June 16, 2004

Posted by Jon Henke

The 9/11 Commission has released a report on the evidence of ties - and lack thereof - between Iraq and 9/11. (also here) To save you some time around the blogosphere today, I'll summarize what you're going to read.....

The antiwar crowd will only notice these parts...

There is "no credible evidence" that Saddam Hussein's government in Iraq collaborated with the al Qaeda terrorist network on any attacks on the United States, including the Sept. 11, 2001 hijackings...
...Iraq never responded...
"Two senior bin Laden associates have adamantly denied that any ties existed between al Qaeda and Iraq. We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States."
The prowar crowd will only notice these parts....
...Osama bin Laden briefly explored the idea of forging ties with Iraq in the mid-1990s...
....requests for help in providing training camps or weapons...
...the government of Sudan, which gave sanctuary to al Qaeda from 1991 to 1996, persuaded bin Laden to cease supporting anti-Hussein forces and "arranged for contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda."
There have been reports that contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda also occurred after bin Laden had returned to Afghanistan [in 1996]...
Consider yourself briefed on each sides talking points.

I'd also remind you of what I've been saying for a long time....there are "links" between Iraq and Al Qaeda, but that does not mean there is active cooperation between the two. It was unlikely that there was any significant and/or overt cooperation between the two groups. However, the likelihood of cooperation increased as time passed.

UPDATE: It has begun. Already, bloggers are confusing "cooperation" with "connection".
(More: Here, here and here, too)

UPDATE II: The Center for American Progress weighs in and distorts the case very badly, claiming the Bush administration was saying that "Al-Qaeda and Saddam were working together". In fact, both Bush and Cheney claimed "ties", but said nothing about cooperation.

UPDATE III: Steven Taylor and James Joyner notice the difference.

Why is it that the right side doesn't seem to be reading this as selectively as the left? Perhaps, for the most part, the right side of the 'sphere already believes there was no cooperative operational relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda, so this story simply reinforces our understanding of the state of affairs. The left side of the 'sphere is invested in the idea that we all - including the administration - believe Iraq was actively working with Al Qaeda and this helps them with the strawman. (of course, some do believe it, but that's their fight)

UPDATE IV: Ogged responds, writing...

You can torture "ties" "links" "relations" and "connections" as long as you want (and I know a lot of people will be happy to do it -- for the sake of security, of course), but keep in mind you'll be going way beyond "meaning of 'is'" territory when you do.
I'm reminded of a scene in a Douglas Adams book...
Old Thrashbarg said that it was the ineffable will of Bob, and when they asked him what ineffable meant he said look it up.

This was a problem because Old Thrashbarg had the only dictionary and he wouldn't let them borrow it. They asked him why not and he said that it was not for them to know the will of Almighty Bob, and when they asked him why not again he said because he said so.

I guess Ogged has the only dictionary.

UPDATE V: I'm not as concerned about "that liberal media" as I am about "that incompetent media". The AP joins the dumb parade...

Bluntly contradicting the Bush administration, the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks reported yesterday there was "no credible evidence" that Saddam Hussein helped al-Qaeda target the United States. [...] The Iraq connection long suggested by administration officials gained no currency in the report.
Of course, the Bush administration never claimed Saddam Hussein helped Al Qaeda attack the US. At most, they claimed there were "links"...or "contacts". And, in fact, later in the story, author Hope Yen even writes "There have been reports that contacts between Iraq and al-Qaida also occurred''.




I do love how you can boil down both sides of the argument.

Posted by: sean at June 16, 2004 10:23 AM


Posted by: Moe Lane at June 16, 2004 10:58 AM

Don't Trust, Verify - The bad news is we're still ignorant, the good news is we're no longer duped about the information providers that feed our ignorance.

So the extremists that said there were no ties/links/connections between Saddam and bin Laden were wrong, and the those that said/implied Saddam had a hand up bin Laden's thobe were also wrong.

I'm glad we're finally coming to a consensus 2 1/2 years after deposing the Taliban and more than a year after deposing Saddam. All that hindsight from interrogations, document access, etc., now available to us from Afghanistan and Iraq seems to be helping to clear the fine details and nuances the intelligence community couldn't agree on before 9/11 or the following wars.

