NY Post, Fox's Gibson touted new Iraqi documents, ignored doubts on significance, credibility

››› ››› RAPHAEL SCHWEBER-KOREN

A New York Post editorial and Fox News host John Gibson both claimed that documents recovered from Iraq -- recently released by the Bush administration and summarized by ABC News -- prove that the administration correctly asserted in its buildup to the Iraq war that Saddam Hussein was working with Al Qaeda. In fact, as ABC pointed out, the documents that both the Post and Gibson cited are not definitive in any way and are of varying credibility.

A March 27 New York Post editorial and Fox News host John Gibson both claimed that documents recovered from Iraq -- recently released by the Bush administration and summarized by ABC News -- prove that the administration correctly asserted in its buildup to the Iraq war that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was working with Al Qaeda. In fact, as ABC pointed out, the documents that both the Post and Gibson cited are not definitive in any way and are of varying credibility. Furthermore, a U.S. intelligence official told The New York Times that the documents, which had been in their custody prior to their release, have not altered the current intelligence assessment that Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda had no operational relationship.

The Post claimed that "[r]ight at the top of the left's catalogue of George W. Bush's 'lies' about the War on Terror is the one about Saddam Hussein's ties to terrorism in general - and to al Qaeda in particular. ... No evidence exists, the critics say, to show serious ties between the deposed Iraqi dictator and Islamist terrorists." The Post then claimed that because of the new Saddam documents, it "[l]ooks like the president's enemies will have to come up with another one":

ABC News reports that a newly translated Iraqi government document discloses that an official representative of Saddam met directly with Osama bin Laden in Sudan on Feb. 19, 1995 -- and that the al Qaeda leader had suggested "carrying out joint operations against foreign forces in Saudi Arabia."

As a test of good faith, bin Laden asked the Iraqis to broadcast sermons by one of his radical mentors over Baghdad radio, which was done. And eight months after the meeting, terrorists - who later confessed to having been trained by bin Laden - attacked Saudi National Guard headquarters.

As ABC notes, this document is critical because it shows that substantial contacts with al Qaeda were "approved personally by Saddam" and that bin Laden was pushing a working relationship.

Similarly, in a segment on the March 24 edition of Fox News' Big Story with John Gibson with Fox News contributor Dan Senor, a former spokesman for and senior adviser to L. Paul Bremer, former administrator for Iraq's Coalition Provisional Authority, Gibson stated that "This is the Bush-lied story. No WMDs, no connection with bin Laden, no connection with 9-11, no connection with any attacks on the United States. Now these documents are saying, yes, all that's true." Senor responded by mentioning Iraq's general connections to terrorism: "The State Department had listed for about two decades Saddam Hussein's Iraq as a state sponsor of terrorism as a government that had ties for terrorist groups. For a couple decades. People forget the State Department listed it on their website. So the operational ties between terrorists, whether it's Al Qaeda or not goes way back. The documents look like they have increasing credibility." Gibson responded that he's "read these documents" and that "ABC News is putting these things out. It's not some nutjob weblog that's putting these things out. It's ABC News. And not only did Saddam approve conversations with Osama bin Laden, not only did he approve an offer to operate out of Iraq, he approved investigating joint operations against the U.S. and the West with Osama bin Laden."

In fact, ABC News, in its coverage of the documents, has noted that doubts exist about both the credibility and significance of the documents cited by the Post and Gibson. American intelligence officials have since stated that the documents have not altered the view of U.S. intelligence regarding Saddam's lack of operational Al Qaeda connections.

