Profile: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi
a.k.a. Ahmed Fadhil Nazzar Khalaylah
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was a participant or observer in the following events:
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born Palestinian, travels to Afghanistan in 1989 and fights against the pro-Soviet government there. He becomes a radical Islamist and reportedly trains at an al-Qaeda training camp there. He forms a militant group later known as al-Tawhid. In 1993, he returns to Jordan but is quickly arrested for possessing grenades and is sentenced to 15 years in prison. But he gathers many followers inside the prison and is connected to growing Jordanian radical militant networks outside the prison. In May 1999, Abdullah II becomes the new king of Jordan and al-Zarqawi is released from prison as part of a general amnesty. [Atlantic Monthly, 6/8/2006] In late 1999, al-Zarqawi is allegedly involved in an unsuccessful attempt to blow up the Radisson SAS Hotel in Amman, Jordan (see November 30, 1999). [Guardian, 10/9/2002; Independent, 2/6/2003; Washington Post, 2/7/2003] By the end of 1999, he returns to Afghanistan and meets bin Laden. However, bin Laden reportedly strongly dislikes him, because al-Zarqawi comes across as too ambitious, abrasive, and overbearing, and has differing ideological views. But another al-Qaeda laeder, Saif al-Adel, sees potential and convinces bin Laden to give a token $5,000 to set up his own training camp near the town of Herat, close to the border with Iran. He begins setting up the camp in early 2000 (see Early 2000-December 2001). [Atlantic Monthly, 6/8/2006]
On December 5, 1999, a Jordanian raid discovers 71 vats of bomb making chemicals in this residence. [Source: Judith Miller]Jordanian officials successfully uncover an al-Qaeda plot to blow up the Radisson Hotel in Amman, Jordan, and other sites on January 1, 2000. [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002] The Jordanian government intercepts a call between al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida and a suspected Jordanian terrorist named Abu Hoshar. Zubaida says, “The training is over.” [New York Times, 1/15/2001] Zubaida also says, “The grooms are ready for the big wedding.” [Seattle Times, 6/23/2002] This call reflects an extremely poor code system, because the FBI had already determined in the wake of the 1998 US embassy bombings that “wedding” was the al-Qaeda code word for bomb. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 214] Furthermore, it appears al-Qaeda fails to later change the system, because the code-name for the 9/11 attack is also “The Big Wedding.” [Chicago Tribune, 9/5/2002] Jordan arrests Hoshar while he’s still on the phone talking to Zubaida. In the next few days, 27 other suspects are charged. A Jordanian military court will initially convict 22 of them for participating in planned attacks, sentencing six of them to death, although there will be numerous appeals (see April 2000 and After). In addition to bombing the Radisson Hotel around the start of the millennium, the plan calls for suicide bombings on two border crossings with Israel and a Christian baptism site. Further attacks in Jordan are planned for later. The plotters had already stockpiled the equivalent of 16 tons of TNT, enough to flatten “entire neighborhoods.” [New York Times, 1/15/2001] Key alleged plotters include:
Raed Hijazi, a US citizen who is part of a Boston al-Qaeda cell (see June 1995-Early 1999). He will be arrested and convicted in late 2000 (see September 2000 and October 2000). [New York Times, 1/15/2001]
Khalid Deek, who is also a US citizen and part of an Anaheim, California al-Qaeda cell. He will be arrested in Pakistan and deported to Jordan, but strangely he will released without going to trial.
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. He will later be a notorious figure in the Iraq war starting in 2003. [Washington Post, 10/3/2004]
Luai Sakra. The Washington Post will later say he “played a role” in the plot, though he is never charged for it. Sakra apparently is a CIA informant before 9/11, perhaps starting in 2000 (see 2000). [Washington Post, 2/20/2006]
The Jordanian government will also later claim that the Al Taqwa Bank in Switzerland helped finance the network of operatives who planned the attack. The bank will be shut down shortly after 9/11 (see November 7, 2001). [Newsweek, 4/12/2004]
Entity Tags: Raed Hijazi, Abu Zubaida, Al-Qaeda, Al Taqwa Bank, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Khalil Deek, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Abu Hoshar, Jordan, Luai Sakra
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
In early 2000, Islamist militant leader Musab Abu al-Zarqawi starts a new training camp in Afghanistan, near the town of Herat. Osama bin Laden reportedly does not like him, but al-Zarqawi gets some help from al-Qaeda leader Saif al-Adel, who serves as a liaison between al-Zarqawi and al-Qaeda. His camp starts with only a dozen or so followers, but it rapidly grows and eventually numbers several thousand. His group consists mostly of Jordanians and Syrians, and is helped by links to the Muslim Brotherhood. According to the Atlantic Monthly, bin Laden repeatedly asks al-Zarqawi to come to him and take an oath of allegiance, but each time al-Zarqawi refuses. “Under no circumstances did [al-Zarqawi] want to become involved in the battle between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban. He also did not believe that either bin Laden or the Taliban was serious enough about jihad.” But in October 2001, the US begins bombing Afghanistan, and al-Zarqawi’s camp is targeted. He is reportedly wounded in the chest when a ceiling falls on him. But in December 2001, he manages to escape to Iran with about 300 followers and is based there for several months while regrouping. [Atlantic Monthly, 6/8/2006]
The initial trial of militants accused of being involved in the 1999 Millennium Plot (see November 30, 1999) ends with convictions for most of the defendants, as 22 of the 28 accused are found guilty, with six acquittals and six death sentences. [New York Times, 1/15/2001; Associated Press, 12/16/2002] At the start of the trial, only 15 of the accused are present, the rest being tried in absentia. One is Algerian and another is Iraqi, although most are Jordanians of Palestinian origin. [Independent, 4/21/2000] The defendants include:
Abu Qatada, a senior militant cleric based in London, is sentenced in absentia to 15 years in prison. He has already been convicted in another case in Jordan (see (April 1999)), but years later will not have been extradited from Britain. He is an informer for the British security services (see June 1996-February 1997). [Associated Press, 4/15/2005]
Raed Hijazi, a radical with US connections and an FBI informer (see Early 1997-Late 1998), is one of those sentenced to death. [New York Times, 1/15/2001] However, after a number of appeals, his sentence will be reduced to 20 years in prison in 2004. [Amnesty International, 10/12/2004] In addition to Hijazi and Abu Qatada, the plot involved another two informers, Luai Sakra and Khalil Deek (see November 30, 1999), but these two are not put on trial. The involvement of four known informants could help explain why the plot was broken up.
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is also tried for the plot, although he is not present at the trial (see 2001). [Washington Post, 10/3/2004]
Alleged militants Khader Abu Hoshar and Usama Husni are also tried and initially convicted.
Legal proceedings associated with some of the accused will grind on for years, with the case going back and forth with an appeal court, which twice finds that some of the convictions are covered by an amnesty. [Jordan Times, 2/16/2005]
Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian Muslim militant later alleged by the Bush administration to have ties to Osama bin Laden, is allegedly arrested in Jordan sometime in 2001 for his involvement in a late 1999 plot to blow up the Radisson SAS Hotel in Amman, Jordan (see November 30, 1999). This is according to an unnamed Bush administration official. Supposedly, some time after his arrest, he is released. [Guardian, 10/9/2002; Washington Post, 2/7/2003 Sources: Unnamed Bush administration official] However, there are no contemporary press accounts of this arrest and release, and no signs of a trial. According to other accounts, at some point he is convicted for his role in the plot and sentenced to death by a Jordanian court in absentia. [Independent, 2/6/2003]
Amer el-Azizi, a senior al-Qaeda operative whose arrest was frustrated by Spanish intelligence (see Shortly After November 21, 2001), is said to meet Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who leads a group of foreign fighters in the Iraq war. One meeting may take place after 9/11 in 2001, when el-Azizi reportedly travels to Iran, intending to enter eastern Afghanistan. [Wall Street Journal, 3/19/2004] According to communications intercepts, another may take place in Iran in 2003, and some evidence indicates el-Azizi may also go to Iraq around this time. In addition, el-Azizi sponsors two recruits who train at a camp run by al-Zarqawi, according to documents obtained by the Spanish police. [Wall Street Journal, 4/7/2004; Los Angeles Times, 4/14/2004] El-Azizi and al-Zarqawi also have a common acquaintance, Abdulatif Mourafiq, an associate of al-Zarqawi’s in Afghanistan whose contact details were found in el-Azizi’s flat when it was raided in October or November 2001. [Brisard, 2005]
The New York Times will later report that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) hides in Qatar for two weeks with the support of some members of the Qatari royal family. KSM stays there “with the help of prominent patrons” after fleeing from Kuwait. One of the Qatari royals sheltering KSM is possibly Abdul Karim al-Thani, who has repeatedly sheltered Islamist militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and given passports and more than $1 million to al-Qaeda. It is also possible that KSM may have received help from Abdallah bin Khalid al-Thani, who is Qatar’s Interior Minister by this time and who allowed KSM live on his farm for several years until 1996 (see January-May 1996). CIA Director George Tenet is reportedly infuriated, but no action is taken. In fact, the US military will base its headquarters for the Iraq war in Qatar (see March 28, 2003). [New York Times, 2/6/2003]
The militant group Ansar al-Islam is formed in Iraq. It is created from a merger of two Kurdish rebel groups and it is led by Mullah Krekar, who spends most of his time living in exile in Norway. Ansar al-Islam preaches a radical interpretation of Islam. It controls a small area of only about a dozen villages in a mountainous region right next to Iraq’s border with Iran. [BBC, 3/22/2003] The US will later accuse the group of hosting militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and many al-Qaeda operatives.
Jordanian Islamist militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi flees Afghanistan (see Early 2000-December 2001) and heads to Iran where he continues to run his militant group, al-Tawhid. He uses telephones and a network of couriers to maintain contact with operatives in Europe. By April 2002, he still is based in Iran and has little to no ties to Iraq. But some time in mid-2002, he unites with Ansar al-Islam, an Islamist group based in a part of northern Iraq controlled by Kurdish rebels and opposed to Saddam Hussein (see Mid-2002). He reportedly moves his base of operations there and establishes an explosive training center camp there as well. [Independent, 2/6/2003; Newsweek, 6/25/2003] In an effort to justify military action against Iraq, the Bush administration will later claim that Saddam Hussein is aware of al-Zarqawi’s presence in Baghdad and therefore is guilty of knowingly harboring a terrorist (see September 26, 2002). The administration will also allege—falsely—that al-Zarqawi is a senior al-Qaeda agent and that his visit is evidence that Saddam’s regime has ties to Osama bin Laden. [Guardian, 10/9/2002; Independent, 2/6/2003; Newsweek, 6/25/2003 Sources: Shadi Abdallah] But the administration never offers any conclusive evidence to support this allegation. The claim is disputed by intelligence analysts in both Washington and London. [Daily Telegraph, 2/4/2003]
In April 2002, German intelligence compile a report about militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi; it suggests that al-Zarqawi is not a part of al-Qaeda (see March 28, 2002). At the end of March 2002, al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida was captured and interrogated by US forces (see March 28, 2002). While few details of what Zubaida is said to say are known, some details must have been quickly passed to the Germans because this German intelligence report says, “Even in the interrogations of al-Qaeda leaders there are no indications of al-Zarqawi’s membership in al-Qaeda. Thus, Abu Zubaida (an al-Qaeda recruiter), in one of his interrogations, speaks instead about the ‘Group of al-Zarqawi.” [Bergen, 2006, pp. 359, 422] (Note that information gained from such interrogations are of unknown reliability, especially when torture is used. Zubaida appears to be tortured around this time (see Mid-May 2002 and After)).
