The nature of the relationship between Saddam Hussein's Iraqi regime and the al-Qaida terror operation continues to create controversy, debate and discussion, with interpretations often depending on what political niche the observer inhabits.
Critics of the George W. Bush presidential decisions regarding war in Iraq say there is no evidence that such ties existed. Administration officials and others say that, faint though the evidence might seem, there is, or was, a linkage.
Most people, of course, consider that matter far less important than taking action now to combat terrorism and its threats to America and its people. There may be merit in reflecting on what led to the current situation, but, regardless of how we got here, America is involved in a war on foreign soil and must deal with continuing threats of terrorism.
Among those who contend that "despite the fog, the Iraq-al-Qaeda tie exists" is Stephen F. Hayes, a staff writer for the Weekly Standard and the author of "The Connection: How al-Qaeda's Collaboration with Saddam Hussein Has Endangered America." That piece was published this month by HarperCollins.
Hayes is concerned about a hazy "staff statement" during the recent 9-11 hearings.
Writes Hayes in the Los Angeles Times: "On the one hand, the statement confirmed several contacts between Iraqi intelligence and al-Qaeda terrorists, including a face-to-face meeting between a senior Iraqi intelligence official and Osama bin Laden in 1994. Then, calling into question its own findings, the statement reported that two al-Qaeda terrorists denied the existence of any ties whatsoever. Finally, in very sloppy language, the statement seemed to conclude that there had been 'no collaborative relationship' between Iraq and al-Qaeda. The media took that nuanced and self-contradictory analysis -- which, by the way, constituted only one paragraph in a 12-page report -- and found certainty where none existed. 'Panel Finds No Qaeda-Iraq Tie,' blared a four-column headline in the New York Times. An editorial flatly declared that the commission had 'refuted' any connection."
"Nonsense," adds Hayes. "The staff statement was a model of muddle, but this much is clear. There is nothing in it that reliably or categorically 'refutes' a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda."
For many familiar with terrorism and Middle East connections, the surprising thing would be that Saddam and al-Qaida did not have some contact on what happened on that fateful 2001 day. They are familiar with the "good old boy" network that exists for troublemakers and feel sure there is much more to the Iraq terror contingent than has been publicized.
Concludes Hayes: "The Sept. 11 commission cannot be expected to write the definitive history of the relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda. But having contributed greatly to the confusion with one paragraph in Staff Statement 15, the commissioners owe it to the American people to give it a thorough and sober examination in their final report."
The completion of the hearings and the final report, we hope, should show whether there was a rush to judgment on the Iraq-al-Qaida connection. Either way, we need to know as we seek to prevent and penalize in future dealings with those who are dedicated to our destruction.