Politics & Policy

The Greatest Blunder

What went wrong in Iraq, at home.

During the Nuremburg trials the United States government published a collected series of captured documents entitled Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression–eight volumes with two appendices comprising thousands of pages. Much of it is online at Yale’s Avalon Project and also at the Nizkor Project. These documents started to come out a year after the defeat of Nazi Germany. They represent a fraction of the overall trove taken from Hitler’s regime; many of the rest of the millions of pages of documents can be found in Record Group 242 at the National Archives building in College Park, Maryland. It is a magnificent resource covering all aspects of the Nazi regime.

On March 24, 2003, I referred to these captured Nazi documents in an essay in NRO. “Soon a similar anthology will be assembled for war-crimes trials in Iraq,” I then wrote, “either under international auspices, or by the new Iraqi government. Saddam’s archives will not only demonstrate his defiance of the U.N. by producing weapons of mass destruction, and document his regime’s links to terrorist groups including al Qaeda, but will also lay bare the workings of the apparatus of oppression of Saddam’s police state, as heartless and brutal as any in history. All of this will prove the case for conflict.”

Then, the war was a week old. Now, three years later, we are still waiting for that anthology.

The greatest blunder of the Bush administration–not just of the war, but in toto–is the failure to release documents from Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere captured in the war on terrorism. The huge impact of the recent small dribble of documents (less than a hundred records of the millions of pages taken) illustrates the magnitude of this failing. These documents and others like it can make the case for the war. They can justify it in ways that go far beyond the bland assurances of government officials that it was all worth it. The documents will tell the tale vividly, convincingly–and at this point, much too late.

I won’t get into the issue of why we handed the roguish Ahmad Chalabi between 20 and 60 tons of Baath-party and Iraqi secret-police files–the most valuable of which being the counterintelligence files which would record visits of foreigners to Iraq (such as the foreign terrorists) assuming the Iraqi surveillance system worked like the Soviet system on which it was patterned. I find that episode inexplicable. Hopefully we made copies in advance, but I doubt it. Perhaps Congress could look into that one.

It is incomprehensible to me why the government has not yet made public all that it knows about the enemy. The objection cannot be that in so doing we would be revealing sources and methods–this is war booty. The source was the enemy’s home turf; the method was we took it.

Continuing to deny the American people access to the documentary evidence of the perfidy of Saddam’s regime and the brutality of the terrorist networks with which we are still at war is doing incalculable harm to the war effort. It is no wonder people are tuning out. And when it gets bad enough, the enemy will pay us another visit, perhaps with more tragic consequences.

James S. Robbins is senior fellow in national-security affairs at the American Foreign Policy Council, a trustee for the Leaders for Liberty Foundation, and author of Last in Their Class: Custer, Picket and the Goats of West Point. Robbins is also an NRO contributor.

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