Andrew McCarthy is the former chief assistant United States Attorney who successfully prosecuted the blind sheik and eleven other defendants for the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993. Before we turn the page on the Iraq-al Qaeda connection, in addition to Stephen Hayes’s The Connection, please consider McCarthy’s “Iraq & al Qaeda” on NRO this morning.
McCarthy quotes the 9/11 Commission report paragraph (“Statement No. 15”) that has created this morning’s banner headlines:
Bin Laden also explored possible cooperation with Iraq during his time in Sudan, despite his opposition to Hussein’s secular regime. Bin Laden had in fact at one time sponsored anti-Saddam Islamists in Iraqi Kurdistan. The Sudanese, to protect their own ties with Iraq, reportedly persuaded Bin Laden to cease this support and arranged for contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda. A senior Iraqi intelligence officer reportedly made three visits to Sudan, finally meeting Bin Laden in 1994. Bin Laden is said to have requested space to establish training camps, as well as assistance in procuring weapons, but Iraq apparently never responded. There have been reports that contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda also occurred after Bin Laden returned to Afghanistan, but they do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship. 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.
Just taken on its own terms, this paragraph is both internally inconsistent and ambiguously worded. First, it cannot be true both that the Sudanese arranged contacts between Iraq and bin Laden and that no “ties existed between al Qaeda and Iraq.” If the first proposition is so, then the “[t]wo senior Bin Laden associates” who are the sources of the second are either lying or misinformed.
In light of the number of elementary things the commission staff tells us its investigation has been unable to clarify (for example, in the very next sentence after the Iraq paragraph, the staff explains that the question whether al Qaeda had any connection to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing or the 1995 plot to blow U.S. airliners out of the sky “remains a matter of substantial uncertainty”), it is fair to conclude that these two senior bin Laden associates may not be the most cooperative, reliable fellows in town regarding what bin Laden was actually up to. Moreover, we know from press reports and the administration’s own statements about the many al Qaeda operatives it has captured since 9/11 that the government is talking to more than just two of bin Laden’s top operatives. That begs the questions: Have we really only asked two of them about Iraq? If not, what did the other detainees say?
McCarthy also quotes from count 4 of the government’s 1998 indictment of bin Laden (also noted by Hayes in his book):
Al Qaeda also forged alliances with the National Islamic Front in the Sudan and with the government of Iran and its associated terrorist group Hezballah for the purpose of working together against their perceived common enemies in the West, particularly the United States. In addition, 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.
McCarthy notes that the count 4 allegation is based primarily on accomplice testimony from the embassy bombing trial and has not been retracted. McCarthy quotes from the public testimony of CIA Director George Tenet that Hayes has identified in his compilation of the evidence making out the existence of a “connection.” McCarthy asks:
Is the commission staff saying that the CIA director has provided faulty information to Congress? That doesn’t appear to be what it is saying at all. This is clear