Posted by: Tim at June 16, 2004 12:18 PM

This commission has shown itself, over and over, to have mishandled issue after issue after this, to be bogged down in conflicts of interest and partisanship... for example, the widely-disseminated tape of Clinton claiming he turned down bin Laden was news to them, and they have yet to show much interest in his claim to them that it was "taken out of context." The entire context is available online and only... well, Bill Clinton could make that sort of claim.

Posted by: HH at June 16, 2004 12:34 PM


One of the great hypocrisies in this debate is the side that claims the US had "ties" to bin Ladan/al Qaeda but Saddam did not, or that bin Laden is blowback from US activities.

The Carter/Brzezinski Afghan trap Reagan pursued in conjunction with other Arab government efforts brought bin Laden and the US into the same universe of the combined Afghan and Arab mujahideen for a period of time before bin Laden organized al Qaeda.

If that qualifies for guilt or liability, then Saddam's ties to bin Laden were more direct and ominous (at least for us), but appear to have amounted to little more than a molehill.

Posted by: Tim at June 16, 2004 12:36 PM

I would like to see the Commish on Salman Pak. If training jihadis to highjack airliners with nothing more than small knives is not "cooperation", what the hell is? As far as I can tell, no attention has been paid to Saddams terrorist summer camp and its alumni. Why not?

Posted by: megapotamus at June 16, 2004 01:42 PM

As I recall, the Salman Pak story didn't pan out. Among other things, it seemed more likely that the area was used for counter-hijacking training, rather than training hijackers. You don't really need an airplane shell to train hijackers, but it's more useful to train for counter-terrorism.

I'd like to hear the conclusion on that, too, though.

Posted by: Jon Henke at June 16, 2004 01:46 PM

I'd also remind you of what I've been saying for a long time....there are "links" between Iraq and Al Qaeda,

There are tecnincally links between Al Qaeda and George Bush too, if you want to water it down that far. It's hardly what Cheney expects his audience to take away from his relentless rattling on about "long established ties." Really, if we're only talking about abstract ties and not cooperation, why the hell is Cheney beating that horse? I know, I know, the longer we left him in power, the more likely those "ties" were to turn into collaberation...isn't that a bit like program-related activities mumbo jumbo though?

Posted by: Edward at June 16, 2004 01:52 PM

I have to admit it. I don't get it. What is the difference between "connection" and "cooperation"? At least in the practical sense of "connections between Al-Qaeda and Iraq" vs "cooperation between Al-Qaeda and Iraq". What are connections if they do not provide cooperation?

Posted by: MattR at June 16, 2004 02:08 PM

Does anyone REALLY believe that Salman Pak was used for counter-hijacking? Why would Saddam want to know how to counter- hijack a plane but not how to hjack it in the first place?

Posted by: Karen at June 16, 2004 02:12 PM

Because Iraq had their own internal security concerns as well. Quite a lot of people, both inside and nearby Iraq, had it in for them.

If you know something more recent about Salman Pak, I'd like to read it.

Posted by: Jon Henke at June 16, 2004 02:17 PM

"Connections" are what relate me to Kevin Bacon by fewer than six intermediary people.

And it wouldn't surprise me to learn than both Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden can be connected to Kevin Bacon in six steps. (Oughta go google for that, I suppose...)

"Cooperation" is when Kevin Bacon agrees to star in the screenplay based on my (so far, unpublished) novel. His success, and mine, would then be mutually dependent.

Posted by: Pouncer at June 16, 2004 02:22 PM

Why would Saddam want to know how to counter- hijack a plane but not how to hjack it in the first place?

Oh, good grief. For the same reason every other country with an airport trains how to foil hijackings. Were you really asking that question seriously?

Posted by: apostropher at June 16, 2004 03:01 PM

Pouncer - Are you saying that connections are basically irrelevant then?

Posted by: MattR at June 16, 2004 03:06 PM

Anybody who looks at the evidence with an open mind is going to come to the conclusion that Iraq was helping Al Qaeda. The fact that the Clinton CIA totally screwed this up is, to my mind, the greatest national security scandal of the past 100 years. Now it looks like the hacks in the 9/11 Commission are going to cover for them.

