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May 31, 2010


I seem to remember a time back in the '70s when "weapons of mass destruction" was considered purely a Soviet propaganda term, and would never have been used by any self-respecting US official.

I found it striking when the Bush administration started using the term indiscriminately to mean "anything dangerous that doesn't rely solely on conventional explosives."

Ah, 2002. It was a very good year.

Previous comment proving, "Within each of there dwells, oftimes, a mighty raging Gary Farber . . . "


The Bush2 administration did something mendacious?

Shocked, shocked I say!

Technically, at this point, they're alleged to have planned horrible crimes. At some point the government may actually prove this allegation, after which it would be appropriate to say that they "planned' horrible crimes, minus the "alleged to have".

The way the government handles "conspiracy' charges has to be kept in mind. All it takes is *one* person with a plan, (Sometimes the government's own informant.) and other members of the group doing anything which can be argued in court to further that plan, even if they are legal in an of themselves, and arguably done for some other reason.

IOW, if you're ever a member of a group the government wouldn't like, and one of your group starts raving about his nefarious plans, don't roll your eyes. Strip search him looking for the wire... It may be your only chance to stay out of jail.

Hilarious. I wonder if Brett had such magnanimous concern for the technicalities of legal appellation when it came to Saddam's "weapons-of-mass-destruction-related programme activities".

Robin Cook -- one of the many supposedly non-existent people to have voiced scepticism about "WMD" claims prior to the war -- made exactly the right distinction in his resignation speech in the British House of Commons in March 18, 2003:

Iraq probably has no weapons of mass destruction in the commonly understood sense of the term - namely a credible device capable of being delivered against a strategic city target.

It probably still has biological toxins and battlefield chemical munitions, but it has had them since the 1980s when US companies sold Saddam anthrax agents and the then British Government approved chemical and munitions factories.

Why is it now so urgent that we should take military action to disarm a military capacity that has been there for 20 years, and which we helped to create?

Why is it necessary to resort to war this week, while Saddam's ambition to complete his weapons programme is blocked by the presence of UN inspectors?

The reason the government keeps on using the term is how wonderfully well it worked before to stifle most rational discussion, and to tie everyone opposing govt action to "defending WMD".

Just as footage of some passengers on the boat attacked by Israeli commandos fighting back with knives will succeed with much of the Israeli and U.S. public in making the passengers into the terrorists... and therefore "having it coming."

Actually, the reason the government uses the term is because it's used in 18 U.S.C. 2332a (describing the crime of "Use of weapons of mass destruction") in which it is defined (in part) as including any "destructive device" under 18 USC 921:

"(4) The term “destructive device” means—
(A) any explosive, incendiary, or poison gas—
(i) bomb,
(ii) grenade,
(iii) rocket having a propellant charge of more than four ounces,
(iv) missile having an explosive or incendiary charge of more than one-quarter ounce,
(v) mine, or
(vi) device similar to any of the devices described in the preceding clauses;"

Not that I'm defending the use of the term in the statute, but it's not a vague term - it's carefully defined. It just doesn't mean what it used to mean.

Thanks for that, sapient; I didn't realize that the defining-down of 'weapons of "mass" destruction' was official. For us non-lawyers, when was that passage of the code added (i.e., what legislation is it part of)?

Nell, I don't have a very comprehensive legislative history but it appears that the statute was first enacted in 1980, but substantially reworked in 1994. Although some changes were made in 2004, it seems that the section used the term "weapons of mass destruction" at least since the Clinton years and maybe before.

As I said, I have sketchy resources at the moment, so my information is less than reliable. I was surprised to see that the section predated Bush though.

Sapient, correction to your last comment. The statute was enacted in 1994, after the first WTC bombing, and increasingly referenced after the Oklahoma City bombing and Tokyo in 1995. It was developed to target extremist groups who use large amounts of high explosive as well as CB hazards. Only the FBI uses the Title 18 definition.

The DOD has official definitions for WMD that specifies only nuclear, biological, and chemical munitions that are "capable of a high order of destruction or causing mass casualties." But that's not in public law.

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