Shadi Abdellah. [Source: Associated Press]In April 2002, Shadi Abdellah, a militant connected to the al-Tawhid group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, is arrested by German police. Abdellah also briefly worked as one of bin Laden’s bodyguards (see Early 2001). He begins cooperating with German authorities. He reveals that al-Zarqawi is not a part of al-Qaeda but is actually the founder of al-Tawhid, which he says works “in opposition” to al-Qaeda (see 1989-Late 1999). The aim of the group is to kill Jews and install an Islamic regime in Jordan. The group is not really interested in the US, and this is the key ideological difference between it and al-Qaeda. Abdallah recounts one instance where al-Zarqawi vetoed a proposal to share charity funds collected in Germany with al-Qaeda. According to Abdallah, al-Zarqawi’s organization had also “competed” with al-Qaeda for new recruits. He also reveals that al-Zarqawi’s religious mentor is Abu Qatada, an imam openly living in Britain. [Independent, 2/6/2003; Newsweek, 6/25/2003; Bergen, 2006, pp. 356-358] A German intelligence report compiled in April 2002 based on Abdellah’s confessions further states that “Al-Zarqawi mentioned to Abdellah that the possibility of a merger conflicted with the religious orientation of [Mahfouz Walad Al-Walid (a.k.a. Abu Hafs the Mauritanian)] who was responsible within al-Qaeda for religious or Islamic matters, which contradicted the teachings practices by al-Zarqawi.” [Bergen, 2006, pp. 359-422] Newsweek will later report that “several US officials” claim “they were aware all along of the German information about al-Zarqawi.” [Independent, 2/6/2003] Nonetheless, Bush will claim in a televised speech on October 7, 2002 (see October 7, 2002) that a “very senior al-Qaeda leader… received medical treatment in Baghdad this year,” a reference to al-Zarqawi. And Colin Powell will similarly state on February 5, 2003 (see February 5, 2003) that “Iraq is harboring the network of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda lieutenants.” Both statements are made even though “US intelligence already had concluded that al-Zarqawi was not an al-Qaeda member…” [BBC, 2/5/2003; US Department of State, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 6/22/2003 Sources: Unnamed US intelligence sources]
An aerial photo of the Khurmal training camp, actually in the nearby village of Sargat. This image was shown during Colin Powell’s presentation to the UN on February 5, 2003. [Source: Public domain, via National Security Archive]US intelligence determines that Islamist militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has recently moved to a part of northern Iraq controlled by Kurdish rebels, and his militant group has set up a chemical weapons lab there. The lab, located near the town of Khurmal, allegedly produces ricin and cyanide. [MSNBC, 3/2/2004] By early 2002, al-Zarqawi had been identified as a significant terrorist target, based on intelligence that he ran an important training camp in Afghanistan (see Early 2000-December 2001) and had already unsuccessfully attempted plots against Israeli and European targets. CIA intelligence indicates al-Zarqawi is in the camp, along with many al-Qaeda fighters who had recently fled from US air strikes in Afghanistan. Additionally, there are preparations and training in the camp for new attacks on Western interests. [Wall Street Journal, 10/25/2004] The US military draws up plans to attack the site with cruise missiles, and the plans are sent to the White House. However, NBC News will later report that, “according to US government sources, the plan was debated to death in the National Security Council.” [MSNBC, 3/2/2004] Officials involved in the planning expect a swift decision, but are surprised when weeks go by without any response from the White House. Finally, information is somehow leaked to the media in Turkey that the US is considering targeting the camp, and intelligence shows that al-Zarqawi and his group flee the camp soon thereafter. [Wall Street Journal, 10/25/2004]
In May 2002, the CIA began using new torture techniques on captured al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida (see Mid-May 2002 and After), and by June senior CIA officials prepare a preliminary report to determine whether Zubaida’s confessions are accurate or not. According to author Gerald Posner, they “found nothing that could definitively prove Zubaida a liar. And they had uncovered some minor corroborating evidence about the times and places of the meetings he had mentioned, which meant he could be telling the truth.” [Posner, 2003, pp. 192] Vanity Fair will later comment that the “CIA would go on to claim credit for breaking Zubaida, and celebrate [James] Mitchell”—the psychologist who devised the torture techniques used on Zubaida by the CIA (see Late 2001-Mid-March 2002, January 2002 and After, and Mid-April 2002)—“as a psychological wizard who held the key to getting hardened terrorists to talk. Word soon spread that Mitchell and [his business partner Bruce] Jessen had been awarded a medal by the CIA for their advanced interrogation techniques. While the claim is impossible to confirm, what matters is that others believed it. The reputed success of the tactics was ‘absolutely in the ether,’ says one Pentagon civilian who worked on detainee policy.” [Vanity Fair, 7/17/2007]
Much Intelligence Comes from His Possessions and FBI Interrogations - However, the reliability of Zubaida’s confessions remains controversial years later, and several factors complicate accessing their impact. For one, it appears that some of his most important confessions took place a month earlier when the FBI was interrogating him using rapport building instead of torture (see Late March through Early June, 2002). What the New York Times calls his two most notable confessions—that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was the 9/11 mastermind and giving up the name of Jose Padilla, a militant living in the US—appear to come from this earlier period, although some accounts conflict. [New York Times, 6/27/2004; Suskind, 2006, pp. 116-117; New York Times, 9/10/2006; Vanity Fair, 7/17/2007] Furthermore, it is often not clear what was obtained from Zubaida’s confessions and what was obtained from his possessions. Journalist Ron Suskind will later write: “The phone numbers, computers, CDs, and e-mail address seized at Zubaida’s apartment now—a month after his capture—began to show a yield.… These higher-quality inputs were entered into big Cray supercomputers at NSA; many then formed the roots of a surveillance tree—truck to branches to limbs and buds.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 116-117] So while it is said that information from Zubaida helped lead to the capture of al-Qaeda figures such as Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Omar al-Faruq, and Ahmed Muhammad al-Darbi, it is unclear where this information came from exactly. [Washington Post, 6/27/2004] Additionally, it is not even clear if he provided such leads. For instance, it has been reported that the main break that led to bin al-Shibh’s capture had nothing to do with Zubaida (see June 14, 2002 and Shortly After). [Salon, 9/7/2006]
Zubaida Describes Vague and Unverifiable Plots - By most accounts, Zubaida’s confessions under torture around this time are frustratingly vague. He describes many planned attacks, such as al-Qaeda attacks on US shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, water systems, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty, and more. Red alerts are sounded and thousands of law enforcement personnel are activated each time, but the warnings are too vague to lead to any arrests. Suskind will later comment that Zubaida’s information was “maybe nonsense, maybe not. There was almost no way to tell.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 115-116, 121] But Suskind will later say more definitively: “[Zubaida] said, as people will, anything to make the pain stop. And we essentially followed every word and various uniformed public servants of the United States went running all over the country to various places that Zubaydah said were targets, and were not. Ultimately, we tortured an insane man and ran screaming at every word he uttered.” [Salon, 9/7/2006] Posner claims that Zubaida provided “false information intended to misdirect his captors.” For instance, “He caused the New York police to deploy massive manpower to guard the Brooklyn Bridge at the end of May , after he told his interrogators that al-Qaeda had a plan to destroy ‘the bridge in the Godzilla movie.’” [Posner, 2003, pp. 191]
Link between Iraq, al-Qaeda - Perhaps the most important claims Zubaida makes, at least from the viewpoint of Bush administration officials, are his allegations of an operational relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Some of Zubaida’s claims will later be leaked by administration officials, particularly his assertion that Osama bin Laden’s ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was working directly with Saddam Hussein to destabilize the autonomous Kurdish regime in northern Iraq (see December 2001-Mid-2002, October 2, 2002, and January 28, 2003). A former Pentagon analyst will later say: “I first saw the reports soon after Abu Zubaida’s capture. There was a lot of stuff about the nuts and bolts of al-Qaeda’s supposed relationship with the Iraqi Intelligence Service. The intelligence community was lapping this up, and so was the administration, obviously. Abu Zubaida was saying Iraq and al-Qaeda had an operational relationship. It was everything the administration hoped it would be.” Another Pentagon analyst will recall: “As soon as I learned that the reports had come from torture, once my anger had subsided I understood the damage it had done. I was so angry, knowing that the higher-ups in the administration knew he was tortured, and that the information he was giving up was tainted by the torture, and that it became one reason to attack Iraq.” [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008]
Zubaida Appears to Be Feeding Interrogators' Expectations - Dan Coleman, the FBI’s top al-Qaeda expert at the time who was able to analyze all the evidence from Zubaida, will later claim that the CIA “got nothing useful from the guy.” [Congressional Quarterly, 12/14/2007] Coleman will say: “The CIA wants everything in five minutes. It’s not possible, and it’s not productive. What you get in that circumstance are captives and captors playing to each other’s expectations, playing roles, essentially, that gives you a lot of garbage information and nothing you can use.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 114] Given his low position in the jihadist hierachy, Coleman will add, Zubaida “would not have known that if it was true. But you can lead people down a course and make them say anything.” [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008] Counterterrorism “tsar” General Wayne Downing is apparently intimately involved in Zubaida’s interrogation and will later recall: “[Zubaida] and some of the others are very clever guys. At times I felt we were in a classic counter-interrogation class: They were telling us what they think we already knew. Then, what they thought we wanted to know. As they did that, they fabricated and weaved in threads that went nowhere. But, even with these ploys, we still get valuable information and they are off the street, unable to plot and coordinate future attacks.” [Washington Post, 12/26/2002] In legal papers to prepare for a military tribunal hearing in 2007, Zubaida himself will assert that he told his interrogators whatever they wanted to hear to make the torture stop. [Washington Post, 12/18/2007]
Entity Tags: Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Central Intelligence Agency, Abu Zubaida, Bruce Jessen, Ahmed Muhammad al-Darbi, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Dan Coleman, Jose Padilla, Wayne Downing, Omar al-Faruq, James Elmer Mitchell, Ramzi bin al-Shibh
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline
The area controlled by Ansar al-Islam in 2002 is marked in orange. Two of the group’s camps, Sargat and Biyara, are both near the town of Khurmal. [Source: Adam Weiskind / Christian Science Monitor (slightly modified)]Beginning in early 2002, some Islamist militants fleeing from the defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan settle in parts of Iraq controlled by Kurdish rebels. According to an informant, around the middle of 2002, militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi holds a meeting somewhere in Iraq with Mullah Krekar, head of the Ansar al-Islam militant group. This group controls a very small region of Kurdish Iraq near the Iranian border. Krekar and al-Zarqawi agree to work closely together, and they plan to equip some militants to carry out attacks against US targets in Jordan and in Iraq once the US invades Iraq. [Bergen, 2006, pp. 362] Al-Zarqawi moves to the area controlled by Ansar al-Islam a short time later (see December 2001-Mid-2002).
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, citing various “intelligence reports,” claims that the Iraqi government is “hosting, supporting or sponsoring” an al-Qaeda presence in Iraq. This is a likely reference to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his followers, whom the US alleges is an al-Qaeda operative with links to the Iraqi government. When asked if he has evidence to support this claim Rumsfeld responds: “There are al-Qaeda in a number of locations in Iraq…. The suggestion that… [Iraqi government officials] who are so attentive in denying human rights to their population aren’t aware of where these folks [al-Qaeda] are or what they’re doing is ludicrous in a vicious, repressive dictatorship.” He also says, “It’s very hard to imagine that the government is not aware of what’s taking place in the country.” [US Department of Defense, 8/20/2002; New York Times, 8/20/2002] Shortly after the defense secretary’s allegations, an unnamed intelligence official tells the Guardian, “They are not the official guests of the government,” adding that any al-Qaeda in the region are still “on the run.” A month later, Knight Ridder reports that according to an anonymous US official, Rumsfeld’s charge is based on information from Kurdish opposition groups which are feeding information to the Pentagon. [Guardian, 8/22/2002; Knight Ridder, 9/25/2002 Sources: Unnamed US intelligence official, Unnamed US official]
A wanted poster for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi posted by the US military in Iraq. [Source: US Department of Defense]Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld claims the US government has “bulletproof” confirmation of ties between the Iraqi government and al-Qaeda members, including “solid evidence” that al-Qaeda maintains a presence in Iraq. The allegation refers to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born Palestinian who is the founder of al-Tawhid, an organization whose aim is to kill Jews and install an Islamic regime in Jordan (see December 2001-Mid-2002). Rumsfeld’s statement is based on intercepted telephone calls in which al-Zarqawi was overheard calling friends or relatives. But Knight Ridder Newspapers reports that, according to US intelligence officials, “The intercepts provide no evidence that the suspected terrorist was working with the Iraqi regime or that he was working on a terrorist operation while he was in Iraq.” [Knight Ridder, 10/7/2002] Two years later, Rumsfeld will back away from his allegation after it is disproven (see October 4, 2004).
The Associated Press reports that Islamist militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi “was in Baghdad about two months ago, and US officials suspect his presence was known to the government of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, a defense official said…” This anonymous US official also calls al-Zarqawi among al-Qaeda’s top two dozen leaders. The article notes that “some US officials… contend the United States has no solid evidence of Iraq and al-Qaeda working together to conduct terrorist operations.” [Associated Press, 10/2/2002] But despite this caveat, just five days later, in a public speech President Bush mentions “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” (see October 7, 2002). This is a reference to al-Zarqawi, and is said to be based on communications intercepts. But the same day as the speech, Knight Ridder Newspapers reports that according to US intelligence officials, “The intercepts provide no evidence that [al-Zarqawi] was working with the Iraqi regime or that he was working on a terrorist operation while he was in Iraq.” [Knight Ridder, 10/7/2002; US President, 10/14/2002] After the US invades Iraq in March 2003, evidence of this Baghdad connection will start to be questioned. Reports that al-Zarqawi was there to have a leg amputated will later be debunked (see January 26, 2003). In June 2003, Newsweek will report, “Bush Administration officials also have acknowledged that their information about al-Zarqawi’s stay in Baghdad is sketchy at best.” [Newsweek, 6/25/2003] Whether al-Zarqawi stayed in Baghdad and if the Hussein government was aware of his movements remains unclear.
Fallujah II chemical plant. [Source: CIA]In a televised speech, President Bush presents the administration’s case that Saddam Hussein’s regime is a threat to the security of the nation and insists that regime change would improve lifes for Iraqis. “Some worry that a change of leadership in Iraq could create instability and make the situation worse. The situation could hardly get worse, for world security and for the people of Iraq. The lives of Iraqi citizens would improve dramatically if Saddam Hussein were no longer in power, just as the lives of Afghanistan’s citizens improved after the Taliban.” The speech is widely criticized for including false and exaggerated statements.
Iraq has attempted to purchase equipment used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons - Bush claims that a shipment of 3,000 aluminum tubes to Iraq, which were intercepted in Jordan by US authorities in July of 2001 (see July 2001), had been destined for use in a uranium enrichment program. But by this time numerous experts and government scientists have already warned the administration against making this allegation. [US President, 10/14/2002] Three weeks before Bush’s speech, The Washington Post ran a story on the aluminum tubes. The article summarized a study by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), disputing the administration’s claim that the tubes were to be used for gas centrifuges. The report was authored by the institute’s president and founder, David Albright, a respected nuclear physicist, who had investigated Iraq’s nuclear weapons program after the First Gulf War as a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s inspection team and who has spoken before Congress on numerous occasions. In his study, he concluded that Iraq’s attempts to import the tubes “are not evidence that Iraq is in possession of, or close to possessing, nuclear weapons” and “do not provide evidence that Iraq has an operating centrifuge plant or when such a plant could be operational.” [Washington Post, 9/19/2002; Guardian, 10/9/2002; San Francisco Chronicle, 10/12/2002; Albright, 10/9/2003] Soon after the speech, Albright tells The Guardian newspaper that there is still no evidence to substantiate that interpretation. As one unnamed specialist at the US Department of Energy explains to the newspaper, “I would just say there is not much support for that [nuclear] theory around here.” [Guardian, 10/9/2002] The Washington Post article also reported that government experts on nuclear technology who disagreed with the White House view had told Albright that the administration expected them to remain silent. [Washington Post, 9/19/2002; Independent, 9/22/2002] Houston G. Wood III, a retired Oak Ridge physicist considered to be “among the most eminent living experts” on gas centrifuges reviewed the tube question in August 2001 (see 1950s) and concluded at that time that it was very unlikely that the tubes had been imported to be used for centrifuges in a uranium enrichment program. He later tells The Washington Post in mid-2003 that “it would have been extremely difficult to make these tubes into centrifuges,” adding that it stretched “the imagination to come up with a way.” He also says that other centrifuge experts whom he knew shared his assessment of the tubes. [Washington Post, 8/10/2003] In addition to the several outside experts who criticized the tubes allegation, analysts within the US intelligence community also doubted the claim. Less than a week before Bush’s speech, the Energy Department and the State Department’s intelligence branch, the INR, had appended a statement to a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq disputing the theory (see October 1, 2002). [Central Intelligence Agency, 10/1/2002 Sources: David Albright]
Saddam Hussein ordered his nuclear program to continue in 1998 - Bush says that US intelligence has information that Saddam Hussein ordered his nuclear program to continue after inspectors left in 1998. “Before being barred from Iraq in 1998, the International Atomic Energy Agency dismantled extensive nuclear weapons-related facilities, including three uranium enrichment sites,” Bush charges. “That same year, information from a high-ranking Iraqi nuclear engineer who had defected revealed that despite his public promises, Saddam Hussein had ordered his nuclear program to continue.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/12/2002; US President, 10/14/2002] But Bush’s “high-ranking” source turns out to be Khidir Hamza, who is considered by many to be an unreliable source. Albright, who was president of the Institute for Science and International Security where Hamza worked as an analyst from 1997 to 1999, says that after Hamza defected, “he went off the edge [and] started saying irresponsible things.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/12/2002] And General Hussein Kamel, Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law who was in charge of the dictator’s former weapons program but who defected in 1995, told UNSCOM and IAEA inspectors, as well as US and British intelligence, that Khidir Hamza was “a professional liar.” Kamel explained, “He worked with us, but he was useless and always looking for promotions. He consulted with me but could not deliver anything…. He was even interrogated by a team before he left and was allowed to go.” [United Nations Special Commission, 4/16/1998; New Yorker, 5/12/2003]
Iraq is developing drones that could deploy chemical and biological weapons - The President claims that Iraq is developing drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which “could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas.” He goes so far as to say, “We’re concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using these UAVs for missions targeting the United States.” [Guardian, 10/9/2002; US President, 10/14/2002] But this claim comes shortly after US intelligence agencies completed a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, in which Air Force intelligence had disputed the drone allegation (see October 1, 2002). Bush’s drone allegation is quickly derided by experts and other sources. The Guardian of London reports two days later that according to US military experts, “Iraq had been converting eastern European trainer jets, known as L-29s, into drones, but… that with a maximum range of a few hundred miles they were no threat to targets in the US.” [Guardian, 10/9/2002] And the San Francisco Chronicle will cite experts who say that “slow-moving unmanned aerial vehicles would likely be shot down as soon as they crossed Iraq’s borders” because “Iraqi airspace is closely monitored by US and British planes and radar systems.” The report will also note, “It’s also unclear how the vehicles would reach the US mainland—the nearest point is Maine, almost 5, 500 miles away—without being intercepted.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/12/2002] Anthony Cordesman, a security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, will say he believes the drone allegation is unrealistic. In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, he says, “As a guesstimate, Iraq’s present holdings of delivery systems and chemical and biological weapons seem most likely to be so limited in technology and operational lethality that they do not constrain US freedom of action or do much to intimidate Iraq’s neighbors.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/12/2002] These criticisms of Bush’s claim are validated after the US invasion of Iraq. Two US government scientists involved in the post-invasion hunt for weapons of mass destruction will tell the Associated Press in August 2003 that they inspected the drones and concluded that they were never a threat to the US. “We just looked at the UAVs and said, ‘There’s nothing here. There’s no room to put anything in here,’” one of the scientists will say. “The US scientists, weapons experts who spoke on condition of anonymity, reached their conclusions after studying the small aircraft and interviewing Iraqi missile experts, system designers and Gen. Ibrahim Hussein Ismail, the Iraqi head of the military facility where the UAVs were designed,” the Associated Press will explain in its report. [Associated Press, 8/24/2003]
Saddam Hussein could give terrorists weapons of mass destruction - Bush asserts, “Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists.” [US President, 10/14/2002] But not only have numerous experts and inside sources disputed this theory (see July 2002-March 19, 2003), US intelligence’s National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq—completed just one week before—concluded that this is an unlikely scenario (see October 1, 2002). “Baghdad, for now, appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or CBW against the United States,” the document clearly stated. “Should Saddam conclude that a US-led attack could no longer be deterred he probably would become much less constrained in adopting terrorist actions.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/12/2002]
Iraq rebuilding facilities associated with production of biological and chemical weapons - Bush claims that surveillance photos indicate that Iraq “is rebuilding facilities that it had used to produce chemical and biological weapons.” [US President, 10/14/2002] On the following day, photos are published on the White House website showing that Iraq had repaired three sites damaged by US bombs—the Al Furat Manufacturing Facility, the Nassr Engineering Establishment Manufacturing Facility, and Fallujah II. [US President, 10/14/2002] But no evidence is provided by the White House demonstrating that these sites have resumed activities related to the production of weapons of mass destruction. Iraqi authorities will give reporters a tour of the facilities on October 10 (see October 10, 2002).
