Every day there seems to be yet another example of lazy journalism or slanted reporting on this latest Pentagon report about ties between Saddam’s regime and terrorists. This time, it’s Newsweek.
I hate to make a long post, but…sometimes it’s necessary.
Let’s go to the woodshed….
President Bush said lots of things about Saddam Hussein in the run-up to the Iraq War. But few of his charges grabbed more attention than an unscripted remark he made at a Texas political fund-raiser on Sept. 26, 2002. “After all, this is a guy who tried to kill my dad at one time,” Bush said. The comment referred to a 1993 claim by the Kuwaiti government—accepted by the Clinton administration—that the Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) had plotted to assassinate President George H.W. Bush during a trip to Kuwait that spring. Ever since, armchair psychologists have suggested that personal revenge may have been one reason for the president’s determination to overthrow Saddam’s regime.
This is an amazing allegation. What this article is saying is that the husband of Senator Hillary Clinton (former President Bill Clinton) lied about a terrorist attack against the United States, and used the attack as an excuse to attack Saddam’s regime. Senator Clinton’s political quest for the Democratic Presidential nomination is based on the perception that she has more “experience” than Senator Obama, and on the idea that ‘if you liked the way the US was in the 90’s, you’ll like her.’ Yet Newsweek is suggesting that in the early 1990’s the US attacked Iraq under false pretenses.
No country can have normal relations with a regime that uses terror, aggression and even assassination as tools of foreign policy. Unfortunately, this is the kind of regime now ruling Iraq. The regime of Saddam Hussein has slaughtered its own people, invaded two neighbors, sponsored international terrorism and engaged in chemical and environmental warfare.
In April, the Kuwaiti government uncovered a plot to assassinate former President George Bush by means of a powerful car bomb while he was visiting Kuwait City. Working with Kuwaiti authorities, United States officials carefully investigated the plot. They reported to President Bill Clinton last week. As President Clinton said in a televised address on June 26, the investigators determined that the plot “was directed and pursued by the Iraqi Intelligence Service.”
“It is clear,” said President Clinton, “that this was no impulsive or random act. It was an elaborate plan devised by the Iraqi government and directed against the former president of the United States because of actions he took as president. As such, the Iraqi attack against President Bush was an attack against our country and against all Americans.” Clinton stressed that the United States could not let such an action against the United States go unanswered.
One can’t even argue (though Newsweek writer Isikoff tries) that the decision to attack was based on limited or manipulated intelligence reporting. Newsweek in particular can’t make the claim because of an amazing article they wrote during the days before/after the missile strike. In those days, Newsweek reporters were granted unprecedented access and allowed to sit in meetings etc with President Clinton and his advisors. The subsequent piece, “SEVEN DAYS. A Week in the Life of the President“ was a milestone in Newsweek’s reporting of world affairs and the day to day-sometimes hour to hour-life of a President; President Clinton.
“What to do in the meantime? Clinton headed for the kitchen. The president had already scarfed down a snack of cocktail shrimp and pastries while contemplating the fate of Saddam Hussein.”
Newsweek, July 12, 1993, “SEVEN DAYS. A Week in the Life of the President“, pg20
The decision to launch the retaliatory cruise missile attack on Iraq was made shortly after. Perhaps Mr. Isikoff is attempting to describe an act of war that was warranted, but not taken seriously?
“Saturday, June 26: In the morning, Clinton made phone calls to a dozen heads of state to inform them about the bombing in Iraq, scheduled to start at 4:21 that afternoon and to hit by 6. He was 45 minutes late for his 9a.m. golf game.”
Newsweek, July 12, 1993, “SEVEN DAYS. A Week in the Life of the President“, pg23
Was it really just ‘circumstantial’ evidence-not REAL evidence that Saddam’s regime was behind the act of war?
