Stephen Hayes Strikes Out (Again)

Stephen Hayes has a new article in the Weekly Standard called “Saddam’s Philippines Terror Connection,” the latest installment in his effort to prove that Hussein and al Qaeda had a collaborative relationship. The piece is the current darling of the right-wing blogosphere. John Hinderaker of Powerline calls it “a can’t-miss piece by America’s most important journalist.”

In the article, Hayes claims that “Saddam Hussein’s regime provided financial support to Abu Sayyaf, the al Qaeda-linked jihadist group founded by Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law in the Philippines in the late 1990s.” Perhaps that’s true and significant. But nothing in Hayes’ article proves it or is even particularly interesting. Here’s why:

1. Both of the Iraqi documents Hayes cites show that Iraq declined to support Abu Sayyaf, financially or otherwise, because of its terrorist activities.

2. Neither of the documents proves that Iraq ever supported Abu Sayyaf. According to Hayes, this is the key passage, from an Iraqi document describing their response to an Abu Sayyaf kidnapping: “We have all cooperated in the field of intelligence information with some of our friends to encourage the tourists and the investors in the Philippines”¦The kidnappers were formerly (from the previous year) receiving money and purchasing combat weapons. From now on we (IIS) are not giving them this opportunity and are not on speaking terms with them.” Hayes says this passage “seems to confirm” to that Iraq provided Abu Sayyaf with financial support. But the language (as Hayes implicitly acknowledges) is vague and could refer to financial support from another country.

3. Sporadic contact between Iraq and Abu Sayyaf is old news. As Hayes acknowledges, the State Department’s Matthew Daley publicly testified about some suspected contacts between Iraq and Abu Sayyaf in March 2003.

In short, nothing in Hayes article changes our fundamental understanding Iraq’s “connections” to al-Qaeda established by the 9/11 Commission. Some sporadic contacts? Yes. A collaborative relationship? No.

The bigger mystery is why Hayes bothers with such esoteric topics to try and establish a collaborative relationship between Saddam and al Qaeda. After all, he’s the author of a book called “The Connection: How al Qaeda’s Collaboration with Saddam Hussein Has Endangered America” and an article called “Case Closed: The U.S. government’s secret memo detailing cooperation between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.” Oh yeah, those didn’t hold up to scrutiny either.

UPDATE: The Hayes article focuses on a couple of documents from a much larger dump of raw intelligence. Even the Bush administration acknowledges there is nothing “surprising” in any of them. From the Boston Globe:

US intelligence officials say nearly all the documents released have been given at least a cursory reading by Arabic experts. Beth Marple, [Director of National Intelligence John] Negroponte’s deputy press secretary, said amateur translators won’t find any major surprises, such as proof Hussein hid stockpiles of chemical weapons.