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If you have nothing to hide, don't act like you do

What's bothersome about these cases is that they reinforce the impression that the Bush administration has something to hide. Why not disclose the testimony of people the coalition worked so hard to catch? The only convincing explanation, argues a former CIA official, is that their accounts would "directly refute the Bush administration's insistence that WMD still exist somewhere -- an assertion that we all know is growing more questionable every day."
Something to Hide?


By David Ignatius

Friday, July 18, 2003; Page A19


As political crises mount in Washington and London over evidence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, it would be especially useful to have the testimony of a leading expert on the subject, Saddam Hussein's science adviser, Amir Saadi.

Saadi (the seven of diamonds in the coalition's deck of cards) surrendered voluntarily to U.S. authorities in Baghdad on April 12. He was the first senior Iraqi official to do so. Because he had never been a member of the Baath Party, U.S. officials were hopeful that he would provide honest information.

TV addicts will remember Saadi as the articulate, cleanshaven English speaker who tried (never entirely convincingly, to this viewer) to explain Iraq's dealings with U.N. weapons inspectors. He was educated in Britain and Germany and married a foreigner, who was never allowed to live with him in Baghdad. Although he served as minister of petroleum and industries at various points, he was never particularly close to Hussein.

"He wanted to make himself available to the coalition forces for questioning and cooperation," said Saadi's German-born wife, Helma, in an e-mail message this week. One of Saadi's American supporters agrees: "He has everything to gain by being honest, and absolutely nothing to gain from continued deception."

So where has Saadi been for the past three months? His family believes he has been imprisoned at the Baghdad airport along with other Iraqi captives. His wife said that she has been communicating through the Red Cross and that in his last communication, on June 15, he told her he was "being treated correctly," was "allowed to shower once a week" and was passing the time reading and writing.

Saadi's friends say there has been quiet discussion about his case with the Coalition Provisional Authority headed by L. Paul Bremer. Believing that Saadi is "clean," some officials of the authority have recommended three times to higher officials at the Pentagon that he be released, according to Saadi's friends. Each of these requests has been rejected, they say.

But why muzzle Saadi? At a time when there are political firestorms in America and Britain over Iraq's WMD program, why not let one of Iraq's leading scientists answer questions? For example: When (if ever) were banned weapons destroyed? If they were destroyed, why didn't Iraq make a full disclosure, as demanded by the United Nations? Was Hussein afraid that if he admitted he had destroyed his WMD stockpile, he would lose a deterrent against attack by Kurdish and Shiite enemies of his regime? These are precisely the questions Saadi could help clarify.

Saadi's silence, I suspect, is evidence that the Pentagon and the White House have concluded that any public release of his testimony would undercut their position. After all, this White House is so desperate to protect President Bush on WMD issues that it is prepared to sacrifice CIA Director George Tenet. If Saadi's testimony could help the president, surely we would have heard it by now.

I have the same question about another man who voluntarily surrendered to the coalition, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz. He turned himself in April 24 after several days of negotiation involving an Iraqi American intermediary in the United States.

Aziz in his later years was not an intimate of Hussein -- that's why he was only the eight of spades in the coalition's deck. But he knows things that would be relevant to the British and American publics. Like Saadi, he has little incentive at this point to lie. His family even wants him to publish his memoirs.

I spoke with his son, Ziad Aziz, yesterday from Amman. He said his only official contact from his father was a June 14 letter via the Red Cross saying he was in good health. The younger Aziz recalled that when he said goodbye in Baghdad, his father seemed ready to cooperate fully. He, too, might be able to tell the world important information, were he free to do so.

What's bothersome about these cases is that they reinforce the impression that the Bush administration has something to hide. Why not disclose the testimony of people the coalition worked so hard to catch? The only convincing explanation, argues a former CIA official, is that their accounts would "directly refute the Bush administration's insistence that WMD still exist somewhere -- an assertion that we all know is growing more questionable every day."

The solid rationale for this war was liberating Iraq from Hussein's brutal regime, rather than the shakier WMD evidence. How bizarre that Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair decided to play a weak hand and that they now keep doubling their bets as its weakness becomes more apparent.

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