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Thursday, September 21, 2006

Retired CIA Official: "The Focus was on Invading Iraq and Getting Rid of Saddam, and After That Everything would be Fine and Dandy"

Boy, is this ever interesting.

Harper's Magazine's Ken Silverstein has posted 'Six Questions for Dr. Emile A. Nakhleh on the CIA and the Iraq War.' Dr. Nakhleh "served in the CIA for 15 years and retired on June 30, 2006, as the Director of the Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program, the intelligence community's premier group dedicated to the issue of political Islam."

On the very first question -- "In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, administration officials claimed that Saddam Hussein's regime had links to terrorist organizations including Al Qaeda. What was your view on that question?" -- Nakhleh pulls no punches:

We had no evidence that there was a Saddam–bin Laden axis. Saddam was a butcher, but he was a secular butcher, and we knew that. Saddam only started employing religion when he felt defeated. He decided it would be useful to develop an Islamic cause after he was evicted from Kuwait in 1991. He even started going to the mosque to pray.

Everyone in the Middle East knew it was a joke; he had no religious credentials. Iraq was a secular state; women had more rights than in most places in the region, and Shiites were the backbone of the Baathist and even the Communist Party. It was almost a year after the 2003 invasion before Al Qaeda decided to make Iraq a jihadist cause because [before that] they viewed Iraq as a secular state. People at the CIA didn't believe there were links between Iraq and Al Qaeda. The source for much of the information of that sort was Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress, and their positions jibed with the positions of those in the administration who wanted to wage war in Iraq—Wolfowitz, Feith, people in the vice president's office. So they relied heavily on that reporting, but there was never any evidence to support that link.


In fact, Dr. Nakhleh doesn't really have much of anything good to say about the Bush administration's war in Iraq or its actions in the broader middle east. On the war, he tells us, "[The administration] did not understand that just because the Iraqis hated Saddam, that didn't mean they would like our occupation," and that, "The focus was on invading Iraq and getting rid of Saddam, and after that everything would be fine and dandy."

It used to be that some people in Washington had some sort of grip on reality. When asked why the US shouldn't depose Saddam Hussein, one Bush Administration official said, "Once you've got Baghdad, it's not clear what you do with it. It's not clear what kind of government you would put in place of the one that's currently there.... How much credibility is that government going to have if it's set up by the United States military when it's there?... I think to have American military forces engaged in a civil war inside Iraq would fit the definition of quagmire, and we have absolutely no desire to get bogged down in that fashion."

That official was Dick Cheney, then Secretary of Defense for another Bush administration. The quote is from 1991, as Dick explained why GHW didn't take out Saddam. At some point after that, Dick drifted off into fantasyland.

"My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators," Shooter told Meet the Press in 2003. So much for reality.

On Guantanamo, Nakhleh had this to say:

I spent hours talking with prisoners about why they had become jihadists and how they came to Guantanamo. Some of the detainees participated in jihad in Afghanistan, mostly against the Northern Alliance; others did not but were caught in the dragnet—having been at the wrong place and at the wrong time. Even the command down there knew that probably one-third of the prisoners were neither terrorists nor jihadists, and wouldn't have been there if we weren't paying a bounty to Pakistani security forces for every Middle Eastern-looking person they handed over to us. Almost every detainee I spoke to claimed that we paid $5,000 per person. Unfortunately, we treated everyone the same, which led the non-jihadists at Guantanamo to hate us as much as the rest, becoming more hardened in their attitudes toward the US and more disappointed in the American sense of fairness and justice.

The problem is nearly the same in Iraq. We treat everyone we suspect of terrorism as guilty while Bush & co. spout on and on about justice and democracy. As a result, he tells us, "We've lost a generation of goodwill in the Muslim world."

"The President's democratization and reform program for the Middle East has all but disappeared, except for official rhetoric," Nakhleh says, "That was the centerpiece of the President's policies for the region, and now no one is talking about it. We have lost credibility across the Islamic world regarding 'democracy' and 'representative government' and 'justice'... The Islamic world says 'you talk about human rights, but you're holding people without charging them.'"

"Because of Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and other abuses we have lost on the concepts of justice, fairness and the rule of law, and that's the heart of the American idea," Dr. Nakhleh tells us, "That's very serious, and that's where I see the danger in the years ahead."


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