Monday, October 04, 2004

Rumsfeld and masked truth

By 'Inad Khairallah

FOR THE first time, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, one of the senior-most Bush administration officials who pushed for war against Iraq, has admitted — inadverently perhaps but nonetheless the truth —  that he was not aware of any "strong, hard evidence" linking Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda.
Rumsfeld's "clarification" that his comment was "misunderstood" does not pull much water, given the explict way it was made.
Indeed, Rumsfeld's "revelation" came after US President George W Bush also made a comment that somehow implied that he was also not sure whether Saddam had links with Osama Bin Laden.
However, Bush's official response was somewhat different to the finding of the so-called 9/11 Commission's report in June that there was no “collaborative relationship” between Saddam and Al Qaeda, and thus the ousted Iraqi leader had no role in the Sept.11, 2001 attacks.
“The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and Al Qaeda is because there was a relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda," said Bush at the time despite evidence having shown that Al Qaeda had repeatedly approached Saddam’s regime about working together and the Iraqi strongman had turned down the call. Some accounts say that it was the other way around and that Bin Laden never considered Saddam as a suitable ally and therefore he rebuffed Iraq's approaches.
In any case, Bush and Rumsfeld and a host of other administration officials are now trying to give an impression that US intelligence agencies had given false information and it was not their fault if they had gone wrong in judging that Saddam/Iraq had links with Bin Laden/Al Qaeda. Take it any order you like; it means the same thing.
Rumsfeld's affirmation of what most people in the Middle East had known for long came in an appearance before the Council on Foreign Relations in New York this week.
"I have seen the answer to that question (whether Saddam had links with Al Qaeda) migrate in the intelligence community over a period of a year in the most amazing way. Second, there are differences in the intelligence community as to what the relationship was," Rumsfeld said.
"To my knowledge, I have not seen any strong, hard evidence that links the two," he said.
"I just read an intelligence report recently about one person who's connected to Al Qaeda who was in and out of Iraq. And it is the most tortured description of why he might have had a relationship and why he might not have had a relationship. It may have been something that was not representative of a hard linkage."
Let us now go back to what Rumsfeld said on Sept.26, 2002.
"We have what we consider to be very reliable reporting of senior level contacts going back a decade, and of possible chemical and biological agent training. And when I say contacts, I mean between Iraq and Al Qaeda," Rumsfeld said at the time.
"We have what we believe to be credible information that Iraq and Al Qaeda have discussed safe-haven opportunities in Iraq, reciprocal non-aggression discussions. We have what we consider to be credible evidence that Al Qaeda leaders have sought contacts in Iraq who could help them acquire ... weapons of mass destruction capabilities," said the defence secretary.
(Obviously, Rumsfeld's comment embarassed the White House, particularly given that it came after Bush was seen fumbling in his campaign debate with rival John Kerry. That explained why Rumseld apparently found it fit to remember, a few hours after Tuesday's comments in New York, that he had made the Sept.26, 2002 statement.That was perhaps why he felt the need to issue a formal Pentagon press release stating his comment "regrettably was misunderstood" by some and affirming that since September 2002 he had stated that there were ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda).
The only explanation, if there is one indeed, is that Rumsfeld was perhaps betting that he could refer to the difference between "strong, hard evidence" and "credible information.... credible evidence" to get himself off the hook.
However, it is not that easy.
Rumsfeld also took cover behind US intelligence on Tuesday.
"Why the intelligence proved wrong, I'm not in a position to say," he said. "I simply don't know. But the world is a lot better off with Saddam Hussein in jail than they were with him in power."
There could never have been any doubt in the minds of average Americans that Rumsfeld was affirming in September 2002 that Saddam was party to the Sept.11, 2001 attacks that are blamed on Al Qaeda and Bin Laden.
Indeed, it was not only Rumsefeld but also many others who had made that assertion — explicitly stating that one of the reasons, apart from Iraq's (non-existent) weapons of mass destruction, for the invasion and occupation of that country was the "threat" that Saddam posed through Al Qaeda to the security of the United States of America.
