There was never any mystery as to whether Saddam Hussein had a chemical weapons program before the 1991 Gulf War. We all knew he did because the United States had helped build it. Furthermore, there was never any question as to whether any chemical weapons were left over from that program — the only questions were how many of them, where, and in what condition they existed.

But the 2003 invasion of Iraq wasn’t aimed at resolving either of these WMD issues. Instead, the Bush administration’s casus belli was all about the pressing need to find a series of nonexistent, brand-new WMD programs in Iraq — see aluminum tubes, Nigerian yellowcake, and vials of Anthrax. By the time Americans understood this evidence for war was fabricated, 140,000 Americans were fighting and dying in a collapsing hellhole, neither numerous enough to secure all the weapons depots nor few enough to avoid provoking hostility with ham-handed counterinsurgency tactics.

The biggest takeaway from the New York Times‘s story this week on pre-1991 chemical weapons that turned up in Iraq, and that were found and used on American troops by insurgents, is that it took this long for us to hear about these incidents because Karl Rove wanted them hushed up.

If the Times story was really a belated vindication of the Bush administration’s contrived war of choice as the neocons are braying this week, then why are we just now reading it? Why wasn’t Dick Cheney trumpeting this front page headline while he was still in office? Instead, there were consistent efforts to keep these incidents quiet — even at the expense of soldiers’ wounds and deserved awards.

One cache of buried, empty mortar shells was found and reported in 2004, but the cover-up began as soon as American troops encountered chemical munitions, according to the Times.

“We were absolutely told not to talk about it” by a colonel, the former sergeant said. The order, he added, included prohibitions against mentioning mustard agent when writing home.

The secrecy was so extensive that Dr. Lounsbury said he suspected officials hid the cases even from him and two other Army doctors assigned to prepare an official textbook on treating battlefield wounds.

Their book, “War Surgery in Afghanistan and Iraq: A Series of Cases, 2003-2007,” published in 2008, provided an inventory of traumas and treatments.

“We would have certainly included this case if we had known about it,” he said, “and not just for obvious medical reasons but because here was exactly the kind of wounds at the very heart of the reason the government sent our nation to war.”

The exposed soldiers’ objections to how their cases were handled grew after their commander submitted them for Purple Hearts.

The medals were disapproved by the headquarters of the American-led coalition “because the incident was deemed to have occurred after the I.E.D. was destroyed, and therefore was no longer considered to have been in contact with the enemy,” Tatjana Christian, an Army spokeswoman, said, using the abbreviation for an improvised explosive device.

That is just a terrible new chapter added to the story we already knew about a politicized military, criminally incompetent political leadership, and abandoned soldiers. Anyone who calls it a vindication of the 2003 invasion is simply being dishonest — and proving why the neoconservative project must never, ever be allowed within reach of the White House again.