The most recent kerfuffle for the Bush Administration has been related to claims by Richard Clark in his new book, Against All Enemies, in which, among other things, Clarke has made the claim that the Bush Administration sought to link Al Qaeda and Iraq, despite what he claims is the complete lack of evidence.
Today, however, a Washington Post article dated January 23, 1999 has surfaced in which Richard Clarke does draw a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq. Here is the posted excerpt:
Clarke did provide new information in defense of Clinton’s decision to fire Tomahawk cruise missiles at the El Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum, Sudan, in retaliation for bin Laden’s role in the Aug. 7 embassy bombings. While U.S. intelligence officials disclosed shortly after the missile attack that they had obtained a soil sample from the El Shifa site that contained a precursor of VX nerve gas, Clarke said that the U.S. government is “sure” that Iraqi nerve gas experts actually produced a powdered VX-like substance at the plant that, when mixed with bleach and water, would have become fully active VX nerve gas.
Clarke said U.S. intelligence does not know how much of the substance was produced at El Shifa or what happened to it. But he said that intelligence exists linking bin Laden to El Shifa’s current and past operators, the Iraqi nerve gas experts and the National Islamic Front in Sudan. [emphasis mine]
Given the evidence presented to the White House before the airstrike, Clarke said, the president “would have been derelict in his duties if he didn’t blow up the facility.”
Clarke said the U.S. does not believe that bin Laden has been able to acquire chemical agents, biological toxins or nuclear weapons. If evidence of such an acquisition existed, he said, “we would be in the process of doing something.”
(Excerpted from “Embassy Attacks Thwarted, U.S. Says; Official Cites Gains Against Bin Laden; Clinton Seeks $10 Billion to Fight Terrorism,” Vernon Loeb, Washington Post, A02, January 23, 1999.)
I think a key element to this story is the fact that it was Clarke himself who had convinced President Clinton to make the strike. So, in defending Clinton in 1999, he was actually defending himself while, at the same time, making the case for a link between Saddam and multiple terrorist organizations, including Al Qaeda.
So, did Clarke later learn that the intelligence linking Al Qaeda and Iraq was wrong? If so, why didn’t he point this out in his book and subsequent interviews? If he was wrong, then the people killed in the El Shifa factory were innocent civilians, killed because of his personal error. One way or another, the bombing of the El Shifa factory did significant damage (no pun intended) to US relations with the Middle East for some time afterward.
More to come.