Saturday, January 11, 2003

Saddam's allies

Does opposing war with Iraq "objectively" place a person in Saddam's camp? Hardly.

I'll use my own case as a clear example.

Back in September 2001 -- just 10 days after the terrorist attacks -- I published one of the first discussions anywhere in the press of the possibility that Saddam was behind the 9/11 attacks. Here is the story (you need Salon Premium subscription to read the whole thing). It largely was ignored, and indeed Iraqi complicity in the attacks was discussed very little at all -- at least until the Bush administration made it the centerpiece of their 2002 election drive.

I've been tracking the activities of the Iraqi government for a number of years now, inspired in no small part by Amnesty International's steady reports of human-rights abuses. Iraq represents one of the worst tendencies of American foreign policy of the past half-century -- namely, our propensity to create long-term monsters (from Somoza to Pinochet to Noriega to Saddam to Osama bin Laden) in the name of propping up our short-term interests.

It's been clear for some time that the Iraqi intelligence agency is a real threat both at home and abroad; its Soviet-style activities are emblematic of a horrendous dictatorship. The increasing signs of cooperation between Saddam and Islamic fundamentalists have been especially troubling.

With those trends in mind, I wrote the Salon piece clearly open to the likelihood that Saddam indeed provided logistical and other support for the Al Qaeda attacks. As the story demonstrates, there is an evidentiary trail from the first World Trade Center attack in 1993 to that of 2001.

However, making that connection clearly hinges on a central piece of evidence -- namely, ascertaining whether Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the 1993 attack, is in fact an Iraqi intelligence agent. This is the primary thesis of Laurie Mylroie's book Study of Revenge: Saddam Hussein’s Unfinished War Against America, and it's very plausible.

However, it has never been nailed down. As the article recounts, there have always been two simple ways of determining whether or not Mylroie is right: first, obtaining the real Yousef's student papers in Britain and comparing fingerprints and other evidence on them with evidence from the Al Qaeda terrorist who calls himself Yousef currently in prison at Florence, Colo.; and second, contacting Yousef's former classmates in Britain to have them help determine whether or not he is in fact the person they knew in the mid-1980s.

Gathering this evidence has always been the simplest, most concrete means of connecting Iraq to 9/11. And in the months subsequent to the Salon article's publication, it has become increasingly clear that this evidence simply doesn't exist. If it did, it would have been gathered, and the facts publicized by the Bush administration, which has sought to connect Saddam to Al Qaeda through multiple means, none of which have been substantiated. (Indeed, one of the other pieces of evidence I cited in my article -- the alleged meeting between Mohammad Atta and an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague -- has since been largely disproven.)

I'm still open to the likelihood that Iraq has become allied with Al Qaeda and was indeed involved in 9/11. (I think Osama bin Laden's post-9/11 suggestions on videotape that someone else, intent on 'revenge,' masterminded and triggered the 9/11 attacks are worth remembering.) But despite my predisposition, it's clear to me that the case simply has not been made.

And without that evidence, there simply is no sound case for going to war with Iraq.

I'm not the only one who thinks the Bush administration has failed to make its case. A recent Los Angeles Times poll found that 72 percent of Americans do not believe Bush has made an adequate case for war against Iraq. And there are other thoughtful critics of the Iraqi regime who are similarly unpersuaded -- Scott Ritter and Josh Marshall, for example. And let's not forget Amnesty International, which has been particularly outspoken about the Busheviks' willingness to use the cause of human rights as cover for its war.

(Particularly noteworthy in the above AI press release is this: "The US and other Western governments turned a blind eye to Amnesty International reports of widespread human rights violations in Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, and ignored Amnesty International's campaign on behalf of the thousands of unarmed Kurdish civilians killed in the 1988 attacks on Halabja." Indeed, after those attacks -- cited by Bush Jr. as central evidence to the 'evil' Saddam represents -- the first Bush administration actually sold the Iraqi regime more arms.)

However, the skepticism of all these folks, according to the growing chorus of conservatives, makes us anti-American, pro-Saddam traitors.

One wonders where all these conservatives were in 1998, when Bill Clinton was bombing Saddam. Oh, that's right -- they were accusing him of "wagging the dog." Trent Lott, then the Senate Majority Leader, clearly undercut the nation's military interests (and gave genuine 'aid and comfort' to Saddam) when he announced that he would not support Clinton's actions, accusing him of taking the action for political purposes. Wonder how those remarks would fly now.

Finally, it is worth noting that there are indeed Americans who are objectively, and openly, allies of Saddam. However, nearly all of them are right-wing extremists.

Fred Phelps, the gay-hating pastor of Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, has made two trips to Baghdad for the express purpose of denouncing America's moral standards; the trips probably were financed by Saddam himself, and there are reasons to believe Phelps has been underwritten by Saddam. And then of course, there's the Timothy McVeigh faction. Wonder why conservatives aren't concerned about these folks.

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