The actions and reactions of the Bush administration before and after
the September 11 terrorist attacks have been scrutinized in several books.
The most publicized, such as
Richard Clarke's "Against All Enemies",
Ron Suskind's and Paul O'Neill's book "The Price of Loyalty",
and Bob Woodward's book "Plan of Attack",
basically painted the picture of an administration cynically bent on finding
an excuse (any excuse) to remove Saddam Hussein from power.
Thus the Bush administration insisted that there was a link between Saddam
Hussein and Osama Bin Laden. So much so that an embarrassing poll once found
that most Americans believed Saddam Hussein had masterminded the September 11
attacks. The Bush administration had created enough confusion around the
subject that the American people (notoriously ignorant of foreign policy)
started believing everything.
Clarke was particularly scathing in his accusation that the Bush administration did nothing to prevent the terrorist attacks and then exploited the terrorist attacks for launching a totally unrelated war in Iraq.
Hayes' book comes to the defence of president Bush. It highlights everything (I presume) that is known about the "connection" between Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden. The last chapter sums up his conclusions: "Iraqi intelligence documents from 1992 list Osama bin Laden as an Iraqi intelligence asset... omissis... The former deputy director of Iraqi intelligence now in U.S. custody says that bin Laden asked the Iraqi regime for arms and training in a face-to-face meeting in 1994... omissis ... The National Security Agency intercepted telephone conversations between al Qaeda-supported Sudanese military officials and the head of Iraq's chemical weapons program in 1996... Al Qaeda sent Abu Abdallah al Iraqi to Iraq for help with weapons of mass destruction in 1997.... omissis ... An indictment from the Clinton-era Justice Department cited Iraqi assistance on al Qaeda "weapons development" in 1998. A senior Clinton administration counterterrorism official told the Washington Post that the U.S. government was sure Iraq had supported al Qaeda chemical weapons programs in 1999. An Iraqi working closely with the Iraqi embassy in Kuala Lumpur was photographed with September 11 hijacker Khalid al Mihdhar en route to a planning meeting for the bombing of the USS Cole and the September 11 attacks in 2000. Satellite photographs showed al Qaeda members in 2001 traveling en masse to a compound in northern Iraq financed, in part, by the Iraqi regime... Documents discovered in postwar Iraq in 2003 reveal that Saddam's regime harbored and supported Abdul Rahman Yasin, an Iraqi who mixed the chemicals for the 1993 World Trade Center attack..."
I only listed the ones that are convincing and that I doublechecked. There are many other "conclusions" that are weak at best. The fact that Abu Musab al Zarqawi spent some time in Baghdad means nothing unless we can prove he was a) a member of Al Qaeda (which he was not) and b) funded by Saddam Hussein (which he was not). Zarqawi was a wanted criminal, but, at the time, had nothing to do with Al Qaeda. Many terrorists were in London, New York and other western cities. That does not make the mayors of those cities supporters of Al Qaeda.
The fact that some al Qaeda members met with some Iraqi officials also means very little. Rumsfeld once met with Saddam Hussein: does this make it a "connection"? Is Rumsfelt also a member of the "connection" with Al Qaeda because he once shook the hand of Saddam Hussein? A meeting is a metting. I shook the hands of thousands of people in my life, and one or two of them may well have become criminals.
The book deserves to be read because it was well researched, but it is terribly biased. It exaggerates whatever finding could prove the slightest connection between Saddam Hussein (a cruel dictator) and Osama bin Laden (a mad terrorist), but one could do the same with any two people in the world. Incidentally, the book never mentions that the two never actually met, spoke, wrote or communicated directly in any form or fashion.
The fact remains that none of the terrorists were Iraqis. They were mostly from Saudi Arabia. Osama bin Laden is not an Iraqi. He is a Saudi citizen. Most of the Al Qaeda funding came from Saudi Arabia, nothing from Iraq. This book does not do justice to the "connections" that we do know existed and possibly still exist.
This book probably lists everything that is known about the "connection": a more comprehensive list has never been published. Well, if this is all, no court of law would convict Saddam Hussein. This is all circumstantial. It would be much easier to build a case against Ronald Reagan (whose administration supported both Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden in the 1980s) than against Saddam Hussein. THere are many "connections" that led to the tragedy of 11 September 2001, but this is one of the least important.
What this book proves is that Saddam Hussein was a dangerous dictator. We knew that. That was indeed a good reason to remove him from power. We only wish the Reagan administration had done that instead of supporting him for so many years.
For a different perspective on the same topic, try George Packer's "The Assassins' Gate".