Skip to comments.Bill Clinton Was Right (There was a Saddam-Osama connection and we're learning more every day)
Posted on 06/25/2004 6:20:29 PM PDT by RWR8189
NEARLY TWO YEARS AGO, in the introduction to an hour-long PBS documentary called Saddam's Ultimate Solution, former Clinton State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said:
"Tonight, we examine the nature of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. Ten years after the Gulf War and Saddam is still there and still continues to stockpile weapons of mass destruction. Now there are suggestions he is working with al Qaeda, which means the very terrorists who attacked the United States last September may now have access to chemical and biological weapons."
The documentary, broadcast on July 11, 2002, laid out in exhaustive detail alleged Iraqi connections with al Qaeda. Rubin noted in his introduction that the report contained "disturbing allegations, some of which are hard to prove." But, he added, such allegations "are important enough to be fully explored and investigated."
Last week, appearing on a cable talk show as a senior adviser to the presidential campaign of John Kerry, Rubin sharply criticized the public official who has most forcefully asserted that these allegations need to be fully explored and investigated. Rubin went so far as to question Vice President Dick Cheney's "fitness for office." Rubin, asked about the documentary, then distanced himself from the film. "Was I the producer of the documentary?" he asked. "I was the host, producing--having a discussion about the documentary."
Fair enough. Rubin is right that as host he is not necessarily responsible for everything in the hour-long program. Among the claims made by investigative filmmaker Gwynne Roberts was this one: "My investigation reveals much more--namely evidence of terrorist training camps in Iraq and testimony that al Qaeda fighters have been trained to use poison gas." But on the PBS program, Rubin spoke in a manner that suggested he did, in fact, believe the evidence presented by Roberts, pressing one interview subject about the possibility of Saddam's passing weapons of mass destruction to "the al Qaeda people in the film he's already trained."
Meanwhile the men at the top of the administration Rubin worked for--Bill Clinton and Al Gore--have come down with an even more striking case of political amnesia.
On June 24, Katie Couric interviewed President Clinton on NBC's Today Show. She asked, "What do you think about this connection that Cheney, that Vice President Cheney continues to assert between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda?" Clinton pleaded total ignorance. "All I can tell you is I never saw it, I never believed it based on the evidence I had."
The same day, former Vice President Al Gore went much further in a vitriolic speech at Georgetown University law school. "President Bush is now intentionally misleading the American people by continuing to aggressively and brazenly assert a linkage between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. If he is not lying, if he genuinely believes that, that makes them unfit in battle against al Qaeda. If they believe these flimsy scraps, then who would want them in charge? Are they too dishonest or too gullible? Take your pick."
Gore also distorted the significance of the recent 9/11 Commission Staff Statement. He called the statement an "extensive independent investigation by the bipartisan" 9/11 Commission that found "there was no meaningful relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda of any kind." In fact, three 9/11 Commission sources tell The Weekly Standard that the one paragraph of the staff statement about the relationship was not intended to be a definitive pronouncement on the issue. In any case, "no meaningful relationship" was never the view of the Clinton/Gore administration.
On February 17, 1998, President Clinton, speaking at the Pentagon, warned of the "reckless acts of outlaw nations and an unholy axis of terrorists, drug traffickers and organized international criminals." These "predators of the twenty-first century," he said, these enemies of America, "will be all the more lethal if we allow them to build arsenals of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and missiles to deliver them. We simply cannot allow that to happen. There is no more clear example of this threat than Saddam Hussein's Iraq."
Later that spring, the Clinton Justice Department prepared an indictment of Osama bin Laden. The relevant passage, prominently placed in the fourth paragraph, reads:
Al Qaeda reached an understanding with the government of Iraq that al Qaeda would not work against that government and that on particular projects, specifically including weapons development, al Qaeda would work cooperatively with the government of Iraq.
Patrick Fitzgerald, a U.S. attorney involved in the preparation of the indictment, testified before the 9/11 Commission. He said the intelligence behind that assertion came from Jamal al Fadl, a former high-ranking al Qaeda terrorist who before the 9/11 attacks gave the U.S intelligence community its first intimate look at al Qaeda. According to Fitzgerald, al Fadl told his interrogators that bin Laden associate Mamdouh Mahmud Salim (Abu Hajer al Iraqi) "tried to reach a sort of agreement where they wouldn't work against each other--sort of the enemy of my enemy is my friend--and that there were indications that within Sudan when al Qaeda was there, which al Qaeda left in the summer of '96, or the spring of '96, there were efforts to work on jointly acquiring weapons."
Several months later, after al Qaeda bombed two American embassies in East Africa, numerous Clinton officials cited an Iraq-al Qaeda connection as the basis for retaliatory U.S. strikes against the al Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan.
On August 24, 1998, the Clinton administration made available a "senior intelligence official" who cited "strong ties between the plant and Iraq." The following day, Thomas Pickering, undersecretary of state for political affairs and one of a handful of Clinton officials involved in the decision to strike al Shifa, briefed foreign reporters at the National Press Club. He was asked directly whether he knew "of any connection between the so-called pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum and the Iraqi government in regard to production of precursors of VX" nerve gas.
Yeah, I would like to consult my notes just to be sure that what I have to say is stated clearly and correctly. We see evidence that we think is quite clear on contacts between Sudan and Iraq. In fact, al Shifa officials, early in the company's history, we believe were in touch with Iraqi individuals associated with Iraq's VX program.
Five days after that, U.N. ambassador Bill Richardson appeared on CNN and pointed to "direct evidence of ties between Osama bin Laden" and Sudan's Military Industrial Corporation. "You combine that with Sudan support for terrorism, their connections with Iraq on VX, and you combine that, also, with the chemical precursor issue, and Sudan's leadership support for Osama bin Laden, and you've got a pretty clear-cut case."
