Yesterday I walked around the White House with my colleagues to Shine the Light. There were 10 to 12 of us – warm sun on a cold day. This was my first walk in these quarters for several years. Pennsylvania Avenue is now completely cut off in front of the White House. Vehicle traffic is prohibited. But, tourist continue to look through the steel fence and have their pictures taken with the White House backdrop. I didn’t think much about the uniformed police, or park police, just three of the 15 or more police jurisdictions in this city of Homeland Security, as I processed the mile long trek around the White House security perimeter.
My mind was on my memory of 2003 discussions that I carried on with Iraqi scientists who were suspected of having ties to the Saddam’s weapon’s of mass destruction. My notes on the first meeting with them are below. What doesn’t appear in the notes are the family dilemma that this scientist was facing, a wife with cancer. These notes appeared as the administration had moved from one WMD investigation to another in an effort to give credibility to the occupation of Iraq. At the time the professor was reluctant to have his name used. We met over coffee in his offices at Baghdad University.
I remembered my two meetings with the scientist professor today. I wondered if he still held his University appointment. I wondered if he had completely survived the WMD crisis, if his family was healthy, how many well meaning but often clumsy American advisors his University had survived since the occupation began. I wondered how many of his Western visitors had bothered to learn that his University was once the envy of every student in the Arab world and that even now if left alone could reemerge from its rendevous with history over the last 15 years.
As I walked around the White House I wished that my Professor friend with whom I eventually had several meetings could be with us and allowed to give some candid advice to the folks inside the big White House. That won’t happen. My notes of one of my meetings in 2003 follow. For a recent investigation of that WMD period readers are invited to a recent publication, State of War: The secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration by James Risen 2006.
Iraqi Professors and Weapons of Mass Destruction: Baghdad
Aug. 4, 2003
“I wish there was something I could say to close this file.” These are words repeated at least five times in a two hour discussion with a scientist who has been visited repeatedly by members of a special US military task force in Iraq after the occupation began in 2003. He and his colleagues were visited by wave after wave of WMD investigator. The interviews and unannounced interrogations according to Iraqi scientists were led by a Colonel Robert Kidlec.
According to persons now under investigation the scientists were asked why they were not telling the truth. One scientist responded, “Are you interested in truth, or what you want to hear?” The interviews that began shortly after the onset of the occupation were heavily laden with scientific language. They continued until early 2004 but the venue moved to hotel settings and the pressure became more frantic and took on more a style of interrogation. At least three University Professors have been detained for periods of up to three weeks. More than 12 meetings took place in June and July 2003 with various scientists.
One scientist reported that he asked his interrogators if they had the courage to write in their report that they did not find what they were looking for. According to the Iraqi scientist the American investigative team refused to answer the question. A scientist said that during a recent exchange the interrogators said, “We want to interest you in cooperation so that we can look to the future together and perhaps help you go abroad.”. Other interrogators said, “we must understand the past in order to move into the future.”
After the shooting of an American soldier at the University of Baghdad early in the summer of 2003 new faces appeared in the investigative team and scientist were told that the venue for meetings would shift to Hotels for the safety of the team and the scientists. At this point the scientists realized that the pressure on them and their families had increased and to refuse to cooperate in the interviews could lead to detention or another fate. So they agreed. What began as polite scientific interviews turned to harsh interrogations. University administrators began giving more active support to scientists under investigation by making contacts with the Coalition Provisional Authority. Students returned to the campuses in September at which time all the matters of the present experiment in occupatioa become the subject of some of the best students in the Arab world. Professors under investigation are seeking assurances that the detention of professors will stop.
A scientist described accusations of lying. They described interrogators asking questions that might be acceptable in science fiction but not in the real world of Iraq The scientists described interviewers to be “expecting stuff even American scientists cannot do, let alone Iraqi scientists”. The experience of being accused of lying is insulting said a scientist. The threats of detention have increased. At the close of each session they always set a date for the next session.
“The judgment of the people in our group is that weapons of mass destruction did not exist here or elsewhere in the country. We understand that many of the areas of research that we carry out can be dual use. We explained in detail how our systems work”, said the scientists.”
A Professor said this type of thing never happened to us under the previous government. Under this system we have no rights, no defense. We have no option but to continue to tell the truth as we know it even when the same questions are asked again and again. We thought the investigation would soon be over and when they first came we tried to cooperate.
One question that was repeatedly asked referred to reliable information of a secret underground laboratory. The scientists are not familiar with such a site and often ask if there is such a site why don’t they bring the person who passed on the information to Iraq to identify the place. “Just today,” we were told, “a colleague from another University came to say that he had been interrogated about this.