Jonathan Karl / ABC News & Warren P. Strobel / McClatchy Newspapers – 2008-03-18 19:09:30
Pentagon Report on Saddam’s Iraq Censored?
Jonathan Karl / ABC News
WASHINGTON (March 12, 2008) — The Bush Administration apparently does not want a US military study that found no direct connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda to get any attention. This morning, the Pentagon cancelled plans to send out a press release announcing the report’s release and will no longer make the report available online.
The report was to be posted on the Joint Forces Command website this afternoon, followed by a background briefing with the authors. No more. The report will be made available only to those who ask for it, and it will be sent via US mail from Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia.
It won’t be emailed to reporters and it won’t be posted online.
Asked why the report would not be posted online and could not be emailed, the spokesman for Joint Forces Command said: “We’re making the report available to anyone who wishes to have it, and we’ll send it out via CD in the mail.”
Another Pentagon official said initial press reports on the study made it “too politically sensitive.”
ABC News obtained the comprehensive military study of Saddam Hussein’s links to terrorism on Tuesday. Read the report’s executive summary HERE.
The study, which was due to be released Wednesday, found no “smoking gun” or any evidence of a direct connection between Saddam’s Iraq and the al Qaeda terrorist organization.
The report is based on the analysis of some 600,000 official Iraqi documents seized by US forces after the invasion. It is also based on thousands of hours of interrogations of former top officials in Saddam’s government who are now in US custody.
Others have reached the same conclusion, but no previous study has had access to so much information. Further, this is the first official acknowledgement from the US military that there is no evidence Saddam had ties to Al Qaeda.
The study does, however, show that Saddam Hussein did much to support terrorism in the Middle East and used terrorism “as a routine tool of state power.” Saddam’s government, for example, had a program for the “development, construction, certification and training for car bombs and suicide vests in 1999 and 2000.” The US military is still dealing with the fall-out from this particular program.
The report says Saddam’s bureaucrats carefully recorded the regime’s connections to Palestinian terrorists groups and its financial support for the families of suicide bombers.
The primary target, however, of Saddam’s terror activities was not the United States, and not Israel. “The predominant targets of Iraqi state terror operations were Iraqi citizens, both inside and outside of Iraq.” Saddam’s primary aim was self preservation and the elimination of potential internal threats to his power.
Bush administration officials have made numerous attempts to link Saddam Hussein and the Al Qaeda terror group in their justification for waging war against Iraq.
“What I want to bring to your attention today is the potentially much more sinister nexus between Iraq and the Al Qaida terrorist network,” former US Secretary of State Colin Powell told the United Nations February 5, 2003.
On June 18, 2004 the Washington Post quoted President George W. Bush as saying: “The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and al Qaeda: because there was a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda,” Bush said.
“This administration never said that the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated between Saddam and al Qaeda,” The Washington Post quoted Bush as saying. “We did say there were numerous contacts between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda.”
“We know he’s out trying once again to produce nuclear weapons and we know that he has a long-standing relationship with various terrorist groups, including the al-Qaeda organization,” Vice President Dick Cheney said on NBC’s Meet The Press March 16, 2003.
“But the cost is far less than it will be if we get hit, for example, with a weapon that Saddam Hussein might provide to al-Qaeda, the cost to the United States of what happened on 9/11 with billions and billions of dollars and 3,000 lives. And the cost will be much greater in a future attack if the terrorists have access to the kinds of capabilities that Saddam Hussein has developed,” Cheney said.
“There is no question but that there have been interactions between the Iraqi government, Iraqi officials and Al Qaeda operatives. They have occurred over a span of some 8 or 10 years to our knowledge. There are currently Al Qaeda in Iraq,” former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in a interview with Infinity CBS Radio, Nov. 14, 2002.
Pentagon Cancels Release of Controversial Iraq Eeport
Warren P. Strobel / McClatchy Newspapers
WASHINGTON (March 12, 2008) — The Pentagon on Wednesday canceled plans for broad public release of a study that found no pre-Iraq war link between late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the al Qaida terrorist network.
Rather than posting the report online and making officials available to discuss it, as had been planned, the US Joint Forces Command said it would mail copies of the document to reporters — if they asked for it. The report won’t be posted on the Internet.
The reversal highlighted the politically sensitive nature of its conclusions, which were first reported Monday by McClatchy.
In making their case for invading Iraq in 2002 and 2003, President Bush and his top national security aides claimed that Saddam’s regime had ties to Osama bin Laden’s al Qaida terrorist network.
But the study, based on more than 600,000 captured documents, including audio and video files, found that while Saddam sponsored terrorism, particularly against opponents of his regime and against Israel, there was no evidence of an al Qaida link.
The study comes at a difficult time for the Bush administration. The fifth anniversary of the Iraq war is approaching on March 19, and Bush is attempting to hold support for a continued large US troop presence there following a report from his on-the-ground commander, Army Gen. David Petraeus, in early April.
Navy Capt. Dennis Moynihan, a spokesman for the Norfolk, Va.-based Joint Forces Command, said, “We’re making the report available to anyone who wishes to have it, and we’ll send it out via CD in the mail.”
Moynihan declined further comment.
Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, referred questions to Joint Forces Command.
An executive summary of the study says that Saddam’s regime had interaction with terrorist groups, including Palestinian terror organizations and some pan-Islamic groups.