Sandy Berger, then Clinton's national security adviser and now a top adviser to the Kerry campaign, made the connection in an October 16, 1998, op-ed in the Washington Times. "To not have acted against this facility would have been the height of irresponsibility," he argued. The Clinton administration had "information linking bin Laden to the Sudanese regime and to the al Shifa plant."
Berger explained that al Shifa was a dual-use facility. "We had physical evidence indicating that al Shifa was the site of chemical weapons activity," Berger wrote. "Other products were made at al Shifa. But we have seen such dual-use plants before--in Iraq. And, indeed, we have information that Iraq has assisted chemical weapons activity in Sudan."
Richard Clarke, a former counterterrorism official under both Clinton and Bush, confirmed this in an interview with the Washington Post on January 23, 1999. Clarke said the U.S. government was "sure" Iraq was behind the VX precursor produced at the factory. The story continued, "Clarke said U.S. intelligence does not know how much of the substance was produced at al Shifa or what happened to it. But he said that intelligence exists linking bin Laden to al Shifa's current and past operators, the Iraqi nerve gas experts, and the National Islamic Front in Sudan."
More recently, former Clinton defense secretary William Cohen affirmed the Baghdad-Khartoum connection in testimony before the September 11 Commission on March 23, 2004. Cohen told the panel that an executive from al Shifa had "traveled to Baghdad to meet with the father of the VX program."
Many of these same officials now disclaim any knowledge of an Iraq-al Qaeda relationship. Daniel Benjamin, a top counterterrorism official on Clinton's National Security Council, makes the strongest case that intelligence cited by Clinton officials did not amount to a direct Iraq-al Qaeda connection. Benjamin has pointed out that it is unclear that the Iraqis knew the chemical weapons technology they provided to the Sudanese Military Industrial Corporation would end up in the hands of al Qaeda or that al Qaeda knew that the assistance it was receiving came from Iraq.
But now the New York Times--a newspaper heretofore dismissive of the Iraq-al Qaeda connection--has revealed the contents of an Iraqi Intelligence document that discusses the Iraq-bin Laden "relationship" and plans for bin Laden to work with Iraq against the ruling family in Saudi Arabia. The document states that "cooperation between the two organizations should be allowed to develop freely through discussion and agreement." The Iraqi document, which refers to the period of the first Clinton term, has been "authenticated by the U.S. government," according to the front-page story in Friday's Times.
Taken together with other evidence of the close relationship between al Qaeda and the Sudanese government, the information in the Times article makes it less likely that Iraq and al Qaeda were unwitting allies. The Times reported that a representative of the Sudanese government approached the Iraqis at bin Laden's behest: "The Iraqis were cued to make their approach to Mr. bin Laden after a Sudanese official visited Uday Hussein, the leader's son, as well as the director of Iraqi Intelligence, and indicated that Mr. bin Laden was willing to meet in Sudan."
Virtually no one disputes the significant overlap between the government in Sudan and al Qaeda. As President Clinton said last week, in an interview on CBS: "Mr. [Hassan] al Turabi, the head of the Sudanese government, was a buddy of bin Laden's. They were business partners together."
According to al Fadl, the close associate of bin Laden who has cooperated with the U.S. government since 1996, bin Laden himself said his businesses were run in support of the government in Sudan. Al Fadl, testifying at the trial of al Qaeda terrorists who plotted the 1998 embassy bombings, recalled in broken English a 1992 conversation he had with bin Laden. "He say our agenda is bigger than business. We not going to make business here, but we need to help the government and the government help our group, and this is our purpose."
Al Fadl and other high-level al Qaeda detainees have described the group's relationship with Sudan in detail. The relationship included: al Qaeda terrorists assigned by the Sudanese government to assassinate political opponents; al Qaeda's providing communications equipment and arms--"Kaleshnikovs"--on behalf of Defaa al Shabi, a division of the Sudanese Army fighting Christians in southern Sudan; training exchanges--going both ways--between Sudanese intelligence and bin Laden's group; and Sudanese intelligence providing perimeter security for al Qaeda training facilities and safehouses.
Concerns that Iraq would work with al Qaeda against the Saudis did not end when bin Laden left Sudan in 1996. According to a CIA report summarized in a top-secret memo sent from the Pentagon to the Senate Intelligence Committee in the fall of 2003: "The Saudi Arabian National Guard went on a kingdom-wide heightened state of alert in late Dec 2000 after learning that Saddam agreed to assist al Qaeda in attacking U.S. and U.K. interests in Saudi Arabia."
So the Clinton administration, based on the evidence it had, was right to express concerns about an Iraq-al Qaeda connection. We now know more. And given the vast number of documents from the former Iraqi regime that sit untranslated, we are certain to learn more still. It's an odd time for the former president and his old advisers to be backing away from what they once so confidently told us.
Stephen F. Hayes is a staff writer at The Weekly Standard. Parts of this article are drawn from his new book, The Connection: How al Qaeda's Collaboration with Saddam Hussein has Endangered America (HarperCollins).
Damning! Where can I watch?
Beans! Bush/Cheney should make an ad out of this information and run it often.
Nowhere. The MSM will NEVER let this see the light of day.
The liberal media is fair and balanced and soon we will see nightline and 60 minutes covering this story and the Democratic Party will be in trouble. (Not!!!).
Nice catch, watching it right now, although I do remember watching it then, it's nice to bookmark it for future reference. :)
Another powerful article by Hayes.
This article was linked on NRO, the links to the PBS film are still hot, and this needs a big bump, in light of the Democrat claim of no link between Saddam and Al Qaeda. Maybe we can finally get this film shown, or at least make the Democrats have another collective hissy fit.
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