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8/03/2004

Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi and the Iraqi Training Camps for Al Qaeda

According to Doug Jehl of the New York Times, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi was the CIA source for the intelligence "that Iraq had provided training in chemical and biological weapons to members of" Al Qaeda. He recanted his testimony after it was contradicted by other senior al-Qaeda members.

Intelligence officials declined to say precisely when Mr. Libi changed his account, and they cautioned that they still did not know for sure which account was correct. They said they would not speculate as to whether he might have been seeking to deceive his interrogators or to please them by telling them what he thought they wanted to hear.

But the intelligence officials said Mr. Libi had backed away from many of his earlier claims after American interrogators presented him with conflicting information. Both Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah, two other high-ranking Qaeda operatives now in American custody, have told interrogators that Al Qaeda had no substantive relationship with the Iraqi government, according to the Senate report.

Neither the Senate committee nor the Sept. 11 commission have found evidence of a collaborative relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda on any matter, much less illicit weapons, which have not been found in Iraq despite more than a year of intensive searching.
Dana Priest of the Washington Post reports that Libi was the main source for this information:
In an October 2002 speech in Cincinnati, for example, President Bush said: "We've learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and gases." Other senior administration officials, including Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in a speech to the United Nations, made similar assertions. Al-Libi's statements were the foundation of all of them.
Jehl was actually reporting old information, from Newsweek back in early July, also here.
A captured Qaeda commander who was a principal source for Bush administration claims that Osama bin Laden collaborated with Saddam Hussein's regime has changed his story. U.S. intelligence officials say that Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a onetime member of bin Laden's inner circle, was a crucial source for one of the more dramatic assertions made by President George W. Bush and his top aides: that Iraq had provided training in "poisons and deadly gases" for Al Qaeda. Recently, sources say, U.S. interrogators went back to al-Libi with new evidence that cast doubt on his claims. Al-Libi "subsequently recounted a different story," said one U.S. official. Some officials now suspect that al-Libi, facing aggressive interrogation techniques, had previously said what U.S. officials wanted to hear. In any case, the cloud over his story explains why administration officials have made no mention of the "poisons and gases" claim for some time and did not more forcefully challenge the recent findings of the 9-11 Commission that Al Qaeda and Iraq had not forged a "collaborative relationship."

The debate, however, is far from over. Pentagon officials are culling through captured Iraqi documents they say will provide hard evidence of multiple contacts between Iraqi officials and Qaeda members over a decade. Current plans call for a massive "document dump" before the November election. But officials acknowledge ultimate proof may prove elusive. "It all depends on what your definition of a relationship is," said one.
—Michael Isikoff
According to an even earlier Newsweek report, this is how the interrogation of Libi transpired:
Al-Libi's capture, some sources say, was an early turning point in the government's internal debates over interrogation methods. FBI officials brought their plea to retain control over al-Libi's interrogation up to FBI Director Robert Mueller. The CIA station chief in Afghanistan, meanwhile, appealed to the agency's hawkish counterterrorism chief, Cofer Black. He in turn called CIA Director George Tenet, who went to the White House. Al-Libi was handed over to the CIA. "They duct-taped his mouth, cinched him up and sent him to Cairo" for more-fearsome Egyptian interrogations, says the ex-FBI official. "At the airport the CIA case officer goes up to him and says, 'You're going to Cairo, you know. Before you get there I'm going to find your mother and I'm going to f--- her.' So we lost that fight." (A CIA official said he had no comment.)
Note that this random stooge at National Review/NY Post uses Libi as justification for torture. Dan Darling, in a widely praised (by Instapundit) post at winds of change, blithely dismissed the earlier Newsweek stories.

David Corn and Juan Cole have more.

 

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