As President Bush more robustly promotes his Iraq policy, he should confront directly those who dismiss Saddam Hussein’s ties to terrorism and, thus, belittle a key rationale for Operation Iraqi Freedom. Bush’s critics employ a flimsy argument that nonetheless enjoys growing appeal among a largely hostile press corps. Since Hussein did not order the September 11 attacks–the fuzzy logic goes–he has no ties to terrorists, especially al Qaeda. Therefore, the Iraq war was bogus, and Bush should be defeated.
#ad#”Iraq was not a breeding ground for terrorism. Our invasion has made it one,” said Senator Ted Kennedy (D., Mass.) on October 16. “We were told Iraq was attracting terrorists from al Qaeda. It was not…We should never have gone to war in Iraq when we did, in the way we did, for the false reasons we were given.”
West Virginia’s Jay Rockefeller, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s ranking Democrat, told the Los Angeles Times that Iraq’s alleged al Qaeda ties were “tenuous at best and not compelling.” In a September 16 editorial, the Times slammed Vice President Dick Cheney for making “sweeping, unproven claims about Saddam Hussein’s connections to terrorism.” On August 7, former vice president Al Gore stated reassuringly: “The evidence now shows clearly that Saddam did not want to work with Osama bin Laden at all.”
Bush and his national-security team should repeatedly devote entire speeches and publications–complete with documents, names, and visuals, including photographs of terrorists and their innocent victims–to remind Americans and the world that Baathist Iraq was a general store for terrorists, complete with cash, training, lodging, and even medical attention.
The evidence for Hussein’s cooperation with and support for global terrorists is abundant and increasing. Recall, for instance:
‐Hussein paid bonuses of up to $25,000 to the families of Palestinian homicide bombers. “President Saddam Hussein has recently told the head of the Palestinian political office, Faroq al-Kaddoumi, his decision to raise the sum granted to each family of the martyrs of the Palestinian uprising to $25,000 instead of $10,000,” Iraq’s former deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, declared at a Baghdad meeting of Arab politicians and businessmen on March 11, 2002, Reuters reported two days later. Mahmoud Besharat, who the White House says dispensed these funds across the West Bank, gratefully said: “You would have to ask President Saddam why he is being so generous. But he is a revolutionary and he wants this distinguished struggle, the intifada, to continue.” Between Aziz’s announcement and the March 20 launch of Operation Iraqi Freedom, 28 homicide bombers injured 1,209 people and killed 223 more, including at least eight Americans.
‐According to the State Department’s May 21, 2002 “Patterns of Global Terrorism,” the Abu Nidal Organization, the Arab Liberation Front, Hamas, the Kurdistan Worker’s party, the Mujahedin-e-Khalq Organization and the Palestinian Liberation Front all operated offices or bases in Hussein’s Iraq. Hussein’s hospitality towards these mass murderers placed him in violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 687, which prohibited him from giving safe harbor to or otherwise supporting terrorists.
‐Coalition forces have found alive and well key terrorists who enjoyed Hussein’s hospitality. Among them was Abu Abbas, mastermind of the October 1985 Achille Lauro hijacking and murder of Leon Klinghoffer, a 69-year-old Manhattan retiree who Abbas’s men rolled, wheelchair and all, into the Mediterranean. Khala Khadr al-Salahat, accused of designing the bomb that destroyed Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in December 1988 (259 killed on board, 11 dead on the ground), also lived in Baathist Iraq.
Before fatally shooting himself four times in the head on August 16, 2002, as Baghdad claimed, Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal had resided in Iraq since 1999. As the AP’s Sameer N. Yacoub reported on August 21, 2002, the Beirut office of the Abu Nidal Organization said he entered Iraq “with the full knowledge and preparations of the Iraqi authorities.” Nidal’s attacks in 20 countries killed at least 275 people and wounded some 625 others. Among other atrocities, ANO henchmen bombed a TWA airliner over the Aegean Sea in 1974, killing all 88 people on board.
‐Coalition troops destroyed at least three terrorist training camps including a base near Baghdad called Salman Pak. It featured a passenger-jet fuselage where numerous Iraqi defectors reported that foreign terrorists were instructed how to hijack airliners with utensils. (The Bush administration should bus a few dozen foreign correspondents and their camera crews from the bar of Baghdad’s Palestine Hotel to Salman Pak for a guided tour. Network news footage of that ought to open a few eyes.)
As for Hussein’s supposedly imaginary ties to al Qaeda, consider these disturbing facts:
‐The Philippine government expelled Hisham al Hussein, the second secretary at Iraq’s Manila embassy, on February 13, 2003. Cell-phone records indicate that the diplomat had spoken with Abu Madja and Hamsiraji Sali, leaders of Abu Sayyaf, just before and just after this al Qaeda-allied Islamic militant group conducted an attack in Zamboanga City. Abu Sayyaf’s nail-filled bomb exploded on October 2, 2002, injuring 23 individuals and killing two Filipinos and U.S. Special Forces Sergeant First Class Mark Wayne Jackson, age 40. As Dan Murphy wrote in the Christian Science Monitor last February 26, those phone records bolster Sali’s claim in a November 2002 TV interview that the Iraqi diplomat had offered these Muslim extremists Baghdad’s help with joint missions.
‐Journalist Stephen F. Hayes reported in July that the official Babylon Daily Political Newspaper published by Hussein’s eldest son, Uday, ran what it called a “List of Honor.” The paper’s November 14, 2002, edition gave the names and titles of 600 leading Iraqis, including this passage: “Abid Al-Karim Muhamed Aswod, intelligence officer responsible for the coordination of activities with the Osama bin Laden group at the Iraqi embassy in Pakistan.” That name, Hayes wrote, matches that of Iraq’s then-ambassador to Islamabad.
