few months after the war.

He found that the military's interrogation techniques, designed to acquire quick tactical battlefield intelligence, were ill-suited to gaining a broad understanding of complex weapons programs. "It was like trying to use a spanner for a hammer," Duelfer said. "This investigation was a cross between a homicide investigation and a doctoral dissertation. Many detainees had as many as four different debriefers and were debriefed dozens of times, often by new, inexperienced and uninformed debriefers," the report says. Consequently, the detained scientists could easily work out the answers their interrogators wanted. Standard military intelligence reports on interrogations were also inadequate, Duelfer found.

Iraqi scientists who had been involved in WMD research before the first Gulf War constituted a small but real threat if they cooperated with insurgents, terrorists or rogue states, the report finds. It says the ISG was "aware of only one scientist associated with Iraq's pre-1991 WMD program assisting terrorists or insurgents." But it concludes that Iraqi scientists would be of little use to other states pursuing WMD programs because their expertise would have eroded over the long years of sanctions.

By Julian Borger

Julian Borger is a correspondent for the Guardian.

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