Will the U.S. reap what it has sown? Byrd asks

By Paul J. Nyden
The Charleston Gazette

Will Saddam Hussein unleash botulinum toxin, perhaps nature’s deadliest poison, and other viruses and chemicals if the United States attacks Iraq?

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., posed this question to the Senate on Thursday, based on documents obtained from different federal agencies.

“We have a paper trail,” Byrd said. “We not only know that Iraq has biological weapons, we know the type, the strain, and the batch number of the germs that may have been used to fashion those weapons. We know the dates they were shipped and the addresses to which they were shipped.

“We have in our hands the equivalent of a Betty Crocker cookbook of ingredients that the U.S. allowed Iraq to obtain and that may well have been used to concoct biological weapons.”

Those shipments included:

* Between 1985 and 1988, the nonprofit American Type Culture Collection made 11 shipments to Iraq that included a “witches’ brew of pathogens,” including anthrax, botulinum toxin and gangrene. All shipments were government-approved.

* Between January 1980 and October 1993, the federal Centers for Disease Control shipped a variety of toxic specimens to Iraq, including West Nile virus and Dengue fever.

The U.S. Commerce Department and CDC provided lists of these shipments. “The Defense Department ought to have the same lists, so that the decision-makers will know exactly what types of biological agents American soldiers may face in the field,” Byrd said.

“At last week’s Armed Services Committee hearing, Secretary [Donald] Rumsfeld said he had no knowledge of any such shipments and doubted that they ever occurred. He seemed to be affronted at the very idea that the United States would ever countenance entering into such a deal with the devil.

“Secretary Rumsfeld should not shy away from this information. On the contrary, he should seek it out,” Byrd said.

In its Sept. 23 edition, Newsweek magazine published an article discussing the viruses, poisons and gases that the U.S. sent to Saddam Hussein in the mid-1980s. At that time, the U.S. regarded Iraq as a potential ally against Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeni.

Byrd criticized Rumsfeld for failing to answer questions he asked last week about these shipments to Iraq during an Armed Services Committee hearing.

“I repeat today what I said to him then,” Byrd said. “In the event of a war with Iraq, might the United States be facing the possibility of reaping what it has sown?”

Calls to the White House press office on Thursday afternoon were referred to the Department of Defense, where no one returned a call. One woman at the White House asked, “How do you spell Byrd?”

Federal documents and a United Nations Security Council report document a direct connection between periods when Iraq received toxins and viruses from the U.S. and the periods when Iraq developed biological weapons.

Byrd closed his speech by asking what the future holds.

“The role that the U.S. may have played in helping Iraq to pursue biological warfare in the 1980s should serve as a strong warning to the president that policy decisions regarding Iraq today could have far reaching ramifications on the Middle East and on the United States in the future.

“In the 1980s, the Ayatollah Khomeni was America’s sworn enemy, and the U.S. government courted Saddam Hussein in an effort to undermine the Ayatollah and Iran. Today, Saddam Hussein is America’s biggest enemy, and the U.S. is said to be making overtures to Iran.”

The Bush administration is also discussing whether to arm groups of ethnic dissidents, such as the Kurds, in Iraq.

“Could the U.S. be laying the groundwork for a brutal civil war in Iraq? Could this proposed policy change precipitate a deadly border conflict between the Kurds and Turkey?” Byrd asked.

He again urged caution. “Decisions involving war and peace,” he said, “should never be rushed or muscled through in haste. Our founding fathers understood that, and wisely vested in the Congress, not the president, the power to declare war.”

Byrd said Congress must consider Bush’s requests for new war powers “carefully, thoroughly, and on our own timetable ... and avoid the pressure to rush to judgment on such an important matter.”