Posted by: Joshua Chamberlain at June 16, 2004 03:13 PM

It is my understanding that the Clinton administration cited the Connection between Iraq and OBL as justification for the bombing of the pharma factory in the Sudan. Or was it Cooperation that was cited?

Posted by: Dan at June 16, 2004 03:16 PM


Clinton admin didnt just cite a connection, it was part of the 1998 indictment against bin Laden:

"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."

Posted by: Golden Boy at June 16, 2004 03:50 PM

Dan - I don't know if you are being sarcastic or if that was aimed at me. I also see that an update has been added with the comment "I guess Ogged has the only dictionary". I am not sure if that was directed at me as well. (maybe i am being overly sensitive since i am a newbie here)

But no one has really answered my question. In practical terms, what is the difference between "connections between Al-Qaeda and Iraq" and "cooperation between Al-Qaeda and Iraq"? What would fall into the category of connection, but not cooperation?

Posted by: MattR at June 16, 2004 03:59 PM

"There are tecnincally links between Al Qaeda and George Bush too, if you want to water it down that far."

Except Saddam was praising them publically for their Sep. 11 attack, and funding terrorists in Israel while Bush destroyed at least 2/3 of their leadership.

Posted by: HH at June 16, 2004 04:08 PM

Golden Boy brings up a significant matter. A kindred one is Tenet's October 2002 letter to the Senate intel committee, which details (assessed) cooperation to include training. Perhaps both the indictment and the analysis/info underlying the Tenet letter are erroneous. But they're serious, and amply justify every different formulation Cheney and others have given to the matter.

Not mentioned here, but prominent in most discussions of this question, is a bizarre claim made by some that sheds some light on the rigor of at least some parties to the debate. That claim being that the allegedly religious nature of AQ's madness precludes/precluded cooperation with a secular regime like Saddam's. While the assertion of course is facially absurd, it sure would be fun to hear one of the dim bulbs making this claim provide a detailed explanation of Syria's cooperation with, uh, somewhat non-secular Iran and various denominationally-flavored terror outfits in Lebanon. Pity we'll never get to hear such an amusing presentation.

Posted by: IceCold at June 16, 2004 04:22 PM

Matt: no snark was directed at you - not by me, anyway - and I'm always glad to have civil dissent here. I think every blog needs more of that.

To answer your question: in practical terms, frequent conciliatory discussions; passive support (i.e., non-aggression pacts); friendly go-betweens; overtures.....those constitute "connections". Nothing more, but also nothing less.

And, let's remember, Bush did not say the danger was that Al Qaeda had Iraqi support, but that they might get Iraqi support.

Posted by: Jon Henke at June 16, 2004 04:57 PM

Jon - thanks for the clarification. I guess I see connections and cooperation as more of two overlapping spectra of activities. Things such as non-aggression pacts seem to fall into a murky area that I think could be considered either connections or cooperation. A different example is that I would say that a single meeting is a connection, but a series of meetings indicate some level of cooperation. I don't think there is a clearly defined line where connections become cooperation.

My problem was not with Bush's comments, but with Cheney's. He has repeatedly said that there are "extensive connections" between Iraq and Al-Qaeda. While this might not technically mean cooperation, he is pretty clearly implying it. That kind of parsing of words misleads and misinforms the American people.

Posted by: MattR at June 16, 2004 05:49 PM

Not to nit-pick here....oh, hell, this whole subject is one big nit-pick; so here goes:


"He has repeatedly said that there are "extensive connections".. "

followed by:
"That kind of parsing of words misleads and misinforms.."

Actually, Cheney made a statement, YOU are the one parsing his words.

Bottom line : I guess we still don't know what exactly happened. I know I don't.

Posted by: Les Nessman at June 16, 2004 06:15 PM

Les - I did not really phrase that properly. Lemme try again :) Cheney uses phrases like "extensive connections" which I think most Americans will equate with come kind of cooperation. Then the 9/11 commission says there was no cooperation and the Cheney supporters say that he never used the term cooperation. That is the parsing that I was referring to. IMO, that parsing is intentionally done by the VP with the intent to mislead and misinform the public.

