The Left Hook! Archive


Wed. March 5, 2003

Iraq & Al Qaida

What Is the Truth?

Those in the Bush administration consistently lead us to believe that they have much more information with regard to Iraq than they're able to make public; secret intelligence sources that can't be revealed. This was the suggestion underlying Colin Powell's presentation to the United Nations last month and in the State of the Union address, which repeatedly referenced unspecified "intelligence sources" to back up the claims of the "President." This suggestion of a vast reservoir of secret data which must be kept from public view, however, is significantly undermined by the fact that the approach of the "President" and his men has clearly involved throwing out wild allegations--ones they feel will be politically beneficial to them--then trying to find something that substantiates the allegations.

In other words, they're frequently making it up as they go.

Though usually given little to no play, the press has, for months, been awash in backpage news reports of administration higher-ups forcefully leaning on the intelligence and law enforcement community to come up with something--anything--that would back up the various allegations the "President" and his men have been making in public.[1]

Nowhere has this pressure been more forcefully exerted than on the matter of linking Iraq to international terrorism in general and al Qaida in particular. The propaganda value of such a claim is obvious--if successful, it directs, at Iraq, the rage Americans felt over the terror attacks on the U.S.. But no real evidence exists to support the proposition, and the experts on both Iraq and international terrorism--including those within the administration--are virtually unanimous in rejecting it. A sampling, from the months in which the administration has been making its claim:

ITEM:  Though Iraq remains on the State Department's list of state supporters of terrorism, the Department's "Patterns of Global Terrorism" report suggests, at best, a very limited and peripheral Iraqi involvement in such activities.[2] The regime sanctions the assassination of dissidents abroad, allows a handful of anti-Israeli terrorist organizations--mostly long defunct--to maintain offices in Iraq, and aids anti-Iranian dissident groups in their paramilitary activities against the Iranian government. State concedes that the Iraqi regime "has not attempted an anti-Western terrorist attack since its failed plot to assassinate former President Bush in 1993 in Kuwait." ("Patterns of Global Terrorism," State Dept. report, issued every spring)

ITEM: "...the CIA has yet to find convincing evidence [tying Hussein to global terrorism] despite having combed its files and redoubled its efforts to collect and analyze information related to Iraq, according to senior intelligence officials and outside experts with knowledge of discussions within the U.S. government." (the Washington Post, Sept. 10, 2002)

ITEM: "A senior intelligence official told ABCNEWS that there is 'no smoking gun not even an unfired gun' when it comes to linking Iraq with al Qaeda, even though intelligence officials have been trying to find a strong connection between Saddam and al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden since Sept. 11.

"Even after six months of searching, the CIA could see only contact, not cooperation." (ABC News, Sept. 26, 2002)

ITEM: On Sept. 30, Daniel Benjamin, co-author of "The Age of Sacred Terror" and a five year veteran of the National Security Council, wrote an article in the New York Times dealing with this subject:

"Like other [secular] Middle Eastern rulers, Saddam Hussein has long recognized that Al Qaeda and like-minded Islamists represent a threat to his regime. Consequently, he has shown no interest in working with them against their common enemy, the United States. This was the understanding of American intelligence in the 1990's. In 1998, the National Security Council assigned staff to determine whether that conclusion was justified. After reviewing all the available intelligence that could have pointed to a connection between Al Qaeda and Iraq, the group found no evidence of a noteworthy relationship... The claims of the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that senior Qaeda officials have been in Baghdad and that there is evidence of cooperation on weapons of mass destruction represent a dramatic departure from the record and, as such, ought to be aired as comprehensively as possible."

ITEM: "Bob Baer, a former CIA agent who tracked al-Qaida's rise, said that there were contacts between Osama bin Laden and the Iraqi government in Sudan in the early 1990s and in 1998:  'But there is no evidence that a strategic partnership came out of it. I'm unaware of any evidence of Saddam pursuing terrorism against the United States.'" (From the Guardian of London, Oct. 9, 2002)

ITEM: "I see almost no connection [between al Qaida and Iraq]. Bin Laden met with a senior Iraqi intelligence agent in '98 once. We all do meetings with people we don't necessarily do business with. Saddam Hussein is a secular fascist and Osama bin Laden is an Islamic zealot." (Terrorism analyst Peter Bergen, author of "Holy War, Inc.", from MSNBC's Harball program, Oct. 10, 2002)

ITEM: "In recent interviews, top investigative magistrates, prosecutors, police and intelligence officials who have been fighting Al Qaeda in Europe said they are concerned about attempts by President Bush and his aides to link Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to Osama bin Laden's  terror network.