1. A car bomb, hidden in a Toyota Landcruiser, was smuggled across the Iraq-Kuwait border by the suspects during the night of April 13, 1993. This bomb, and the other explosives that were seized, have been directly examined by FBI forensic experts. In the judgment of these experts, key components, including the remote-control firing device, the plastic explosives, the blasting cap, the integrated circuitry, and the wiring were built by the same person or persons who built bombs previously recovered from the Iraqis. Certain aspects of these devices have been found only in devices linked to Iraq and not in devices used by any other terrorist groups.
2. According to the forensic experts, other explosives seized in this plot, including “cube bombs,” contained components built by the same person or persons who built similar devices recovered in the past from the Iraqis.
3. The car bomb itself possessed devastating power. It was a sophisticated device, involving a complicated manufacturing process, and was well-hidden in the vehicle. It contained approximately 80 kilograms of explosives. It was constructed to allow detonation by remote control, by a timer or manually. The forensic experts have concluded that this bomb had the power to kill people within a radius of 400 yards.
B. THE SUSPECTS
1. The FBI conducted extensive interviews of the 16 suspects now on trail in Kuwait. The two main suspects — Ra’ad al-Asadi and Wali al-Ghazali — are Iraqi nationals. They told the FBI that they had been recruited and received orders in Basra, Iraq, from individuals they believed to be associated with the Iraqi intelligence Service.
2. These suspects told the FBI that their Iraqi recruiters provided them with the car bomb and other explosives in Basra on April 10, 1993.
3. One of the suspects, al-Ghazali, told the FBI that he was recruited for the specific purpose of assassinating President Bush in Kuwait City.
4. The other main suspect, al-Asadi, told the FBI that his task was to guide al-Ghazali and the car bomb to Kuwait University (where President Bush and the Emir of Kuwait were scheduled to appear) and to plant smaller explosives elsewhere in Kuwait.
C. INTELLIGENCE ASSESSMENTS
1. During and immediately after the Persian Gulf War, Saddam – through his controlled media — indicated that President Bush would be held personally responsible for the war and would be hunted down and punished, even after he left office. Various classified intelligence sources support the conclusion that the Iraqi government ordered this attack against President Bush.
2. From all the evidence available to it, the CIA is highly confident that the Iraqi government, at the highest levels, directed its intelligence service to assassinate former President Bush during his visit to Kuwait on April 14-16, 1993.
But wait…this “article” by Mr. Isikoff gets even more misleading….
But curiously little has been heard about the allegedly foiled assassination plot in the five years since the U.S. military invaded Iraq. A just-released Pentagon study on the Iraqi regime’s ties to terrorism only adds to the mystery. The review, conducted for the Pentagon’s Joint Forces Command, combed through 600,000 pages of Iraqi intelligence documents seized after the fall of Baghdad, as well as thousands of hours of audio- and videotapes of Saddam’s conversations with his ministers and top aides.
This is just false, and given that the truth is presented in the open pages of Volume 1 of the Pentagon’s report, it suggests that Isikoff (or whoever wrote the “article”) never actually read the report on ties between Saddam’s regime and terrorists. The recent Pentagon report did not “comb through 600,000 pages” of Iraqi Intelligence reports. It had 600,000 documents at its disposal, and on many occasions a single “document” consisted of hundreds or thousands of pages. As a result, the investigation’s report is based on only about 100,000 documents. The other 5/6th of the captured intelligence remains to be examined thoroughly. Since 5/6th of the intel hasn’t been examined, it hardly seems ‘curious’ or shocking that a single page here or there dating back 15years has yet to be reviewed (ignoring the fact that thousands of documents were deliberately destroyed by Saddam’s regime, and logic bears that the most condemning and guilt-ridden records would be the most important ones to destroy).
“For this paper, the JAWP Iraqi Perspectives Project (IPP) research team screened more than 600,000 original captured documents I and several thousand hours of audio and video footage archived in a US Department of Defense (DOD) database called Harmony. As of August 2006, only 15 percent of the captured documents have English translations.”
