Maddow Guests Provide Welcome Clarity on Iraq, Pre-War Intelligence and WMD

Clarity can come from unexpected places -- even that unlikeliest of sources, MSNBC.

Such has been the case with a pair of recent guests on "The Rachel Maddow Show" who made a series of surprising statements -- albeit only in the context of MSNBC.

Example one -- Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Colin Powell, appearing on Maddow's show May 12 and criticizing Dick Cheney's assertion that harsh interrogation of captured al Qaeda prevented terrorist attacks after 9/11 --

WILKERSON: You'll notice that Cheney always says, seven and a half years or almost eight years, no terrorist attack and so forth. That's because he has the honor of being, or the dishonor of being the man on whose watch 3,000 Americans died. More Americans died from a terrorist attack under Dick Cheney's leadership, if you will, than any other president in our history.

The second thing that I want to say is that the reason we have not had another attack in this country, more than any other thing, is over 200,000 Americans who have been fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq against al Qaeda and other associated enemies and they present not only this skill and talent at doing what they need to do, they also present a target-rich environment for al Qaeda. So we have had 200,000 Americans overseas presenting al Qaeda with very, very lucrative targets and therefore, why would they want to come here? This is idiocy of the first order that Dick Cheney is putting out.

Also known as fighting them there instead of here. Chief proponents -- George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. A better example of "idiocy of the first order"? Keeping those 200,000 Americans at home after 9/11 instead of deploying them abroad, the better to provide al Qaeda with "very, very lucrative targets" on the homefront. In addition to the skyscrapers, nuclear plants, bridges, dams and malls that al Qaeda would have targeted in the process.

Example two -- former CIA weapons inspector Charles Duelfer, who succeeded David Kay as head of the Iraq Survey Group, on the Maddow show two nights later, appearing in same segment as Bob Windrem, author of a Daily Beast story alleging that "Cheney's office" ordered waterboarding of a captured Iraqi official to show links between Saddam and al Qaeda --

DUELFER: You know, I think everyone would agree that Saddam was a threat and a problem that had to be dealt with. The Bush administration elected to deal with him by getting rid of him by force and they had to sell that to the American people and they had to sell that in a way that would make it worth an enormous cost. The risk that they painted was weapons of mass destruction, where the intelligence community genuinely got it wrong. It wasn't like we were making this stuff up, but all the evidence pointed in that direction. Saddam certainly had a track record on it.

Chief proponents, once again -- George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

As for "everyone" agreeing that "Saddam was a problem that had to be dealt with," guests on MSNBC shows making this assertion are advised to add the caveat, "present company excluded." Seeing how so many in this ideological cohort demonstrate far more ardor for show trials of Bush junta hooligans than for defeating America's enemies.

Example three -- Wilkerson again, this time on the Maddow show May 18 to patch the damage from his appearance six days earlier. Wilkerson did his part to prop up liberal meme of harsh interrogations used to find links between Iraq and al Qaeda, not for stopping terrorist attacks. He also described his "investigation" into alleged abuse of detainees after Abu Ghraib came to light, as requested by Powell --

WILKERSON: And I began at that point an investigation and I kept up with that investigation, classified documents, unclassified documents and so forth throughout the rest of the year until the election, until January, we left the State Department. And then after that I still had a grave interest in it, even though I did not have the classified documents any more, lots of people made those documents available to me as soon as they became unclassified. And I began to put together my own audit trail, as it were, as to how all of this happened. And I created a lot of contacts in doing that, in the agency, in the military, in the diplomatic service and so forth, and a lot of people have talked to me over that time and I have been very careful to corroborate what I'm saying with multiple sources, just as I was taught to do by George Tenet out at the CIA as we prepared Powell for the 5 February presentation at the UN.

Chief proponents of the "5 February presentation" -- George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Starting to see a pattern? And what did Powell allege that day in 2003 after being so dutifully prepped by Wilkerson? Here's what the New York Times reported on Feb. 6, 2003, four paragraphs into its lead story --

In the Bush administration's most explicit effort to connect the activities between Iraq and Al Qaeda, Mr. Powell suggested that Iraq's lethal weapons could be given at any time to terrorists who could use them against the United States or Europe.

More along these lines from Powell himself, as aided by Wilkerson, and transcribed in the Feb. 6, 2003 New York Times --

We are not surprised that Iraq is harboring Zarqawi and his subordinates. This understanding builds on decades-long experience with respect to ties between Iraq and al Qaeda. Going back to the early and mid-1990s, when bin Laden was based in Sudan, an al Qaeda source tells us that Saddam and bin Laden reached an understanding that al Qaeda would no longer support activities against Baghdad.

Early al Qaeda ties were forged by secret high-level intelligence service contacts with al Qaeda -- secret Iraqi high-level contacts with al Qaeda. We know members of both organizations met repeatedly  and have met at least eight times at very senior levels since the early 1990s. In 1996, a foreign security service tells us that bin Laden met with a senior Iraqi intelligence official in Khartoum and later met the director of the Iraqi intelligence service.

Saddam became more interested as he saw al Qaeda's appalling attacks. A detained al Qaeda member tells us that Saddam was more willing to assist al Qaeda after the 1998 bombings of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Saddam was also impressed by al Qaeda's attacks on the USS Cole in Yemen in October 2000.

Iraqis continued to visit bin Laden in his new home in Afghanistan. A senior defector, one of Saddam's former intelligence chiefs in Europe, says Saddam sent his agents to Afghanistan sometime in the mid-1990s to provide training to al Qaeda members on document forgery. From the late 1990s to 2001, the Iraqi embassy in Pakistan played the role of liaison to the al Qaeda organization.

Some believe -- some claim these contacts do not amount to much. They say Saddam Hussein's secular tyranny and al Qaeda's religious tyranny do not mix. I am not comforted by this thought. Ambition and hatred are enough to bring Iraq and al Qaeda together, enough so al Qaeda could learn how to build more sophisticated bombs and learn how to forge documents; and enough so that al Qaeda could turn to Iraq for help in acquiring expertise on weapons of mass destruction.

My favorite part of Wilkerson's most recent appearance on the Maddow show -- a tossup between Maddow looking unimpressed when Wilkerson cited the UN presentation as an example of his thorough investigatory skills, or Wilkerson repeatedly arching his eyebrows as he said it. Whether for emphasis or irony, I couldn't tell. I just hope the man keeps coming back to clarify.

Jack Coleman
Liberated ex-liberal from the People's Republic of Massachusetts