But I do agree that this whole thread is a pretty big nit pick. I joined this discussion because I did not understand the nit-picking between connections and cooperation. There is a difference between ties, connections and cooperation but these words can have intermingled meanings. At times they have distinct meanings, but in other contexts they are interchangeable.

Posted by: MattR at June 16, 2004 06:44 PM

Incompetent, yes. Astoundingly, breath-takingly incompetent. Ignorant of their subjects. Prone to distortion of the crudest sort. Not particularly smart, in the main. I know. I saw it up close for several years, from inside the beast.

But it's not just incompetence. When was the last time you just about suffered a neck injury from the jarringly incorrect or misinterpeted wire service passage that put, say, France, or the UN, or the ICRC in a bad light by unfairly presenting partial information or outright distortion of their actions or positions? That's right, never. Not once. Or, more pertinent to this nitpick/thread, when was the last time you saw a major media dispatch that treated a prominent Bush administration argument or claim as a fact, or conversely cited a canard about their opposition's position as though it were true? Niemals, nunca, never.

I've noted in particular that even the least arguable US government claim or assertion is typically accompanied -- often, right in the headline -- by a contradiction or qualification by someone else. It's the best they can do when they simply can't ignore something -- they just fuzz it up with frequently silly negative commentary from some reliable moronic observers. To paraphrase Churchill (but in bizarre-o world media inversion), each bit of truth tending to vindicate US policy must be accompanied and obscured by a bodyguard of lies -- or if not lies, tendentious sniping, or in a pinch, a cheap shot.

I suppose I'll have to trudge through the staff report, but to move the ball at all, they'd have to have directly debunked the elements of the Oct. '02 Tenet letter.

Finally, let me bypass the connection-link-cooperation quagmire by unequivocally asserting that there will be no FUTURE cooperation between AQ and a unitary, dictatorial Iraq using its vast financial and technical resources to develop various WMD. Let me further concur with an earlier commenter who noted that, uh, this was sort of the whole point. That's why they put the "pre" in "pre-emption."

Posted by: IceCold at June 16, 2004 09:09 PM

Wow... I don't think I've ever seen a more tortured attempt to defend the Bush administration. You folks make Clinton look like a straight talker.

Granted, what you're trying to do is a tough task. This is the sleaziest administration since Nixon got his drunk ass kicked out of the White House. So I'll give you credit for taking on a tough fight... but you still lose pretty badly.

Here's the basic fact you're trying to ignore: The Bush administration has waged a long and systematic fight to link Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein through implication, innuendo, and outright lies. On Monday, vice president Cheney claimed that Hussein had "long-established ties with Al Qaeda." On Tuesday, the White House spokesman refused to disavow or correct that claim. And on Wednesday the 9/11 commission flatly contradicted the Cheney/Bush statement and said that it simply was not true.

It was about the most blunt and direct contradiction of a president that you'll ever get from a bipartisan commission in Washington.

Yes, bin Laden may have daydreamed of an alliance with Iraq, ... but if dreams are the same thing as reality then every teenage boy in the country has had sex with Halle Berry. And, yes, some Al Qaeda operatives may have passed through Iraq, ... but they also passed through every other arab state and half the nations of Europe as well. (Anyone up for invading Germany?) And, yes, there may even have been a couple of meetings between Al Qaeda and Iraqi government officials, ... but they appear to have been entirely fruitless low-level contacts.

In fact, the supposed "ties" between Al Qaeda and Hussein don't even begin to approach the level of the known ties between Hussein and the U.S. (Or have you forgotten the photos of "our man in Baghdad," Donald Rumsfeld?)

After dutifully examining such minutiae, the commission has reached the only possible conclusion: On any meaningful level, there were no "ties" - none whatsoever - between Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's Iraq. The Bush administration has been lying to the American public and the truth is finally coming out.

Posted by: Oregonian at June 17, 2004 12:56 AM

Hi MattR,

My "Kevin Bacon" reference is not intended to suggest that ties or connections are irrelevant. I do mean that connections have "degrees" of relevance. Again, if Keven Bacon and I were established to have once worked together on a script for a movie sequel to "Footloose", that would be somewhat different degree of connection that if, say, he and I were known to have spent every Friday night for the past year -- and to have a standing reservation for the rest of this year -- sharing the honeymoon suite at a romantic lodge in the Pocono Mountains. (THAT would be CLOSE!)