However, they are now falling back on the argument that removing Saddam from power was a good thing for not only Iraq but also for the Middle Eastern neighbourhood as well as the international community at large.
James Bovard, is author of the to-be-released book, "The Bush Betrayal" and policy advisor for The Future of Freedom Foundation, has put together a collection of Bush statements that clearly stated that he was acting against Iraq as part of his war against terror that was launched post-9/11.
In an article titled "Saddam as the 20th hijacker" appearing in the September 2004 edition of Freedom Daily, Bovard notes:
A March 18, 2003 memo that Bush sent to the US Congress states that he was was launching the war against Iraq as part of "the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organisations, including those nations, organisations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on Sept.11, 2001."
Bush's State of the Union address on Jan.29, 2002 groouped Iraq, along with Iran and North Korea, was part of an “axis of evil.”
On Sept.25, 2002, Bush told reporters:
"Al Qaeda hides, Saddam doesn’t, but the danger is... that they work in concert. The danger is that Al Qaeda becomes an extension of Saddam’s madness and his hatred and his capacity to extend weapons of mass destruction around the world.... You can’t distinguish between Al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror.... They’re both equally as bad, and equally as evil, and equally as destructive."
The president told a mostly Republican audience in Cincinnati on Oct.7, 2002:
"We know that Iraq and the Al Qaeda terrorist network share a common enemy — the United States of America. We know that Iraq and Al Qaeda have had high-level contacts that go back a decade.
"Some Al Qaeda leaders who fled Afghanistan went to Iraq. These include one very senior Al Qaeda leader who received medical treatment in Baghdad this year, and who has been associated with planning for chemical and biological attacks...."
(The reference here is to Jordanian militant Ahmed Khalayleh aka Abu Musab Zarqawi, who the Central Intelligence Agency said had an artificial limb fitted in a Baghdad hospital with Saddam's blessing. Now the CIA says it is no longer sure whether that was indeed true).
Again on Nov.1, 2002, Bush told another Republican gathering, this time in New Hampshire:
"We know he’s (Saddam) got ties with Al Qaeda. A nightmare scenario, of course, is that he becomes the arsenal for a terrorist network, where they could attack America, and he’d leave no fingerprints behind."
In the 2003 State of the Union address, Bush pushed the ante all the way up and told Americans that they were vulnerable to a terror attack engineered by Saddam.
“Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of Al Qaeda....," he said. "Imagine those 19 (Sept.11) hijackers with other weapons and other plans, this time armed by Saddam Hussein. It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known. "
However, while he consistently implied that Saddam was involved in the Sept.11 attacks, he also stopped short being explicit (perhaps a hindsight that he might be pulled up one day?).
The Christian Science Monitor has observed:
"Bush never pinned blame for the attacks directly on the Iraqi president. Still, the overall effect was to reinforce an impression that persists among much of the American public: that the Iraqi dictator did play a direct role in the attacks.... The White House appears to be encouraging this false impression, as it seeks to maintain American support for a possible war against Iraq."
The administration did succeed in its drive and the the "damage" was done by one month before the invasion of Iraq: a February 2003 opinion poll found that 72 per cent of Americans believed that Saddam was “personally involved" in the 9/11 attacks.
The questions that we face is:
Do we need to convince the Americans that Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11 and thus defend him? What purpose would it serve anyway?
First, we are not defending Saddam; nor are we apologists for him and his oppression of his people. The people of Iraq are better off without him (never mind that they are worse off on the ground today).
But we need to set the record straight. And the straight record is: The Bush administration took not only the Americans but also the international community at large on a ride (read war) on false pretexts. The clinch is: They were perfectly aware that they were (mis)leading everyone on a ground that existed only in their determination to realise their multi-pronged goal: Gaining control of Iraq's oil in order to influence the world market to American advantage; setting up an advance military base in the Gulf; and clearing the ground for Israeli domination of the region by removing a potentially mighty Arab foe.