Setting the table for tonight’s debate, Nedra Pickler of the Associated Press writes, “Kerry stepped up his rhetoric, too, after a report raised fresh questions about Saddam Hussein’s ability to make weapons of mass destruction — the president’s main rationale for war.”

Raised fresh questions? That’s putting it generously. Here’s how The Washington Post described the report yesterday:

The 1991 Persian Gulf War and subsequent UN inspections destroyed Iraq’s illicit weapons capability and, for the most part, Saddam Hussein did not try to rebuild it, according to an extensive report by the chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq that contradicts nearly every prewar assertion made by top administration officials about Iraq.

Charles A. Duelfer, whom the Bush administration chose to complete the US investigation of Iraq’s weapons programs, said Hussein’s ability to produce nuclear weapons had “progressively decayed” since 1991. Inspectors, he said, found no evidence of “concerted efforts to restart the program.

The New York Times write-up was similar:

Iraq had destroyed its illicit weapons stockpiles within months after the Persian Gulf war of 1991, and its ability to produce such weapons had significantly eroded by the time of the American invasion in 2003, the top American inspector for Iraq said in a report made public Wednesday.

The report by the inspector, Charles A. Duelfer, intended to offer a near-final judgment about Iraq and its weapons, said Iraq, while under pressure from the United Nations, had “essentially destroyed” its illicit weapons ability by the end of 1991, with its last secret factory, a biological weapons plant, eliminated in 1996.

In short, the report did a little more than “raise fresh questions” about Saddam’s ability to produce WMD. It stated pretty categorically that Saddam lacked that ability. But we’re not expecting Pickler to write that any time soon.

Zachary Roth

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Zachary Roth is a contributing editor to The Washington Monthly. He also has written for The Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, Slate, Salon, The Daily Beast, and Talking Points Memo, among other outlets.