Newspapers ignore reports on Cheney office's push for Al Qaeda-Iraq link

››› ››› DIANNA PARKER

None of five major national newspapers has reported on a Daily Beast article reporting that Vice President Dick Cheney's office "suggested waterboarding an Iraqi prisoner, a former intelligence official for Saddam Hussein, who was suspected to have knowledge of a Saddam-al Qaeda connection."

Despite covering questions regarding what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) knew about the Bush administration's interrogation policies, none of five major newspapers -- The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today -- has reported on a May 13 Daily Beast article reporting that Vice President Dick Cheney's office "suggested waterboarding an Iraqi prisoner, a former intelligence official for Saddam Hussein, who was suspected to have knowledge of a Saddam-al Qaeda connection." On the May 17 edition of ABC's This Week, Cheney's daughter Liz, a former State Department official, was specifically asked twice about the report and dodged both questions.

Moreover, those same newspapers have yet to report on a May 15 McClatchy Newspapers article by Jonathan S. Landay highlighting comments made by Dick Cheney in 2004 that detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, provided information confirming Iraq's involvement in giving chemical and biological weapons training to Al Qaeda.

In the Daily Beast article, former NBC News investigative producer Robert Windrem reported: "Two U.S. intelligence officers confirm that Vice President Cheney's office suggested waterboarding an Iraqi prisoner ... who was suspected to have knowledge of a Saddam-al Qaeda connection." As Media Matters for America noted, MSNBC hosts covered Windrem's report at least twice on May 14, and at one point hosted Windrem to discuss it. From Windrem's report:

At the end of April 2003, not long after the fall of Baghdad, U.S. forces captured an Iraqi who Bush White House officials suspected might provide information of a relationship between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's regime. Muhammed Khudayr al-Dulaymi was the head of the M-14 section of Mukhabarat, one of Saddam's secret police organizations. His responsibilities included chemical weapons and contacts with terrorist groups.

"To those who wanted or suspected a relationship, he would have been a guy who would know, so [White House officials] had particular interest," Charles Duelfer, head of the Iraqi Survey Group and the man in charge of interrogations of Iraqi officials, told me. So much so that the officials, according to Duelfer, inquired how the interrogation was proceeding.

In his new book, Hide and Seek: The Search for Truth in Iraq, and in an interview with The Daily Beast, Duelfer says he heard from "some in Washington at very senior levels (not in the CIA)," who thought Khudayr's interrogation had been "too gentle" and suggested another route, one that they believed has proven effective elsewhere. "They asked if enhanced measures, such as waterboarding, should be used," Duelfer writes. "The executive authorities addressing those measures made clear that such techniques could legally be applied only to terrorism cases, and our debriefings were not as yet terrorism-related. The debriefings were just debriefings, even for this creature."

Duelfer will not disclose who in Washington had proposed the use of waterboarding, saying only: "The language I can use is what has been cleared." In fact, two senior U.S. intelligence officials at the time tell The Daily Beast that the suggestion to waterboard came from the Office of Vice President Cheney. Cheney, of course, has vehemently defended waterboarding and other harsh techniques, insisting they elicited valuable intelligence and saved lives. He has also asked that several memoranda be declassified to prove his case. (The Daily Beast placed a call to Cheney's office and will post a response if we get one.)

Without admitting where the suggestion came from, Duelfer revealed that he considered it reprehensible and understood the rationale as political -- and ultimately counterproductive to the overall mission of the Iraq Survey Group, which was assigned the mission of finding Saddam Hussein's WMD after the invasion.

In the McClatchy article, Landay wrote that "Cheney, defending the invasion of Iraq, asserted in 2004 that detainees interrogated at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp had revealed that Iraq had trained al Qaida operatives in chemical and biological warfare, an assertion that wasn't true." According to Landay, Cheney asserted in an interview with The Rocky Mountain News, "We know for example from interrogating detainees in Guantanamo that al Qaida sent individuals to Baghdad to be trained in C.W. and B.W. technology, chemical and biological weapons technology." Cheney biographer Stephen Hayes reported on the interview, including those comments, in a January 13, 2004, Weekly Standard article (retrieved from the Nexis database). Landay reported: "No evidence of such training or of any operational links between Iraq and al Qaida has ever been found, according to several official inquiries." From Landay's article:

The Rocky Mountain News asked Cheney in a Jan. 9, 2004, interview if he stood by his claims that Saddam's regime had maintained a "relationship" with al Qaida, raising the danger that Iraq might give the group chemical, biological or nuclear weapons to attack the U.S.

"Absolutely. Absolutely," Cheney replied.

A Cheney spokeswoman said a response to an e-mail requesting clarification of the former vice president's remarks would be forthcoming next week.

"The (al Qaida-Iraq) links go back," he said. "We know for example from interrogating detainees in Guantanamo that al Qaida sent individuals to Baghdad to be trained in C.W. and B.W. technology, chemical and biological weapons technology. These are all matters that are there for anybody who wants to look at it."

No evidence of such training or of any operational links between Iraq and al Qaida has ever been found, according to several official inquiries.

It's not apparent which Guantanamo detainees Cheney was referring to in the interview.

One al Qaida detainee, Ibn al Sheikh al Libi, claimed that terrorist operatives were sent to Iraq for chemical and biological weapons training, but he was in CIA custody, not at Guantanamo.

Moreover, he recanted his assertions, some of them allegedly made under torture while he was being interrogated in Egypt.

"No postwar information has been found that indicates CBW training occurred, and the detainee who provided the key prewar reporting about this training recanted his claims after the war," a September 2006 Senate Intelligence Committee report said.

Indeed, according to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's September 2006 report on postwar findings about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program, al-Libi, who was "the source of reports on al-Qa'ida's efforts to obtain CBW [chemical and biological weapons] training, recanted the information he provided." The report found that al-Libi recanted in January 2004, claiming he had "fabricated information since his capture. ... Al-Libi claimed that to the best of his knowledge al-Qa'ida never sent any individuals into Iraq for any kind of support in chemical or biological weapons, as he had claimed previously." The report concluded: "The other reports of possible al-Qa'ida CBW training from Iraq were never considered credible by the Intelligence Community. No other information has been uncovered in Iraq or from detainees that confirms this reporting." According to the report, as early as 2002, the Defense Intelligence Agency had expressed skepticism about al-Libi's claims, at one point stating that while his story was "possible," "it is more likely this individual is intentionally misleading the debriefers."

Media Matters searched the Nexis database for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today since May 12 for the following terms:

  • Cheney AND (waterboard! or water board! or detain! or torture! or interrog! or tactic) AND (Iraq! or Saddam or Hussein)
  • Cheney AND (Guantanamo or detain! or prison! or terror!) AND (Iraq! or Saddam or Hussein)
  • Cheney AND (Daily Beast or Windrem)
  • Cheney AND (McClatchy or Rocky Mountain News)

Media Matters searched the Factiva database for The Wall Street Journal since May 12 for the following terms:

  • Cheney AND (waterboard* or water board* or detain* or torture* or interrog* or tactic) AND (Iraq* or Saddam or Hussein)
  • Cheney AND (Guantanamo or detain* or prison* or terror*) AND (Iraq* or Saddam or Hussein)
  • Cheney AND (Daily Beast or Windrem)
  • Cheney AND (McClatchy or Rocky Mountain News)
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