Hollywood Jahilliya

Democracy, whiskey, sexy.

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Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

I'm an old-school liberal, like FDR or, heck, even Trotsky if I'm feeling generous. That is, I recognize a fascist enemy when I see one, and I treat it like an enemy. It's my mission (self-appointed, of course) to convince other Hollywood liberals to do the same.

25 March 2006

When Is A Connection Not A Connection?

It's a question worth pondering as the Iraq war (and the debate about it) moves into its fourth year (or its 15th, if you take the view that the Gulf War never ended as a matter of law). New internal Iraqi documents, captured by coalition forces and now being released by the Defense Department, stand to make fools of those who yell that Saddam and Bin Laden couldn't possibly have been in cahoots.

Of course, the information is still tenative, but the DoD is doing this the smart way for once: posting the documents in their original Arabic, so that independent viewers can consult their own experts for translation and not have to rely on the "official" word from the government. It's a clever way of defusing charges of censorship or manipulative quotation, and the ODNI is to be commended for it.

ABC News has translated some of the documents, and their assessment is, to say the least, bound to be pretty surprising to Bush's critics (boldface added by me).

A newly released prewar Iraqi document indicates that an official representative of Saddam Hussein's government met with Osama bin Laden in Sudan on February 19, 1995, after receiving approval from Saddam Hussein. Bin Laden asked that Iraq broadcast the lectures of Suleiman al Ouda, a radical Saudi preacher, and suggested "carrying out joint operations against foreign forces" in Saudi Arabia. According to the document, Saddam's presidency was informed of the details of the meeting on March 4, 1995, and Saddam agreed to dedicate a program for them on the radio. The document states that further "development of the relationship and cooperation between the two parties to be left according to what's open [in the future] based on dialogue and agreement on other ways of cooperation." The Sudanese were informed about the agreement to dedicate the program on the radio.

The report then states that "Saudi opposition figure" bin Laden had to leave Sudan in July 1996 after it was accused of harboring terrorists. It says information indicated he was in Afghanistan. "The relationship with him is still through the Sudanese. We're currently working on activating this relationship through a new channel in light of his current location," it states.

(Editor's Note: This document is handwritten and has no official seal. Although contacts between bin Laden and the Iraqis have been reported in the 9/11 Commission report and elsewhere (e.g., the 9/11 report states "Bin Ladn himself met with a senior Iraqi intelligence officer in Khartoum in late 1994 or early 1995) this document indicates the contacts were approved personally by Saddam Hussein.

It also indicates the discussions were substantive, in particular that bin Laden was proposing an operational relationship, and that the Iraqis were, at a minimum, interested in exploring a potential relationship and prepared to show good faith by broadcasting the speeches of al Ouda, the radical cleric who was also a bin Laden mentor.

The document does not establish that the two parties did in fact enter into an operational relationship. Given that the document claims bin Laden was proposing to the Iraqis that they conduct "joint operations against foreign forces" in Saudi Arabia, it is worth noting that eight months after the meeting — on November 13, 1995 — terrorists attacked Saudi National Guard Headquarters in Riyadh, killing 5 U.S. military advisers. The militants later confessed on Saudi TV to having been trained by Osama bin Laden.)

And then there's this:

Document dated Sept. 15, 2001

An Iraqi intelligence service document saying that their Afghan informant, who's only identified by a number, told them that the Afghan consul Ahmed Dahastani claimed the following in front of him:

That OBL and the Taliban are in contact with Iraq and that a group of Taliban and bin Laden group members visited Iraq
That the U.S. has proof the Iraqi government and "bin Laden's group" agreed to cooperate to attack targets inside America.
That in case the Taliban and bin Laden's group turn out to be involved in "these destructive operations," the U.S. may strike Iraq and Afghanistan.
That the Afghan consul heard about the issue of Iraq's relationship with "bin Laden's group" while he was in Iran.

At the end, the writer recommends informing "the committee of intentions" about the above-mentioned items. The signature on the document is unclear.

(Editor's Note: The controversial claim that Osama bin Laden was cooperating with Saddam Hussein is an ongoing matter of intense debate. While the assertions contained in this document clearly support the claim, the sourcing is questionable — i.e., an unnamed Afghan "informant" reporting on a conversation with another Afghan "consul." The date of the document — four days after 9/11 — is worth noting but without further corroboration, this document is of limited evidentiary value.)

Limited value? That, of course, remains to be seen. But it comes on the heels of several other intriguing tidbits alluded to in the 9/11 Commission Report. It's known that Al-Qaeda and Iraq were negotiating a non-aggression pact in 1998. The Clinton Administration still maintains that the Al-Shifa pharmecutical plant in Sudan was a joint Iraqi/Al-Qaeda operation. It's known that Saddam offered Bin Laden sanctuary in 1999, and there is still the unresolved mystery of Ahmad Hikmat Shakir Azzawi, the Iraqi national who facilitated a meeting between the mastermind of the USS Cole attack and two of the 9/11 hijackers in Kuala Lumpur in 2000, and may have been an active Iraqi intelligence agent at the time.

These new documents only strengthen the Bush Administration's case. When is a connection not a connection?

Hollywood Jahilliya takes no position on the question of whether Saddam and Osama had an "operational" link. That question is largely a red herring to begin with. At this point, I agree with skeptics that the case is not proven beyond doubt. But I'm not blind or stupid, either, and I'm willing to take the evidence at face value until given good reason to do otherwise. I wish other folks on the left would do the same.

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