The Strange Case of Mrs. Anthrax and Dr. Germ

Er…does it sound like I’m channeling Robert Louis Stevenson tonight? So sorry. I’m afraid this tale is much too bizarre to be fiction.

In a way, though, this IS a Jekyll-and-Hyde story, involving scientific research, mysterious powders, monsters and strange transformations, as well as no small amount of violence and human two-facedness. But I do think it only fair to warn you that this is a tale of which the last chapter has not yet been written, nor are the heroes and villains of it quite who you would expect, for no one in it is quite as they seem. So, with that said, get comfortable in your chair (or wherever you happen to find yourself), pour yourself a generous tankard of your libation of choice, and read on…

This is a tale of two Iraqi scientists, Drs. Rihab Taha and Huda Ammash. Both are women; both are western-educated. And both have been accused of developing bioweapons for the now-toppled regime of Saddam Hussein. Both were in US custody for more than two years. And both were recently released after it was determined that neither had any information that was of use to the Coalition of the Killing. There is also the likelihood that both will be re-arrested by Iraqi security forces unless they flee the country. Some also say that their release occurred in the hopes that it would trigger another release in turn, that of several hostages from the Christian Peacemaker Team that is currently delivering humanitarian aid to war victims in Iraq. The coalition leaders deny this. What cannot be denied is that in a war waged over allegations of weapons of mass destruction that did not exist (and which were known not to exist!), these two scientists, high-level prisoners that they were, have become an acute embarrassment to the coalition’s leadership.

But there end the parallels. The paths of Dr. Rihab Taha (“Dr. Germ” to her US captors) and Dr. Huda Ammash (“Mrs. Anthrax”) are otherwise divergent, though they have been bundled together in one news story after another. Dr. Taha is plain and dour; Dr. Ammash is beautiful and flamboyant. Dr. Taha was indeed a WMD developer, albeit an only halfway successful one; Dr. Ammash, on the other hand, was…well, we’ll get to that in a moment.

Let’s start with Dr. Taha, a.k.a. “Dr. Germ”. Her claim to infamy resides in the Dodgy Dossier of 2003, which British prime minister Tony Blair used as his rationale for becoming George W. Bush’s poodle. She has admitted to being the head of Saddam’s bioweapons program (to defend Iraq, she claimed, from Israel’s encroachment), and there is ample photographic evidence to support this claim. But to date there is no evidence that this program succeeded in weaponizing the quantities of toxic materials that it produced, or, for that matter, that it ever would have. It is telling that any evidence to the contrary came from Iraqi groups opposed to Saddam’s regime; such people would have a vested interest in whipping up a war over it, in order that they might eventually step in and fill the power vacuum that resulted. It would be only a small stretch for such individuals to claim that the team did succeed in weaponizing all the nasty bugs it grew and tested on animals. (Alas, so far no definitive evidence that they did so on humans–which is another of the charges levelled as an excuse for declaring war!)

Now comes the really embarrassing part: Dr. Taha’s nefarious weapons program got its materials from…drumroll please…THE UNITED STATES! Yes, that’s right, folks…the same damn Yanks that sold evil baddie Saddam all that nasty-wasty stuff in the first place, then turned around in true give-with-one-hand, take-with-the-other fashion, and bombed the living shit out of Iraq.

But wait! That’s not all. It should be abundantly obvious that the US knew exactly where all those nasty-wasties were going:

The CDC, meanwhile, sent shipments of germs to the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission and other agencies involved in Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs.

It sent samples in 1986 of botulinum toxin and botulinum toxoid – used to make vaccines against botulinum toxin – directly to the Iraqi chemical and biological weapons complex at al-Muthanna, the records show.

Botulinum toxin is the paralyzing poison that causes botulism. Having a vaccine to the toxin would be useful for anyone working with it, such as biological weapons researchers or soldiers who might be exposed to the deadly poison, Tucker said.

The CDC also sent samples of a strain of West Nile virus to an Iraqi microbiologist at a university in the southern city of Basra in 1985, the records show.

Oooooo, how embarrassing!

Let’s face it: if the United States were really serious about making sure no rogue regime got its hands on biological weapons, they’d have to start at home. Not only because they have the largest known stores of such icky-poo materials, but also because they have a long history of disastrous international meddling. When it comes to imperialism, they’re bidding fair to outstrip England and Spain. Therefore, it is hypocritical of them to condemn Saddam Hussein’s scientists for doing, on a much smaller scale, what their own have already done.

