Monday's must-reads


Geraldine Sealey
June 21, 2004 5:47PM (UTC)

Iraq and al-Qaida, cont.
The Bush administration continues to press its case that there was a long-established relationship between Iraq and al-Qaida and that the 9/11 panel staff report didn't really differ from what they've been saying all along. Of course, this debate is critical for Bush, Cheney & Co., because losing it means losing the last justification they had for invading Iraq, since WMDs were never found.

Republicans are emphasizing statements from 9/11 commission leaders that the panel's staff report didn't contradict what the White House has said -- there was contact between Iraq and al-Qaida, they say, although the panel has also asked Dick Cheney to hand over his evidence on the matter. The panel's research has led members to conclude thus far that the contact between Iraq and al-Qaida resulted in no collaborative relationship.

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What's important to understand here, as this Boston Globe story shows, is that commission members are saying other countries had much more active, productive contacts with al-Qaida than Iraq -- surely not one of the White House talking points.

"The chairman of the Sept. 11 commission said yesterday that Al Qaeda had much more interaction with Iran and Pakistan than it did with Iraq, underscoring a controversy over the Bush administration's insistence that there was collaboration between the terrorist organization and Saddam Hussein. Thomas Kean made the comment even as he and other commissioners tried to steer clear of the debate over one of the administration's primary justifications for invading Iraq."

'''We believe . . . that there were a lot more active contacts, frankly, with Iran and with Pakistan than there were with Iraq,' said Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey. 'Al Qaeda didn't like to get involved with states, unless they were living there. They got involved with Sudan, they got involved . . . where they lived, but otherwise, no,' he told ABC's ''This Week."

Pakistan, Saudi Arabia "helped set the stage"
As we argue over the meaning of "collaborative relationship" and whether the 9/11 commission staff was disagreeing or not with the Bush administration about al-Qaida links to Saddam, the Los Angeles Times reports that two Washington allies, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, not only had links to al-Qaida but "helped set the stage for the Sept. 11 attacks by cutting deals with the Taliban and Osama bin Laden that allowed his Al Qaeda terrorist network to flourish."

"The financial aid to the Taliban and other assistance by two of the most important allies of the United States in its war on terrorism date at least to 1996, and appear to have shielded them from Al Qaeda attacks within their own borders until long after the 2001 strikes, those commission members and officials said in interviews. 'That does appear to have been the arrangement,' said one senior member of the commission staff involved in investigating those relationships."

"The officials said that by not cracking down on Bin Laden, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia significantly undermined efforts to combat terrorism worldwide, giving the Saudi exile the haven he needed to train tens of thousands of soldiers. They believe that the governments' funding of his Taliban protectors enabled Bin Laden to withstand international pressure and expand his operation into a global network that could carry out the Sept. 11 attacks. Saudi Arabia provided funds and equipment to the Taliban and probably directly to Bin Laden, and didn't interfere with Al Qaeda's efforts to raise money, recruit and train operatives, and establish cells throughout the kingdom, commission and U.S. officials said. Pakistan provided even more direct assistance, its military and intelligence agencies often coordinating efforts with the Taliban and Al Qaeda, they said."

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Bush's "avaricious, premeditated, unprovoked" war aids Bin Laden
Expect another page-turning political book out soon, this one from an anonymous senior U.S. intelligence official who "dismisses two of the most frequent boasts of the Bush administration: that Bin Laden and al-Qaida are 'on the run' and that the Iraq invasion has made America safer," the Guardian reports. The author of "Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror," due out next month, "described al-Qaida as a much more proficient and focused organisation than it was in 2001, and predicted that it would 'inevitably' acquire weapons of mass destruction and try to use them."

"Imperial Hubris is the latest in a relentless stream of books attacking the administration in election year. Most of the earlier ones, however, were written by embittered former officials. This one is unprecedented in being the work of a serving official with nearly 20 years experience in counter-terrorism who is still part of the intelligence establishment."