Iraq has trained al-Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases - Bush alleges that Iraq has trained al-Qaeda operatives “in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases.” [US President, 10/14/2002] The claim is based on a September 2002 CIA document which had warned that its sources were of “varying reliability” and that the claim had not yet been substantiated (see September 2002). The report’s main source, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an al-Qaeda operative who offered the information to CIA interrogators while in custody, later recants the claim (see February 14, 2004). A Defense Intelligence Agency report in February 2002 (see February 2002) had also expressed doubt in the claim, going so far as to suggest that al-Libi was “intentionally misleading [his] debriefers.” [CNN, 9/26/2002; New York Times, 7/31/2004; Newsweek, 7/5/2005; New York Times, 11/6/2005] And earlier in the month, US intelligence services had concluded in their National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq that this allegation could not be confirmed. [CNN, 9/26/2002; Newsday, 10/10/2002; San Francisco Chronicle, 10/12/2002; Washington Post, 6/22/2003]
A very senior al-Qaeda leader received medical treatment in Baghdad - Bush claims: “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 allegation refers to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born Palestinian who is the founder of al-Tawhid, an organization whose aim is to kill Jews and install an Islamic regime in Jordan. It was first leaked to the press by an anonymous US official several days before Bush’s speech (see October 2, 2002). The allegation is partly based on intercepted telephone calls in which al-Zarqawi was overheard calling friends or relatives (see December 2001-Mid-2002). But on the same day as Bush’s speech, Knight Ridder Newspapers reports that according to US intelligence officials, “The intercepts provide no evidence that the suspected terrorist was working with the Iraqi regime or that he was working on a terrorist operation while he was in Iraq.” [Knight Ridder, 10/7/2002; US President, 10/14/2002] Al-Zarqawi will link with al-Qaeda, but only in 2004, after the start of the war in Iraq (see October 17, 2004).
Entity Tags: Al-Tawhid, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Anthony Cordesman, David Albright, Institute for Science and International Security, Heritage Foundation and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, George W. Bush, Hussein Kamel, Houston G. Wood III, Al-Qaeda, Saddam Hussein, International Atomic Energy Agency, US Department of State, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, US Department of Energy, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, Taliban, Ibrahim Hussein Ismail, Khidir Hamza
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
Laurence Foley. [Source: Public domain]US diplomat Laurence Foley, a senior administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), is shot and killed in front of his house in Amman, Jordan. It will later be claimed that his two killers were working for Islamist militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. According to Jordanian court documents, in the summer of 2002 al-Zarqawi began training a small group of fighters in Syria to attack Western and Jewish targets in Jordan. Foley was their first target. The two killers met with al-Zarqawi in Syria and got money for the operation. [Washington Post, 6/8/2006] Al-Zarqawi’s alleged role in this murder will be widely reported in December 2002 and used as further justification for a US invasion of Iraq, since US officials are (incorrectly) arguing at the time that al-Zarqawi is linked to both al-Qaeda and the Iraqi government. For instance, one CNN story about the arrest of Foley’s two killers is titled, “Arrests May Link Al-Qaeda, Iraq.” [CNN, 12/14/2002; CNN, 12/14/2002]
US intelligence concludes that Islamist militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is planning to use ricin in attacks on civilians in Europe. Several months earlier, the US had determined the location of his main training camp and chemical weapons lab, located in a part of northern Iraq controlled by Kurdish rebels, and decided against attacking it with cruise missiles (see June 2002). [MSNBC, 3/2/2004] By this time, al-Zarqawi is known to have masterminded the assassination of a senior American diplomat in Jordan the month before. Al-Zarqawi had his group had fled the camp several months before, but new intelligence indicates that he has reoccupied it. At the time, he is using a satellite telephone, and intercepts of his communications show that he is frequently calling from within the camp. [Wall Street Journal, 10/25/2004] In light of the new intelligence, the US military draws up a second attack plan on the camp, but the White House again decides against it. Former National Security Council member Roger Cressey will later claim, “People were more obsessed with developing the coalition to overthrow Saddam than to execute the president’s policy of preemption against terrorists.” [MSNBC, 3/2/2004]
British police discover a ricin lab allegedly connected to a militant training camp in northern Iraq controlled by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Six suspects are arrested in London. The US has known about the camp and its ties to chemical weapons production for months, and twice the US military has drawn up plans for a strike upon it, and twice the White House has decided against taking action (see June 2002 and November 2002). Based on these new developments in London, the US military draws up a third attack plan against the camp, but again the White House rejects taking action. [MSNBC, 3/2/2004] Communications intercepts indicate that al-Zarqawi is still making calls on his satellite phone from within the camp. [Wall Street Journal, 10/25/2004] Lt. Gen. Michael DeLong, deputy commander to Gen. Tommy Franks at Central Command at the time, will later say that the training camp “was so troubling to us. We almost took them out three months before the Iraq war started. We almost took that thing, but we were so concerned that the chemical cloud from there could devastate the region that we chose to take them by land rather than by smart weapons.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006] However, in March 2003 shortly after the Iraq war begins, the camp will actually be hit by air strikes and not the land attack indicated by DeLong (see March 20, 2003). NBC News will later comment, “Military officials insist their case for attacking al-Zarqawi’s operation was airtight, but the [Bush] administration feared destroying the terrorist camp in Iraq could undercut its case for war against Saddam [Hussein].” [MSNBC, 3/2/2004] President Bush will secretly decide around early March 2003 not to attack the camp until the US invasion of Iraq is underway later that month (see Early March 2003).
Al-Zarqawi’s injury report after his death in 2006. He has both legs but there is a recent fracture in one leg. [Source: Ali Haider / EPA / Corbis]On January 26, 2003, Newsweek reports that in 2002, Islamist militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi “supposedly went to Baghdad, where doctors amputated his leg (injured in Afghan fighting) and replaced it with a prosthesis.” Newsweek also claims that al-Zarqawi “is supposed to be one of al-Qaeda’s top experts on chemical and biological weapons” and that he also met with “Hezbollah militants” and “Iranian secret agents.” This new account builds on previous reports claiming that al-Zarqawi was in Baghdad for some unspecified medical treatment (see October 2, 2002). The article does note, “Not surprisingly, reports putting al-Zarqawi in Iraq piqued the interest of Pentagon hard-liners eager to find evidence to support their suspicion that Saddam [Hussein] and bin Laden are allied and may have plotted 9/11 together. But neither the CIA nor Britain’s legendary MI6 put much stock in al-Zarqawi’s alleged Iraqi visits, stressing such reports are ‘unconfirmed.’” [Newsweek, 1/26/2003] Despite these caveats, it soon will be widely reported that al-Zarqawi had a leg amputated in Baghdad, with at least the tacit knowledge of the Iraqi government. For instance, several days later, USA Today reports, “To those who operate with and against the shadowy al-Zarqawi, including the Kurds of northern Iraq, he is called ‘the man with the limp.’ That is a reference to a poorly fitting artificial limb that replaced a leg amputated in Baghdad last August.” [USA Today, 2/5/2003] And Secretary of State Colin Powell will claim in his February 5, 2003 presentation to the United Nations that al-Zarqawi went to Baghdad in May 2002 for medical treatment and stayed two months (see February 5, 2003). But in October 2004, Knight Ridder will report, based on a new CIA report (see October 4, 2004), “Al-Zarqawi originally was reported to have had a leg amputated, a claim that officials now acknowledge was incorrect.” [Knight Ridder, 10/4/2004] In early 2006, al-Zarqawi will be seen walking in a videotape, clearly in possession of both his legs. And when he is killed later that year, x-rays of his dead body will show a fracture of his right lower leg, but apparently that was caused by the blast that killed him. [Atlantic Monthly, 6/8/2006; Associated Press, 6/13/2006]
A secret CIA report on possible links between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi government is finished and sent to top US officials. The report, entitled “Iraqi Support of Terrorism,” was substantially finished by December 2002, but was delayed while other US officials put pressure on the CIA to withdraw or revise the report, because it did not find as much evidence of a Hussein-al-Qaeda link as they would have liked. In a 2007 book, former CIA Director George Tenet will describe in detail what was in the report. “Our analysts believed that there was a solid basis for identifying three areas of concern with regard to Iraq and al-Qaeda: safe haven, contacts, and training. But they could not translate this data into a relationship where these two entities had ever moved beyond seeking ways to take advantage of each other.… Ansar al-Islam, a radical Kurdish Islamic group [based in northern Iraq areas out of Iraqi government control], was closely allied to al-Qaeda.… We believed that up to two hundred al-Qaeda fighters began to relocate [to Ansar al-Islam] camps after the Afghan campaign began in the fall of 2001.” He says that one of their camps near the town of Khurmal linked to militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi “engaged in production and training in the use of low-level poisons such as cyanide.” He says that nearly 100 operatives in Western Europe connected to this camp were arrested, but, “What was even more worrisome was that by the spring and summer of 2002, more than a dozen al-Qaeda-affiliated extremists converged on Baghdad, with apparently no harassment on the part of the Iraqi government. They had found a comfortable and secure environment in which they moved people and supplies to support al-Zarqawi’s operations in northeastern Iraq.” He mentions Thirwat Salah Shehata and Yussef Dardiri, considered to be among Islamic Jihad’s best operational planners, as those in Baghdad at the time, and that “Credible information told us that Shehata was willing to strike US, Israeli, and Egyptian targets sometime in the future.” He concludes, “Do we know just how aware Iraqi authorities were of these terrorists’ presence either in Baghdad or northeastern Iraq? No, but from an intelligence point of view it would have been difficult to conclude that the Iraqi intelligence service was not aware of their activities. Certainly, we believe that at least one senior [Ansar al-Islam] operative maintained some sort of liaison relationship with the Iraqis. But operational direction and control? No.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 349-351] It is not clear from Tenet’s book just how much of the above description is of what the CIA believed at the time and how much is what Tenet still believed to be true in 2007. Some of Tenet’s claims from his book appear overblown, such as the danger of poison production in the Khurmal camp (see March 31, 2003).