For the record, I do not aspire to such a connection with Kevin Bacon.

Courtney Thorne-Smith, now...

But I digress.

I think the "established relationship" that Cheney cites is less the "in bed together" sort of connection and more comparable to the " previously worked on at least one specific project together" sort of connection. What that establishes is that, given the right deal, the right opportunity, the parties so connection can be reasonably expected to cooperate in OTHER projects. It also establishes what KINDS of projects the parties are trying to do.

I also think in this particular situation Saddam Hussein was the Kevin Bacon "star" power deal maker who could bring money, resources and other connections to the table, while Osama was more the wanna-be script writer looking for a big break and a financial "rain maker".

Explicity: the threat of Saddam's Iraq, it seems to me, arises not from past or current connection to Osama. The danger was that Saddam was shopping around for a Osama-like partner to do a future "big project" with. To keep a sequel to 9-11 from happening, we don't need to get after Osama and every other script writer with a crazy idea. We need to get after the money-men star-power deal makers.

Saddam being only the first on MY list.

Oh. That train explosion in North Korea turns out likely to have been an assassination attempt, after all.

My list may get shorter faster than I thought.

Posted by: Pouncer at June 17, 2004 09:25 AM

First, the Bush administration has never made the claim that 9/11 was Saddam by way of AQ.

Secondly do you think the 9/11 commission the last word on the connections between Saddam and AQ, or were they simly interested in 9/11 alone, and didn't worry about Saddam/AQ connections outside that context?

Posted by: Bithead at June 17, 2004 02:26 PM

Text of a Letter from the President to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and President Pro Tempore of the Senate

March 21, 2003

Dear Mr. Speaker: (Dear Mr. President:)

On March 18, 2003, I made available to you, consistent with section 3(b) of the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002 (Public Law 107-243), my determination that further diplomatic and other peaceful means alone will neither adequately protect the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq, nor lead to enforcement of all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq.

I have reluctantly concluded, along with other coalition leaders, that only the use of armed force will accomplish these objectives and restore international peace and security in the area. I have also determined that the use of armed force against Iraq is consistent with the United States and other countries continuing to take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organiza-tions, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001. United States objectives also support a transition to democracy in Iraq, as contemplated by the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 (Public Law 105-338).

Consistent with the War Powers Resolution (Public Law 93-148), I now inform you that pursuant to my authority as Commander in Chief and consistent with the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution (Public Law 102-1) and the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002 (Public Law 107-243), I directed U.S. Armed Forces, operating with other coalition forces, to commence combat operations on March 19, 2003, against Iraq.

These military operations have been carefully planned to accomplish our goals with the minimum loss of life among coalition military forces and to innocent civilians. It is not possible to know at this time either the duration of active combat operations or the scope or duration of the deployment of U.S. Armed Forces necessary to accomplish our goals fully.

As we continue our united efforts to disarm Iraq in pursuit of peace, stability, and security both in the Gulf region and in the United States, I look forward to our continued consultation and cooperation.




Was George lying to Congress then, or is he lying to everyone right now?

Posted by: Mikelx at June 17, 2004 05:37 PM

Was George lying to Congress then, or is he lying to everyone right now?

- - -That is simply a recitation of the activating mechanism from the Congressional authorization for war.

"Including". Is it not clear that Saddam Hussein was supportive of "international terrorism", which would put him in the "international terrorists and terrorist organizations" category.

Or do you need the words "but not limited to" more explicit?

Posted by: Jon Henke at June 17, 2004 07:49 PM

Bush may be dumb as a post but he was right when he said all the 9/11 Commission was going to do was politicize the war on terror. In my view there is absolutely nothing that came out of that commission that is going to advance the war on terror one bit unless one equates damaging Bush to the extent of getting Kerry elected is somehow going to help.

Posted by: Jack Tanner at June 18, 2004 09:34 AM

First, the Bush administration has never made the claim that 9/11 was Saddam by way of AQ.

"You can't distinguish between al Qaeda and Saddam. President Bush, 9/25/02

Posted by: apostropher at June 18, 2004 10:57 PM