Friday, January 31, 2003

Iraq and OKC

Via Roger Ailes, it's come to my attention that Frank Gaffney at the Washington Times continues to flog the (anti-Clinton) conspiracy theory that the Oklahoma City bombing was actually masterminded by Saddam Hussein, this time in the form of an almost pathetic editorial (it even gets the date of the bombing wrong) urging President Bush to make these theories the centerpiece of selling his war campaign against Iraq:

Bush's hour to shine

The case for implicating Saddam and his operatives in the latest and most deadly attack upon us is even more compelling, though, when added to evidence that points to his complicity in earlier terrorist acts — the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and the 1996 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Tonight, sitting with the first lady, are two intrepid women who have done pioneering work ferreting out and calling attention to this evidence: an internationally recognized specialist on Iraq and best-selling author, Dr. Laurie Mylroie, and television-reporter-turned-independent investigator, Jayna Davis of Oklahoma City. I would ask you to join me in saluting them for pursuing leads that neither the federal government, prosecutors or the media have done enough to date to investigate.

Roger adds this:

Sorry, Frank. The empty chair had more credibility than you and those other two idiots combined.

Just for the record, I happen to have many good reasons to be skeptical about the government's official story in the Oklahoma City bombing, and happen to believe that some important revelations may yet come out of Terry Nichols' trial, depending on its outcome. See the story I did for Salon, "The mystery of John Doe 2" [Salon premium]

I happen to agree with Roger's assessment of Jayna Davis, though I don't necessarily agree with his view of Laurie Mylroie. The latter was for a long time a serious and well-respected Middle East analyst, and in fact was Bill Clinton's adviser on Iraq during his 1992 campaign. I thought her investigation of the Ramzi Yousef case was compelling enough to write this (though as I've mentioned previously, I've gone through a serious reassessment of that information since).

These theories, of course, were part of Tim McVeigh's trial. Mylroie did investigative work for McVeigh's lawyer, Stephen Jones, and it is from Jones' theories -- which he wrote about extensively in his book Others Unknown: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing Conspiracy (either Iraqi or Al Qaeda operatives are the "others unknown" of Jones' title) -- that Mylroie's and Davis' own renditions are spun. (Hm. Wonder why the Times doesn't lionize Jones along with the two women?)

The theory's basics are this: Terry Nichols' visits to the Philippines ostensibly to get a wife also included Al Qaeda training sessions in bombmaking, and in fact the entire OKC bombing was masterminded by Iraqi intelligence agents working through Al Qaeda in the islands. It then goes on to place great credibility in eyewitnesses who swore they saw swarthy Middle Easterners in downtown Oklahoma City in the vicinity of the bombing.

The cornerstone of the theory is the testimony of a Filipino government informant named Edwin Angeles. Angeles was the real thing -- in fact, he had achieved an unusually high official status in the Islamic radical group Abu Sayyaf, even though he had been hired to penetrate it. He was directly involved in a series of Abu Sayyaf terrorist acts that included some fatalities, but when he was caught, he immediately flipped -- basically saying to the cops, 'Hey, don't send me to jail -- I'm your guy!'

Angeles then went on to regale the police with the long saga of his time with Abu Sayyaf. Apparently the cops began intimating that he might face charges despite his informer status; it was at this point that Angeles began telling them about the American "farmer" who had attended Al Qaeda bombmaking sessions with none other than Ramzi Yousef in attendance. (Yousef, FWIW, figures prominently in Mylroie's exegesis; the cornerstone of her theories is that Yousef in fact is an Iraqi intelligence agent.)

Angeles' testimony was never corroborated. He was gunned down by unknown assassins as he left a mosque in 1998.

I investigated the potential of an Iraqi connection in the activities of the far right immediately after 9/11, and spent about six months pursuing leads. This was among the angles I pursued heavily.

I was forced to conclude that Angeles' testimony was unreliable -- he seemed to be inflating the story as he went along, and parts of his tale were later proven false -- and there was almost zero evidence beyond it. I interviewed Michael Tigar, Terry Nichols' first attorney, and he told me that he had spent thousands of dollars and many months having Nichols' activities in the Philippines investigated thoroughly. (A good defense attorney could use information like that to derail at least a death sentence, which eventually, you will recall, is what Tigar managed for his client.) He was absolutely adamant that there was nothing to the story -- that Nichols did not travel to the same areas, and was not in the country at the times that Angeles said he was there.

I did uncover only one actual case of the clear involvement of a far-right figure with Iraq: Fred Phelps, the pastor of the gay-hating Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, has made two trips to Iraq for the express purpose of denouncing America's 'sodomite policies.' Because Phelps operates under the cover of a church, it's hard to tell whether he went on Saddam's dime or not -- or whether, indeed, Westboro Baptist operates with healthy helpings from Saddam's largesse (as one of the church's local critics suspects).

Of course, you may also recall that Phelps was among the Americans who actually celebrated 9/11, declaring gleefully on his Web site, "The Rod of God hath smitten fag America!"

Finally, an important point to remember about this conspiracy theory: Even if it does prove true, it does not exonerate by any means either Tim McVeigh or Terry Nichols -- and by extension, the cause of white supremacy and white nationalism, the latter of which is a cause commonly featured on the pages of the Washington Times (and thus, one imagines, the motivating force behind its promotion of these theories). Indeed, implicating Iraq in OKC only casts white nationalists in a more treacherous and treasonous light.

Incidentally, this scenario is like a white-supremacist fantasy come true. Neo-Nazis and other violent supremacists have long wished that "real" terrorists (i.e., Al Qaeda) would take them seriously enough to form an alliance, but to the best knowledge of everyone who monitors the far right, this has never happened.

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