"Anonymous does not try to veil his contempt for the Bush White House and its policies. His book describes the Iraq invasion as "an avaricious, premeditated, unprovoked war against a foe who posed no immediate threat but whose defeat did offer economic advantage. 'Our choice of timing, moreover, shows an abject, even wilful failure to recognise the ideological power, lethality and growth potential of the threat personified by Bin Laden, as well as the impetus that threat has been given by the US-led invasion and occupation of Muslim Iraq.'"

" ... Anonymous believes Mr Bush is taking the US in exactly the direction Bin Laden wants, towards all-out confrontation with Islam under the banner of spreading democracy. He said: 'It's going to take 10,000-15,000 dead Americans before we say to ourselves: 'What is going on'?"

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Gitmo detainees' value "exaggerated"
The New York Times reports that an examination by the paper has found "that government and military officials have repeatedly exaggerated both the danger the [Guantanamo] detainees posed and the intelligence they have provided."

"In interviews, dozens of high-level military, intelligence and law-enforcement officials in the United States, Europe and the Middle East said that contrary to the repeated assertions of senior administration officials, none of the detainees at the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay ranked as leaders or senior operatives of Al Qaeda. They said only a relative handful some put the number at about a dozen, others more than two dozen were sworn Qaeda members or other militants able to elucidate the organization's inner workings."

"While some Guantanamo intelligence has aided terrorism investigations, none of of it has enabled intelligence or law-enforcement services to foil imminent attacks, the officials said. Compared with the higher-profile Qaeda operatives held elsewhere by the C.I.A., the Guantanamo detainees have provided only a trickle of intelligence with current value, the officials said. Because nearly all of that intelligence is classified, most of the officials would discuss it only on the condition of anonymity."

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Who was in charge on 9/11?
Newsweek looks at the question of whether the president knew Dick Cheney had given orders to down airliners on September 11. The 9/11 commission staff report says Cheney gave the order, telling others the president had "signed off on the concept" during a brief phone chat. But the report says there is no documentary evidence of this phone call.

Newsweek reports: "But the question of Cheney's behavior that day is one of many new issues raised in the remarkably detailed, chilling account laid out in dramatic presentations by the 9-11 Commission. NEWSWEEK has learned that some on the commission staff were, in fact, highly skeptical of the vice president's account and made their views clearer in an earlier draft of their staff report. According to one knowledgeable source, some staffers 'flat out didn't believe the call ever took place.' When the early draft conveying that skepticism was circulated to the administration, it provoked an angry reaction. In a letter from White House lawyers last Tuesday and a series of phone calls, the White House vigorously lobbied the commission to change the language in its report. 'We didn't think it was written in a way that clearly reflected the accounting the president and vice president had given to the commission,' White House spokesman Dan Bartlett told NEWSWEEK. Ultimately the chairman and vice chair of the commission, former New Jersey governor Thomas Kean and former representative Lee Hamilton -- both of whom have sought mightily to appear nonpartisan -- agreed to remove some of the offending language. The report 'was watered down,' groused one staffer."

GOP stonewalls abuse probe
The Denver Post shows how congressional Republicans last week used "late-evening maneuvering that avoided the mainstream media spotlight" to "derail Democratic efforts to formalize a broader inquiry into the growing prisoner-of-war abuse scandal."

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"The GOP's resistance has sparked growing accusations from the minority party that Congress is abandoning its responsibility to aggressively investigate wrongdoing within the military ranks.... The GOP's control of Congress has effectively hammerlocked Democrats' attempts to glean detailed answers about abuses in the war zone, driving them to schedule private strategy meetings, including one planned for Monday."

Meanwhile, Time magazine has a report about new abuse charges. The Senate Armed Services Committee is investigating whether two women were sexually abused at Abu Ghraib. And a plaintiff in a class action lawsuit "claims that after he was taken from his home on the outskirts of Baghdad last November and sent to Abu Ghraib, Americans made him disrobe and attached electrical wires to his genitals." He also claims he was forced to have sex with a female in uniform.


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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