A new CIA report in 2005 (ignored in Tenet’s book) will conclude that Hussein’s government “did not have a relationship, harbor, or even turn a blind eye toward al-Zarqawi and his associates” (see October 2005). [New York Times, 9/8/2006] In 2006, a bipartisan US Senate report on “Pre-war Intelligence on Iraq” will note that “detainees that originally reported on [links between Ansar al-Islam and Iraqi intelligence] have recanted, and another detainee, in September 2003, was deemed to have insufficient access and level of detail to substantiate his claims.” The report will conclude, “Postwar information reveals that Baghdad viewed Ansar al-Islam as a threat to the regime and that [Iraqi intelligence] attempted to collect intelligence on the group.” [US Senate and Intelligence Committee, 9/8/2006 ]
The Independent reports on February 3 that according to security sources in London, Colin Powell will attempt to link Iraq to al-Qaeda in his February 5 presentation to the UN. But the sources say that intelligence analysts in both Washington and London do not believe such links exist. [Independent, 2/3/2003 Sources: Unnamed British intelligence sources] This is followed by a report the next day in the London Telegraph, reporting that the Bush administration’s insistence of a link between al-Zarqawi, Ansar al-Islam, and Saddam Hussein “has infuriated many within the United States intelligence community.” The report cites one unnamed US intelligence source who says, “The intelligence is practically non-existent,” and explains that the claim is largely based on information provided by Kurdish groups, which are enemies of Ansar al-Islam. “It is impossible to support the bald conclusions being made by the White House and the Pentagon given the poor quantity and quality of the intelligence available. There is uproar within the intelligence community on all of these points, but the Bush White House has quashed dissent.” [Daily Telegraph, 2/4/2003 Sources: Unnamed US and British intelligence sources] The Telegraph predicts that “if Mr. Powell tries to prove the link between Iraq and al-Qaeda, the whole thing could fall apart,” explaining that the veto-wielding Security Council members, “France, Russia, and China… all have powerful intelligence services and their own material on al-Qaeda and they will know better than to accept the flimsy evidence of a spurious link with Baghdad.” [Daily Telegraph, 2/4/2003]
When asked on CNN if there is a clear connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, National Security Adviser Rice replies: “There is no question in my mind about the al-Qaeda connection. It is a connection that has unfolded, that we’re learning more about as we are able to take the testimony of detainees, people who were high up in the al-Qaeda organization. And what emerges is a picture of a Saddam Hussein who became impressed with what al-Qaeda did after it bombed our embassies in 1998 in Kenya and Tanzania, began to give them assistance in chemical and biological weapons, something that they were having trouble achieving on their own, that harbored a terrorist network under this man [Abu Musab] al-Zarqawi, despite the fact that Saddam Hussein was told that al-Zarqawi was there.” [CNN, 2/5/2003; US House Committee on Government Reform, 3/16/2004]
Colin Powell and George Tenet, at the UN presentation. [Source: CBS News]US Secretary of State Colin Powell presents the Bush administration’s case against Saddam to the UN Security Council, in advance of an expected vote on a second resolution that the US and Britain hope will provide the justification to use military force against Iraq. [US Department of State, 2/5/2003] At the insistence of Powell, CIA Director George Tenet is seated directly behind him to the right. “It was theater, a device to signal to the world that Powell was relying on the CIA to make his case that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction,” Vanity Fair magazine will later explain. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 371-2; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 232] In his speech before the Council, Powell makes the case that Iraq is in further material breach of past UN resolutions, specifically the most recent one, UN Resolution 1441 (see November 8, 2002). Sources cited in Powell’s presentation include defectors, informants, communication intercepts, procurement records, photographs, and detainees. [US Department of State, 2/5/2003] Most of the allegations made by Powell are later demonstrated to be false. “The defectors and other sources went unidentified,” the Associated Press will later report. “The audiotapes were uncorroborated, as were the photo interpretations. No other supporting documents were presented. Little was independently verifiable.” [Associated Press, 8/9/2003]
Iraq's December 7 Declaration Was Inaccurate - Powell contends that Iraq’s December 7 declaration was not complete. According to UN Resolution 1441 the document was supposed to be a “currently accurate, full and complete declaration of all aspects” of its programs to develop weapons of mass destruction. But Saddam has not done this, says Powell, who explains that Iraq has yet to provide sufficient evidence that it destroyed its previously declared stock of 8,500 liters of anthrax, as it claimed in the declaration. Furthermore, notes the secretary of state, UNSCOM inspectors had previously estimated that Iraq possessed the raw materials to produce as much as 25,000 liters of the virus. [New York Times, 2/5/2003; US Department of State, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 2/6/2003]
Iraq Has Ties to Al-Qaeda - Powell repeats earlier claims that Saddam Hussein’s government has ties to al-Qaeda. Powell focuses on the cases of the militant Islamic group Ansar-al-Islam and Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born Palestinian, who had received medical treatment in Baghdad during the summer of 2002 (see December 2001-Mid-2002). [US Department of State, 2/5/2003] However, just days before Powell’s speech, US and British intelligence officials—speaking on condition of anonymity—told the press that the administration’s allegations of Iraqi-al-Qaeda ties were based on information provided by Kurdish groups, who, as enemies of Ansar-al-Islam, should not be considered reliable. Furthermore, these sources unequivocally stated that intelligence analysts on both sides of the Atlantic remained unconvinced of the purported links between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see February 3-4, 2003). [Independent, 2/3/2003; Daily Telegraph, 2/4/2003] Powell also claims that Iraq provided “chemical or biological weapons training for two al-Qaeda associates beginning in December 2000.” The claim is based on a September 2002 CIA document which had warned that its sources were of “varying reliability” and that the claim was not substantiated (see September 2002). The report’s main source, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an al-Qaeda operative who offered the information to CIA interrogators while in custody, later recounts the claim (see February 14, 2004). [CNN, 9/26/2002; New York Times, 7/31/2004; Newsweek, 7/5/2005] Larry Wilkerson, Powell’s chief of staff, will later say that neither he nor Powell ever received “any dissent with respect to those lines… indeed the entire section that now we know came from [al-Libi].” [Newsweek, 11/10/2005] Senior US officials will admit to the New York Times and Washington Post after the presentation that the administration was not claiming that Saddam Hussein is “exercising operational control” of al-Qaeda. [New York Times, 2/6/2003; Washington Post, 2/7/2003]
Iraq Has Missiles Capable of Flying Up to 1,200 Kilometers - Describing a photo of the al-Rafah weapons site, Powell says: “As part of this effort, another little piece of evidence, Iraq has built an engine test stand that is larger than anything it has ever had. Notice the dramatic difference in size between the test stand on the left, the old one, and the new one on the right. Note the large exhaust vent. This is where the flame from the engine comes out. The exhaust vent on the right test stand is five times longer than the one on the left. The one of the left is used for short-range missiles. The one on the right is clearly intended for long-range missiles that can fly 1,200 kilometers. This photograph was taken in April of 2002. Since then, the test stand has been finished and a roof has been put over it so it will be harder for satellites to see what’s going on underneath the test stand.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; New York Times, 2/5/2003] But according to the Associated Press, “… UN missile experts have reported inspecting al-Rafah at least five times since inspections resumed Nov. 27, have studied the specifications of the new test stand, regularly monitor tests at the installation, and thus far have reported no concerns.” [Associated Press, 2/7/2003] Similarly, Reuters quotes Ali Jassem, an Iraqi official, who explains that the large stand referred to in Powell’s speech is not yet in operation and that its larger size is due to the fact that it will be testing engines horizontally. [Reuters, 2/7/2003; Guardian, 2/15/2003] Several days later, Blix will report to the UN that “so far, the test stand has not been associated with a proscribed activity.” [Guardian, 2/15/2003]
Iraqis Attempted to Hide Evidence from Inspectors - Powell shows the UN Security Council satellite shots depicting what he claims are chemical weapons bunkers and convoys of Iraqi cargo trucks preparing to transport ballistic missile components from a weapons site just two days before the arrival of inspectors. “We saw this kind of housecleaning at close to 30 sites,” Powell explains. “We must ask ourselves: Why would Iraq suddenly move equipment of this nature before inspections if they were anxious to demonstrate what they had or did not have?” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003] But the photos are interpreted differently by others. An unnamed UN official and German UN Inspector Peter Franck both say the trucks in the photos are actually fire engines. [Mercury News (San Jose), 3/18/2003; Agence France-Presse, 6/6/2003]
'Literally Removed the Crust of the Earth' - Another series of photos—taken during the spring and summer of 2002—show that Iraqis have removed a layer of topsoil from the al-Musayyib chemical complex. This piece of evidence, combined with information provided by an unnamed source, leads Powell to draw the following conclusion: “The Iraqis literally removed the crust of the earth from large portions of this site in order to conceal chemical weapons evidence that would be there from years of chemical weapons activity.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 2/6/2003] Showing another series of pictures—one taken on November 10 (before inspections) and one taken on December 22—Powell says that a guard station and decontamination truck were removed prior to the arrival of inspectors. Powell does not explain how he knows that the truck in the photograph was a decontamination truck. [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 2/6/2003; Washington Post, 2/6/2003] AP reporter Charles Hanley says that some of Powell’s claims that Iraq is hiding evidence are “ridiculous.” Powell says of a missile site, “This photograph was taken in April of 2002. Since then, the test stand has been finished and a roof has been put over it so it will be harder for satellites to see what’s going on underneath the test stand.” Hanley later says, “What he neglected to mention was that the inspectors were underneath, watching what was going on.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
Communication Intercepts Demonstrate Iraqi Attempts to Conceal Information from Inspectors - Powell plays recordings of three conversations intercepted by US intelligence—one on November 26, another on January 30, and a third, a “few weeks” before. The conversations suggest that the Iraqis were attempting to hide evidence from inspectors. [New York Times, 2/5/2003; US Department of State, 2/5/2003; London Times, 2/6/2003; Sydney Morning Herald, 2/7/2003] Senior administration officials concede to the Washington Post that it was not known “what military items were discussed in the intercepts.” [Washington Post, 2/13/2003] Some critics argue that the intercepts were presented out of context and open to interpretation. [Sydney Morning Herald, 2/7/2003; Sydney Morning Herald, 2/9/2003] Others note that the conversations were translated from Arabic by US translators and were not analyzed or verified by an independent specialist. [Newsday, 2/6/2003]
Biological Weapons Factories - Colin Powell says that US intelligence has “firsthand descriptions” that Iraq has 18 mobile biological weapons factories mounted on trucks and railroad cars. Information about the mobile weapons labs are based on the testimonies of four sources—a defected Iraqi chemical engineer who claims to have supervised one of these facilities, an Iraqi civil engineer (see December 20, 2001), a source in “a position to know,” and a defected Iraqi major (see February 11, 2002). Powell says that the mobile units are capable of producing enough dry biological agent in a single month to kill several thousand people. He shows computer-generated diagrams and pictures based on the sources’ descriptions of the facilities. Powell says that according to the chemical engineer, during the late 1990s, Iraq’s biological weapons scientists would often begin the production of pathogens on Thursday nights and complete the process on Fridays in order to evade UNSCOM inspectors whom Iraq believed would not conduct inspections on the Muslim holy day. [New York Times, 2/5/2003; US Department of State, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 2/6/2003; Reuters, 2/11/2003] Powell tells the delegates, “The source was an eyewitness, an Iraqi chemical engineer, who supervised one of these facilities. He actually was present during biological agent production runs. He was also at the site when an accident occurred in 1998. Twelve technicians died from exposure to biological agents.” He displays models of the mobile trucks drawn from the source’s statements. [CBS News, 11/4/2007] Responding to the allegation, Iraqi officials will concede that they do in fact have mobile labs, but insist that they are not used for the development of weapons. According to the Iraqis, the mobile labs are used for food analysis for disease outbreaks, mobile field hospitals, a military field bakery, food and medicine refrigeration trucks, a mobile military morgue and mobile ice making trucks. [Guardian, 2/5/2003; ABC News, 5/21/2003] Iraq’s explanation is consistent with earlier assessments of the UN weapons inspectors. Before Powell’s presentation, Hans Blix had dismissed suggestions that the Iraqis were using mobile biological weapons labs, reporting that inspections of two alleged mobile labs had turned up nothing. “Two food-testing trucks have been inspected and nothing has been found,” Blix said. And Ewen Buchanan, spokesman for the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, said, “The outline and characteristics of these trucks that we inspected were all consistent with the declared purposes.” [Guardian, 2/5/2003; ABC News, 5/21/2003]
'Curveball' Primary Source of Claims - Powell’s case is further damaged when it is later learned that one of the sources Powell cited, the Iraqi major, had been earlier judged unreliable by intelligence agents at the Defense Intelligence Agency (see February 11, 2002). In May 2002, the analysts had issued a “fabricator notice” on the informant, noting that he had been “coached by [the] Iraqi National Congress” (INC) (see May 2002). But the main source for the claim had been an Iraqi defector known as “Curveball,” who was initially believed to be the brother of a top aide to Ahmed Chalabi. The source claimed to be a chemical engineer who had helped design and build the mobile labs. His information was passed to Washington through Germany’s intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), which had been introduced to the source by the INC. In passing along the information, the BND noted that there were “various problems with the source.” And only one member of the US intelligence community had actually met with the person—an unnamed Pentagon analyst who determined the man was an alcoholic and of dubious reliability. Yet both the DIA and the CIA validated the information. [Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, 8/22/2003; Los Angeles Times, 3/28/2004; Knight Ridder, 4/4/2004; Newsweek, 4/19/2004; Newsweek, 7/19/2004] Powell says that the US has three other intelligence sources besides Curveball for the mobile bioweapons labs. Powell will be infuriated to learn that none of those three sources ever corroborated Curveball’s story, and sometimes their information contradicted each other. One of the three had failed a polygraph test and was determined to have lied to his debriefers. Another had already been declared a fabricator by US intelligence community, and had been proven to have mined his information off the Internet. [Buzzflash (.com), 11/27/2007] In November 2007, Curveball is identified as Rafid Ahmed Alwan. Serious questions about Curveball’s veracity had already been raised by the time of Powell’s UN presentation. He will later be completely discredited (see November 4, 2007).
Further Problems with Mobile Lab Claims - In addition to the inspectors’ assessments and the dubious nature of the sources Powell cited, there are numerous other problems with the mobile factories claim. Raymond Zilinskas, a microbiologist and former UN weapons inspector, argues that significant amounts of pathogens such as anthrax, could not be produced in the short span of time suggested in Powell’s speech. “You normally would require 36 to 48 hours just to do the fermentation…. The short processing time seems suspicious to me.” He also says: “The only reason you would have mobile labs is to avoid inspectors, because everything about them is difficult. We know it is possible to build them—the United States developed mobile production plants, including one designed for an airplane—but it’s a big hassle. That’s why this strikes me as a bit far-fetched.” [Washington Post, 2/6/2003] After Powell’s speech, Blix will say in his March 7 report to the UN that his inspectors found no evidence of mobile weapons labs (see March 7, 2003). [CNN, 3/7/2003; Agence France-Presse, 3/7/2003; CNN, 3/7/2003] Reporter Bob Drogin, author of Curveball: Spies, Lies and the Con Man Who Caused a War, says in 2007, “[B]y the time Colin Powell goes to the UN to make the case for war, he shows the world artists’ conjectures based on analysts’ interpretations and extrapolations of Arabic-to-German-to-English translations of summary debriefing reports of interviews with a manic-depressive defector whom the Americans had never met. [CIA director George] Tenet told Powell that Curveball’s information was ironclad and unassailable. It was a travesty.” [Alternet, 10/22/2007]
'Four Tons' of VX Toxin - Powell also claims that Iraq has “four tons” of VX nerve toxin. “A single drop of VX on the skin will kill in minutes,” he says. “Four tons.” Hanley later notes, “He didn’t point out that most of that had already been destroyed. And, on point after point he failed to point out that these facilities about which he was raising such alarm were under repeated inspections good, expert people with very good equipment, and who were leaving behind cameras and other monitoring equipment to keep us a continuing eye on it.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
Iraq is Developing Unmanned Drones Capable of Delivering Weapons of Mass Destruction - Powell asserts that Iraq has flight-tested an unmanned drone capable of flying up to 310 miles and is working on a liquid-fueled ballistic missile with a range of 745 miles. He plays a video of an Iraqi F-1 Mirage jet dispersing “simulated anthrax.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; New York Times, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 2/6/2003] But the Associated Press will later report that the video was made prior to the 1991 Gulf War. Apparently, three of the four spray tanks shown in the film had been destroyed during the 1991 military intervention. [Associated Press, 8/9/2003]
Imported Aluminum Tubes were Meant for Centrifuge - Powell argues that the aluminum tubes which Iraq had attempted to import in July 2001 (see July 2001) were meant to be used in a nuclear weapons program and not for artillery rockets as experts from the US Energy Department, the INR, and the IAEA have been arguing (see February 3, 2003)
(see January 11, 2003)
(see August 17, 2001)
(see January 27, 2003). To support the administration’s case, he cites unusually precise specifications and high tolerances for heat and stress. “It strikes me as quite odd that these tubes are manufactured to a tolerance that far exceeds US requirements for comparable rockets,” he says. “Maybe Iraqis just manufacture their conventional weapons to a higher standard than we do, but I don’t think so.” Powell also suggests that because the tubes were “anodized,” it was unlikely that they had been designed for conventional use. [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 3/8/2003] Powell does not mention that numerous US nuclear scientists have dismissed this claim (see August 17, 2001)
(see September 23, 2002)
(see December 2002). [Albright, 10/9/2003] Powell also fails to say that Iraq has rockets identical to the Italian Medusa 81 mm rockets, which are of the same dimensions and made of the same alloy as the 3,000 tubes that were intercepted in July 2001 (see After January 22, 2003). [Washington Post, 8/10/2003] This had been reported just two weeks earlier by the Washington Post. [Washington Post, 1/24/2003] Moreover, just two days before, Powell was explicitly warned by the US State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research not to cite the aluminum tubes as evidence that Iraq is pursuing nuclear weapons (see February 3, 2003). [Financial Times, 7/29/2003]
Iraq Attempted to Acquire Magnets for Use in a Gas Centrifuge Program - Powell says: “We… have intelligence from multiple sources that Iraq is attempting to acquire magnets and high-speed balancing machines. Both items can be used in a gas centrifuge program to enrich uranium. In 1999 and 2000, Iraqi officials negotiated with firms in Romania, India, Russia and Slovenia for the purchase of a magnet production plant. Iraq wanted the plant to produce magnets weighing 20 to 30 grams. That’s the same weight as the magnets used in Iraq’s gas centrifuge program before the Gulf War.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; New York Times, 2/6/2003] Investigation by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] will demonstrate that the magnets have a dual use. IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei said a little more than a week before, on January 27, in his report to the Security Council: “Iraq presented detailed information on a project to construct a facility to produce magnets for the Iraqi missile program, as well as for industrial applications, and that Iraq had prepared a solicitation of offers, but that the project had been delayed due to ‘financial credit arrangements.’ Preliminary investigations indicate that the specifications contained in the offer solicitation are consistent with those required for the declared intended uses. However, the IAEA will continue to investigate the matter….”
