A media frenzy erupted last week with the release of a 9/11 commission staff report, which found “no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on the attacks against the United States.” Media outlets throughout the country immediately jumped on this statement to attack the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq.
A front-page headline of the San Francisco Chronicle declared, “Lack of Evidence: Report Contradicts U.S. Justification for War on Baghdad,” and a New York Times lead editorial called for President Bush to apologize to the American people for his dishonest effort to “link his war of choice with the battle against terrorists worldwide.”
While most of the media dismiss the veracity of the Bush administration’s claim of an Iraq-al Qaeda relationship, Stephen Hayes, a reporter for the Weekly Standard, contends that the Bush administration is justified in this belief. Hayes supports this contention in his newly released book, The Connection: How al Qaeda’s Collaboration with Saddam Hussein Has Endangered America. Hayes discussed several aspects of his book, and the recent findings of the 9/11 commission at a June 17th book forum hosted by the Heritage Foundation.
The 9/11 commission has performed well at uncovering the chronology of events leading up to the terrorist attacks, Hayes said, but he was very disappointed with their conclusion that no collaborative relationship ever existed between Iraq and al Qaeda. Hayes expressed frustration with the recent 9/11 report, which only paid scant attention to the Iraq-al Qaeda link. The thirty-two page report focused on a historic overview of the al Qaeda terrorist organization and the outline of the 9/11 terrorist plot, but the report does mention the possible Iraq-al Qaeda connection in two brief paragraphs.
Referring to the 9/11 commission’s two-paragraph statement, Hayes said, this “does not meet their own standards,” and relies too much “on assertions over facts and evidence.”
Drawing on his two years as a reporter covering the wars against al Qaeda and Iraq, Hayes provides a litany of evidence that establishes a clear relationship that existed between Iraq and al Qaeda. Hayes reveals that Iraq provided financial support and safe haven to Abdul Rahman Yasin, one of the conspirators involved in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Hayes also points to al Qaeda terrorist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who received medical treatment at a hospital favored by the Iraqi regime before the start of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. These examples not only prove the overlap between Iraq and al Qaeda, says Hayes, but they are clear examples of Iraq’s violation of the Bush Doctrine?a policy that makes no distinction between terrorists and those who harbor them.
It’s important to remember, says Hayes, that it was not only the Bush administration connecting Iraq to al Qaeda, but several members of the Clinton administration cited this link when defending military strikes against the Sudan in 1998. For instance, the Clinton Justice Department 1998 indictment of Osama bin Laden included references to an Iraq-al Qaeda relationship.
Individuals who discount the Iraq-al Qaeda connection typically point to Richard Clarke, former terrorism czar under both the Clinton and Bush administrations, who told Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes: “There’s absolutely no evidence that Iraq was supporting al Qaeda, ever.” According to Hayes, Clarke contradicted himself when he told the Washington Post that the U.S. was sure Iraq had supported al Qaeda chemical weapons programs in 1999, said Hayes.
Even though Hayes strongly believes in the connection between Iraq and al Qaeda, he stresses that he is “not claiming an operational link between Iraq and the 9/11 attacks.” However, he argues that many questions remain unanswered about Iraq’s possible connection to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
For example, Hayes mentions a story widely reported in the media about an individual named Ahmed Hikmat Shakir, who through the Iraqi embassy, obtained employment as a greeter of VIP passengers for a Malaysian airline. On January 5, 2000, Shakir greeted and escorted 9/11 hijacker Khalid al-Midhar to an al Qaeda summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The summit took place January 5-8, 2000, and intelligence officials believe this summit was a critical planning session for the September 11 attacks. Shakir attended the meeting, said Hayes, but we do not know if he was an active participant in the planning sessions.
According to a recent Wall Street Journal report, the name Ahmed Hikmat Shakir appears on three captured rosters of Saddam Fedayeen officers. Hayes reiterates that this report does not establish Iraq’s involvement in the September 11 attacks, but this and other “unanswered questions deserve further exploration.”
Hayes expressed frustration with the establishment media’s failure to investigate these unanswered questions over the possible link between Iraq and the 9/11 attacks, which he calls such “an obvious and fascinating story.” Hayes said, “The establishment mainstream press outlets seem really eager to discredit this, and I think in some cases they have taken shortcuts in their reporting to discredit this.”
A serious debate about the Iraq-al Qaeda connection needs to take place in the mainstream media, Hayes said, because we are gathering more information everyday relating to this overlap between Iraq and al Qaeda.