MICHELE NORRIS, host:
One of the claims the Bush administration made to justify the invasion of Iraq was that Saddam Hussein had ties to al-Qaida but a Pentagon-sponsored review of captured Iraqi documents has turned up no evidence of a direct operational link between Saddam Hussein's regime and Osama bin Laden's terror network.
NPR's Tom Gjelten has been speaking with officials familiar with that review. He joins us now in the studio.
Tom, did the Pentagon look specifically for any evidence of al-Qaida's link to Saddam Hussein?
TOM GJELTEN: No, Michele. This was originally a broad study that was supposed to look at Saddam Hussein's regime from the inside on the bases of these captured documents - video tapes, audio tapes - to get an idea of how the regime fought, how it kept itself in power. And one of the questions that they wanted to look at was to what extent and in what ways did it use terrorism? The study was commissioned by the U.S. military's Joint Forces Command, which sponsors a lot of research on how the U.S. military should fight wars. In fact, I understand the idea for this study originally came from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who as we remember was one of those administration officials who went way out on a limb and said there was evidence of cooperation between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida - bulletproof evidence, in his words. But, in the course of reviewing all these documents, the investigators didn't find that evidence - at least no smoking gun - that's in the words of officials familiar with the investigation. But it is important to understand that that really wasn't the aim of the investigation. It was much broader. The title of this report is "Saddam and Terrorism: Emerging Insights from Captured Iraqi Documents."
NORRIS: Can you tell us a little bit more about the documents that were reviewed?
GJELTEN: It's a wide range of documents. Basically, anything that had to do with national security, intelligence reports, notes of government meetings, diplomatic cables, transcripts of conversations, planning documents, also audio and video recordings. Apparently, the Saddam regime was a stickler for record-keeping, so important meetings and conferences were often recorded so that the proceedings could be transcribed and the investigators actually reviewed thousands of hours of those recordings.
NORRIS: If Saddam Hussein was not involved with al-Qaida, what was thought out about how he viewed terrorism or how it could be used against his enemies?
GJELTEN: Well, this is interesting, Michele. He wasn't involved with al-Qaida but he was not above using al-Qaida methods including car bombs, for example. In fact, there's documentation in this report of how the regime actually worked on the engineering of car bombs to make sure that they were really effective.
And there's evidence of at least one plan to use suicide bombers. That's of course, something that we associate much more with al-Qaida and Islamist groups. In this case, however, the targets were Iraqi Kurds and in possibly, one case, Iran. So Saddam is using al-Qaida methods against his own enemies.
NORRIS: So using al-Qaida methods, do these documents tell us anything about how Saddam Hussein viewed Osama bin Laden?
GJELTEN: Well, Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida reviewed by Saddam as basically political competition. They were, during the time he was in power, very much in the ascendancy and he saw Iraqi youth being attracted to this Islamist Jihadi ideology and to some extent, Saddam tried to incorporate some of that rhetoric and even co-op the movement. But it was always for the purpose of keeping himself in power. He never deferred to al-Qaida in any way or had any kind of cooperative relationship with al-Qaida on the bases of these documents.
NORRIS: Thank you, Tom.
GJELTEN: Thank you.
NORRIS: That was NPR's Tom Gjelten.
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