Scarborough falsely claimed KSM and Zubaydah "were not asked" about an Iraq/Al Qaeda link

››› ››› DIANNA PARKER

Joe Scarborough falsely claimed that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah "were not asked" by the CIA about a relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda. In fact, according to a Senate report, the CIA questioned both about an Iraq/Al Qaeda relationship.

On the May 19 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, co-host Joe Scarborough falsely claimed that while in CIA custody, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah "were not asked" about the relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda. In fact, according to a 2004 Senate Intelligence Committee report, the CIA questioned both Zubaydah and Mohammed about a possible relationship between Al Qaeda and the Iraqi government. The Washington Post reported on May 16 that "senior intelligence officials ... acknowledged" that Zubaydah and Mohammed "had been questioned about alleged links between al-Qaeda and Iraq when the two men underwent CIA interrogation in 2002 and 2003. But the officials denied that the questioning on Iraq had included waterboarding."

After MSNBC political analyst Mike Barnicle said, "I just fear ... that part of this plan -- the CIA briefers, using the CIA -- was to establish a link between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein," Scarborough said, "I've heard some people on the left put out some information suggesting that this program was put forth to link that up. I can tell you, I've got numerous contacts within the CIA from my days on the Hill that say, at least outside of Iraq, that question was not asked of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. That question was not asked of Abu Zubaydah, some of these people early on."

Scarborough's assertion that "outside of Iraq, that question was not asked" misses the point. The Bush administration sought evidence of an Iraq/Al Qaeda connection. According to the Senate committee report, Mohammed and Zubaydah were asked about a connection. In addition, former NBC News investigative producer Robert Windrem reported in a May 13 article on The Daily Beast that "[t]wo 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." So the administration allegedly sought to ask that question of detainees both inside and outside of Iraq.

According to the Intelligence Committee's report, the CIA provided the committee with documents that described what Zubaydah and Mohammed had told the CIA during their interrogations about a possible "relationship" between Iraq and Al Qaeda:

L. Detainee Debriefings -- Comments on the Relationship

1. Abu Zubaydah

([REDACTED]) The CIA provided four reports detailing the debriefings of Abu Zubaydah, a captured senior coordinator for al-Qaida responsible for training and recruiting. Abu Zubaydah said that he was not aware of a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaida. He also said, however, that any relationship would be highly compartmented and went on to name al-Qaida members who he thought had good contacts with the Iraqis. For instance, Abu Zubaydah indicated that he had heard that an important al-Qaida associate, Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, and others had good relationships with Iraqi Intelligence. [SENTENCE REDACTED]. During the debriefings, Abu Zubaydah offered his opinion that it would be extremely unlikely for bin Ladin to have agreed to ally with Iraq, due to his desire to keep the organization on track with its mission and maintain its operational independence. In Iraqi Support for Terrorism, Abu Zubaydah's information is reflected as:

[REDACTED] Abu Zubaydah opined that it would have been "extremely unlikely" for bin Laden to have agreed to "ally" with Iraq, but he acknowledged it was possible there were al-Qaida-Iraq communications or emissaries to which he was not privy.

[...]

3. Khalid Shaikh Muhammad

(U) For purposes of comparison, Committee staff requested information from the CIA on Khalid Shaikh Muhammad's (KSM) comments on an Iraq-al-Qaida relationship. The CIA provided a one page response to the staff's request that stated that Khalid Shaikh Muhammad, the planner of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States, also maintained that he was unaware of any collaborative relationship between al-Qaida and the former Iraqi regime, citing ideological disagreements as an impediment to closer ties. In addition, he was unable to corroborate reports that al-Qaida associate Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi had traveled to Iraq to obtain medical treatment for injuries sustained in Afghanistan.

(U) The CIA assessed that KSM probably is accurately describing his understanding of the relationship. Most reporting indicates that KSM did not join al-Qaida until the late 1990s and did not enter the top echelon of its decision-making leadership until after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Prior to September 2001, he was an important operational planner but had a limited role in the administration of al-Qaida. He therefore may not have been privy to many activities pursued by other parts of the group, which could include contacts with Iraq.

The report also stated that the CIA's Counterterrorist Center (CTC) had "told [committee] staff that they relied heavily on foreign government services, and increasingly on detainee debriefs to look into an al-Qaida/Iraq relationship. CTC noted that questions regarding al-Qaida's ties to the Iraqi regime were among the first presented to senior al-Qaida operational planner Khalid Shaikh Muhammad following his capture."

In the May 16 Washington Post article, national security correspondent Walter Pincus quoted "one intelligence official" as saying, "The two top priorities driving so-called enhanced interrogation techniques were information on the locations of al-Qaeda leadership and plots against the United States. ... Questions were asked about Iraq, but the notion that waterboarding was used to extract from either an admission that Iraq and al-Qaeda had a relationship is false, period."

From the May 19 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:

BARNICLE: But what you were talking about earlier, as you talked about it -- Iraq, Nancy Pelosi, the CIA, the briefers -- a wave of depression came over me as you talked about the culture today. In the summer of 1964 there are two ships in the Gulf of Tonkin: the Turner Joy and the Maddox. And we were told that they were fired upon by Lyndon Baines Johnson, the president of the United States. And he pulled the trigger.

And there are 58,000 names on a wall in Washington, D.C. Memorial Day is this weekend. And underlying this whole Nancy Pelosi-CIA flap, I just fear -- something in me fears and gets me so depressed to think about it, that part of this plan -- the CIA briefers, using the CIA -- was to establish a link between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, to give them the stepping stone into the war in Iraq that they did not have. There are multiple thousands of people dead -- American soldiers, men and women, Iraqis. The most important thing a president -- any president -- has to do is commit American troops to war.

SCARBOROUGH: Wait, wait, wait. Are -- so are you -- you are talking about how -- because I've heard some people on the left put out some information suggesting that this program was put forth to link that up. I can tell you, I've got numerous contacts within the CIA from my days on the Hill that say, at least outside of Iraq, that question was not asked of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. That question was not asked of Abu Zubaydah, some of these people early on. I understand there's a lot of chatter on the left --

BARNICLE: Yeah.

SCARBOROUGH: -- that's trying to build that. Is that what you are suggesting?

BARNICLE: I think the CIA resisted going there.

SCARBOROUGH: Resisted going --

BARNICLE: Resisted --

SCARBOROUGH: On Iraq?

BARNICLE: Yes.

SCARBOROUGH: Well, yeah. I think they did, too.

BARNICLE: But the question is: Did elements in the Bush administration, the vice president and or whoever, continually try to make that link to the extent that they tried to get the CIA to make the link for them?

Posted In
Justice & Civil Liberties, Interrogation, National Security & Foreign Policy, Intelligence
Network/Outlet
MSNBC
Person
Joe Scarborough
Show/Publication
Morning Joe
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.