Tuesday, August 03, 2004

The Cult Of Hype

One of the main sources for the now discredited intelligence that Saddam Hussein provided training to al-Qaeda in the use of chemical and biological weapons was a senior leader named Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, captured in Pakistan in the months that followed September 11.

According to intelligence officials, quoted in the
New York Times, al-Libi himself recanted his claims at sometime last year when presented with conflicting intelligence during interrogations, "but not before they had become the basis of statements by President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and others about links between Iraq and Al Qaeda that involved poisons, gases and other illicit weapons."

The article recounts how in October 2002, Bush said in a speech in Cincinnati that "we've learned that Iraq has trained Al Qaeda members in bomb making and poisons and gases." Elsewhere:

In an address to the United Nations Security Council in February 2003, Mr. Powell referred at length to Mr. Libi's account of an Iraqi role in illicit weapons training, though he did not identify him. He attributed the account to a "senior Al Qaeda terrorist" who "was responsible for one of Al Qaeda's training camps in Afghanistan."
The article continues, "In the prelude to the American invasion in March 2003, those claims were echoed often by Mr. Bush and his top advisers, but they have not repeated that allegation for at least six months."

In a footnote to the report it issued, the 9/11 Commission noted that an al-Qaeda detainee "who had provided the most detailed information alleging such ties had backed away from many of his claims."

Some of the ramifications of this incident are also addressed in the Senate Intelligence Committee report:

The American officials now say still-secret parts of the separate report by the Senate Intelligence Committee, which was released in early July, discuss the information provided by Mr. Libi in much greater detail. The Senate report questions whether some versions of intelligence reports prepared by the C.I.A. in late 2002 and early 2003 raised sufficient questions about the reliability of Mr. Libi's claims.
Further calling into question the wisdom of unequivocally relying on these claims, to make assertions of undisputed fact, the article notes that "The Senate report says that a highly classified report prepared by the C.I.A. in September 2002 on 'Iraqi Ties to Terrorism' described the claims that Iraq had provided 'training in poisons and gases' to Qaeda members, but that it cautioned that the information had come from 'sources of varying reliability.'" [emphasis added]

It is apparent that even if they did not deliberately mislead the American people regarding the substance of these claims, at the very least the Bush administration failed to adequately account for the fact that the sources of these claims were of less than perfect credibility. Instead, this intelligence was paraded around as the smoking gun without hesitation or qualification. That is no way to lead a country to war.

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