WSJ: Saddam-terrorist connections get no media coverage

The Wall Street Journal’s editors took the time to read the Pentagon report on the connections between Saddam Hussein and terrorist groups, and wonder why the national media have ignored the story. The analysis of the Harmony documents got initially misreported, and after the Pentagon released the full analysis, few if any news agencies opted to correct the initial distortions they published — and the WSJ says that leaves Americans misinformed:

Five years on, few Iraq myths are as persistent as the notion that the Bush Administration invented a connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. Yet a new Pentagon report suggests that Iraq’s links to world-wide terror networks, including al Qaeda, were far more extensive than previously understood.

Naturally, it’s getting little or no attention. Press accounts have been misleading or outright distortions, while the Bush Administration seems indifferent. Even John McCain has let the study’s revelations float by. But that doesn’t make the facts any less notable or true.

The redacted version of “Saddam and Terrorism” is the most definitive public assessment to date from the Harmony program, the trove of “exploitable” documents, audio and video records, and computer files captured in Iraq. On the basis of about 600,000 items, the report lays out Saddam’s willingness to use terrorism against American and other international targets, as well as his larger state sponsorship of terror, which included harboring, training and equipping jihadis throughout the Middle East.

“The rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the region gave Saddam the opportunity to make terrorism, one of the few tools remaining in Saddam’s ‘coercion’ toolbox, not only cost effective but a formal instrument of state power,” the authors conclude. Throughout the 1990s, the Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) cooperated with Hamas; the Palestine Liberation Front, which maintained a Baghdad office; Force 17, Yasser Arafat’s private army; and others. The IIS gave commando training for members of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the organization that assassinated Anwar Sadat and whose “emir” was Ayman al-Zawahiri, who became Osama bin Laden’s second-in-command when the group merged with al Qaeda in 1998.

We covered the misrepresentations earlier in these posts. In one, I used the title that should have been used to headline this story: “Saddam supported at least two al-Qaeda groups”. That was the lede that the American media buried, thanks to a distortion that came from an anonymous Pentagon source that took one sentence from the executive summary out of context and a curious reluctance to address the actual evidence that the report highlights.

The Journal wonders what the media needs to report this story correctly. More trenchantly, it wonders why the Bush administration hasn’t pressed the story harder. It almost appears as if the White House has surrendered the entire contemporary narrative on Iraq to the distorters and hope to have historians pull their chestnuts from the fire a generation from now. Maybe that will happen, but in the meantime, we’re fighting terrorists now. We need to shine a bright light on the Harmony evidence, not just to correct the record for this administration but to underscore the role Iraq played in fomenting both pan-Arabist secular and radical Islamist terrorism before the invasion brought it to an end.

Without the record being clear, the misinformation that Saddam had nothing to do with terrorism, and especially terrorism that targeted the US, will continue to hamper our ability to react to intelligence quickly and forcefully. That’s more important than Bush’s reputation, and one hopes that the White House will soon find the stomach for challenging the distortions more effectively and energetically than what we’re seeing now.