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Jewish World Review April 23, 2004 / 2 Iyar, 5764

Diana West

Diana West
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Digging for answers | I wasn't going to write about the non-release or the release of John Kerry's military record. While intriguing to be sure, this mystery — why it is that a presidential candidate who has focused the nation's attention on his military record didn't long ago release every scrap of official documentation corroborating that record — dims next to more urgent questions of the day. For example, most of my brain is still trying to wrap itself around the unwieldy fact that the United Nations is touted as the savior of Iraqi democracy even as its multibillion-dollar Oil-for-Food relief program is being investigated as a pit of Iraqi fraud and international corruption. How could this be? I don't get it.

There are other questions in urgent need of answers. One concerns the Al Qaeda plot foiled in Jordan earlier this month. Described as an attempt to kill thousands in simultaneous chemical attacks on government buildings and foreign diplomatic missions (including the U.S. embassy) in Amman, the attack was thwarted when Jordanian officials arrested "suspected militants" who had crossed into Jordan from Syria with a mega-haul of explosives, detonators and poison gas.

Is it just me, or does this weaponry arriving via Syria — explosives, detonators and poison gas — sound like those fabled weapons of mass destruction? As has noted in connection with this incident, former Iraq Survey Group chief David Kay named Syria as a likely repository for Iraq's missing WMD. "We know from some of the interrogations of former Iraqi officials that a lot of material went to Syria before the war, including some components of Saddam's WMD programs," Kay told the London Telegraph in January. I wonder: Did these Al Qaeda chemical bombs come from Syrian "components" of Iraq's WMD programs?

I also wonder what happened to the "Iraqi officials" Kay mentioned. One of the more sensational, if underreported, stories to come out of liberated Iraq is that nine Iraqi scientists — all having been interviewed by the Iraq Survey Group — have been murdered in the year since Saddam Hussein was deposed. "I want the world to be informed that these individuals are being assassinated, and it's not because they have a new cooking recipe," Rep. Steve Buyer, an Indiana Republican, told The Washington Times. Having learned of the assassinations during a closed-door briefing by David Kay, Buyer wonders why U.S. officials have not publicly discussed the relevance of these murders. This is a very good question. Certainly, the prospect of a violent death might explain the reluctance of Iraqi scientists to talk to weapons inspectors to this day. As Charles Duelfer, Kay's successor, recently told the Senate, "Many perceive a grave risk in speaking to us." I would think so.

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It may take a very long time before we unearth — maybe literally — all the answers. Which, strangely enough, is part of the reason John Kerry's military mysteries have suddenly become more compelling. World-class questions still stump us, but Kerry could have long ago signed a government release to make his complete military record (not to mention his FBI files) available to the public. Why didn't he? Is it morally wrong, as his campaign absurdly suggests, to even ask him to do so? Is it an attack on Kerry's "patriotism" to expect the facts? Up until this week's mini-firestorm, which Kerry self-ignited with a false assertion that his complete record was at his campaign headquarters, the available public documentation was scanty and restricted to certain media outlets.

And, as of this writing, I'm still not certain what portion of the record his campaign has decided to make public.

All of which is odd given John Kerry's decision to present his military experience as his chief qualification to run the country. This in itself gives pause, considering his high-profile role as a leader of the antiwar movement on returning from Vietnam and his searing slander of American servicemen as war criminals in public testimony at the time. Kerry even famously threw his medals away in protest of the war — only to have it revealed years later, less famously, that he had actually thrown away another man's medals for show. (His own ribbons are safely displayed on his office wall.) Which also raises many questions — or should.

John Kerry is running for president. If he wins, he will be the one trying to crack the really profound questions. It seems a small thing now to ask him for easy answers about himself.

Correction: Last week, this column incorrectly referred to the 18 servicemen killed in 1993 at Mogadishu as Marines; they were U.S. Army soldiers.

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JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2003, Diana West