Carter-appointed federal appeals judge Gilbert S. Merritt discovered this document in Baghdad while helping Iraq rebuild its legal system. He wrote in the June 25 Tennessean that two of his Iraqi colleagues remember secret police agents removing that embarrassing edition from newsstands and confiscating copies of it from private homes. The paper was not published for the next ten days. Judge Merritt theorized that the “impulsive and somewhat unbalanced” Uday may have showcased these dedicated Baathists to “make them more loyal and supportive of the regime” as war loomed.
‐Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, formerly the director of an al Qaeda training base in Afghanistan, fled to Iraq after being injured as the Taliban fell. He received medical care and convalesced for two months in Baghdad. He then opened a terrorist training camp in northern Iraq and arranged the October 2002 assassination of U.S. diplomat Lawrence Foley in Amman, Jordan.
‐While Iraqi Ramzi Yousef, ringleader of the February 26, 1993 World Trade Center bombing plot, fled the U.S. on a Pakistani passport, he arrived here on an Iraqi passport.
‐Author Richard Miniter reported September 25 on TechCentralStation: “U.S. forces recently discovered a cache of documents in Tikrit, Saddam’s hometown, that show Iraq gave Mr. Yasin both a house and a monthly salary.” Indiana-born, Iraqi-reared al Qaeda member Abdul Rahman Yasin was indicted for mixing the chemicals in the bomb that exploded beneath the World Trade Center, killing six and injuring some 1,000 New Yorkers.
‐Along Iraq’s border with Syria, U.S. troops captured Farouk Hijazi, Hussein’s former ambassador to Turkey and suspected liaison to al Qaeda. Under interrogation, Hijazi “admitted meeting with senior al Qaeda leaders at Saddam’s behest in 1994.”
‐While sifting through the Mukhabarat’s bombed ruins last April 26, the Toronto Star’s Mitch Potter, the London Daily Telegraph’s Inigo Gilmore and their translator discovered a memo in the intelligence service’s accounting department. Dated February 19, 1998 and marked “Top Secret and Urgent,” it said the agency would pay “all the travel and hotel expenses inside Iraq to gain the knowledge of the message from bin Laden and to convey to his envoy an oral message from us to bin Laden, the Saudi opposition leader, about the future of our relationship with him, and to achieve a direct meeting with him.” The memo’s three references to bin Laden were obscured crudely with correction fluid.
Despite the White House’s inexplicable insistence to the contrary, tantalizing clues suggest Saddam Hussein might not have shared the world’s shock when fireballs erupted from the Twin Towers.
‐Recall that his Salman Pak terror camp taught terrorists air piracy on an actual jet fuselage.
‐On January 5, 2000, Ahmad Hikmat Shakir–an Iraqi airport greeter reportedly dispatched from Baghdad’s embassy in Malaysia–welcomed Khalid al Midhar and Nawaz al Hamzi to Kuala Lampur and escorted them to a local hotel where these September 11 hijackers met with 9/11 conspirators Ramzi bin al Shibh and Tawfiz al Atash. Five days later, according to Stephen Hayes, Shakir disappeared. He was arrested in Qatar on September 17, 2001, six days after al Midhar and al Hamzi slammed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon, killing 216 people. On his person and in his apartment, authorities discovered papers tying him to the 1993 WTC plot and “Operation Bojinka,” al Qaeda’s 1995 plan to blow up 12 jets over the Pacific at once.
‐The Czech Republic stands by its claim that 9/11 leader Mohamed Atta met in Prague in April 2001 with Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim an-Ani, an Iraqi diplomat/intelligence agent. He was expelled two weeks after the suspected meeting with Atta for apparently hostile surveillance of Radio Free Europe’s Prague headquarters, from which American broadcasts to Iraq emanate.
‐Clinton-appointed Manhattan federal judge Harold Baer ordered Hussein and his ousted regime to pay $104 million in damages to the families of George Eric Smith and Timothy Soulas, both killed in the Twin Towers along with 2,790 others. “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,” Baer ruled. An airtight case? No, but sufficient evidence tied Hussein to 9/11 and secured a May 7 federal judgment against him.
If one has the time or professional duty to connect these dots, a portrait emerges of Saddam Hussein as sugar daddy to global terrorists, including al Qaeda and perhaps the 9/11 conspirators. Why won’t Team Bush paint this picture? One administration communications specialist told me the government is bashful on this front because these links are difficult to prove. Yes, but prosecuting the informational battle in the war on terror is not like prosecuting a Mafia don, with wiretaps, hidden cameras and deep-cover “stool pigeons.” Evidence of terrorist ties can be even more shadowy than a Cosa Nostra whack job. While this makes metaphysical proof elusive, the White House and relevant agencies owe it to America’s national security to highlight what they know about Saddam Hussein and terrorism, even if some of the evidence against him is only circumstantial.
Assuming he wishes to sway domestic and global opinion, President Bush and his administration should guide Americans and the world through the sometimes-murky data and identify the patterns and conclusions that arise. While Saddam Hussein never may endure a courtroom cross-examination, plenty already exists in the public record (and surely more should be declassified) to confirm that his ouster, the liberation of Iraq and its current rehabilitation were and are necessary phases of the war on terror. The president and his top advisers should present the case, not haphazardly, but systematically and in as comprehensive, well-documented, and well-illustrated a fashion as their vast resources will allow.