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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

SUNSHINE WEEK: Captured Iraq Documents to be Released; Now WMD Debate Can Procede With Full Facts

It's Sunshine Week so it is especially appropriate that we learn today from The Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes that President Bush has decided to let the sun shine on a treasure trove of heretofore concealed documents that may provide important new facts about Saddam Hussein's program to develop Weapons of Mass Destruction and his deadly regime's support of Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

U.S. military forces captured millions of documents in 2003 that had been produced by the Hussein regime during its long reign of terror in Iraq.

For reasons that have mystified me from the beginning, the Bush administration chose to keep the vast majority of those documents out of public view and seemed not to care about the glacial speed of the intelligency community's translation process.

Among the most serious consequences of that lack of public access was that it meant everybody on both side of the debate about Hussein, WMDs and terrorists support was working on the basis of massively incomplete knowledge. To reach a conclusion one way or the other was thus premature, to say the least.

Magazine journalist Hayes - as well as Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-MI - has been among the most consistent and insistent of voices seeking the release of the documents.

He was able to obtain a few of the documents previously and from those crumbs showed the critical need to get all the facts that are likely contained in the Hussein materials.

Now Bush has decided it's time to let the sun shine in, Hayes reports:

"President George W. Bush has made clear in recent weeks his displeasure with the delays in getting the information out to the American public. On February 16, one day after ABC News broadcast excerpts of recordings featuring Saddam Hussein and his war cabinet, Bush met with congressional Republicans and several senior national security officials and said three times that the documents should be released.

"'This stuff ought to be out,' he told National Security Adviser, Stephen Hadley. 'Put this stuff out.' It seems Bush will soon get his wish.

"Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), who has been steadfast in his resolve to see these documents released, said today that 'this is a bold decision in favor of openness that will go a long way towards improving our understanding of prewar Iraq . . . By placing these documents online and allowing the public the opportunity to review them, we can cut years off the time it will take to gain knowledge from this potential treasure trove of information.'"

Ever the careful journalist, Hayes is quite cautious about drawing premature conclusions about what may be found in the documents:

"No one can say with any certainty what will come from the document release. Intelligence officials with knowledge of the exploitation process estimate that less than 4 percent of the overall document collection has been fully exploited. It's reasonable to assume that documents in the collection will provide support to both supporters of the war in Iraq and critics."

There may also yet be hangups in the release process, but the basic decision has been made by the President, according to Hayes. Go here for the rest of the story.

Question: Will this be the least reported sunshine story of Sunshine Week?

HT: Little Green Footballs