In an interview with Polish television on May 29, 2003, George W. Bush was challenged on his administration's failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The president objected: "We found the weapons of mass destruction," he said. "We found biological laboratories. You remember when Colin Powell stood up in front of the world, and he said, 'Iraq has got laboratories, mobile labs to build biological weapons.' They're illegal. They're against the United Nations resolutions, and we've so far discovered two. And we'll find more weapons as time goes on. But for those who say we haven't found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they're wrong, we found them."
At this late date, is anyone surprised to hear that it was Bush who was wrong? As the Washington Post reports this morning, a secret delegation dispatched to examine the two trailers had determined before the president spoke that the trailers weren't weapons labs at all. "There was no connection to anything biological," one member of the group tells the Post. The group ultimately determined that the trailers were probably used to manufacture hydrogen for weather balloons.
It's not clear when, if ever, Bush saw the report from the group the Defense Intelligence Agency dispatched to examine the trailers. What is clear is that members of the Bush administration continued to use the supposed discovery of mobile weapons labs as a justification for war long after somebody should have stopped them. Although the Post plays its story on the front page, questions about the supposed mobile labs aren't exactly new; the New York Times reported on June 26, 2003, that the State Department's intelligence division was disputing the claim that the trailers were designed for biological weapons purposes.
But there was Dick Cheney on "Meet the Press" three months later, saying: "We had intelligence reporting before the war that there were at least seven of these mobile labs that he had gone out and acquired. We've, since the war, found two of them. They're in our possession today, mobile biological facilities that can be used to produce anthrax or smallpox or whatever else you wanted to use during the course of developing the capacity for an attack." Cheney seemed to back down a little in a January 2004 interview with National Public Radio, saying that while "we believe" the two trailers "were, in fact, part of" Saddam Hussein's biological weapons program, "it's not clear at this stage whether or not he used any of that to produce or whether he was simply getting ready for the next war."
But even that characterization apparently went way too far. The team sent to investigate the trailers determined that they weren't even suited for conversion to weapons use. If Saddam Hussein wanted to use the trailers to make biological weapons, one former group member tells the Post, it would have been easier "to start all over with just a bucket."