"'We have found no evidence of links between Iraq and Al Qaeda,' said Jean-Louis Bruguiere, the French judge who is the dean of the region's investigators after two decades fighting Islamic and Middle Eastern terrorists. 'And we are working on 50 cases involving Al Qaeda or radical Islamic cells. I think if there were such links, we would have found them. But we have found no serious connections whatsoever.'"  (the Los Angeles Times, Nov. 4, 2002)

ITEM: "'The intelligence is practically non-existent,' one exasperated American intelligence source said. Most of the intelligence being used to support the idea of a link between al-Qa'eda and Saddam Hussein [through the Ansar al-Islam group headquartered in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq] comes from Kurdish groups who are the bitter enemies of Ansar al-Islam, he said.

"'It is impossible to support the bald conclusions being made by the White House and the Pentagon given the poor quantity and quality of the intelligence available. There is uproar within the intelligence community on all of these points, but the Bush White House has quashed dissent.'

"This could all be dismissed as a turf war between rival intelligence agencies were it not for the near unanimity across the British and American intelligence communities, including the Defence Intelligence Agency analysts whose bosses produced the line the White House wanted to hear." (London Daily Telegraph, Feb. 4, 2003)

ITEM: "There are no current links between the Iraqi regime and the al-Qaeda network, according to an official British intelligence report seen by BBC News.

"The classified document, written by defense intelligence staff three weeks ago, says there has been contact between the two in the past.

"But assessed that any fledgling relationship foundered due to mistrust and incompatible ideologies.

"That conclusion flatly contradicts one of the main charges laid against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein by the United States and Britain--that he has cultivated contacts with the group blamed for the 11 September attacks.

"The report emerges even as Washington was calling Saddam a liar for denying, in a television interview with former Labour MP and minister Tony Benn, that he had any links toal-Qaeda." (BBC, Feb. 5, 2003)

And so on. The corporate press reports this information, but, as a rule, keeps it as quiet as possible; never have administration claims in this or any other area faced comprehensive, sustained, headline-level challenge. Through months of unremitting propaganda and press timidity, the administration has managed to successfully impress upon the consciousness of a significant segment of the public the image of Saddam Hussein virtually directing the terrorist attacks on the United States--an event in which he, in fact, had no known part whatsoever.[3]


[1] Over time, Left Hook! has covered several of these reports. See, in particular, The "President" Beats the Drums of War Without Any Sticks, Oct. 9, 2002

[2] Particularly in comparison to any of the other six nations on the list, whose involvement in these activities is both direct and extensive, but who aren't facing a U.S. invasion.

[3] In a Gallup poll in Aug. 2002, 53% of respondents said they believed Saddam Hussein was involved in the attack. In January, Princeton Survey Research Associates conducted a poll of 1,200 Americans, asking the question: "To the best of your knowledge, how many of the September 11 hijackers were Iraqi citizens?" Only 17% knew the correct answer: None.

Last night, "MSNBC Reports, with Joe Scarborough" ran a segment on press coverage of pro-war demonstrations vs. that of anti-war demonstrations. It was the host's premise that the "liberal media" were showing their colors by refusing to grant as much coverage to the tiny pro-war demonstrations of this past weekend as they did to the massive anti-war demonstrations that occured earlier in February.

This segment occured on MSNBC, which, only last week, abruptly cancelled the only major cable news program hosted by a liberal. Donahue was given the axe because, in the words of an internal NBC study, he was "a tired, left-wing liberal out of touch with the current marketplace" who "seems to delight in presenting guests who are anti-war, anti-Bush and skeptical of the administration's motives." At the same time, NBC announced it was hiring half a dozen new right-wing commentators, including Joe Scarborough, on whose program the "liberal media" segment was taking place.

On hand for the discussion were two conservative guests, the extremely conservative host, and one liberal guest. Outnumbered three to one by conservatives, the liberal (Steve Rendall of  Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting) hardly got in a word, as the trio chanted their "liberal media" mantra into the night...

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