Definitely take a moment to skim over Scott McClellan's remarks today in the press gaggle about the al Qa Qaa debacle. It's a brazen effort.
McClellan's key point is that the US knew nothing about any of this until October 15th, ten days ago.
That contradicts what the Times says, which is that Iraqis claim they told Jerry Bremer about this last May. It contradicts what the Iraqis have told the IAEA, which is that the US pressured them not to report the disappearance to the IAEA.
It also stands in what I guess you'd have to call simple defiance of the fact that the US had formal charge of these facilities for more than a year ending in late June of this year.
To say that we knew nothing about the theft of these materials during that entire time is simply not credible. And if it's really true, it's considerably worse than if it's a lie.
Asked whether securing a facility like this wasn't a key priority of the occupation forces, McClellan responded: "At the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom there were a number of priorities. It was a priority to make sure that the oil fields were secure, so that there wasn't massive destruction of the oil fields, which we thought would occur. It was a priority to get the reconstruction office up and running. It was a priority to secure the various ministries, so that we could get those ministries working on their priorities, whether it was ..."
And then one of the key questions from one of the reporters ...
Q: Scott, did we just have enough troops in Iraq to guard and protect these kind of caches?
MR. McCLELLAN: See, that's -- now you just hit on what I just said a second ago, that the sites now are really -- my understanding, they're the responsibility of the Iraqi forces. And I disagree with the way you stated your question, because one of the lessons we've learned of history is that it's important to listen to the commanders on the ground and our military leaders when it comes to troop levels. And that's what this President has always done. And they've said that we have the troop levels we need to complete the mission and succeed in Iraq.
Q But you're saying this is the responsibility of the Iraqi forces. But this was our responsibility until just recently, isn't that right? Weren't these -- there is some U.S. culpability, as far as --
MR. McCLELLAN: You're trying -- I think you're taking this out of context of what was going on. This was reported missing after -- when the interim government informed that these munitions went missing some time after April 9th of 2003, remember, that was when we were still involved in major military action at that point. And there were a number of important priorities at that point. There were munitions, munition caches spread throughout Iraq. There were -- there was a concern that there would be massive refugees fleeing the country. There is concern about the devastation that could occur to the oil fields. There was concern about starvation that could happen for the Iraqi people.
So -- and obviously there is an effort to go and secure these sites. The Department of Defense can talk to you about -- because they did go in and look at this site and look to see whether or not there were weapons of mass destruction there. So you need to talk to Department of Defense, because I think that would clarify that for you and set that record straight.
Did you understand his answer? Or the proper 'context' he was saying it needs to be seen in? As nearly as I can tell his explanation is that there was a lot of stuff going on during the early occupation and that this wasn't that high on the priority list.
And even this explanation, if accepted at face value, doesn't get at the real issue. Let's say things were just too crazy in the first month or more of the occupation to secure the al Qa Qaa facility. What about the period of relative calm between spring 2003 and the end of the year. Didn't anybody go out and see that the place had been swept clean?
Not only are McClellan's explanations not good ones, most of them don't even make any sense. And they all hang on the palpably false premise that the US knew nothing about this until little more than a week ago.