But “the predominant targets of Iraqi state terror operations were Iraqi citizens, both inside and outside of Iraq,” says the summary, posted online by ABC News.
That confirms what many experts on Saddam’s Iraq have long argued: that his security services were dedicated mainly to fighting threats to his rule.
The summary says that Saddam’s secular regime increased cooperation with — and attempts to manipulate — Islamic fundamentalists after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, despite being leery of the Islamists. Iraqi leaders “concluded that in some cases, the benefits of associations outweighed the risks,” it says.
(Nancy A. Youssef contributed to this report.)
Exhaustive review finds no link between Saddam and al Qaida http://www.mcclatchydc.com/227/story/29959.html Exhaustive review finds no link between Saddam and al Qaida Warren P. Strobel | McClatchy Newspapers
last updated: March 10, 2008 07:39:58 PM
WASHINGTON — An exhaustive review of more than 600,000 Iraqi documents that were captured after the 2003 US invasion has found no evidence that Saddam Hussein’s regime had any operational links with Osama bin Laden’s al Qaida terrorist network.
The Pentagon-sponsored study, scheduled for release later this week, did confirm that Saddam’s regime provided some support to other terrorist groups, particularly in the Middle East, US officials told McClatchy. However, his security services were directed primarily against Iraqi exiles, Shiite Muslims, Kurds and others he considered enemies of his regime.
The new study of the Iraqi regime’s archives found no documents indicating a “direct operational link” between Hussein’s Iraq and al Qaida before the invasion, according to a US official familiar with the report.
He and others spoke to McClatchy on condition of anonymity because the study isn’t due to be shared with Congress and released before Wednesday.
President Bush and his aides used Saddam’s alleged relationship with al Qaida, along with Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction, as arguments for invading Iraq after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld claimed in September 2002 that the United States had “bulletproof” evidence of cooperation between the radical Islamist terror group and Saddam’s secular dictatorship.
Then-Secretary of State Colin Powell cited multiple linkages between Saddam and al Qaida in a watershed February 2003 speech to the United Nations Security Council to build international support for the invasion. Almost every one of the examples Powell cited turned out to be based on bogus or misinterpreted intelligence.
As recently as last July, Bush tried to tie al Qaida to the ongoing violence in Iraq. “The same people that attacked us on September the 11th is a crowd that is now bombing people, killing innocent men, women and children, many of whom are Muslims,” he said.
The new study, entitled “Saddam and Terrorism: Emerging Insights from Captured Iraqi Documents”, was essentially completed last year and has been undergoing what one US intelligence official described as a “painful” declassification review.
It was produced by a federally-funded think tank, the Institute for Defense Analyses, under contract to the Norfolk, Va.-based US Joint Forces Command.
Spokesmen for the Joint Forces Command declined to comment until the report is released. One of the report’s authors, Kevin Woods, also declined to comment.
The issue of al Qaida in Iraq already has played a role in the 2008 presidential campaign.
Sen. John McCain, the presumptive GOP nominee, mocked Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill, recently for saying that he’d keep some US troops in Iraq if al Qaida established a base there.
“I have some news. Al Qaida is in Iraq,” McCain told supporters. Obama retorted that, “There was no such thing as al Qaida in Iraq until George Bush and John McCain decided to invade.” (In fact, al Qaida in Iraq didn’t emerge until 2004, a year after the invasion.)
The new study appears destined to be used by both critics and supporters of Bush’s decision to invade Iraq to advance their own familiar arguments.
While the documents reveal no Saddam-al Qaida links, they do show that Saddam and his underlings were willing to use terrorism against enemies of the regime and had ties to regional and global terrorist groups, the officials said.
However, the US intelligence official, who’s read the full report, played down the prospect of any major new revelations, saying, “I don’t think there’s any surprises there.”
Saddam, whose regime was relentlessly secular, was wary of Islamic extremist groups such as al Qaida, although like many other Arab leaders, he gave some financial support to Palestinian groups that sponsored terrorism against Israel.
According to the State Department’s annual report on global terrorism for 2002 — the last before the Iraq invasion — Saddam supported the militant Islamic group Hamas in Gaza, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, a radical, Syrian-based terrorist group.
Saddam also hosted Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal, although the Abu Nidal Organization was more active when he lived in Libya and he was murdered in Baghdad in August 2002, possibly on Saddam’s orders.
An earlier study based on the captured Iraqi documents, released by the Joint Forces Command in March 2006, found that a militia Saddam formed after the 1991 Persian Gulf war, the Fedayeen Saddam, planned assassinations and bombings against his enemies. Those included Iraqi exiles and opponents in Iraq’s Kurdish and Shiite communities.
Other documents indicate that the Fedayeen Saddam opened paramilitary training camps that, starting in 1998, hosted “Arab volunteers” from outside of Iraq. What happened to the non-Iraqi volunteers is unknown, however, according to the earlier study.
The new Pentagon study isn’t the first to refute earlier administration contentions about Saddam and al Qaida.
A September 2006 report by the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that Saddam was “distrustful of al Qaida and viewed Islamic extremists as a threat to his regime, refusing all requests from al Qaida to provide material or operational support.”
The Senate report, citing an FBI debriefing of a senior Iraqi spy, Faruq Hijazi, said that Saddam turned down a request for assistance by bin Laden which he made at a 1995 meeting in Sudan with an Iraqi operative.
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