Iraq-war critics are trumpeting a Sept. 8 Senate Intelligence Committee report that concludes Saddam Hussein knew nothing about the 9/11 attacks. Hence, the argument goes, he had no connection to al Qaeda, and, therefore, he lacked ties to Islamic terrorists. In short: “Bush lied, people died.”
Of course, none of these propositions necessarily yields the next. But if repeated often and quickly enough, and with little protest from the White House, they collectively begin to resemble the truth.
This seriously flawed report relies on unreliable witnesses, ignores potential and actual evidence of Hussein’s philanthropy of terror, and yet quietly acknowledges that he did in fact work with terrorists. If Saddam Hussein’s lawyers seek a clean bill of health for their client, this isn’t it.
For starters, the report’s sources include “debriefs of multiple detainees including Saddam Hussein and former Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz.” Both are on trial and could face severe punishment. Their exculpatory remarks should be highly suspect, but appear valid to Senate Intelligence staffers. On page 67, their report paraphrases Hussein’s statement that he eschewed al Qaeda’s anti-Americanism because “the United States was not Iraq’s enemy.” Perhaps he merely was being playful when he fired almost daily at U.S. aircraft patrolling the No-Fly Zone and attempted to assassinate President G .H. W. Bush in 1993. Indeed, on page 68, Aziz offers the FBI Hussein’s response to al Qaeda’s August 7, 1998, bombing of America’s Kenyan and Tanzanian embassies. Hussein “was pleased at the act of terrorism because the U.S. had bombed Iraq during the first Gulf War and tried to kill Saddam. Saddam thought that al Qaeda was an effective organization.”
The report also quotes captured Iraqi documents. Among some 120 million such papers, only 34 million have been “translated and summarized to some extent” to speed expert analysis. Nevertheless, with nearly 72 percent of these records still unusable, the report concludes: “While document exploitation continues, additional reviews of documents in Iraq are unlikely to provide information that would contradict the Committee’s findings or conclusions.” Or, in plain English: “Don’t confuse us with data. Trust us. We’re psychic.”
This report overlooks numerous indications, some firmer than others, that Hussein supported the 9/11 conspiracy specifically and al Qaeda broadly, among other Islamic terrorist groups. Consider:
The report disregards the May 7, 2003, decision of Clinton-appointed U.S. District Court Judge Harold Baer, Jr. that Baghdad backed the 9/11 attack. Baer awarded $104 million in damages from the Baathist regime to the families of George Eric Smith and Timothy Soulas, both killed at the World Trade Center. As Baer ruled: “I conclude that plaintiffs have shown, albeit barely, ‘by evidence satisfactory to the court,’ that Iraq provided material support to bin Laden and al Qaeda.”
This federal court decision notwithstanding, Iraq did have links to al Qaeda. Perhaps, as the report contends, Iraq and al Qaeda lacked “an established formal relationship.” So what? Does the Cali drug cartel have “established formal relationships” with those who market its cocaine on U.S. streets? Are those contracts notarized, or merely stored in safe-deposit boxes? Equally ludicrous is the idea that a dictatorial regime and a shadowy terrorist network would arrange proper, Western-style agreements. The fact that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden never signed an accord in Geneva hardly precludes their plotting evil together.
The report misses the fact that 1993 WTC-attack architect Ramzi Yousef — nephew of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed — landed in America on an Iraqi passport. Nor does it mention Indiana-born, Iraqi-bred Abdul Rahman Yasin, the al Qaeda operative who built the 1993 WTC bomb that killed six and injured 1,040. He fled to Iraq and, documents show, received a house and salary from Hussein’s regime. As Sheila MacVicar reported for ABC News on July 27, 1994: “Last week, [television program] Day One confirmed [Yasin] is in Baghdad. . . . Just a few days ago, he was seen at [his father’s] house by ABC News. Neighbors told us Yasin comes and goes freely.”
The report forgets that President Clinton’s State Department designated Iraq a state sponsor of terrorism as early as 1993. “Iraq continued to plan and sponsor international terrorism in 1999,” State later declared. Baghdad “continued to provide safe haven and support to various terrorist groups.”
Among Hussein’s guests was Palestinian terrorist Abu Abbas, ringleader of the 1985 Achille Lauro luxury-liner hijacking in which four Muslim fanatics wounded passengers, then shot wheelchair-bound Leon Klinghoffer, a Jewish retiree from New York City, and flung his corpse into the Mediterranean. Abu Nidal, another terror master, also lived in comfort under Hussein. Nidal and his group injured an estimated 788 innocents and murdered 407 others, including at least 17 Americans.
The Senate document concedes “Saddam’s record of support for secular terrorist organizations like the Palestinian Liberation Front,” but then breezes past his $10,000 and $25,000 reward checks to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. Between the $15,000 boost in these bonuses on March 11, 2002, and the March 20, 2003, launch of Operation Iraqi Freedom, 28 such killers wounded 1,209 people and murdered 223 more, including at least eight Americans.
Intelligence Committee Democrats, in cahoots with Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, successfully voted to exclude from the report Vincent Brooks’s remarks about Salman Pak, a suspected Iraqi terror-training camp south of Baghdad. Brooks told reporters on April 6, 2003: “The nature of the work being done by some of those people that we captured, their inferences to the type of training that they received, all of these things give us the impression that there was terrorist training that was conducted at Salman Pak.”
Why was this deleted?
Melissa Merz, press secretary for Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, told me: “Sen. Wyden moved to strike the statement on the grounds that it was clearly a statement by a press spokesman and was not apparently based on any postwar intelligence finding. No other statements by press spokesmen were included in the report.”
But Vincent Brooks is no standard flack. He is a U.S. Army brigadier general and, at that rank, served as deputy director of operations during Iraq’s liberation. His opinions on Salman Pak should have remained in the report.
While Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have tried to answer this paper, President Bush himself should deliver several major addresses detailing Saddam Hussein’s extensive terror record. Educating the public with new, declassified information would help counteract the “Bush lied us into war” chorus. If this left-wing cantata goes unchallenged, it could cost Republicans control of Congress and expose Bush to greater indignities — including impeachment.
– Deroy Murdock is a New York-based columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a senior fellow with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in Arlington, Va.