One thing I’ve learned in my more than 25 years practicing journalism is that conventional wisdom is most always wrong.
Today, nearly two years after the devastating Sept. 11 attacks and half a year after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, many still question whether there were any real links between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.
It’s funny how so much overwhelming evidence seems to have been forgotten or deliberately covered up.
Dating back less than three years before Sept. 11, 2001, there were hundreds of articles in the press, citing credible sources and intelligence analysts, all showing strong connections between the two U.S. enemies:
- The Glasgow, Scotland, Herald reported Dec. 28, 1999: “The world’s most wanted man, Osama bin Laden, has been offered sanctuary in Iraq if his worldwide terrorist network succeeds in carrying out a campaign of high-profile attacks on the West.”
- In his book two years before the major terror attack on the U.S., terrorism expert Yossef Bodansky, the man the U.S. Congress turns to for advice on the matter, revealed the relationship between bin Laden and Hussein – naming names, dates and times of strategic meetings between Iraq and al-Qaida.
- This from the London Observer, Dec. 19, 1999: “This time last year the U.S. claimed that another delegation had met Osama bin Laden, the alleged terrorist mastermind and tried to woo him to Iraq. Senior officials claim that the Islamicization program is an attempt to defuse the threat of Islamic militancy rather than encourage it. … ”
- This from United Press International, Nov. 1999: “WASHINGTON – The U.S. government has tried to prevent accused terror suspect Osama bin Laden from fleeing Afghanistan to either Iraq or Chechnya, Michael Sheehan, head of counter-terrorism at the State Department, told a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee. …”
- The Kansas City Star reported March 2, 1999: “… he [bin Laden] has a private fortune ranging from $250 million to $500 million and is said to be cultivating a new alliance with Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, who has biological and chemical weapons bin Laden would not hesitate to use. An alliance between bin Laden and Saddam Hussein could be deadly. Both men are united in their hatred for the United States and any country friendly to the United States. …”
- Here’s a report from National Public Radio, Feb. 18, 1999:
“Reporter: There have also been reports in recent months that bin Laden might have been considering moving his operations to Iraq. Intelligence agencies in several nations are looking into that. According to Vincent Cannistraro, a former chief of CIA counterterrorism operations, a senior Iraqi intelligence official, Farouk Hijazi, sought out bin Laden in December and invited him to come to Iraq.
“Cannistraro: Farouk Hijazi, who was the Iraqi ambassador in Turkey … known through sources in Afghanistan, members of Osama’s entourage let it be known that the meeting had taken place.
“Reporter: Iraq’s contacts with bin Laden go back some years, to at least 1994, when, according to one U.S. government source, Hijazi met him when bin Laden lived in Sudan. According to Cannistraro, Iraq invited bin Laden to live in Baghdad to be nearer to potential targets of terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. There is a wide gap between bin Laden’s fundamentalism and Saddam Hussein’s secular dictatorship. But some experts believe bin Laden might be tempted to live in Iraq because of his reported desire to obtain chemical or biological weapons. CIA Director George Tenet referred to that in recent testimony. …”
- This from the San Jose Mercury News, Feb. 14, 1999: “U.S. intelligence officials are worried that a burgeoning alliance between terrorist leader Osama bin Laden and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein could make the fugitive Saudi’s loose-knit organization much more dangerous … In addition, the officials said, Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal is now in Iraq, as is a renowned Palestinian bomb designer, and both could make their expertise available to bin Laden.” The report went on to note plans to attack America were made between Hussein and Saddam.
- Then there’s this from Newsweek, Jan. 11, 1999: “U.S. sources say [Saddam] is reaching out to Islamic terrorists, including some who may be linked to Osama bin Laden. [Bin Laden was] calling for all-out war on Americans, using as his main pretext Washington’s role in bombing and boycotting Iraq.”
Not only were there plenty of press reports about the ties between bin Laden and Hussein, there were also official remarks by Bill Clinton, then-president of the United States, about Hussein’s program to develop weapons of mass destruction.
Here’s what he said Feb. 17, 1996 on “Meet the Press”:
Now, let’s imagine the future. What if he [Saddam] fails to comply and we fail to act or we take some ambiguous third route which gives him yet more opportunities to develop this program of weapons of mass destruction? Well, he will conclude that the international community has lost its will. He will then conclude that he can go right on and do more to rebuild an arsenal of devastating destruction. And someday, some way, I guarantee you, he will use the arsenal.
So what’s the debate still about today?