-“Iraqi Perspectives Project, Saddam and Terrorism: Emerging Insights from Captured Iraqi Documents”,Volume 1 (Redacted), Forward. pg1
PAGE 1!!!!! You’d think that a huge media outlet like Newsweek, and a veteran editor/reporter like Mr. Isikoff would have taken the time to read the very first page of the very first volume of the report that was being described….., but you’d be wrong.
The study found that the IIS kept remarkably detailed records of virtually every operation it planned, including plots to assassinate Iraqi exiles and to supply explosives and booby-trapped suitcases to Iraqi embassies. But the Pentagon researchers found no documents that referred to a plan to kill Bush. The absence was conspicuous because researchers, aware of its potential significance, were looking for such evidence. “It was surprising,” said one source familiar with the preparation of the report (who under Pentagon ground rules was not permitted to speak on the record). Given how much the Iraqis did document, “you would have thought there would have been some veiled reference to something about [the plot].”
Yes, anyone who has read even a few hundred of the declassified documents is shocked by the detail in which the IIS maintained their records. No doubt that detail carried over to destroying incriminating documents or burying them or moving them out of the country in the 17-month long “rush to war.”
The failure does not, of course, prove that the Iraqis were not planning such an operation. “It would not have surprised me at all if the Iraqis expunged any record of that—it was an utter embarrassment for them,” says Paul Pillar, the CIA’s former top analyst on the Middle East. But others have wondered whether the original allegations were exaggerated. The Kuwaiti claim grew out of the arrest of a band of whiskey smugglers near the Iraq border that spring. Kuwaiti authorities also recovered a Toyota Land Cruiser containing 175 pounds of explosives connected to a detonator. After several days in Kuwaiti custody, the smugglers’ ringleader, Wali al-Ghazali, confessed that he had been dispatched by an Iraqi intelligence agent to blow up former president Bush. Amnesty International questioned whether al-Ghazali (the only one to claim that Bush was the target) had been tortured. But when an FBI team concluded that the detonator and explosives closely resembled other Iraqi bombs, President Clinton ordered a Tomahawk cruise-missile strike on IIS headquarters. Years later Kuwait’s emir declined to sign al-Ghazali’s death warrant and commuted the sentences of four of the six convicted plotters. “It was always a circumstantial case,” says Judith Yaphe, another former CIA analyst on Iraq. A White House spokesman declined to comment, but a U.S. intelligence official said, “It remains our view that Saddam’s government had a hand” in the 1993 plot, and that information since the war “lends further credence” to that view.
Actually, the evidence that the Clinton Administration presented to justify its attack on Saddam’s regime was a great deal more detailed than Newsweek alleges. It was not,”…always a circumstantial case.”
How Do We Know that Iraq Tried to Assassinate President George H.W. Bush?
The following report appears on the website of the Department of Justice.
Former President George Bush visited Kuwait between April 14 and April 16, 1993, to commemorate the allied victory in the Persian Gulf War. Accompanying Bush were his wife, two of his sons, former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, former Chief of Staff John Sununu, and former Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady.
In late-April 1993, the United States learned that terrorists had attempted to assassinate Bush during his visit to Kuwait. The Kuwaiti authorities arrested 17 persons suspected in the plot to kill Bush using explosives hidden in a Toyota Landcruiser. The Kuwaitis recovered the Landcruiser, which contained between 80 and 90 kilograms of plastic explosives connected to a detonator ( the Bush device or Bush explosive device ). The Kuwaitis also recovered ten cube-shaped plastic explosive devices with detonators (the cube-bombs ) from the Landcruiser. Some of the suspects reportedly confessed that the Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS ) was behind the assassination attempt.
On April 29, 1993, CIA bomb technicians compared the Bush explosive device to two known Iraqi explosive devices found in different Middle-Eastern countries in 1990 and 1991 (the Middle-East devices ) . The technicians reported that the remote control firing mechanism in the Bush device was identical to those in the Middle-East devices. Additionally, the technicians reported that blasting caps from the Bush device appeared to be identical to those found in one of the Middle-East devices. The technicians later concluded that the circuit board from the Bush device also closely resembled circuit boards from the Middle-East devices.
