Given the partisan shitstorm over Disney's defamatory right-wing 9/11 docudrama -- and in particular the wholly invented (and now reportedly redacted) scene in which a quivering Clinton National Security Adviser Sandy Berger loses his mojo and hangs up on a Special Forces officer who has bin Laden in his sights and is seeking permission to fire -- it's worth remembering a similar incident, involving a real Al Qaeda terrorist, that actually happened.
In the buildup to the Iraq war, President Bush was repeatedly offered actionable intelligence to take out the Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq. As retired CIA officer Michael Sheuer -- the former head of the now disbanded unit that hunted bin Laden -- recalls it:
"Mr Bush had Zarqawi in his sights almost every day for a year before the invasion of Iraq and he didn't shoot... Almost every day we sent a package to the White House that had overhead imagery of the house he was staying in. It was a terrorist training camp ... experimenting with ricin and anthrax ... any collateral damage there would have been terrorists."
Gen. John M. Keane, the Army's vice chief of staff at the time, told the Wall Street Journal that Zarqawi represented "one of the best targets we ever had." According to reporting by NBC News back in March 2004, the question of taking out Zarqawi was instead "debated to death" in the White House's National Security Council. Why? As NBC put it, "the administration feared destroying the terrorist camp in Iraq could undercut its case for war against Saddam."
That is to say, the administration, in the height of cynicism, preferred to keep Zarqawi -- the real terrorist, a man who would go on to take the lives of thousand of Iraqis and Jordanians and Americans in wanton acts of violence -- alive because his presence in Iraq bolstered the case for toppling Saddam.
What we didn't know until the Republican-controlled Senate Intel Committee delivered its report last week is that while Bush was dithering, Saddam was actually trying to off Zarqawi himself. According to page 109:
Postwar information indicates that Saddam Hussein attempted, unsuccessfully, to locate and capture al-Zaraqwi and that the regime did not have a relationship with, harbor, or turn a blind eye toward Zarqawi.
As a haunting post script, administration figures took to the Sunday talk shows yesterday to continue to peddle the myth of what Colin Powell famously dubbed the "sinister nexus" between Saddam and Osama.
Said Condi Rice:: "There were ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda."
Added Dick Cheney: Zarqawi was in Baghdad after we took Afghanistan and before we went into Iraq... You had the fact that Saddam Hussein, for example, provided payments to the families of suicide bombers of $25,000 on a regular basis. This was a state sponsor of terror. He had a relationship with terror groups. No question about it. Nobody denies that.
(cross posted from Rolling Stone's National Affairs Daily)