Saturday, September 09, 2006


On February 6th 2003, as part of the rationale for the invasion of Iraq, President Bush said:
Saddam Hussein has longstanding, direct and continuing ties to terrorist networks. Senior members of Iraqi intelligence and al Qaeda have met at least eight times since the early 1990s. Iraq has sent bomb-making and document forgery experts to work with al Qaeda. Iraq has also provided al Qaeda with chemical and biological weapons training.
The Senate's Intelligence Committee report (PDF) tells a different story. (Beeb summary here.)

Bush's unequivocal assertion that Iraq had provided al Qaida with chemical and biological weapons training is what I'd like to focus on here. Where did it come from? Well, the report actually gives quite a lot of detail on the origins of that statement.

The relevant section starts on page 75 but I'll start quoting from page 78 (lot's of quoting here but please do stick with it):
A November 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), published in January 2003, Nontraditional Threats to the U.S. Homeland through 2007... said "we have credible reporting that al-Qa'ida sought help from Baghdad in acquiring WMD capabilities and that Iraq provided training in bomb-making and, according to one detainee, in the area of chemical and biological agents.
This is one of several references from various intelligence agencies to this same "intelligence". You'll note that the information on the CBW training came from "one detaineee". That detainee's name is Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi. He is certainly a genuine member of al-Qa'ida and had been involved in running training camps in Afghanistan before being captured in late 2001 or very early 2002.

As you may already know, in early 2004 al-Libi recanted his original claim that Iraq had supplied CBW training to al Qa'ida. The report says:
In January 2004, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, the source of reports on al Qa'ida's efforts to obtain WMD training in Iraq, recanted the information he provided. Al-Libi said he had a "strong desire to tell his entire story and identify why and how he facricated information since his capture". Al-Libi claimed he had fabricated "all information regarding al Qa'ida's sending representatives to Iraq to try to obtain WMD assistance". 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 previously claimed.
This, as I said, we already knew. So why did he fabricate this information? The report provides some clues:
Al-Libi told CIA debriefers in January 2004 that when he was detained by the United States in 2002 one of his American debriefers told him that he had to tell "where bin Laden was and about future operations or the U.S. would give al-Libi to [another foreign service] [original text redacted]"... Later, according to al-Libi, debriefers repeated the threat to send al-Libi to a foreign country [text redacted].

... [H]e claimed he "decided he would fabricate any information the interrogators wanted in order to gain better treatment and avoid being handed over to [a foreign government] [original text redacted].
So he was threatened with being transfered to another country for further interrogation. Now why would that be a threat?

Al-Libi's treatment improved for a short time after he started telling his American interrogators what they wanted to hear. But they were obviously not satisfied with these fabrications because the report then goes on:
After his transfer to a foreign government [text redacted], al-Libi claimed that during his initial debriefing "he lied to the [foreign government service] [original text redacted] about future operations to avoid torture.
I believe this is the first official confirmation that al-Libi was rendered to another country by the US authorities (probably Egypt but each mention has been redacted in the report so it's difficult to be sure).

The report goes on, drawing from CIA operational cables from February 2004:
Al-Libi told the CIA that the foreign government service [text redacted] explained to him that a" long list of methods could be used against him which were extreme" and that "he would confess because three thousand individuals had been in the chair before him and each had confessed".

According to al-Libi the foreign government service [text redacted] "stated that the next topic was al-Qa'ida's connections with Iraq, ... This was a subject about which he said he knew nothing and had difficulty even coming up with a story". Al-Libi indicated that his interrogators did not like his response and then "placed him in a small box approximately 50cm x 50cm". He claimed he was held in the box for around 17 hours. When he was let out of the box, al-Libi claims he was given a last opportunity to "tell the truth". When al-Libi did not satisfy the interrogator, al-Libi claimed that "he was knocked over with an arm thrust across his chest and he fell on his back". Al-Libi told CIA debriefers that he then "was punched for 15 minutes".

Al-Libi told debreifers that "after the beating" he was again asked about the connection with Iraq and this time he came up with a story that three al Qa'ida members went to Iraq to learn about nuclear weapons. Al-Libi said that he used the names of real individuals associated with al-Qa'ida so that he could remember the details of his fabricated story and make it more believable to the foreign intelligence service. Al-Libi noted that "this pleased his [foreign] interrogators, who directed that al-Libi be taken back to a big room, vice [sic?] the 50 square centimeter box and given food.

According to al-Libi, several days after the Iraq nuclear discussion, the foreign service intelligence debriefers [text redacted] brought up the topic of anthrax and biological weapons. Al-Libi stated that he "knew nothing about a biological program and did not even understand the term biological". Al-Libi stated that "he could not come up with a story and was then beaten in a way that left no marks". According to al-Libi, "he continued to be unable to come up with a lie about biological weapons" because he did not understand the term biological weapons.
From this questioning , it appears that the "intelligence" concerning CBW training was concocted. I guess he must just have nodded his head at a suitably convenient moment.

The report concludes the section on the Iraq's non-existent CBW training of al-Qa'ida operatives with this:
In February 2004, the CIA reissued the intelligence reporting from al-Libi to reflect the recantations.

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 other detainees that confirms this reporting.
Bush then, based his claim on the statement of one man who'd been transfered to the custody of a "foreign intelligence service" and was pressured to the point where he simply tried to tell his interrogators what he thought they wanted to hear.

It is important to note that much of the above information is couched in terms of what al-Libi claims happened after he was captured. It is equally important to note that the report contains no denials of these claims from any US government official. The nearest thing to a denial is this (page 108):
The foreign government service denies using any pressure during al-Libi's Interrogation... A CIA officer explained that while CIA believes al-Libi fabricated information, the CIA canot determine whether, or what proportion of, the original statements or later recants are true or false.
This is further conformation that al-Libi was indeed rendered a foreign government.

That section concludes:
The Intelligence Community has found no postwar information to indicate that Iraq provided CBW training to al-Qa'ida.
And that, as they say, is a slam dunk.

Of course, Al-Libi didn't retract his claims until long after the war had started. Perhaps the US administration and intelligence agencies were simply taken in by his claims.

Well, no. If we flip back to page 77 of the report, it quotes a Defense Intelligence Agency assessment from February 2002 in relation to al-Libi's fabrications (this information has already been released into the public domain but is worth repeating). The DIA report stated that:
This is the first report from Ibn al-Shaykh [al-Libi] in which he claims Iraq assisted al-Qaida's CBRN efforts. However, he lacks specific details on the Iraqi's involvement, the CBRN materials associated with the assistance, and the location where training occurred. It is possible he does not know any further details; it is more likely this individual is intentionally misleading the debriefers. Ibn al-Shaykh has been undergoing debriefs for several weeks and may describing scenarios to the debriefers that he knows will retain their interest.

Saddam's regime is intensely secular and is wary of Islamic revolutionary movements. Moreover, Baghdad is unlikely to provide assistance to a group it cannot control.
Just to repeat, that's from February 2002.

And, a week later, the DIA said:
Iraq has been repeatedly accused of aiding al-Qa'ida's chemical and biological acquisition efforts. Despite recent information from a senior al-Qa'ida trainer currently in custody, all-source intelligence has not confirmed Iraq's involvement. Iraq is unlikely to have provided bin Laden any useful CB knowledge or assistance.
Again, that's from February 2002.

This Senate report does not concern itself with the reasons why the US administration continued to present al-Libi's claims as fact more than twelve months after the DIA had concluded that they were unreliable. It does not address the reasons why the DIA assessment was subsequently ignored.

I guess we'll just have to draw our own conclusions.

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