CAIRO, Egypt - A former Democratic senator and 9/11 commissioner says a recently declassified Iraqi account of a 1995 meeting between Osama bin Laden and a senior Iraqi envoy presents a "significant set of facts," and shows a more detailed collaboration between Iraq and Al Qaeda.
In an interview yesterday, the current president of the New School University, Bob Kerrey, was careful to say that new documents translated last night by ABC News did not prove Saddam Hussein played a role in any way in plotting the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Nonetheless, the former senator from Nebraska said that the new document shows that "Saddam was a significant enemy of the United States." Mr. Kerrey said he believed America's understanding of the deposed tyrant's relationship with Al Qaeda would become much deeper as more captured Iraqi documents and audiotapes are disclosed.
Last night ABC News reported on five recently declassified documents captured in Iraq. One of these was a handwritten account of a February 19, 1995, meeting between an official representative of Iraq and Mr. bin Laden himself, where Mr. bin Laden broached the idea of "carrying out joint operations against foreign forces" in Saudi Arabia. The document, which has no official stamps or markers, reports that when Saddam was informed of the meeting on March 4, 1995 he agreed to broadcast sermons of a radical imam, Suleiman al Ouda, requested by Mr. bin Laden.
The question of future cooperation is left an open question. According to the ABC News translation, the captured document says, "development of the relationship and cooperation between the two parties to be left according to what's open [in the future] based on dialogue and agreement on other ways of cooperation." ABC notes in their report that terrorists, believed to be Al Qaeda, attacked the Saudi National Guard headquarters on November 13, 1995.
The new documents suggest that the 9/11 commission's final conclusion in 2004, that there were no "operational" ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda, may need to be reexamined in light of the recently captured documents.
While the commission detailed some contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda in the 1990s, in Sudan and Afghanistan, the newly declassified Iraqi documents provide more detail than the commission disclosed in its final conclusions. For example, the fact that Saddam broadcast the ser mons of al-Ouda at bin Laden's request was previously unknown, as was a conversation about possible collaboration on attacks against Saudi Arabia.
"This is a very significant set of facts," former 9/11 commissioner, Mr. Kerry said yesterday. "I personally and strongly believe you don't have to prove that Iraq was collaborating against Osama bin Laden on the September 11 attacks to prove he was an enemy and that he would collaborate with people who would do our country harm. This presents facts should not be used to tie Saddam to attacks on September 11. It does tie him into a circle that meant to damage the United States."
Mr. Kerry also answered affirmatively when asked whether or not the release of more of the documents captured in Iraq could possibly shed further light on Iraq's relationship with al Qaeda. The former senator was one of the staunchest supporters of the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act, which made the policy of regime change U.S. law.
However, Mr. Kerry has also been a critic of how the administration has waged the campaign in Baghdad, which he calls the "third Iraq war," meaning that the period between the invasions of 1991 and 2003 was a prolonged military engagement.
The directorate of national intelligence with the U.S. Army foreign military studies office has begun to make over 50,000 boxes of documents and some 3,000 hours of audio tape captured in Iraq available on the Web at http://fmso.leavenworth.army.mil/products-docex.htm. The release of these files comes after the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Rep. Peter Hoekstra, a Republican from Michigan, threatened to introduce legislation that would force the federal government to make the new information available.
A reporter for the Weekly Standard, Steven Hayes, yesterday said he thought the memorandum of the 1995 meeting demolishes the view of some terrorism experts that bin Laden and Saddam were incapable of cooperating for ideological and doctrinal reasons.
"Clearly from this document bin Laden was willing to work with Saddam to achieve his ends, and clearly from this document Saddam did not immediately reject the idea of working with bin Laden," Mr. Hayes said. "It is possible that documents will emerge later that suggest skepticism on the part of Iraqis to working with bin Laden, but this makes clear that there was a relationship."
Mr. Hayes's story this week makes the case that the Iraqi embassy in Manila was funding and keeping close tabs on the Al Qaeda affiliate in the Philippines, Abu Sayyaf.