According to ABC, one of the documents, regarding possible collaboration in 1995 between Iraq and Al Qaeda, states:

A newly released prewar Iraqi document indicates that an official representative of Saddam Hussein's government met with Osama bin Laden in Sudan on February 19, 1995, after receiving approval from Saddam Hussein. Bin Laden asked that Iraq broadcast the lectures of Suleiman al Ouda, a radical Saudi preacher, and suggested "carrying out joint operations against foreign forces" in Saudi Arabia. According to the document, Saddam's presidency was informed of the details of the meeting on March 4, 1995, and Saddam agreed to dedicate a program for them on the radio. The document states that further "development of the relationship and cooperation between the two parties to be left according to what's open [in the future] based on dialogue and agreement on other ways of cooperation." The Sudanese were informed about the agreement to dedicate the program on the radio.

The report then states that "Saudi opposition figure" bin Laden had to leave Sudan in July 1996 after it was accused of harboring terrorists. It says information indicated he was in Afghanistan. "The relationship with him is still through the Sudanese. We're currently working on activating this relationship through a new channel in light of his current location," it states.

However, Gibson neglected to mention that an ABC News "editor's note" accompanied this document's summary. And while the Post reported the editor's note's statement that, according to the document, the discussed Al-Qaeda contacts "were approved personally by Saddam Hussein" and "substantive," it omitted the parts of the editor's note that undermined the document's credibility. The note states, "This document is handwritten and has no official seal," meaning its authenticity cannot currently be assessed. The editor's note also reminded readers that the 9-11 Commission reported on "contacts between bin Laden and the Iraqis"; for example, "Bin Lad[e]n himself met with a senior Iraqi intelligence officer in Khartoum in late 1994 or early 1995." The 9-11 Commission eventually concluded, in its Staff Statement 15, that "contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda ... do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship." The editor's note also states that "[t]he document does not establish that the two parties did in fact enter into an operational relationship," adding:

Given that the document claims bin Laden was proposing to the Iraqis that they conduct "joint operations against foreign forces" in Saudi Arabia, it is worth noting that eight months after the meeting -- on November 13, 1995 -- terrorists attacked Saudi National Guard Headquarters in Riyadh, killing 5 U.S. military advisers. The militants later confessed on Saudi TV to having been trained by Osama bin Laden.

Another document reported by ABC is titled "Osama bin Laden and the Taliban" and is dated September 15, 2001:

An Iraqi intelligence service document saying that their Afghan informant, who's only identified by a number, told them that the Afghan consul Ahmed Dahastani claimed the following in front of him:

  • That OBL and the Taliban are in contact with Iraq and that a group of Taliban and bin Laden group members visited Iraq

  • That the U.S. has proof the Iraqi government and "bin Laden's group" agreed to cooperate to attack targets inside America.

  • That in case the Taliban and bin Laden's group turn out to be involved in "these destructive operations," the U.S. may strike Iraq and Afghanistan.

  • That the Afghan consul heard about the issue of Iraq's relationship with "bin Laden's group" while he was in Iran.

At the end, the writer recommends informing "the committee of intentions" about the above-mentioned items. The signature on the document is unclear.

Again, however, the editor's note urges caution about the document's value:

The controversial claim that Osama bin Laden was cooperating with Saddam Hussein is an ongoing matter of intense debate. While the assertions contained in this document clearly support the claim, the sourcing is questionable -- i.e., an unnamed Afghan "informant" reporting on a conversation with another Afghan "consul." The date of the document -- four days after 9/11 -- is worth noting but without further corroboration, this document is of limited evidentiary value.

A third set of documents in the ABC News release, dated August 2002, relates to Iraqi concerns about Al Qaeda members entering Iraq:

A number of correspondences to check rumors that some members of al Qaeda organization have entered Iraq. Three letters say this information cannot be confirmed. The letter on page seven, however, says that information coming from "a trustworthy source" indicates that subjects who are interested in dealing with al Qaeda are in Iraq and have several passports.

The letter seems to be coming from or going to Trebil, a town on the Iraqi-Jordanian border. Follow up on the presence of those subjects is ordered, as well as a comparison of their pictures with those of Jordanian subjects living in Iraq. (This may be referring to pictures of Abu Musaab al Zarqawi and another man on pages 4-6.) The letter also says tourist areas, including hotels and rented apartments, should be searched.