Now, let’s turn to Dr. Ammash. While Dr. Taha is the one with a greater claim to infamy of the two, Dr. Ammash seems to have reaped the lioness’s share of the accusations and bad-mouthing. Her face, heavily made-up and framed by a loosely wrapped headscarf, even appears as the Five of Hearts in the super-silly deck of Iraq’s Most Wanted, issued to US service members to help them recognize and apprehend any of these “high-level” rotters if they were found. Her nickname, “Mrs. Anthrax”, sounds calculated to arouse suspicion and fear–presumably of the bioweapons she is said to be instrumental in developing. But who and what is she, really?

Well, she is certainly an expert on weapons of mass destruction. But not in the sense that she has been portrayed by the propagandists of the coalition:

Ammash, the only woman of the 55 Baath bureaucrats on the White House most-wanted list. Boston’s South End Press, publishers of the 2002 book Iraq Under Siege, which included Dr. Ammash’s essay “Toxic Pollution, the Gulf War, and Sanctions,” says there may be political imperatives behind her detention. Hiro Ueki, spokesperson for the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), confirmed to South End Press that “UNMOVIC did not single Dr. Ammash out for interviews because UNMOVIC did not have clear evidence to link Dr. Ammash to BW [biological weapons] programs” when visiting Baghdad University in January 2003.

Dr. Ammash, an environmental biologist and professor at Baghdad University, received her PhD. from the University of Missouri, and has documented of the rise in cancer among Iraqi children and war veterans since the 1991 Gulf War. In Iraq Under Siege, she writes: “Iraqi death rates have increased significantly, with cancer representing a significant cause of mortality, especially in the south and among children.” Dr. Ammash’s other publications include: “Impact of Gulf War Pollution in the Spread of Infectious Diseases in Iraq” (Soli Al-Mondo, Rome, 1999), and “Electromagnetic, Chemical, and Microbial Pollution Resulting from War and Embargo, and Its Impact on the Environment and Health” (Journal of the [Iraqi] Academy of Science, 1997). (South End Press press release, May 7, 2003)

Did you get that? Dr. Ammash knows where the bodies of Gulf War I are buried, so to speak. And she knows what got them dead, too. Evil wicked Saddam, beating on his own people again? Um, not quite. Try depleted uranium munitions, splatted all over Iraq courte
sy of the army of George H.W. Bush, father of the current US preznit. I think it’s safe to say that Dr. Ammash’s membership in Saddam’s “inner circle” is not the real issue; that would be the fact that an actual rogue nation used weapons of mass destruction on another country. Nuclear weapons, no less. For there is really nothing “depleted” about depleted uranium; all isotopes of uranium are both radioactive and toxic, and therefore all can cause horrendous illnesses.

Now, let’s back up the truck again to the Dodgy Dossier. Recall that one of the allegations trumped up therein was that of Saddam possessing uranium in the form of yellowcake from Niger, or trying to. This was shown to be false by Ambassador Joe Wilson, whose wife, Valerie Plame, was outed as a CIA agent (a NOC, no less) as punishment for her husband’s audacity by some as-yet unnamed but much-speculated-on sneak in the current Bush administration. Again, BushCo hypocrisy knows no bounds, for even as the scum that floated to the top was cooking up the lies about yellowcake, children were dying from exposure to pulverized uranium, particularly in Southern Iraq, where the DU shelling during Gulf War I was heaviest. The war criminals responsible for all that murder–which is still going on as I write–are going free and making out like bandits, while a woman ailing with breast cancer, possibly caused by her studies in the field, is being scapegoated in the most blatant manner. And don’t we all just wonder why?

Meanwhile, it’s said that both women are now in Jordan–hardly a safe haven, seeing as Jordan has recently suffered a terroristic spillover from the war, and is therefore likely to be rife with potential assassins, eager to pop anyone who seems to them remotely blameworthy for their country’s current plight. Noplace on Earth is safe for either of the women, whether their native Iraq or any of its neighbors, or even the countries where they received their degrees. Both seem likely to meet with mysterious and violent demises. And that, I would wager, is just the kind of ending the Coalition of the Killing would want for the strange tale of Mrs. Anthrax and Dr. Germ.

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