Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank recently took Iraq war architect Douglas Feith to task in his “Washington Sketch” column, noting that Feith blames the Iraq war’s failures on “everyone but himself.” Milbank highlighted Feith’s failed pre-war attempt to link Saddam Hussein with al Qaeda, adding that “the CIA was correct” in finding no such ties.
Milbank’s column did not sit well with Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ). In a letter to the editor in today’s Post, Kyl took issue with Milbank’s assertion that “’the CIA was correct’ that there were no links between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein,” adding, “The historical record tells a different story”:
In 2002, then-CIA Director George Tenet wrote in a letter to Bob Graham (D-Fla.), then chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, that “our understanding of the relationship between Iraq and al-Qa’ida is evolving” and “we have solid reporting of senior level contacts between Iraq and al-Qa’ida going back a decade.”
But Milbank is right. The CIA found no ties between Saddam and al Qaeda. While the CIA did find “contacts” between Iraq and al Qaeda — as Kyl noted — the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded in its 2006 report on pre-war intelligence that the CIA said those contacts “did not add up to a formal relationship.”
But like all good conservatives who continue to argue — falsely — that Saddam was in cahoots with al Qaeda, Kyl was bound to get confused. In his letter, Kyl’s Saddam-Al-Qaeda relationship theory gradually weakened as he explained the evidence. First Saddam and Al-Qaeda were directly linked, then they shared associates, then they merely shared goals and objectives, and finally, Saddam was linked just to “terrorists” in general:
In his April 25 Washington Sketch column, “Iraq War Is Everyone Else’s Fault, Feith Explains,” Dana Milbank asserted that the “CIA was correct” that there were no links between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. The historical record tells a different story. […]
A March 2008 report by the U.S. Joint Forces Command included information about the relationship between Hussein and Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s second in command: “Saddam supported groups either associated directly with al Qaeda (such as the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, led at one time by bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri) or that generally shared al Qaeda’s stated goals and objectives.”
Critics of the war in Iraq often try to minimize — if not dismiss — the links between Saddam Hussein and terrorists. As they say, facts are stubborn things.
Kyl’s criticism of Milbank echoes a recent conservative movement to defend theories of a Saddam/al Qaeda “collaboration” after the Defense Department released a report last March confirming “no direct link between late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and the al Qaeda network.”
Indeed, facts are stubborn things, especially when they in no way support your disproven theories.