(see January 27, 2003) [Annan, 1/27/2003 ] On March 7, ElBaradei will provide an additional update: “The IAEA has verified that previously acquired magnets have been used for missile guidance systems, industrial machinery, electricity meters and field telephones. Through visits to research and production sites, reviews of engineering drawings and analyses of sample magnets, IAEA experts familiar with the use of such magnets in centrifuge enrichment have verified that none of the magnets that Iraq has declared could be used directly for a centrifuge magnetic bearing.”
(see March 7, 2003) [CNN, 3/7/2003]
Iraq Attempted to Purchase Machines to Balance Centrifuge Rotors - Powell states: “Intercepted communications from mid-2000 through last summer show that Iraq front companies sought to buy machines that can be used to balance gas centrifuge rotors. One of these companies also had been involved in a failed effort in 2001 to smuggle aluminum tubes into Iraq.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; New York Times, 2/6/2003]
Powell Cites Documents Removed from Home of Iraqi Scientist Faleh Hassan - Powell cites the documents that had been found on January 16, 2003 by inspectors with the help of US intelligence at the Baghdad home of Faleh Hassan, a nuclear scientist. Powell asserts that the papers are a “dramatic confirmation” that Saddam Hussein is concealing evidence and not cooperating with the inspections. The 3,000 documents contained information relating to the laser enrichment of uranium (see January 16, 2003). [Daily Telegraph, 1/18/2003; Associated Press, 1/18/2003; BBC, 1/19/2003; US Department of State, 2/5/2003] A little more than a week later, in the inspectors’ February 14 update to the UN Security Council (see February 14, 2003), ElBaradei will say, “While the documents have provided some additional details about Iraq’s laser enrichment development efforts, they refer to activities or sites already known to the IAEA and appear to be the personal files of the scientist in whose home they were found. Nothing contained in the documents alters the conclusions previously drawn by the IAEA concerning the extent of Iraq’s laser enrichment program.” [Guardian, 2/15/2003; BBC, 2/17/2003; Associated Press, 8/9/2003]
Iraq is Hiding Missiles in the Desert - Powell says that according to unidentified sources, the Iraqis have hidden rocket launchers and warheads containing biological weapons in the western desert. He further contends that these caches of weapons are hidden in palm groves and moved to different locations on a weekly basis. [US Department of State, 2/5/2003] It will later be suggested that this claim was “lifted whole from an Iraqi general’s written account of hiding missiles in the 1991 war.” [Associated Press, 8/9/2003]
Iraq Has Scud Missiles - Powell also says that according to unnamed “intelligence sources,” Iraq has a few dozen Scud-type missiles. [Associated Press, 8/9/2003]
Iraq Has Weapons of Mass Destruction - Secretary of State Colin Powell states unequivocally: “We… have satellite photos that indicate that banned materials have recently been moved from a number of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction facilities. There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more.” Elsewhere in his speech he says: “We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction, is determined to make more.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; CNN, 2/5/2003]
Governments, Media Reaction Mixed - Powell’s speech will fail to convince many skeptical governments, nor will it impress many in the European media. But it will have a tremendous impact in the US media (see February 5, 2003 and After).
Entity Tags: Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Bush administration (43), Bundesnachrichtendienst, Bob Drogin, Central Intelligence Agency, Ansar al-Islam, ’Curveball’, Al-Qaeda, Charles Hanley, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Ahmed Chalabi, Ali Jassem, Colin Powell, Ewen Buchanan, Faleh Hassan, Saddam Hussein, United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, United Nations Special Commission, Raymond Zilinskas, Peter Franck, United Nations Security Council, Lawrence Wilkerson, Hans Blix, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, Iraqi National Congress, Mohamed ElBaradei, George J. Tenet
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
One day after Secretary of State Colin Powell’s presentation to the United Nations in which he detailed an alleged al-Qaeda-linked training camp in northern Iraq said to be producing chemical weapons (see February 5, 2003), a number of US politicians question why the US has not taken any action against the camp. The camp, located near the town of Khurmal in territory controlled by the Kurdish rebel group Ansar al-Islam, is said to be closely linked to Islamist militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The Los Angeles Times reports that, “Lawmakers who have attended classified briefings on the camp say that they have been stymied for months in their efforts to get an explanation for why the United States has not launched a military strike on the compound…” Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) asks Colin Powell in a public hearing: “Why have we not taken it out? Why have we let it sit there if it’s such a dangerous plant producing these toxins?” Powell declines to answer, saying he cannot discuss the matter publicly. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) complains that she has been asking about striking the camp well before Powell’s speech based on intelligence given in private briefings, but, “We’ve been asking this question and have not been given an answer.” Officials have replied that “they’ll have to get back to us.” Representative Jane Harman (D-CA) notes that Powell’s speech could have cost the US an opportunity to prevent the spread of chemical weapons produced at the camp, saying, “By revealing the existence of the camp, it’s predictable whatever activity is there will probably go underground.” One anonymous US intelligence official suggests, “This is it, this is their compelling evidence for use of force. If you take it out, you can’t use it as justification for war.” [Los Angeles Times, 2/7/2003]
Journalist Jason Burke writes in the Observer about recent interviews he has conducted with prisoners held by Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq. One prisoner, Mohammed Mansour Shahab, claims to have been an Iraqi government agent who repeatedly met with Osama bin Laden over a several year period. The New Yorker published an article in March 2002 largely based on Shahab’s allegations and concluded, “the Kurds may have evidence of [Saddam Hussein’s] ties to Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network.” But Burke is able to find a number of inconsistencies and falsehoods in Shahab’s account, and after he points them out, Shahab does not deny that he was lying. Burke suggests that Shahab, like other prisoners being held by the Kurds, was lying in hopes of getting his prison sentence reduced since his Kurdish captors are looking to promote propaganda against their enemy, the Hussein government. Burke also interviews a number of prisoners belonging to the Ansar al-Islam militant group that is allegedly linked to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. He does not see evidence of any link between that group and Hussein’s government and concludes, “Saddam may well have infiltrated the Ansar al-Islam with a view to monitoring the developments of the group (indeed it would be odd if he had not) but that appears to be about as far as his involvement with the group, and incidentally with al-Qaeda, goes.” [Observer, 2/9/2003]
Asked for concrete evidence that Hussein has links to al-Qaeda, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice points to the presence of operatives allegedly being hosted in Iraq. “Well, we are, of course, continually learning more about these links between Iraq and al-Qaeda, and there is evidence that Secretary [of State Colin] Powell did not have the time to talk about. But the core of the story is there in what Secretary Powell talked about. This poisons network with at least two dozen of its operatives operating in Baghdad, a man [Abu Musab al-Zarqawi] who is spreading poisons now throughout Europe and into Russia, a man who got medical care in Baghdad despite the fact that the Iraqis were asked to turn him over, training in biological and chemical weapons.” [Fox News Sunday, 2/16/2003; US House Committee on Government Reform, 3/16/2004]
The US military has drawn up plans three times between June 2002 and January 2003 to launch an air strike against a training camp in northern Iraq controlled by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi that is said to be producing chemical weapons (see June 2002, November 2002, and January 2003), but months have passed and the White House has not given any formal reply to any of the attack plans. Finally, several weeks before the start of the US invasion of Iraq in late March 2003, the White House indicates that President Bush has rejected any strike on the camp until after the US invasion of Iraq begins. The camp will be attacked on March 20. Bush administration officials will later say the camp was not targeted for a number of reasons, including uncertain intelligence reports and the difficulties of hitting al-Zarqawi within a large camp area. But Gen. John Keane, the US Army’s vice chief of staff at the time, will later call the camp “one of the best targets we ever had.” He and other officials will claim the intelligence on al-Zarqawi’s location was sound and the risk of collateral damage was small due to the camp’s location in a remote mountain area. But Pentagon spokesperson Lawrence Di Rita will later claim that one reason for not taking action was “the president’s decision to engage the international community on Iraq.” [Wall Street Journal, 10/25/2004] And CIA official Michael Scheuer will later say, “The reasons the intelligence service got for not shooting al-Zarqawi was simply that the President and the National Security Council decided it was more important not to give the Europeans the impression we were gunslingers.… Mr. Bush had Mr. al-Zarqawi in his sights for almost every day for a year before the invasion of Iraq and he didn’t shoot because they were wining and dining the French in an effort to get them to assist us in the invasion of Iraq.” [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 5/1/2006]
President George Bush sends a “formal determination” on Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction to Congress in the form of a letter to Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and Senate President Robert Byrd (D-WV). Congress had required, in its October 2002 authorization of military force (see October 10, 2002), that Bush affirm that diplomatic efforts to resolve the Iraq WMD crisis were no longer possible, and that Iraq had tangible ties to the 9/11 attackers or similar terrorists. The letter provides neither. Instead, it merely reiterates the language of the statute itself, using that language as the determination. The determination says that Congress itself had found evidence of Iraq’s diplomatic intransigence and of Iraq’s connections to the 9/11 terrorists, when Congress has found neither. Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will comment: “Bush, like a dog chasing his tail who gets ahold of it, relied on information the White House provided Congress for its draft resolution; then he turned around and claimed that this information (his information) came from Congress. From this bit of sophistry, he next stated that these congressional findings were the basis of his ‘determination.’” The only additional information Bush provides is a citation from Colin Powell’s presentation to the United Nations (see February 5, 2003), where Powell noted the supposed existence of a terrorist training camp in the Salman Pak military facility (see April 6, 2003), a training camp that does not exist. Bush also cites “public reports” indicating that Iraq is harboring al-Qaeda terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (see October 2, 2002), and that Iraq has “provided training in document forgery and explosives to [al-Qaeda].” Bush provides no evidence of his claims. Dean writes that the law has stringent requirements for such “presidential determinations,” mandating solid evidence, legal citations, and so forth, but Bush’s “determination” contains none of this. “If there is a precedent for Bush’s slick trick to involve America in a bloody commitment, where the Congress requires as a condition for action that the president make a determination, and the president in turn relies on a whereas clause… and a dubious public report… I am not aware of it and could not find anything even close.” [Dean, 2004, pp. 148-152]
Entity Tags: United Nations, Robert C. Byrd, Reagan administration, John Dean, H.L. Mencken, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Al-Qaeda, Colin Powell, Dennis Hastert, George W. Bush, Lyndon B. Johnson
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
On the second day of a US invasion of Iraq, the US military conducts an airstrike against the training camp in Northern Iraq controlled by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The camp is territory controlled by Kurdish rebels and it is believed that a chemical weapons lab is there. Prior to the start of the war, the US drew up three separate plans to attack the camp with air strikes, but each time the plans were rejected by the White House. [MSNBC, 3/2/2004] More than 40 cruise missiles hit the camp near the town of Khurmal, destroying what Gen. Tommy Franks calls a “massive terrorist facility.” But Saddam Hussein had been given an ultimatum before the start of the war, which meant the timing of the start of the war had been announced several days in advance. Not surprisingly, by the time the camp is hit, al-Zarqawi and many of his followers had already left it. One of al-Zarqawi’s top lieutenants, Abdul Hadi Daghlas, a.k.a. Abu Taisir, is killed. Al-Zarqawi will release an audio message several months later lamenting his death. [Wall Street Journal, 2/10/2004] Former National Security Council member Roger Cressey will later claim, “Here’s a case where they waited, they waited too long and now we’re suffering as a result inside Iraq.” [MSNBC, 3/2/2004]
A Kurdish soldier allied with US forces stands on the site where the Sargat training camp used to be. He holds a piece of a US cruise missile that hit the camp. [Source: Scott Peterson / Getty Images]US Special Forces working with local Kurdish forces overrun the small border region of Iraq controlled by the militant group Ansar al-Islam. This is where Secretary of State Colin Powell alleged militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had a ‘poison factory’ near the town of Khurmal where chemical weapons of mass destruction capable of killing thousands were made. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers says, “We think that’s probably where the ricin that was found in London probably came; at least the operatives and maybe some of the formulas came from this site.” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld comments, “We’re not certain what we’ll find but we should know more in the next three days - three or four days.” [New York Daily News, 3/31/2003] In a 2007 book, CIA Director George Tenet will claim, “Shortly after the invasion of Iraq, al-Zarqawi’s camp in Khurmal was bombed by the US military. We obtained reliable human intelligence reporting and forensic samples confirming that poisons and toxins had been produced at the camp.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 277-278] He will further claim that the camp “engaged in production and training in the use of low-level poisons such as cyanide. We had intelligence telling us that al-Zarqawi’s men had tested these poisons on animals and, in at least one case, on one of their own associates. They laughed about how well it worked.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 350] But Tenet’s claims seem wildly overblown compared to other subsequent news reports about what was found at the camp. In late April 2003, the Los Angeles Times will report that, “Documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times, along with interviews with US and Kurdish intelligence operatives, indicate [Ansar al-Islam] was partly funded and armed from abroad; was experimenting with chemicals, including toxic agents and a cyanide-based body lotion; and had international aspirations. But the documents, statements by imprisoned Ansar guerrillas, and visits to the group’s strongholds before and after the war produced no strong evidence of connections to Baghdad and indicated that Ansar was not a sophisticated terrorist organization. The group was a dedicated, but fledgling, al-Qaeda surrogate lacking the capability to muster a serious threat beyond its mountain borders.” A crude chemical laboratory is found in the village of Sargat, but no evidence of any sophisticated equipment is found. “Tests have revealed the presence of hydrogen cyanide and potassium cyanide, poisons normally used to kill rodents and other pests. The group, according to Kurdish officials, had been experimenting on animals with a cyanide-laced cream. Several jars of peach body lotion lay at the site beside chemicals and a few empty wooden birdcages.” While a lot of documentation is found showing intention to create chemical weapons, the actual capability appears to have been quite low. [Los Angeles Times, 4/27/2003] As the Christian Science Monitor will later conclude, the “‘poison factory’ proved primitive; nothing but substances commonly used to kill rodents were found there.” [Christian Science Monitor, 10/16/2003] Journalist Jason Burke will also later comment, “As one of the first journalists to enter the [al-Qaeda] research facilities at the Darunta camp in eastern Afghanistan in 2001, I was struck by how crude they were. The Ansar al-Islam terrorist group’s alleged chemical weapons factory in northern Iraq, which I inspected the day after its capture in 2003, was even more rudimentary.” [Foreign Policy, 5/2004]
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice says there is “absolutely” a connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda “[W]e know that there was training of al-Qaeda in chemical and perhaps biological warfare. We know that [Abu Musab] al-Zarqawi was networked out of there, this poisons network that was trying to spread poisons throughout…. And there was an Ansar al-Islam, which appears also to try to be operating in Iraq. So yes, the al-Qaeda link was there.” [Fox News Sunday, 9/7/2003; Global Views, 9/26/2003; US House Committee on Government Reform, 3/16/2004]
Al-Tajdeed Radio, a station run by London-based Saudi Islamist Mohammed al-Massari, broadcasts in Iraq and Saudi Arabia calls for attacks on British troops. The station carries songs calling for jihad against the coalition forces and addresses by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, head of an Iraqi group of militants reported to be affiliated with al-Qaeda. In addition, al-Massari also posts videos of attacks on British troops on his website. For example, in August 2006 the Council of Holy Warriors posts a declaration praising a bombing in Iraq that results in 55 people killed and wounded. MP Patrick Mercer calls the broadcasts “desperately demoralizing” for British troops in Iraq. Al-Massari says that the broadcasts were not in Britain, but abroad, so they are legal. No action is taken against al-Massari over the radio station and website, even after Britain passes a new Terrorism Act in 2006 making glorifying or encouraging political violence a crime (see March 30, 2006). [BBC, 8/18/2005; New York Times, 8/21/2006]
In 2005, Hutaifa Azzam, son of Abdullah Azzam, Osama bin Laden’s mentor and a longtime acquaintance of militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, says al-Zarqawi had “no relations with Osama until he left to Iraq. His relation with Osama started [in 2004] through the Internet.” [Bergen, 2006, pp. 363-364] The Atlantic Monthly will later report that negotiations between al-Zarqawi and bin Laden about an alliance between them begin in early 2004. Al-Zarqawi will pledge loyalty to bin Laden in October, “but only after eight months of often stormy negotiations” (see October 17, 2004). [Atlantic Monthly, 6/8/2006]
Dexter Filkins. [Source: New York Times]The New York Times publishes a front page story blaming Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the supposed leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, for many troubles in the Iraq war. However, it will later be revealed that the contents in the article were a hoax or exaggeration by a US military propaganda operation. The article, written by Dexter Filkins, claims that in January 2004, US forces in Iraq intercepted a letter written by al-Zarqawi to the “inner circle” of al-Qaeda, claiming that the best way to defeat the US in Iraq is to, in essence, begin a “sectarian war” in that country. The letter reportedly states that al-Qaeda, a Sunni network, should attack the Shi’a population of Iraq: “It is the only way to prolong the duration of the fight between the infidels and us. If we succeed in dragging them into a sectarian war, this will awaken the sleepy Sunnis.” In the letter, al-Zarqawi boasts of his role in many suicide bombings in Iraq. The article also notes that this letter would “constitute the strongest evidence to date of contacts between extremists in Iraq and al-Qaeda.” [New York Times, 2/9/2004; Independent, 2/11/2008] US General Mark Kimmitt says later the same day: “We believe the report and the document is credible, and we take the report seriously.… It is clearly a plan on the part of outsiders to come in to this country and spark civil war, create sectarian violence, try to expose fissures in this society.” The story is quickly published around the world. [Independent, 2/11/2008]
Reporter Skeptical; Article Does Not Reflect Doubts - Filkins will later say he was skeptical about the document’s authenticity when he wrote the story and remains skeptical of it. [Washington Post, 4/10/2006] However, the article and follow up articles in the New York Times cast no doubt on the letter’s authenticity, except for one sentence in the original article mentioning the possibility the letter could have been “written by some other insurgent.”