The editor's note states that "The document does not support allegations that Iraq was colluding with al Qaeda."

In addition to the ABC editors' notes, ABC linked to the military website on which the documents have been released, which states that "[t]he US Government has made no determination regarding the authenticity of the documents, validity or factual accuracy of the information contained therein, or the quality of any translations, when available." The documents were released under pressure from Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) and Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI). A March 28 New York Times article quoted unnamed U.S. intelligence sources regarding the document release:

"Our view is there's nothing in here that changes what we know today," said a senior intelligence official, who would discuss the program only on condition of anonymity because the director of national intelligence, John D. Negroponte, directed his staff to avoid public debates over the documents. "There is no smoking gun on W.M.D., Al Qaeda, those kinds of issues."

All the documents ... have received at least a quick review by Arabic linguists and do not alter the government's official stance, officials say. On some tapes already released, in fact, Mr. Hussein expressed frustration that he did not have unconventional weapons.

[...]

In addition, the intelligence official said, known forgeries are not posted. He said the database included "a fair amount of forgeries," sold by Iraqi hustlers or concocted by Iraqis opposed to Mr. Hussein.

From the March 27 New York Post editorial, titled "Saddam & Osama":

Right at the top of the left's catalogue of George W. Bush's "lies" about the War on Terror is the one about Saddam Hussein's ties to terrorism in general - and to al Qaeda in particular.

No evidence exists, the critics say, to show serious ties between the deposed Iraqi dictator and Islamist terrorists.

Looks like the president's enemies will have to come up with another one.

ABC News reports that a newly translated Iraqi government document discloses that an official representative of Saddam met directly with Osama bin Laden in Sudan on Feb. 19, 1995 - and that the al Qaeda leader had suggested "carrying out joint operations against foreign forces in Saudi Arabia."

As a test of good faith, bin Laden asked the Iraqis to broadcast sermons by one of his radical mentors over Baghdad radio, which was done. And eight months after the meeting, terrorists - who later confessed to having been trained by bin Laden - attacked Saudi National Guard headquarters.

As ABC notes, this document is critical because it shows that substantial contacts with al Qaeda were "approved personally by Saddam" and that bin Laden was pushing a working relationship.

From the March 24 edition of Fox News' The Big Story with John Gibson:

GIBSON: A newly released document from Saddam's fallen regime says the former dictator personally approved talks between Iraq and bin Laden in the 1990s. Former spokesman and adviser to the former Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq joins us now. Dan Senor is a Fox News contributor.

This is the Bush-lied story: No WMDs, no connection with bin Laden, no connection with 9-11, no connection with any attacks on the United States. Now these documents are saying, yes, all that's true. Could we believe these documents?

SENOR: Well, you look back, actually, it's interesting. The State Department had listed for about two decades Saddam Hussein's Iraq as a state sponsor of terrorism, as a government that had ties to terrorist groups -- for a couple decades. People forget the State Department listed it on their website. So the operational ties between terrorists, whether it's Al Qaeda or not, goes way back. The documents look like they have increasing credibility. The question is, will the administration get out there and really make a case for them?

GIBSON: Does the administration have to?

SENOR: I don't think -- I think the administration wants to stay away from relitigating this issue and this debate because it implies they're trying to link 9-11 with Saddam Hussein.

GIBSON: Well, I've read these documents. ABC News is putting these things out. It's not some nutjob weblog that's putting these things out. It's ABC News. And not only did Saddam approve conversations with Osama bin Laden, not only did he approve an offer to operate out of Iraq, he approved investigating joint operations against the U.S. and the West with bin Laden. Somebody's got to start paying attention to these things, don't they?

SENOR: Yes, absolutely.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, Terrorism, War in Iraq
Network/Outlet
New York Post, Fox News Channel
Person
John Gibson
Show/Publication
The Big Story with John Gibson
Stories/Interests
Prewar Intelligence/WMD
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.