In early-May 1993, the FBI sent personnel to Kuwait to interview the suspects and examine the physical evidence. FBI Special Agents, along with representatives of the Secret Service and State Department, interviewed 16 suspects, some more than once. Two of the suspects, Wali ‘Abd Al-Hadi ‘Abd Al-Hasan Al-Ghazali ( Al-Ghazali ) and Ra’d ‘Abd Al-Amir ‘Abbud Al-Asadi ( Al-Asadi ), admitted during the FBI interviews that they had participated in the plot at the direction of the IIS.
Explosives examiner Jordan also traveled to Kuwait in May 1993 to examine the Bush device. Jordan examined the main charge, which was hidden in three panels in the Landcruiser and was capable of being detonated by remote control, a timing device, or a push-pull suicide switch. Jordan compared the Bush device to photographs of the Middle-East devices, as well as other devices, and concluded that the same person or persons manufactured the Bush device and one of the Middle-East devices, and that a connection existed between persons responsible for the Bush device and several other devices, including the other Middle-East device. Jordan reported these conclusions in a May 11, 1993 Laboratory report.
Jordan then returned to Washington, D.C., and delivered samples of the explosives from the Bush device to Whitehurst. Whitehurst analyzed the explosive from the main charge and concluded that the substance was approximately 96% RDX, 3% polyvinyl-isobutyl ether binder, and 1% hydrocarbon oil. As for samples from the cube-bombs, Whitehurst concluded that the explosive was consistent with an explosive containing RDX bound with a cross-linked phenoxy or epoxy binder containing Sudan I dye. Whitehurst reported these findings in his June 7, 1993, dictation.
Details of the bomb’s construction and the specific, technical composition of the RDX explosive is of extreme importance in the discussion as to whether or not the Clinton Administration’s case for attacking Iraq was exaggerated, created, bad intelligence, or a matter of political poll raising. It’s of paramount importance because in no other Islamic terrorist attack in American history has had these details released to the public. I personally have tried on repeated occasions to get similar, detailed descriptions of the bomb used in the U.S.S. Cole for example, but the CIA, FBI, DoD, DoN, and NCIS have all said it remains classified. To allege, as Newsweek does, that the intelligence which determined the details of the Bush Assassination attempt was weak or “circumstantial” is to ignore the easy to find truth.
Evidence of the Bush plot wasn’t the only thing the Pentagon researchers couldn’t find. There were also no records showing what the report called a “smoking gun” connection between Saddam’s regime and Al Qaeda—one of the principal claims made by the White House to advance the case for war. The report did find plenty of evidence that Saddam’s regime had close ties to other (mainly Palestinian) terror groups and had maintained contacts with some radical Islamic movements—including, according to one 1993 document, Egyptian Islamic Jihad. Last week Vice President Dick Cheney said the document showed there was a “link between Iraq and Al Qaeda.” But Pillar notes the Egyptian group—headed by Ayman al-Zawahiri—didn’t merge with Al Qaeda until years later. “This is the same kind of word game they played before the war,” Pillar says.
Literary devices are a funny thing. So is irony. In this section of the “article” Mr. Pillar (an anti-Bush advocate for years) claims that the Pentagon is playing word games, which the report and people who believe it are somehow distorting the documented truth: that Saddam was a terrorist sponsor and worked with groups in the Al Queda network of terrorist groups. “This is the same kind of word game they played before the war,” Pillar says.” As evidence of this, Mr. Pillar claims that close, operational, collaborative ties between Saddam’s regime and Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) are somehow irrelevant because EIJ didn’t formally merge with Bin Laden’s Al Queda leadership until 1995/96.
