Here is what we know so far about the facts related by Major Austin Pearson at today’s news conference:
A U.S. Army officer came forward Friday and said a team from the 3rd Infantry Division took about 200 tons of explosives from the Al-Qaqaa munitions base soon after Saddam Hussein’s regime fell last year.
Major Austin Pearson appeared at a Pentagon news conference to say it was his mission to go the facility and clear explosives from the base. He said he did not discover that the International Atomic Energy Agency had reported 377 tons of explosives were missing until Tuesday night and he said he promptly contacted military officials.
No word yet on whether Major Pearson can confirm that the explosives his team destroyed were the “missing” RDX, HMX, and PETN.
UPDATE: Major Pearson says that his team removed around 250 tons of munitions and other materials from Al Qaqaa. He doesn’t recall any “sealed” areas and can’t say exactly what the munitions were, but the Pentagon says they believe some of the destroyed material was RDX.
Is this enough, from President Bush’s standpoint? It certainly should be. The obvious conclusion is that the New York Times and John Kerry shot from the hip, accusing the Army of incompetence when they didn’t know the facts. They relied on a patently self-serving and anti-Bush letter from Mohammed El Baradei, a less-than-honest U.N. bureaucrat. It is quite likely that the allegedly missing explosives have been accounted for; around half disappeared before January 2003, according to the IAEA’s own records, and the remainder was most likely destroyed by American troops. (The total amount at issue, 377 tons, represents less than one-tenth of one percent of the munitions the U.S. Army has destroyed in Iraq.)
At a minimum, the unfolding facts support President Bush’s contention that the subject needs to be investigated, and that Kerry, out of political opportunism, jumped to a conclusion that is very likely false.