Skepticism from Other News Outlets - However, some scattered accounts elsewhere at the time are more critical. For instance, a few days later, Newsweek writes: “Given the Bush administration’s record peddling bad intelligence and worse innuendo, you’ve got to wonder if this letter is a total fake. How do we know the text is genuine? How was it obtained? By whom? And when? And how do we know it’s from al-Zarqawi? We don’t.” [Editor & Publisher, 4/10/2006] In the letter, al-Zarqawi says that if success does not come soon: “We can pack up and leave and look for another land, just like what has happened in so many lands of jihad. Our enemy is growing stronger day after day, and its intelligence information increases. By god, this is suffocation!” Counterpunch notes this and skeptically comments, “If you were Karl Rove, you couldn’t design a better scenario to validate the administration’s slant on the war than this.” It is also noted that this article follows a dubious pattern of New York Times reporting on Iraq: “cultivate a ‘highly placed inside source,’ take whatever this person says and report it verbatim on the front page above the fold.” [CounterPunch, 2/26/2004]
Systematic Propaganda Campaign - Later in 2004, the Telegraph will report, “Senior diplomats in Baghdad claim that the letter was almost certainly a hoax” and that the US is systematically buying extremely dubious intelligence that exaggerates al-Zarqawi’s role in Iraq (see October 4, 2004). [Daily Telegraph, 10/4/2004] In 2006, a number of classified documents will be leaked to the Washington Post, showing the US military has a propaganda campaign to exaggerate the role of al-Zarqawi in Iraq (see April 10, 2006). One document mentions the “selective leak” of this letter to Filkins as part of this campaign. [Washington Post, 4/10/2006]
Media Unquestioning in its Acceptance - Editor and Publisher will later examine the media coverage of this letter, and note that most publications reported on it unquestioningly, “So clearly, the leak to Filkins worked.” Ironically, Reuters at the time quotes an “amazed” US official who says, “We couldn’t make this up if we tried.” [Editor & Publisher, 4/10/2006]
A video still of Nick Berg being tormented by his captors in Iraq. [Source: Reuters]A video of US citizen Nick Berg being beheaded in Iraq is made public and causes widespread horror and outrage around the world. Berg had been working in Iraq with private companies installing communications towers. On March 24, 2004, he is taken into custody. Berg’s family is sent e-mails confirming that he is in US custody (however, US officials will later claim they were erroneously notified and he was in Iraqi government custody instead). The official reasons for his arrest are “lack of documentation” and “suspicious activities.” Regardless of who is holding him, it is not disputed that he is visited three times by the FBI while being held. On April 5, the Berg family launches an action against the US military for false imprisonment, and the next day Berg is released. Berg stays in a hotel in Baghdad for the next few days, and tells a hotel guest that he had been held in a jail with US soldiers as guards. His family last hears of him on April 9, when he tells them he is going to try to leave Iraq. Then, nearly a month later on May 8, his headless body is found dumped on a Baghdad roadside. Three days after that, on May 11, the video of his beheading is broadcast. [Sydney Morning Herald, 5/29/2004; National Public Radio, 8/14/2004] The video shows five masked men taunting and then beheading Berg, and one of them claims to be Islamist militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Two days later, a CIA official says, “After the intelligence community conducted a technical analysis of the… video, the CIA assesses with high probability that the speaker on the tape is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and that person is shown decapitating American citizen Nicholas Berg.” [BBC, 5/13/2004] However, many doubts about the video and the identity of al-Zarqawi surface:
Berg is seen wearing an orange jumpsuit typically worn by detainees in US custody. At the start of the video, he speaks directly to the camera in a relaxed way. The Sydney Morning Herald will later comment, “It is highly likely that this segment is edited from the interrogation of Berg during his 13 days of custody.”
Then the video cuts to scenes including the five masked men. But their Arabic is heavily accented in Russian, Jordanian, and Egyptian. One says “do it quickly” in Russian. A voice also seems to ask in English, “How will it be done?” Glimpses of their skin look white. [Sydney Morning Herald, 5/29/2004]
The masked man identified as al-Zarqawi does not speak with a Jordanian accent even though al-Zarqawi is Jordanian. CNN staff familiar with al-Zarqawi’s voice claim the voice does not sound like his. [CNN, 5/12/2004; Sydney Morning Herald, 5/29/2004]
Berg is then decapitated, but there is very little blood. Dr John Simpson, executive director for surgical affairs at the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, says, “I would have thought that all the people in the vicinity would have been covered in blood, in a matter of seconds… if it [the video] was genuine.” Forensic death expert Jon Nordby of the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators suggests that the beheading was staged and Berg was already dead. He also suggests that Berg appears to be heavily drugged in earlier parts of the video. [Asia Times, 5/22/2004] The Herald comments, “The scream is wildly out of sync, sounds female, and is obviously dubbed.” [Sydney Morning Herald, 5/29/2004]
Al-Zarqawi is the one shown cutting Berg’s throat with a knife, and uses his right hand to do so. But people who spent time in prison with al-Zarqawi and knew him well claim that he was left handed. [New York Times, 7/13/2004]
The timing of the video also raises suspicions, as it is broadcast just two weeks after the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal is exposed, and the shock of the beheadings cause some to claim a moral relativism to justify the US military’s abusive behavior towards detainees. [Sydney Morning Herald, 5/29/2004]
Strangely, Al-Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui somehow used Berg’s e-mail account years before in Oklahoma (see Autumn 1999). US officials call this “a total coincidence.”
The London Times comments that “The CIA’s insistence that al-Zarqawi was responsible appears based on the scantiest of evidence.… Sound experts have speculated that the voice might have been dubbed on.” Further, “There are discrepancies in the times on the video frames.” [London Times, 5/23/2004]
No autopsy is performed on Berg’s body, nor is there any determination of the time of his death. [Sydney Morning Herald, 5/29/2004]
No proper investigation of the circumstances surrounding his death is ever conducted. For instance, the US military will tell Berg’s family that they could find no evidence of Berg’s last days in a Baghdad hotel and that no Westerner stayed in that hotel for weeks. But the Washington Post was able to get a copy of the hotel register with Berg’s name on it, along with the date of his checkout, a list of the things he left in his room, and the exact words he said as he left the hotel. [National Public Radio, 8/14/2004]
It will later be reported that the US military was conducting a propaganda campaign to inflate the importance of al-Zarqawi (see April 10, 2006), but it is unknown if Berg’s death was somehow related to this campaign.
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian militant leader fighting against US-led forces in Iraq, allegedly says on an audiotape that prisons in Jordan have become “the Arab Guantanamo.” He says: “Whoever the Americans find hard to investigate in Pakistan and Afghanistan, they move to Jordan, where they are tortured in every way.” [Observer, 6/13/2004] Jordan is a country that is notorious for its use of torture (see 1993).
Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi is confronted by the FBI and agrees to a series of voluntary interviews. He admits to training at a militant training camp in Afghanistan in the late 1980s (see Late 1980s). He admits to having known al-Qaeda leaders Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaida, and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi while living there. He worked in Afghanistan as a sniper in combat and as an instructor at the training camps until 1995. After getting a gunshot wound, he moved to Boston and drove a taxi. Al-Qaeda operatives Nabil al-Marabh, Bassam Kanj, and Raed Hijazi also moved to Boston and worked at the same taxi company (see June 1995-Early 1999). In 1999, he went to Chechnya and fought as a sniper, returning to the US one month before 9/11 (see Mid-August 2001). On June 25, 2004, Elzahabi is charged with lying to the FBI about the extent of his relationship with Hijazi while living in Boston. In addition, it is claimed that in 1995 he sent a large number of field radios to Afghanistan. Some of this equipment was recovered by US soldiers after 9/11. He is charged with lying about shipping these radios. [Boston Globe, 6/26/2004; Fox News, 6/26/2004] In December 2005, he will be indicted for possessing fraudulent immigration documents and faking a marriage to remain in the US. However, he still has not been tried on the earlier charges. [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 12/8/2005]
President Bush repeats the US government claim that al-Qaeda had links to the Saddam Hussein government of Iraq, suggesting that militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is the link between the two. “Al-Zarqawi’s the best evidence of a connection to al-Qaeda affiliates and al-Qaeda. He’s the person who’s still killing.” [CNN, 6/15/2004]
A still from the fake beheading video. [Source: Associated Press]On August 7, 2004, a beheading video is broadcast on Arab television. Western news outlets immediately pick up the story. But the next day, Benjamin Vanderford, a video game designer living in San Francisco, reveals that he created the video. In the video, entitled, “Abu Musab al-Zarqawi Slaughters an American,” Vanderford makes a short statement denouncing the US occupation of Iraq. Then a hand with a knife is seen cutting at a motionless man’s neck, but no militants are seen. He says he posted the one-minute video on an online file-sharing network in May, but it took several months before it got posted to a militant Islamist website where other beheading videos had appeared, and then news of it quickly spread. Vanderford says he put the video on the Internet “to just make a statement on these type of videos and how easily they can be faked.” He adds: “I see how it could be considered disrespectful. But I think people, if they look at it, will understand two other big issues it brings up. A small group of disgruntled people in Iraq or Saudi Arabia could just get more attention just by easily releasing something like I did on the Internet.” [Associated Press, 8/8/2004]
A US PSYOP leaflet disseminated in Iraq showing a caricature of al-Zarqawi caught in a rat trap. The caption reads: “This is your future, Zarqawi.” [Source: US Department of Defense]The Telegraph reports that US military intelligence agents in Iraq believe that the role of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the supposed leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, has been greatly exaggerated. The Bush administration has used al-Zarqawi as a villain to blame post-invasion troubles in the Iraq war and to connect the Iraqi insurgency to al-Qaeda (see February 9, 2004). [Daily Telegraph, 10/4/2004] For instance, in April 2004, US military spokesman Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch said that more than 90 percent of the suicide attacks in Iraq were carried out by terrorists recruited and trained by al-Zarqawi. [Washington Post, 6/10/2006] The Telegraph reports: “US military intelligence agents in Iraq have revealed a series of botched and often tawdry dealings with unreliable sources who, in the words of one source, ‘told us what we wanted to hear… We were basically paying up to $10,000 a time to opportunists, criminals, and chancers who passed off fiction and supposition about al-Zarqawi as cast-iron fact, making him out as the linchpin of just about every attack in Iraq… Back home this stuff was gratefully received and formed the basis of policy decisions. We needed a villain, someone identifiable for the public to latch on to, and we got one.’” Millitary intelligence officials believe that the insurgency is dominated by Iraqis and that the number of foreign fighters such as al-Zarqawi could be as low as 200. However, some of these officials complain that their reports to US leaders about this are largely being ignored. [Daily Telegraph, 10/4/2004] In 2006, leaked classified US military documents will show that the US military ran a propaganda campaign from at least early 2004 to exaggerate al-Zarqawi’s importance in the US and Iraqi media (see April 10, 2006).