It’s true that they didn’t merge until then, but Mr. Pillar, Mr. Isikoff, and Newsweek ignore the reality that the head of EIJ during the time that Saddam’s regime was working with them was Ayaman al Zawahiri who had been constant close friends with Osama Bin Laden since they fought together in the 1980’s against the Soviets. Just as importantly, Zawahiri became Al Queda’s strategic planner; the brains of Al Queda. If Saddam’s regime was working with Zawahiri as head of EIJ, then the reports of Saddam’s regime working with Zawahiri after 1995 bolster the claim that Saddam’s regime was willing to work with/use Al Queda terrorist groups (a fact/”word game” ignored by Mr. Pillar, Mr. Isikoff, and Newsweek that somehow accidentally didn’t get mentioned).
The report goes on and gives examples of other Al Queda terrorist groups in Palestine, in Syria, in Saudi Arabia, and in Northern Iraq all working with Saddam’s regime. Specifically, it says that Iraqi Intelligence Services maintained liaison officers and sometimes offices with these groups; some of which later garnered the generic name of “Al Queda in Iraq” by the press. Hundreds of regime members have been caught working with these Al Queda groups, and they confirm that the regime worked with the groups. Thousands of Al Queda have been captured and confirmed it as well.
It’s ironic that the “article” tries to suggest that “word games” are being played to manipulate what the report says about Saddam’s ties to terrorism. Let’s avoid the games and cut to the conclusion:
One question remains regarding Iraq’s terrorism capability: Is there anything in the captured archives to indicate that Saddam had the will to use his terrorist capabilities directly against United States? Judging from examples of Saddam’s statements (Extract 34) before the 1991 Gulf War with the United States, the answer is yes.” [btw, no emphasis added on that ‘yes’. It’s emphasized in the report] -“Iraqi Perspectives Project, Saddam and Terrorism: Emerging Insights from Captured Iraqi Documents”,Volume 1 (Redacted), Conclusion V. pg45.
Perhaps most revealing of all was a tape of Saddam’s conversations with his ministers after the World Trade Center bombing in February 1993—a plot linked to a group of Islamic radicals, one of whom, Abdul Rahman Yasin, was an Iraqi-American who fled to Baghdad after the attack. For years Bush administration officials like Cheney and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz charged that Iraq had given “sanctuary” to Yasin, suggesting that the regime may have been complicit in the 1993 bombing. But the newly discovered tape shows that Saddam and his ministers were puzzled by the bombing and wondered whether the “Zionists” or U.S. intelligence were secretly behind it. They also were deeply suspicious of Yasin, whom the Iraqis had in custody and were interrogating. Yasin, Saddam says on the tape, is “too organized in what he is saying and is playing games.”
This was surprising, but not overly so. The claims that the 1993 World Trade Center bombing were part of Osama Bin Laden’s holy war against Americans comes from the Clinton Administration indictment of the bombing conspirators (not from “years Bush administration officials like Cheney and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz”). The Blind Sheik who was the instigator in the plot was tied to Bin Laden’s reborn Al Queda. His group was labeled part of the Al Queda network of terrorist groups by the Clinton Administration’s Department of Justice (see also FBI descriptions of those indicted and those convicted).
Also, Yasin clearly was given sanctuary years after the 1993 document which Mr. Isikoff refers This was demonstrated by the interview the ’93 World Trade Center bomber gave to Leslie Stahl of CBS’ “60 Minutes “, and by the fact that he was given a house and a salary by Saddam’s IIS in 1994.
The Pentagon researcher said the exchange shows how “paranoid and suspicious” the Iraqis were about their adversaries. They may not have been alone.
Nope. They clearly were not alone. That’s why the Clinton Administration conducted major bombing campaigns, cruise missile strikes, or threatened to invade every 4-6 months for 8 years. It’s too bad Mr. Isikoff took the time to write such a misleading article about a report he clearly never read, and instead of describing the shocking findings of the investigation he chose to cherry-pick facts, misrepresent them, and use long discarded political bureaucrats as if they were unbiased sources.
Mr. Isikoff can be reached for comment at