Smiling Phases

The Scrapbook section of the new issue of the Weekly Standard comments on the Senate Intelligence Committee Phase II report that Paul wrote about in “Jivey day in the committee room” and in “Deceptive intelligence reports — then and now.” On Friday night John commented:

First the Senate Democrats browbeat a television network into changing a program so it won’t reflect badly on a Democratic administration. Then a Senate committee puts out a report that airbrushes history, leaving out the most important evidence of links between Iraq and al Qaeda, for the sole purpose of making a Republican administration look bad. I think it’s really important to work hard to get a Republican majority in the Senate, so the Dems won’t be able to pull stunts like these!

The Scrabpbook section of the new issue of the Weekly Standard (also published Friday night) comments on the Phase II report to similar effect:

“According to postwar detainee debriefs–including debriefs of Saddam Hussein and Tariq Aziz–Saddam was resistant to cooperating with al Qa’ida or any other Islamist groups.”

This is good enough, apparently, for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. If you read the “Phase II” report issued by the committee late last week, it is clear that the final word on Saddam Hussein’s relationships with Islamic terrorists will be given to Saddam Hussein.

According to the report, the deposed dictator was asked whether he might cooperate with al Qaeda because “the enemy of the enemy is my friend.” The report uncritically offers his response. “Saddam answered that the United States was not Iraq’s enemy.”

Unfortunately, the debriefers didn’t follow up with a question about his party’s Nov. 8, 1998, call for the “highest levels of jihad” against American interests: “The escalation of the confrontation and the disclosure of its dimensions and the aggressive intentions now require an organized, planned, influential and conclusive enthusiasm against U.S. interests.”

Where the report is not credulous, it is confused. For instance, the writers of the report seem not to understand that “Shaykh Salman al-Awdah” (p. 72) is the same guy as “Shaikh Sulayman al-Udah” (p. 73) and that he was a spiritual mentor to Osama bin Laden. That Saddam would agree to rebroadcast Awdah/Udah’s sermons on Iraqi national TV would seem difficult to reconcile with the idea that Saddam opposed any cooperation with Islamists. At another point, the report claims that Saddam Hussein considered al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi an “outlaw.” In the substance of the report, the claim is attributed to a senior Iraqi official. In the conclusions about Zarqawi the same information is attributed to an “al Qa’ida detainee.”

Then there’s the reporting on Ahmed Hikmat Shakir, the Iraqi national who facilitated the travel of Khalid al-Midhar, a 9/11 hijacker, to the key 9/11 planning meeting in Kuala Lumpur in January 2000. No one disputes this. The Senate report notes: “Shakir was a part-time facilitator of Arab visitors at the Kuala Lumpur airport for the Iraqi Embassy.” Shakir fled the country one week after the meeting ended. The CIA acknowledged that his disappearance “raised suspicions about his connections and intentions.”

More from the CIA: “Shakir’s travel and past contact linked him to a worldwide network of Sunni extremist groups and personalities including suspects in the bombing of the 1993 World Trade Center [sic] and indirectly to senior al Qa’ida associates. His relationship with the embassy employee could suggest a link between Baghdad and Shakir’s extremist contacts, but it could also be the case of an Iraqi expatriate finding a temporary job for a fellow national.” Those “contacts” include Musab Yasin, the brother of 1993 World Trade Center bomber Abu Rahman Yasin, an Iraqi national. (The report never mentions either Yasin.) The “contacts” also include Abu Hajer al Iraqi, an al Qaeda leader described in court testimony as Osama bin Laden’s “best friend.” No one disputes any of this.

The Senate report, though, finds conclusive the assurances of a foreign government service to the CIA that Shakir had “no link…to any foreign intelligence service, radical religious group or terrorist operation.” This finding plainly contradicts the evidence in the possession of the U.S. intelligence community.

On the other hand, it also admirably suits the purposes of Senate Intelligence committee Democrats, who were quick to claim that the report proves Bush misled the country into the Iraq war. If only the Republicans controlled the Senate!

This past June, Byron York previewed the likely outcome of the Phase II report at NRO: “The Kerry campaigner on the Republican staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee.” Michael Tanji uses his experience running a large part of the DOCEX program to comment on the Phase II report:

Given my past participation in this realm and my current status it would be imprudent to get into detail, suffice it to say that when you are counting sheets of paper by hundreds-of-millions (not to mention other forms of media that have been obtained that threaten to dwarf paper holdings) and your methodology is somewhere between inadequate and woeful, saying that you have a strong grasp on what was and wasn’t going on in Iraq based on an “initial review” is akin to saying that you don’t need to read the bible because you’ve memorized the ten commandments…in pig Latin.

As Stevie Winwood sings in the Traffic song “Smiling Phases”: “You see but still you’re blind.”


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