Knight Ridder Newspapers reveals that a new CIA report released to top US officials the week before says there is no conclusive evidence linking Islamist militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and the former Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein. The CIA reviewed intelligence information at the request of Vice President Dick Cheney some months before. One official familiar with the report says it does not make clear judgments, and the evidence of a possible link is murky. For instance, the report claims that three of al-Zarqawi’s associates were arrested by the Iraqi government before the Iraq war, and Hussein ordered one of them released but not the other two. The report doubts that al-Zarqawi received medical treatment at a Baghdad hospital in May 2002, and flatly denies reports that al-Zarqawi had a leg amputated there or anywhere else (see January 26, 2003). One US official says, “The evidence is that Saddam never gave al-Zarqawi anything.” Several days after the report is given to top officials, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld backs away from previous claims he had made of a link between Hussein and al-Qaeda, saying, “To my knowledge, I have not seen any strong, hard evidence that links the two.” It is widely acknowledged that al-Zarqawi spent time in Iraq before the start of the Iraq war, but he generally stayed in a border region outside of Hussein’s control. [Knight Ridder, 10/4/2004]
Knight Ridder Newspapers reports on a leaked CIA assessment that undercuts the White House claim of links between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. The assessment, requested some months ago by Vice President Cheney, finds no evidence to show that Saddam’s regime ever harbored Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an independent colleague of Osama bin Laden (see April 2002), and finds no evidence of any “collaborative relationship” between the former Iraqi regime and al-Qaeda (see October 2, 2002). In February 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell told the United Nations Security Council that al-Zarqawi went to Baghdad for medical treatment and, while there, helped establish a terrorist base in Baghdad (see February 5, 2003). The assessment now shows that claim was incorrect. So was the administration’s claim that al-Zarqawi received safe haven from Hussein. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who in September 2002 called the evidence of links between Hussein and al-Qaeda “bulletproof” (see September 26, 2002), now says, “To my knowledge, I have not seen any strong, hard evidence that links the two.” Rumsfeld continues, “I just read an intelligence report recently about one person [al-Zarqawi] who’s connected to al-Qaeda who was in and out of Iraq and there’s the most tortured description of why he might have had a relationship and why he might not have had a relationship.” In June 2003, President Bush called al-Zarqawi “the best evidence of connection” between Iraq and al-Qaeda; after the assessments are leaked, Bush insists that al-Zarqawi “was in and out of Baghdad,” apparently continuing to press the idea that Saddam and al-Qaeda were connected. Al-Zarqawi did spend a lot of time in Iraq, but almost always in the northern sections of Iraq where Saddam’s control did not reach. [Knight Ridder, 10/4/2004] The day after the Knight Ridder report, Vice President Cheney will say during a debate with vice-presidential opponent John Edwards (D-NC) that al-Zarqawi was based in Baghdad both before and after the March 2003 invasion, a claim that is demonstrably false (see October 5, 2004).
In a vice-presidential debate between Vice President Cheney and Senator John Edwards, Cheney says of Islamist militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi: “We know he was running a terrorist camp, training terrorists in Afghanistan prior to 9/11. We know that when we went into Afghanistan that he then migrated to Baghdad. He set up shop in Baghdad, where he oversaw the poisons facility up at Khurmal, where the terrorists were developing ricin and other deadly substances to use.… He was, in fact, in Baghdad before the war, and he’s in Baghdad now after the war.” [Commission on Presidential Debates, 10/5/2004] It is true that al-Zarqawi was running a camp in Afghanistan prior to 9/11 (see Early 2000-December 2001). But just days before this debate, the CIA gave Cheney a new report about possible links between al-Zarqawi and Saddam Hussein’s government, a report that Cheney himself had requested several months before (see October 4, 2004). The report doubts there were any such links, and also doubts that al-Zarqawi was in Baghdad getting medical treatment in the months before the Iraq war (see October 4, 2004). [Knight Ridder, 10/4/2004]
Islamist militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his group al-Tawhid pledges loyalty to bin Laden in a statement posted on the Internet. He states, [Let it be known that] al-Tawhid pledges both its leaders and its soldiers to the mujahid commander, Sheikh Osama bin Laden…” [Bergen, 2006, pp. 364] Bin Laden and al-Zarqawi began discussing the possibility of an alliance in early 2004 (see Early 2004). There had been other occasional contacts and linkages between al-Zarqawi and his group in years past, but al-Zarqawi had generally maintained his independence from al-Qaeda. Just one month earlier, al-Zarqawi stated, “I have not sworn allegiance to [bin Laden] and I am not working within the framework of his organization.” [Newsweek, 4/4/2005] The Atlantic Monthly will later report that at the same time al-Zarqwai made his loyalty oath, he also “proclaimed himself to be the ‘Emir of al-Qaeda’s Operations in the Land of Mesopotamia,’ a title that subordinated him to bin Laden but at the same time placed him firmly on the global stage. One explanation for this coming together of these two former antagonists was simple: al-Zarqawi profited from the al-Qaeda franchise, and bin Laden needed a presence in Iraq. Another explanation is more complex: bin Laden laid claim to al-Zarqawi in the hopes of forestalling his emergence as the single most important terrorist figure in the world, and al-Zarqawi accepted bin Laden’s endorsement to augment his credibility and to strengthen his grip on the Iraqi tribes. Both explanations are true. It was a pragmatic alliance, but tenuous from the start.” [Atlantic Monthly, 6/8/2006] In December 2004, an audiotape said to be the voice of bin Laden acknowledges al-Zarqawi’s comments. “It should be known that the mujahid brother Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is the emir of the al-Qaeda organization in [Iraq]. The brothers in the group there should heed his orders and obey him in all that which is good.” [Bergen, 2006, pp. 364-365]
Jordanian journalist Fuad Hussein publishes a book that extensively quotes Saif al-Adel, who is believed to be al-Qaeda’s current military commander and possibly lives in Iran (see Spring 2002). Al-Adel claims: “Abu Musab [al-Zarqawi] and his Jordanian and Palestinian comrades opted to go to Iraq.… Our expectations of the situation indicated that the Americans would inevitably make a mistake and invade Iraq sooner or later. Such an invasion would aim at overthrowing the regime. Therefore, we should play an important role in the confrontation and resistance. Contrary to what the Americans frequently reiterated, al-Qaeda did not have any relationship with Saddam Hussein or his regime. We had to draw up a plan to enter Iraq through the north that was not under the control of [Hussein’s] regime. We would then spread south to the areas of our fraternal Sunni brothers. The fraternal brothers of the Ansar al-Islam expressed their willingness to offer assistance to help us achieve this goal.” [Bergen, 2006, pp. 120, 361-362] He says “the ultimate objective was to prompt” the US “to come out of its hole” and take direct military action in an Islamic country. “What we had wished for actually happened. It was crowned by the announcement of Bush Jr. of his crusade against Islam and Muslims everywhere.” [New York Times Magazine, 9/11/2005] Al-Adel seems to have served as a liaison between al-Qaeda and al-Zarqawi, and mentions elsewhere in the book that his goal was not “full allegiance” from al-Zarqawi’s group, but “coordination and cooperation” to achieve joint objectives. [Bergen, 2006, pp. 120, 353-354]
The London Times reports that according to a senior insurgent commander in Iraq, injured Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has fled Iraq, possibly to Iran. Zarqawi has claimed responsibility for numerous bombings, assassination, and beheadings across Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein in March 2003. According to the insurgent commander, al-Zarqawi’s convoy was attacked as they were escaping an American offensive near the town of al-Qaim in northwestern Iraq in early April. [Sunday Times (London), 5/29/2005] Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hamid Reza Asefi dismisses the report as “amateur newsmaking.” [Associated Press, 5/29/2005]
US Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld warns governments in Middle East not to help Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, recently reported to have been seriously injured in Iraq. “Were a neighboring country to take him in and provide medical assistance or haven for him, they, obviously, would be associating themselves with a major linkage in the al-Qaeda network and a person who has a great deal of blood on his hands.” [US Department of Defense, 6/1/2005] Zarqawi is rumored to have fled to Iran for treatment (see May 29, 2005).
Luai Sakra shouting to passers-by while imprisoned in Turkey. [Source: Reuters]Al-Qaeda operative Luai Sakra, recently arrested in Turkey (see July 30, 2005), is interrogated for four days by police in Istanbul. He apparently freely confesses to involvement in a number of attacks and even shouts out confessions to reporters and passers-by from the window of his prison cell. [BBC, 8/13/2005]
He says, “I was one of the people who knew the perpetrators of September 11, and knew the time and plan before the attacks. I also participated in the preparations for the attacks to WTC and Pentagon. I provided money and passports.” He claims to know 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta. Sakra lived in Germany for about a year before the 9/11 attacks (see September 2000-July 24, 2001). [Zaman, 8/14/2005; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 8/24/2005] He also makes the claim that he helped some of the 9/11 hijackers near Bursa, Turkey, and will provide further details on this in 2007 (see Late 1999-2000). [Washington Post, 2/20/2006]
Sakra claims to have co-masterminded a series of suicide bombings in Istanbul in 2003 that killed 58 people (see November 15-20, 2003). “I gave the orders, but as far as the targets, Habib Aktas made the decisions.” [Journal of Turkish Weekly, 8/13/2005]
He claims to have fought for militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004. In 1999, Sakra worked with al-Zarqawi to start a new Afghan training camp for Syrians and Jordanians and the two of them became friends. Sakra boasts of participating in the execution of a kidnapped Turkish truck driver in August 2004. The driver was abducted from the laundry facility on a US base in Iraq and at one point Sakra worked in the laundry service there. [Journal of Turkish Weekly, 8/13/2005; BBC, 8/13/2005; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 8/24/2005] A US official says “We are taking very seriously reports that he was in Fallujah, and is linked with al-Zarqawi.” [United Press International, 8/17/2005] A captured aide to al-Zarqawi later confirms that Sakra was a key aide to al-Zarqawi in Fallujah beginning in March 2004 and that Sakra “provided coordinates for mortar attacks on US bases in Mosul, Samarra, Baghdad, and Anbar province.” [Washington Post, 2/20/2006]
Sakra’s lawyer also claims Sakra was a member of a gang that held Kenneth Bigley, a British contractor in Iraq, for three weeks and then murdered him in October 2004. [Guardian, 4/20/2006]
He claims to have had foreknowledge of the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005). He says he sent details about the attacks and who exactly took part in it to bin Laden via messenger some weeks afterwards. He also claims that he frequently communicated with bin Laden in person and by messenger. [Zaman, 8/15/2005]
He claims to have sent many operatives to the US, Britain, Egypt, Syria, and Algeria to take part in various operations. [Zaman, 8/15/2005]
He claims that the CIA, Syrian intelligence, and Turkish intelligence all wanted to employ him as an informant. The Turkish newspaper Zaman will conclude that Sakra likely did work for all three governments. “Sakra eventually became a triple agent for the secret services. Turkish security officials, interrogating a senior al-Qaeda figure for the first time, were thoroughly confused about what they discovered about al-Qaeda.” [Zaman, 8/14/2005] A Turkish security official will comment, “If during his trial, Sakra tells half of the information we heard from him, al-Qaeda’s real face will emerge. But what he has said so far has more to do about a formation permeated by secret services rather than the terror organization of al-Qaeda.” [Zaman, 8/15/2005]
When offered a chance to pray, he surprisingly replies, “I don’t pray and I like alcohol. Especially whiskey and wine.” [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 8/24/2005]
Der Spiegel reports, “Western investigators accept Sakra’s claims, by and large, since they coincide with known facts.” After talking to Sakra, Turkish officials suggest he may be one of the top five most important members of al-Qaeda. One security official says, “He had an intellect of a genius.” However, he also was found with medicine to treat manic-depression and exhibits manic-depressive behavior. [Zaman, 8/14/2005; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 8/24/2005] Sakra will later be sentenced to life in prison (see March 21, 2006-February 16, 2007) for his self-confessed role in the 2003 Istanbul bombings (see November 15-20, 2003).
A CIA report completed this month concludes that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq government “did not have a relationship, harbor, or even turn a blind eye toward [Islamist leader Abu Musab] al-Zarqawi and his associates.” The report will be made public one year later as part of a bipartisan Senate investigation. That investigation will conclude that Hussein regarded al-Qaeda as a threat rather as a potential ally, and that the Iraqi intelligence service “actively attempted to locate and capture al-Zarqawi without success.” The New York Times will later report that “The disclosure undercuts continuing claims by the Bush administration that such ties existed, and that they provided evidence of links between Iraq and al-Qaeda.” But despite this report, President Bush will continue to allege such a link existed. For instance, in August 2006, he will claim in a news conference that Hussein “had relations with Zarqawi.” [New York Times, 9/8/2006]
Saijida Mubarak Atrous al-Rishawi confesses on Jordanian television to attempting to be one of the suicide bombers. Her bomb belt is also shown. [Source: BBC / Jordanian Televison]Three hotels in Amman, Jordan are simultaneously bombed. Sixty people, including three bombers, are killed and 115 others are injured. The explosions take place at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, the Radisson SAS Hotel, and the Days Inn, which are hotels often frequented by Western military contractors and diplomats. The bomb at the Radisson explodes in a ballroom where a wedding reception is taking place. The Jordanian government soon announces that the group Al-Qaeda in Iraq, which is supposedly led by the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, took credit for the attack in an Internet statement. [CNN, 11/12/2005] Within days, an Iraqi woman accused of being a failed fourth suicide bomber confesses to participating in the attack on Jordanian television. CNN notes that “Many people were expressing doubt [whether the woman] really was involved…” [CNN, 11/14/2005] Two leading Palestinian security officials - West Bank military intelligence chief Maj Gen. Bashir Nafeh and his aide Col. Abel Allun - are among those killed. [BBC, 11/10/2005] The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports, “The Radisson is known to be popular with Israeli tourists,” yet no Israelis were killed in the bombings. “Hours before the bombings, many Israelis were evacuated from the Radisson… apparently due to a specific security alert.” (The Haaretz report about this is retracted and then later reinstated.) [Ha'aretz, 10/11/2005] The Los Angeles Times also notes that Haaretz report and adds that Amos N. Guiora, a former leader of the Israel Defense Forces, told the Times that “sources in Israel had also told him about the pre-attack evacuations. “It means there was excellent intelligence that this thing was going to happen.… The question that needs to be answered is why weren’t the Jordanians working at the hotel similarly removed?” [Los Angeles Times, 11/10/2005] The deaths of the Palestinian intelligence officials and warning to Israeli tourists cause some, especially in the Muslim world, to claim that the attacks were an Israeli false flag operation. [Washington Post, 11/15/2005]
The Washington Post reports that leaked documents show the US military is conducting a propaganda campaign to exaggerate the role of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the alleged leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. According to the Post, “The effort has raised his profile in a way that some military intelligence officials believe may have overstated his importance and helped the Bush administration tie the [Iraq] war to the organization responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.” According to Col. Derek Harvey, who has been a top advisor on Iraq intelligence for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, although al-Zarqawi and other foreign insurgents in Iraq have conducted some deadly bombing attacks, they remain “a very small part of the actual numbers…. Our own focus on al-Zarqawi has enlarged his caricature, if you will—made him more important than he really is, in some ways.” Since at least 2004, the US military has manipulated the Iraq media’s coverage of Zarqawi in an effort to turn Iraqis against the insurgency. But leaked documents also explicitly list the “US Home Audience” as one of the targets of a broader propaganda campaign. Additionally, sections of leaked military briefings show that the US media was directly used to influence view of al-Zarqawi. For instance, one document notes that a “selective leak” about al-Zarqawi was made to New York Times reporter Dexter Filkins, which resulted in a 2004 front page story about a letter supposedly written by al-Zarqawi and boasting of suicide attacks in Iraq (see February 9, 2004). [Washington Post, 4/10/2006] The Daily Telegraph reported in 2004 that “senior diplomats in Baghdad claim that the letter was almost certainly a hoax.” The Telegraph also reported the US was buying extremely dubious intelligence that exaggerated al-Zarqawi’s role and was treating it as fact, even in policy decisions (see October 4, 2004). [Daily Telegraph, 10/4/2004] One US military briefing from 2004 states, “Villainize Zarqawi/leverage xenophobia response” and lists three methods: “Media operations,” “Special Ops (626)” (a reference to Task Force 626, an elite US military unit) and “PSYOP,” meaning psychological operations and propaganda. One internal US military briefing concluded that the “al-Zarqawi PSYOP program is the most successful information campaign to date… primarily for the Iraqi audience but also with the international audience.” It is supposedly US military policy not to aim psychological operations at Americans, but there appears to be no punishment for the violation of this policy in the wake of this media report. [Washington Post, 4/10/2006]
The dead Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. [Source: US army]Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the supposed leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, is apparently killed in a US airstrike north of Baghdad. There are contradictory details of what exactly happened in the airstrike, and three days later the Washington Post will report that “circumstances surrounding the killing [remain] cloudy.” [Washington Post, 6/10/2006] His killing is hailed by US and Iraqi officials as the most significant public triumph for US-allied forces since the 2003 capture of Saddam Hussein. For instance, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld calls him “the leading terrorist in Iraq and one of three senior al-Qaeda leaders worldwide.” The Washington Post calls al-Zarqawi the “mastermind behind hundreds of bombings, kidnappings and beheadings in Iraq.” [Washington Post, 6/8/2006; Washington Post, 6/10/2006] These pronouncements and media reports ignore a revelation made two months earlier by the Washington Post that the US military has been engaged in a propaganda campaign to exaggerate al-Zarqawi’s importance. The newspaper had reported that Zarqawi wasn’t behind nearly as many attacks as commonly reported (see October 4, 2004 and April 10, 2006). Even a Washington Post article about the propaganda surrounding al-Zarqawi published two days after his death will fail to mention any of the details provided in the Post’s original reporting on the campaign. [Washington Post, 6/10/2006] Later in the month, an audiotape surfaces in which bin Laden supposedly praises al-Zarqawi as a martyr (see June 30, 2006), calling him a “brave knight” and a “lion of jihad.” US officials say the tape is genuine, however it should be noted that a letter from 2004 said to tie al-Zarqawi to al-Qaeda leadership is believed by many experts to be a US-government promoted hoax (see April 10, 2006). [Washington Post, 6/30/2006] Al-Zarqawi did pledge loyalty to bin Laden in 2004, but they don’t appear to have been closely linked before then and there even are doubts about how close their relationship was after that time (see October 17, 2004).
