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April 16, 2004

Saddam Hussein & Charles Duelfer & Making Shit Up

UPDATE: This post has several errors. A fuller explanation is here.

What do Saddam Hussein and Charles Duelfer, head of the Iraq Survey Group, have in common? Besides the fact that they both have excellent mustaches?

The answer is: both have their own special way of interpreting international law. Most people believe laws mean what the laws say they mean. Hussein and Duelfer feel this is unfair.

At the end of the Gulf War, the UN declared that Iraq was forbidden from having biological, chemical or nuclear weapons, or programs to develop the same. It's now clear they almost certainly did abide by the relevant UN resolutions in these areas. But -- Iraq was also forbidden from possessing missiles with a range greater than 150 km. And while they did not have such missiles, they did engage in low level research on developing missiles with a greater range. It's unclear whether this in itself was illegal under UN Security Council Resolution 1441 (the one passed in the fall of 2002). However, it's definitely the case that they were required by 1441 to disclose this research, which they did not.

That's a pretty thin, almost meaningless indictment. Barton Gellman of the Washington Post reported that experts believe even without ongoing U.N. inspections, Iraq would have needed six years just to get to the point of flight testing the missiles. With inspections, it would have taken "considerably more" time. And that's assuming the missile design would have worked at all, which it might not have.

But what's interesting about all this is Saddam Hussein's decision to attempt to obtain long-range missiles. According to several news reports, members of the Iraqi government were unhappy about it, and told Hussein that the missiles would violate international law. They'd say to him: Look at paragraph 8 of U.N. Security Council Resolution 687, where it demands we "accept the destruction [of] all ballistic missiles with a range greater than 150 kilometres." That's pretty clear, isn't it?

Hussein would reply: No, no. That just means that we can't have long-range missiles with WMD. But missiles without WMD are a-okay!

Then the other people would say But... and then Saddam would look at them intently while stroking his moustache and then the discussion would end. [See here for a source on this]

Charles Duelfer deals with international law in the same creative way. For instance, in his March 30th testimony before Congress, Duelfer stated that "UAVs were flight tested [by Iraq] that easily exceeded the UN limit of 150 kilometers."

This would be a telling point, if the UN in fact had said that Iraq's UAVs were limited to a range of 150 km. Unfortunately, the UN never did -- the limit only applied to missiles. But Duelfer, like Hussein, didn't like what what the UN resolutions meant, so he decided they meant something else. [CORRECTION: Unmovic did say this re UAVs, although I believe the larger point stands. See here]

There IS one difference between Hussein and Duelfer, though -- Hussein didn't get away with it.

(Duelfer's deceptive statement has been pointed out by Glen Rangwala, an instructor at Oxford University. [CORRECTION: Rangwala is at Cambridge, not Oxford.] Rangwala repeatedly humiliated the Blair government by pointing out numerous glaring mistakes in its pre-war"dossiers" about Iraq. Rangwala became one of the world's foremost experts on Iraq's WMD by taking the drastic step of actually reading the UN's reports about them.)

Posted at April 16, 2004 10:29 PM

Jon asked me to comment on this piece, which contains a good gag on mustaches that I'm going to re-use. There are many stories about Duelfer and Operation Shake the Tree (May 96-), one of the episodes that most discredited Unscom.

There are also many stories about Duelfer and happy pills, but I'll save those for another day.

Two other points regarding the piece-

1. Jon writes: "Hussein would reply: No, no. That just means that we can't have long-range missiles with WMD. But missiles without WMD are a-okay!"

Jon may have been bugging SH's private chambers, so he may have better sources than me on this. But my own belief is that this isn't true. Iraq's defence of al-Samoud was that it only went beyond 150km because the missile was without its payload, not because it didn't contain WMD. Iraq's declarations on missiles, by all reports (unscom, unmovic and news), never try the line attributes to SH.

Also, research on longer range missiles wasn't prohibited under 687 (although it should have been declared as Jon writes). If SH saw there was the possibility for prohibitions in the missile
field to be lifted at some point in the future, continuing research on long-range missiles would have been a quite natural (and permitted) activity to engage with.

2. "if the UN in fact had said that Iraq's UAVs were limited to a range of 150 km. Unfortunately, the UN never did".

Well, Unmovic did. Blix engaged in a seemingly aberrant reading of the law in the Clusters document, pp.14-15. My brief account from the time is at the start of the evaluation section in:

There is no indication in any Unscom report, let alone any SCR, that the range applicable to missiles is applicable also to UAVs. One argument used was that if it could fly more than 150km and release any weapon, then it was *like* a missile. Well, this would then read 687 as prohibiting Iraq from having planes at all (if it flies more than 150km, and the pilot could lob a grenade out the window, does that make having any plane equivalent to holding long-range missiles..?), which clearly hadn't been the intention then or a sensible reading of what a missile is.

Finally, Jon moves me across England:

"has been pointed out by Glen Rangwala, an instructor at Oxford University"

It's Cambridge University, but hey. Even my mother makes this mistake sometimes.

Posted by: Glen Rangwala at April 17, 2004 06:37 PM