The past few days have seen a whirlwind of news stories and blog posts relating to a new D.O.D. sponsored study on Saddam Hussein's links to terrorism. The report, authored by Kevin M. Woods of the Institute for Defense Analysis, is now available online (link, Volumes I -V here) and has been the subject of debate over its content, release and meaning.
The storm began (as noted in Stephen Hayes must read piece) with a McClatchy news piece titled "Exhaustive review finds no link between Saddam, al Qaida." The leak-based story essentially summarizes a 94 page report down to a single, unrepresentative phrase. For the record it should be noted that once the report was made available to the public it was revealed that its author's actually say on page ES-3 that their report is not exhaustive (contrary to the early news report) stating that the list of Hussein era documents are "not an exhaustive list" beause some were in the possession of other U.S. government agencies.This story was followed by headlines of a similar bent. Steve Schippert's sample of some of the more prominent headlines provides readers with what the story's narrative looked like a few days ago:
ABC: Report Shows No Link Between Saddam and al Qaeda
New York Times: Study Finds No Qaeda-Hussein Tie
CNN: Hussein's Iraq and al Qaeda not linked, Pentagon says
Washington Post: Study Discounts Hussein, Al-Qaeda Link
AFP: No link between Saddam and Al-Qaeda: Pentagon study
And within hours the (mainstream media) die had been cast. Saddam was not linked to al Qaeda went the theme.
The initial news reports of the study's findings were so far off base that one of the researchers involved in the report said (via Stephen Hayes) "The document is being misrepresented. I recommend we put [it] out and on a website immediately."
The full report was then posted online, and made available by ABC News, does indeed include a sentence that no "smoking gun" linking Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda was discovered during their research but goes on to give compelling evidence that mustn't meet the authors criteria in the "smoking gun" test. A closer reading of the study (see here, here, here, here, here and here) shows that Saddam Hussein's Iraq cooperated with, financed and supported a number of Islamic terrorist groups, including al Qaeda proxies (at least five according to Thomas Joscelyn) and had a larger capacity for state apparatus terrorism (car bomb training, IED training, jihadist suicide bomber recruitment, etc.) than previously believed by many.
Of the many noteworthy findings in the report is the assertion made in the conclusion that Hussein had retained not only the capacity to launch anti-West terrorist attacks but the will to use those terrorist capabilities, including directly against the United States, which was also a matter of previous debate. The report's conclusion, while noting that a perfect grasp of Hussein's mindset at the exact time of U.S. invasion remained elusive, states that "evidence that was uncovered and analyzed attests to the existence of a terrorist capability and a willingness to use it until the day Saddam was forced to flee Baghdad by Coalition forces."
Instead of newspaper and television headlines such as "Hussein had the capability and intention of striking U.S. with terror attacks" the public is presented with disappointingly shallow stories that even days after the full version of the report is out still promoting the narrow "no links" narrative. The coming days and weeks should be a time when members of the media can and should put aside their previously conceived notions on this serious and important topic and read and then seriously report on this study. The time for that is long overdue.