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After repeated questioning about links to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein admitted the two sides had had meetings (though he initially denied this as well) but said his regime denied al Qaeda's requests for support over what he claimed were incompatible ideologies.
Below is a summary of one of FBI agent George Piro's question and answer sessions (obtained by George Washington University's "National Security Archive"). In this June 28, 2004 document Hussein also said his country did not support al Qaeda because the U.S. was not his enemy. Hussein's motivation to speak the truth must be critically on this and any other matter he may have considered incriminating. Regarding viewing the U.S. as an enemy Hussein had previously indicated the exact opposite. In another FBI interview, as well as private and public statements Hussein revealed feelings that undermine this denial of viewing the U.S. as an enemy.
An analysis of 600,000 documents from Saddam's ruling Ba'ath Party, released in 2008 by the Institute for Defense Analysis, a Pentagon think tank, found that while there was no "operational relationship" between Iraq and al Qaeda, the Iraqi state collaborated with other jihadist organizations affiliated with bin Laden's organization.Glenn Kessler at the Washington Post also wrote on the story, comparing Saddam Hussein's statements with the former Bush administration's on Iraq-al Qaeda links.
Piro raised bin Laden in his last conversation with Hussein, on June 28, 2004, but the information he yielded conflicted with the Bush administration's many efforts to link Iraq with the terrorist group. Hussein replied that throughout history there had been conflicts between believers of Islam and political leaders. He said that "he was a believer in God but was not a zealot . . . that religion and government should not mix." Hussein said that he had never met bin Laden and that the two of them "did not have the same belief or vision."
Thomas Joscelyn, at The Weekly Standard, has an interesting take on the FBI's motive and effectiveness in questioning Hussein on his links to terrorism.
To Piro's credit, he cited some of the evidence that contradicted Saddam's denial--but just some. Piro noted that one of Saddam's top intelligence officers, Faruq Hijazi, met with Osama bin Laden in 1994. He could have also pointed out that Hijazi also met with bin Laden shortly after Operation Desert Fox in December 1998. That meeting was reported around the world.
Piro also noted that Abu Hafs al Mauritani traveled to Baghdad twice, and even requested a payment of $10 million. This is especially interesting because al Mauritani is a top al Qaeda theologian. It is yet another piece of evidence demonstrating that al Qaeda's ideology did not preclude it from seeking Saddam's support.
Saddam admitted that Hijazi met with bin Laden in 1994 and that Abu Hafs traveled twice to Baghdad. He reportedly denied paying the $10 million to Abu Hafs.
But are we really to take Saddam's denial at face value? He lied about so much else, including his regime's ties to the PLF, which no one seriously disputes. He also refused to answer questions about acts that took place decades prior. As mentioned, Saddam also had the audacity to pretend that America was not his enemy, and therefore there was no reason to work with al Qaeda.
Basic reason suggests that no one should take Saddam's denials at face value. But this has not stopped the press from splashing his denials on the front page.
There is more evidence that Piro could have questioned Saddam about. For example, he could have asked Saddam about the numerous Iraqi regime documents that illustrate important ties to al Qaeda. Unfortunately, Saddam he did not have to answer any questions about those documents during his interview with the FBI. And the press has not been especially curious about the documents either.The bottom line is that there is no evidence in the documents released thus far that the FBI ever "broke" Saddam, or even got any meaningful intelligence from him. That the FBI and the press repeat Saddam's meaningless denials demonstrates just how poorly understood and researched these matters are.
The entire piece by Joscelyn is worth reading and his final sentence about further understanding being needed by the public and the press is spot on.
It should first be noted that media reports at the time of Hussein's arrest indicate that the FBI was not only one of many agencies to interview Hussein but had at least two other agencies (Army intelligence and CIA) had access to Hussein prior to the FBI. This means that recent documents released by the FBI, while important and relevant, should in no way be considered the totality of Hussein's remarks during his time in U.S. custody.
As noted in one of the FBI documents Saddam Hussein had very little reason to tell the entire truth over issues that would further incriminate him on terrorism or other issues and the FBI was aware of this point. His repeated denials of human rights violations were finally met with video and documentary evidence which reportedly get him to soften his denials.
Hussein's testimony included a number of internal inconsistencies as well as comments that conflicted with other available evidence. For example, Hussein claimed that it was al Qaeda who attempted to initiate a relationship with him when they came to him for money,, yet there is evidence that efforts also came from Hussein's regime to aid al Qaeda. According to the FBI's released documents Hussein was not presented with the evidence from al Qaeda and Ba'ath detainee testimony and documents that led former CIA director George Tenet to be justifiably concerned about Iraq and al Qaeda.
This site's request to the FBI for comment on whether or not Saddam was presented with overwhelming evidence of links to terrorism, as he was overwhelmed with evidence on other issues, was handled by Paul Bresson. Bresson's FBI reply will be posted when it becomes available.
Update: Upon request to the FBI, through FOIA, for copies of all their files on Saddam Hussein this site has acquired a much more detailed report than what was made available in recent media reports. Additional details will be posted as time permits.
- See also Saddam Hussein's FBI interview (part I)