Guardian: Bush has no right to talk of weapons of mass destruction

  • From: "Muslim News" <editor@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <submit@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 20 Mar 2002 07:37:45 -0000

Dear President Bush, 

In commemorating the victims of the attacks on New York and Washington
last week, you called for disputes to be "settled within the bounds of
reason". You insisted that "every nation in our coalition must take
seriously the growing threat" of biological and chemical weapons. You
assured us that on this issue "there is no margin for error, and no
chance to learn from mistakes... inaction is not an option". These are
sentiments with which most of the world's people would agree. While many
of us believe that attacking Iraq would enhance rather than reduce the
possibility that weapons of mass destruction will be used, few would
dispute that chemical and biological agents present a grave danger to
the world. 
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So those of us in other nations who have followed this issue are
puzzled. Why should you, who claim to want to build "a peaceful world
beyond the war on terror" have done all you can to undermine efforts to
control these deadly weapons? Why should the congressmen in your party
have repeatedly sabotaged attempts to ensure that biological and
chemical agents are eliminated? 

In December, your negotiators tore the biological weapons convention to
shreds. The 1972 convention, as you know, was impossible to implement.
While the treaty banned the development and production of bioweapons, it
contained no mechanism for ensuring that its rules were enforced. So for
six years, the 144 signatories had been developing a "verification
protocol", which would permit the United Nations to examine suspected
bioweapons facilities. In July, your government refused to sign the
protocol. In December, you deliberately scuttled the negotiations by
insisting, at the last minute, that the resolution be rewritten. One
European delegate, referring to the commitments your delegation had made
before the meeting, observed, "they are liars. In decades of
multilateral negotiations, we've never experienced this kind of
insulting behaviour." Your actions have rendered the convention useless,
leaving the world unprotected from the very weapons you say you want to

Four years ago, Republican members of Congress, working alongside the
Clinton government, voted to inflict similar damage to the chemical
weapons convention. This treaty already possessed the means to force
nations to open their laboratories to inspection, which is the key
determinant of effective weapons control. But in 1998, your party
decided that the United States should not be subject to these
provisions. By passing legislation banning the removal of chemical
samples from the US by international weapons inspectors; limiting the
number of laboratories which the US needs to declare and permitting the
United States president to refuse "challenge inspections" of its
chemical plants, Republican congressmen effectively hobbled the
convention worldwide. Under your presidency, even routine verification
has been vitiated, as government officials have told the inspectors
which parts of a site they can and cannot visit, just as Saddam Hussein
has done in Iraq. Other countries have used your intransigence as an
excuse for undermining the convention themselves. 

The United States has also withheld both the money required by the
chemicals weapons inspectorate, and the funds needed to remove and
disable the vast arsenal of warheads loaded with nerve agents in western
Siberia, some of which are lying in warehouses secured only by bicycle
padlocks on the doors. It was your own senator, Pat Roberts, who argued
that the promised funding should not be issued, on the grounds that
these weapons "pose more of an environmental threat to Russia than a
security threat to the United States". Yet security at the dumps is so
lax that no one even knows how many warheads they contain. 

You should not be surprised to learn that many of us have been wondering
why your professed intentions and your policies diverge so widely. Nor
should you be surprised to discover that some of us suspect that the US
might have some deadly secrets of its own, which your government hopes
to shield from public view. 

In September last year, the New York Times reported that "the Pentagon
has built a germ factory that could make enough lethal microbes to wipe
out entire cities". The factory's purpose was defensive: your employees
wanted to see how easy it would be for terrorists to do the same thing.
But it was constructed without either congressional oversight or a
declaration to the biological weapons convention, in direct
contravention of international law. We could, perhaps, agree that if the
US had discovered a similar undisclosed plant in a poor nation, then
that country's government, if it survived your initial response, would
have a good deal of explaining to do. 

But of still more concern is the recent discovery that your government
has been planning to test warheads containing live microbes in large
aerosol chambers at the US Army's Edgewood Chemical Biological Centre in
Maryland. Experts in this field say that the scale of the experiments
suggests that they are not defensive, but designed to help develop new
biological weapons. 

It is also clear that some elements of your existing defence programme
contravene both of the treaties your government and your party have
sabotaged. The genetically engineered fungus you have developed for
aerial spraying in Colombia plainly qualifies as a non-lethal biological
weapon. And, because your strategic aims in that country extend beyond
the simple eradication of drugs to the elimination of the leftwing rebel
forces, the chemical sprays you have been using in the regions they
control have also clearly been deployed as weapons, much as Agent Orange
was in Vietnam. Your military laboratories have been developing a new
range of genetically engineered "materials-eating bacteria", designed to
destroy runways, engines and the radar-blocking coatings of warplanes.
Though they do not directly affect humans, you would be hard-put to deny
that these are biological weapons. 

Your government has also refused to destroy its stocks of smallpox, and
has insisted on developing new and more lethal varieties of anthrax. You
say that this is purely for defensive purposes: to study how they might
be used by enemy forces, or to develop new kinds of vaccine. But the
Federation of American Scientists warns that some of the new research
you are funding could be categorised as "dual use": it could lead just
as easily to attack as to defence. Even if we were to accept your
government's assurances that these programmes are solely defensive in
nature, it is surely plain that they are generating the very hazards
they claim to be confronting. The anthrax attacks in October appear to
have been launched by a scientist from within your own biological
warfare laboratories, making use of a strain developed by the US Army's
medical research institute. 

Mr President, you say you want to save the world from biological and
chemical weapons. With or without the help of our own leaders, you seem
prepared to go to war in pursuit of that aim. But surely the first step
towards dealing with weapons of mass destruction is the mass destruction
of weapons? And surely your campaign for world peace would be more
convincing if you respected the conventions designed to destroy them? 

Yours sincerely, George Monbiot 

Source:  The Guardian

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