Backtalk

The Half-Life of Knowledge

As Americans come to realize that Saddam Hussein’s 21st-century WMDs were purely a concoction of the Bush administration to justify war, it is shocking to see Mother Jones spreading the lie that Iraq in 2003 was crawling with WMD scientists (“In the Garden of Armageddon”). In fact, even Iraq’s programs were abandoned in 1991, as demonstrated by Saddam’s order to Obeidi to literally bury his research in his garden. Without participating in ongoing programs, any scientists involved in the pre-1991 WMD programs would no longer be of much use.

Especially revealing is author Kurt Pitzer’s cavalier reference to “the bioweapons researcher…whom U.S. officials have dubbed ‘Mrs. Anthrax,’” Dr. Huda Ammash. She is not a bioweapons researcher. She is Iraq’s leading expert on the medical effects of depleted uranium, and that is why the Pentagon and the White House are keeping her incommunicado in prison. Ammash, the former dean of Baghdad University’s College of Science, received her doctorate from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Her real threat comes from a peer-reviewed essay on the horrific medical effects of depleted uranium on Iraqi civilians published in Iraq Under Siege. Mother Jones readers interested in actual WMDs in Iraq should read it.

H. BRUCE FRANKLIN

Newark, New Jersey


 

KURT PITZER RESPONDS

Franklin’s opinion that Iraq’s former WMD scientists would “no longer be of much use” because their capabilities date from pre-1991 programs is not shared by most experts on the subject. The knowledge gained by Iraqi scientists in the 1980s, especially in the nuclear program, could be valuable to a covert WMD effort elsewhere. Anyone trying to hide a WMD program is likely to use whatever capabilities are available on the black market rather than the latest technology.

Dr. Huda Ammash was the only woman on the infamous U.S. “deck of cards.” This probably had more to do with her political rank (she was seen at Saddam’s side in a video aired shortly after the March 2003 invasion) than for any alleged connection to a pre-1991 biological weapons program or her laudable, more recent work on the effects of depleted uranium. The tragedy here is that scientists—including Ammash, who is reportedly ill and should be released from custody—are seen as villains by the U.S. or, at best, ignored. Because most former WMD scientists are unaccounted for, the U.S. invasion has made it more likely—not less likely—that their capabilities will proliferate beyond Iraq’s borders.

 

Restoring Trust

“Accounting Coup” captures the devastation of American Indians through colonization and the regrettable 19th- and early-20th-century laws and acts of Congress. But your reporting falters when you say this is what the Cobell v. Norton lawsuit is about.

You wrongly say the case demands “payment of all unpaid revenues from Indian leases for the past century, a tally of past revenues, and a new accounting system to deal with future revenues.” The litigation asks only for an accounting of funds deposited to and disbursed from the Trust, and to provide account holders with historic account statements. What’s more, existing records, available because of “Do Not Destroy” orders in the 1950s, account for a large percentage of Trust funds because most of the revenue came after 1970, when oil and timber prices began to rise dramatically.

There are many statements in your story that beg for clarification, but it is more important to explain that Interior staff members—many of whom are American Indians—and tribal leaders have worked long hours to improve the Trust for beneficiaries. Today our accounting systems are the same as those used in major private trust corporations and are audited every year. Almost 50 fiduciary trust officers in the field serve individuals and tribal account holders, and we opened a nationwide toll-free call center. Interior reconciles cash receipts on a daily basis and financial assets monthly. Beneficiaries are provided with quarterly financial statements, and we are beginning to issue asset statements reflecting land interests owned by each beneficiary. These are just a few of the reforms in place, and I am proud to work with Interior staff, Indian leaders, and Congress on this important mission.

ROSS O. SWIMMER

Special Trustee for American Indians
U.S. Department of the Interior

Washington, D.C.

 

You Don’t Know Jack

Your article about Jack Abramoff’s downfall (“The Fall of a True Believer”) is titillating, but it’s not the main story. This is a massive fundraising scandal that involves such core institutions of the Republican Party as the Republican Governors Association and the Republican National Committee. Abramoff not only enriched himself but also served as the conduit for huge transfers of money to Republican organizations and candidates.

I don’t care if Abramoff can square his work on behalf of gamblers with his religion. What needs reporting is the corruption of the political process, not goggling at one man’s folly.

MARSHALL CARTER TRIPP

El Paso, Texas

 

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