- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 14, 2006

Drip, drip, drip. Drop by drop, isolated news stories and emerging documents erode the popular myth Saddam Hussein was clueless about terrorism.

These revelations undermine war critics’ efforts to whitewash Baghdad’s ancien regime — such as when Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada declared: “There was no terrorists in Iraq.” Likewise, Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, describes a “nonexistent relationship between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.”

Messrs. Reid, Levin and others who dismiss the Ba’athist-terrorist nexus would struggle to do so if the Bush administration unveiled the evidence tying Saddam to Osama bin Laden and other extremists. President Bush immediately should release papers discussed in the Jan. 9 Newsweek and the Jan. 16 Weekly Standard.

A declassified 2002 Pentagon presentation obtained by Newsweek’s Mark Hosenball offers fresh details on a suspected April 2001 meeting in Prague between September 11 ringleader Mohamed Atta and Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) Station Chief Ahmed al-Ani. “No other intelligence reporting contradicts that [deleted]report,” the heavily redacted document states. It adds: “al-Ani ordered IIS finance officer to issue funds to Atta.” (For excerpts, see: msnbc.msn.com/id/10663343/site/newsweek.)

Another slide outlines numerous meetings among bin Laden, his deputies and top Iraqi officials. In 1999, the presentation says, “Al Qaeda established operational training camp in northern Iraq; also reports of Iraq training terrorists at Salman Pak,” a military base near Baghdad. In 2000, “According to CIA ‘fragmentary reporting points to possible Iraqi involvement’ in bombing USS Cole in October.” Among the document’s findings: “Some indications of possible Iraqi coordination with al Qaeda specifically related to September 11.”

Is this all fabricated? How much is true? Releasing all 60 or so slides should sort this out.

The Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes consulted 11 federal officials before concluding documents U.S. troops captured in Iraq prove “the former Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein trained thousands of radical Islamic terrorists from the region at camps in Iraq over the four years immediately preceding the U.S. invasion.” Mr. Hayes reports, “Secret training took place primarily at three camps — in Samarra, Ramadi, and Salman Pak — and was directed by elite Iraqi military units.” Al Qaeda-affiliated fanatics, such as Algeria’s GSPC and the Sudanese Islamic Army, were among the 8,000 or so murderers instructed between 1999 and 2002.

Handwritten notes, computer discs and other “exploitable items” confirm Saddam’s philanthropy of terror, Mr. Hayes says. But America has translated only some 2 percent of this huge cache. Federal officials barely discuss what they have learned. Even unclassified papers remain unavailable. Absurd.

Having studied some of these artifacts, one intelligence expert says: “As much as we overestimated WMD [weapons of mass destruction], it appears we underestimated [Saddam’s] support for transregional terrorists.”

Asked by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra, Michigan Republican, to release some texts, National Intelligence Director John Negroponte reportedly said: “I’m giving this as much attention as anything else on my plate to make this work.”

Meanwhile, Dick Cheney gave Mr. Hayes a boost Wednesday. As the vice president told radio host Tony Snow: “Steve Hayes is of the view — and I think he’s correct — that a lot of those documents that were captured over there that have not yet been evaluated offer additional evidence that, in fact, there was a relationship that stretched over many years between Saddam Hussein and the al Qaeda organization.”

To its enormous detriment, Mr. Cheney’s comments notwithstanding, the administration has been nearly silent about Saddam’s decades of collusion with Islamic terrorists. The worry, White House aides tell me, is that revealing these ties would generate media criticism and antiwar catcalls.

Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita told Mr. Hayes some reporters might discover exculpatory material among these papers, then “we’d spend a lot of time chasing around after it.”

That risk does not excuse paralysis. If the president wrote MoveOn.org a $10,000 check, they would denounce his penmanship. Bushophobes never stop complaining, so the administration simply should make its case. If handed the keys to Fort Knox, don’t worry that someone might whine about the wallpaper. Grab the gold.

Mr. Hayes remains among the few journalists excavating this huge, deliberately concealed story. Now Newsweek has nibbled at the Iraq-terror connection. Other journalists should stop napping and demand the White House finally document everything it can about Saddam’s many links to terrorism.

Deroy Murdock is a columnist with Scripps Howard News Service and a senior fellow with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in Arlington, Va.

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