Al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri also mentioned the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in a video. [Source: As Sahab]A man said to be Osama bin Laden releases an audio message following the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was said to be head of al-Qaeda’s franchise in Iraq (see June 8, 2006). The voice says that al-Zarqawi, who died following a US air strike, is “one of our greatest knights and one of our best emirs… We were very happy to find in him a symbol and role model for our future generations.” The voice, which the CIA says is bin Laden’s, also asks that al-Zarqawi’s body be returned to Jordan, where he was born. The speaker also says: “We will continue, God willing, to fight you and your allies everywhere, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Sudan, until we drain your money and kill your men and send you home defeated, God willing, as we defeated you before, thanks to God, in Somalia.” The message lasts almost 20 minutes and is posted on a website associated with al-Qaeda. [CNN, 6/30/2006] Al-Zarqawi pledged loyalty to bin Laden in 2004 (see October 17, 2004).
Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi. [Source: FBI]Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, said to be an adviser to Osama bin Laden, is captured and detained in a secret CIA prison. President Bush announced on September 6, 2006 that the secret CIA prisons have just been emptied, at least temporarily (see September 2-3, 2006 and September 6, 2006). Nonetheless, Al-Hadi is put in the CIA’s secret prison system (see Autumn 2006-Late April 2007). Very little is known about al-Hadi’s arrest, which will not even be announced until late April 2007, shortly after he is transferred to the Guantanamo prison. It is unknown whether he is captured before Bush’s announcement (in which case he should have been sent to Guantanamo with other high-ranking prisoners), or after. [Salon, 5/22/2007] Prior to Al-Hadi’s arrest, the US government had posted a $1 million reward for his capture. His reward announcement calls him “one of Osama bin Laden’s top global deputies, personally chosen by bin Laden to monitor al-Qaeda operations in Iraq.… He has been associated with numerous attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan and has been known to facilitate communication between al-Qaeda in Iraq and al-Qaeda.” The announcement notes that al-Hadi once served as a major in the Iraqi army, and he may still be in contact with bin Laden. [Rewards for Justice, 1/4/2007] In 2005, Newsweek reported that al-Hadi had been the main liaison between bin Laden and the independent minded Islamist militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq. [Newsweek, 4/4/2005]
Vice President Cheney appears on Meet the Press two days after a bipartisan Senate report asserts that there was no link of any sort between the Iraqi government and al-Qaeda before 9/11, except for one meeting held in 1995. Cheney claims he has not read the report yet, but he says, “whether or not there was a historic relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda. The basis for that is probably best captured in George Tenet’s testimony before the Senate Intel Commission, an open session, where he said specifically that there was a pattern of relationship that went back at least a decade between Iraq and al-Qaeda.… [Militant leader Abu Musab] al-Zarqawi was in Baghdad after we took Afghanistan and before we went into Iraq. You had the facility up at Kermal, poisons facility, ran by Ansar al-Islam, an affiliate of al-Qaeda.… [The Iraqi government] was a state sponsor of terror. [Saddam Hussein] had a relationship with terror groups. No question about it. Nobody denies that.” [Meet the Press, 9/10/2006] In fact, the Senate report determined that although al-Zarqawi was in Baghdad, the Iraqi government tried hard to find him and catch him, and that Ansar al-Islam was in a part of Iraq outside the control of the Iraq government and the government was actively opposed to them as well. The report claims there was no meeting between hijacker Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi agent in Prague in April 2001. [US Senate and Intelligence Committee, 9/8/2006 ] But regarding that meeting, Cheney still does not deny it took place, even though it has been widely discredited. “We don’t know. I mean, we’ve never been able to, to, to link it, and the FBI and CIA have worked it aggressively. I would say, at this point, nobody has been able to confirm…” [Meet the Press, 9/10/2006] Earlier in the year, Cheney had conceded that the meeting “has been pretty well knocked down now at this stage, that that meeting ever took place” (see March 29, 2006).
Nick Davies, author of a new book, Flat Earth News, claims that since the 9/11 attacks, the US has engaged in a systematic attempt to manipulate world opinion on Iraq and Islamist terrorism by creating fake letters and other documents, and then releasing them with great fanfare to a credulous and complicit media.
Al-Zarqawi Letter - Davies cites as one example a 2004 letter purporting to be from al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi that became the basis of an alarming news report in the New York Times and was used by US generals to claim that al-Qaeda was preparing to launch a civil war in Iraq (see February 9, 2004). The letter is now acknowledged to have almost certainly been a fake, one of many doled out to the world’s news agencies by the US and its allies. Davies writes: “For the first time in human history, there is a concerted strategy to manipulate global perception. And the mass media are operating as its compliant assistants, failing both to resist it and to expose it.” Davies says the propaganda is being generated by US and allied intelligence agencies working without effective oversight. It functions within a structure of so-called “strategic communications,” originally designed by the US Defense Department and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to use what Davies calls “subtle and non-violent tactics to deal with Islamist terrorism,” but now being used for propaganda purposes. Davies notes that al-Zarqawi was never interested in working with the larger al-Qaeda network, but instead wanted to overthrow the Jordanian monarchy and replace it with an Islamist theocracy. After the 9/11 attacks, when US intelligence was scouring the region for information on al-Qaeda, Jordan supplied the US with al-Zarqawi’s name, both to please the Americans and to counter their enemy. Shortly thereafter, the US intelligence community began placing al-Zarqawi’s name in press releases and news reports. He became front-page material after being cited in Colin Powell’s UN presentation about Iraqi WMDs and that nation’s connections with al-Qaeda (see February 5, 2003). The propaganda effort had an unforeseen side effect, Davies says: it glamorized al-Zarqawi so much that Osama bin Laden eventually set aside his differences with him and made him the de facto leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Davies cites other examples of false propaganda besides the Zarqawi letter:
Tales of bin Laden living in a lavish network of underground bases in Afghanistan, “complete with offices, dormitories, arms depots, electricity and ventilation systems”;
Taliban leader Mullah Omar “suffering brain seizures and sitting in stationary cars turning the wheel and making a noise like an engine”;
Iran’s ayatollahs “encouraging sex with animals and girls of only nine.”
Davies acknowledges that some of the stories were not concocted by US intelligence. An Iranian opposition group produced the story that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was jailing people for texting each other jokes about him. Iraqi exiles filled the American media “with a dirty stream of disinformation about Saddam Hussein.” But much of it did come from the US. Davies cites the Pentagon’s designation of “information operations” as its fifth “core competency,” along with land, air, sea, and special forces. Much of the Pentagon’s “information operations,” Davies says, is a “psyops” (psychological operations) campaign generating propaganda: it has officials in “brigade, division and corps in the US military… producing output for local media.” The psyops campaign is linked to the State Department’s campaign of “public diplomacy,” which Davies says includes funding radio stations and news Web sites. Britain’s Directorate of Targeting and Information Operations in the Ministry of Defense “works with specialists from 15 UK psyops, based at the Defense Intelligence and Security School at Chicksands in Bedfordshire.”
Some Fellow Journalists Skeptical - The Press Association’s Jonathan Grun criticizes Davies’s book for relying on anonymous sources, “something we strive to avoid.” Chris Blackhurst of the Evening Standard agrees. The editor of the New Statesman, John Kampfner, says that he agrees with Davies to a large extent, but he “uses too broad a brush.” [Independent, 2/11/2008] Kamal Ahmad, editor of the Observer, is quite harsh in his criticism of Davies, accusing the author of engaging in “scurrilous journalism,” making “wild claims” and having “a prejudiced agenda.” (Davies singles out Ahmad for criticism in his book, accusing Ahmad of being a “conduit for government announcements” from Downing Street, particularly the so-called “dodgy dossier” (see February 3, 2003).) [Independent, 2/11/2008] But journalist Francis Wheen says, “Davies is spot on.” [Independent, 2/11/2008]
Entity Tags: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Francis Wheen, Directorate of Targeting and Information Operations (British Ministry of Defense), Colin Powell, Chris Blackhurst, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, John Kampfner, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Al-Qaeda, Kamal Ahmad, US Department of Defense, Osama bin Laden, US Department of State, Saddam Hussein, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Mullah Omar, Nick Davies, Jonathan Grun
Timeline Tags: US Military, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda
A former Air Force interrogator writing under the pseudonym “Matthew Alexander” pens an impassioned plea against the use of torture for the Washington Post. Alexander is a former Special Operations soldier with war experience in Bosnia and Kosovo before volunteering to serve as a senior interrogator in Iraq from February 2006 through August 2006. He writes that while he served in Iraq, his team “had successfully hunted down one of the most notorious mass murderers of our generation, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq and the mastermind of the campaign of suicide bombings that had helped plunge Iraq into civil war.” Yet upon his return, Alexander writes that he was less inclined to celebrate American success than “consumed with the unfinished business of our mission: fixing the deeply flawed, ineffective and un-American way the US military conducts interrogations in Iraq.” Since then, Alexander has written a book, How to Break a Terrorist: The US Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq (see December 2-4, 2008). He writes that interrogation techniques used against terror suspects in Iraq both “betrays our traditions” and “just doesn’t work.”
Army Used 'Guantanamo Model' of Interrogation - When he joined the team hunting for al-Zarqawi, he was astonished to find that “[t]he Army was still conducting interrogations according to the Guantanamo Bay model: Interrogators were nominally using the methods outlined in the US Army Field Manual, the interrogators’ bible, but they were pushing in every way possible to bend the rules—and often break them.… These interrogations were based on fear and control; they often resulted in torture and abuse.”
New and Different Methodology - Alexander refused to allow his interrogators to use such tactics, he writes, and instead taught them a new set of practices: “one based on building rapport with suspects, showing cultural understanding and using good old-fashioned brainpower to tease out information. I personally conducted more than 300 interrogations, and I supervised more than 1,000. The methods my team used are not classified (they’re listed in the unclassified Field Manual), but the way we used them was, I like to think, unique. We got to know our enemies, we learned to negotiate with them, and we adapted criminal investigative techniques to our work (something that the Field Manual permits, under the concept of ‘ruses and trickery’). It worked. Our efforts started a chain of successes that ultimately led to Zarqawi.” Alexander writes that his attitude, and that of his colleagues, changed during this time. “We no longer saw our prisoners as the stereotypical al-Qaeda evildoers we had been repeatedly briefed to expect; we saw them as Sunni Iraqis, often family men protecting themselves from Shi’ite militias and trying to ensure that their fellow Sunnis would still have some access to wealth and power in the new Iraq. Most surprisingly, they turned out to despise al-Qaeda in Iraq as much as they despised us, but Zarqawi and his thugs were willing to provide them with arms and money.” When Alexander pointed this out to General George Casey, then the top US commander in Iraq, Casey ignored him. Alexander writes that Casey’s successor, General David Petraeus, used some of the same “rapport-building” techniques to help boost the “Anbar Awakening,” which saw tens of thousands of Sunnis repudiate al-Zarqawi and align themselves with the US. And, the techniques persuaded one of al-Zarqawi’s associates to tell where he was hiding, giving the US a chance to find and kill him (see June 8, 2006).
Little Overall Change - Even the success in locating and killing al-Zarqawi had little effect on US interrogation methods outside of Alexander’s unit. He left Iraq still unsettled about the methods being used; shortly after his return, he was horrified at news reports that the CIA had waterboarded detainees to coerce information from them (see Between May and Late 2006). Such hard-handed techniques are not only illegal and morally reprehensible, Alexander notes, they usually don’t work. He writes: “Torture and abuse are against my moral fabric. The cliche still bears repeating: Such outrages are inconsistent with American principles. And then there’s the pragmatic side: Torture and abuse cost American lives.” He remembers one jihadist who told him: “I thought you would torture me, and when you didn’t, I decided that everything I was told about Americans was wrong. That’s why I decided to cooperate.”
Torture Breeds Terrorism - Alexander writes that while in Iraq, he learned that the primary reason foreign jihadists came to Iraq to fight Americans was because of their outrage and anger over the abuses carried out at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. “Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq,” he writes. “The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on US and coalition forces in Iraq. It’s no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of US soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me—unless you don’t count American soldiers as Americans.”
Writing about His Experiences - Alexander began writing about his time in Iraq after returning to the US. When he submitted his book for the Defense Department’s review (standard procedure to ensure no classified information is being released), he writes that he “got a nasty shock.” The Pentagon delayed the review past the first scheduled printing date, then redacted what Alexander says was “an extraordinary amount of unclassified material—including passages copied verbatim from the Army’s unclassified Field Manual on interrogations and material vibrantly displayed on the Army’s own Web site.” Alexander was forced to file a lawsuit to get the review completed and to appeal the redactions. “Apparently, some members of the military command are not only unconvinced by the arguments against torture; they don’t even want the public to hear them.”
Conclusions - How we conduct ourselves in the “war on terror” helps define who we are as Americans, Alexander writes. “Murderers like Zarqawi can kill us, but they can’t force us to change who we are. We can only do that to ourselves.” It is up to Americans, including military officers directly involved in the battle against terrorist foes, “to protect our values not only from al-Qaeda but also from those within our own country who would erode them.” He continues: “We’re told that our only options are to persist in carrying out torture or to face another terrorist attack. But there truly is a better way to carry out interrogations—and a way to get out of this false choice between torture and terror.” With the ascension of Barack Obama to the White House, Alexander describes himself as “quite optimistic” that the US will renounce torture. “But until we renounce the sorts of abuses that have stained our national honor, al-Qaeda will be winning. Zarqawi is dead, but he has still forced us to show the world that we do not adhere to the principles we say we cherish. We’re better than that. We’re smarter, too.” [Washington Post, 11/30/2008]
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