Hayes Outlines Iraq/Al Qaeda Connection

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report with Brit Hume", June 15, 2004 that has been edited for clarity.

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MIKE ALLEN, "THE WASHINGTON POST" CORRESPONDENT: The vice president, who I see standing over there, said that Saddam Hussein has long established ties to Al Qaeda. As, you know this is disputed within the U.S. intelligence community. Mr. president, would you add any qualifiers to that statement and what do you think is the best evidence of it?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Zarqawi. Zarqawi is the best evidence of -- of a connection to al Qaeda affiliates and al Qaeda. He is the person who still is killing.


BRIT HUME, HOST: And Zarqawi (search) is not the only link. There are enough of them; it seems, to fill a book. Indeed, Steven Hayes of our sister publication the "Weekly Standard," has found enough to fill a book. This book entitled "The Connection, How Al Qaeda's Collaboration with Saddam Hussein has Endangered America." The author joins me now.

Steve, welcome.


HUME: Congratulations on your book.

HAYES: Thank you.

HUME: First, tell us about Zarqawi for the benefit of people who may not remember who he is and what he has done.

HAYES: Zarqawi is the man that Colin Powell (search) mentioned in his presentation at the United Nations in February of 2003, about a month before the war. And he was alleged to have been operating with the knowledge of the Iraqi regime, with at least the knowledge of the Iraqi regime in Baghdad, as early as October of 2002.

HUME: And what's he doing nowadays?

HAYES: He is probably the most dangerous man in Iraq today. He has claimed credit for any number of killings, of murders. The U.S. intelligence community on the ground there holds him responsible even for those that he has not claimed credit for. So he's probably responsible for several hundred deaths in Iraq.

HUME: And his organization claimed credit for yesterday's attack, correct, that killed 13?

HAYES: He did. It did.

HUME: Now, what is his link to al Qaeda?

HAYES: Well, he has been -- it depends to who you talk to in the U.S. intelligence community. Zarqawi has been long cited as a senior al Qaeda associate. George Tenet put him in his top 30 in need of apprehension before the war.

HUME: So he has been there all along?

HAYES: He has been. He has been there all along, even before the war.

HUME: With obviously the sufferance of Saddam Hussein because you don't get to be there without Saddam Hussein.

HAYES: Right. And one of the things I report in this book is that he was given some medical treatment. There is some dispute about whether he had his leg amputated or whether he had nasal surgery. But what seems to not be in dispute is he was treated at a regime-favored hospital. And you know, average Iraqis don't walk in off the street and get attention there. It's unlikely al Qaeda terrorists do.

HUME: Now, what are some of the other connections that you would list as sort of foremost in your book here?

HAYES: Well, I think there are -- I mean there are -- boy, there are a lot of them. One of the first ones was this agreement; they called it a Nonaggression Pact dating back to 1993, in which al Qaeda agreed not to agitate against the Iraqi regime. And the Iraqi regime in response, agreed to provide al Qaeda with assistance on weapons development.

Now, that particular connection was actually enshrined in the Clinton administration indictment of Usama bin Laden (search) in the spring of 1998.

HUME: There was a man named Lieutenant Colonel Hickma Shakir who figures in your book and in your reporting on this. Who is he?

HAYES: Well, he is probably the government's strongest link, potential link between Iraq and the September 11 attack. And I'm very careful not to suggest that Iraq was behind the September 11 attacks. But Shakir is someone with very close contacts with the Iraqi Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, who was seen and photographed with one of the September 11 hijackers in January of 2000 in Kuala Lumpur, at what most U.S. intelligence officials believe was a chief planning meeting for the September 11 attacks.

HUME: And he was -- what was his connection to Iraq at that time?

HAYES: Well, his connection, he is an Iraqi citizen. His schedule while he was working ostensibly for Malaysian Airlines in Kuala Lumpur was, in fact, dictated by his contact in the Iraqi Embassy.

HUME: So he was there with the Iraqi -- he was there basically on behalf of the Iraqis, right?

HAYES: Yes, that's -- I mean some people would create a little more distance than that. But it certainly seems he was working closely with the Iraqi Embassy, or at least they were aware of his activities.

HUME: So he attends a planning meeting for the 9/11 attacks?

HAYES: Right. We don't know whether he was an active participant in the meeting, because we didn't have listening devices. But he was certainly there, which was strange.

HUME: And then what happened to him?

HAYES: He disappeared in January of 2000, resurfaced in September of 2001, six days after the September 11 attacks. He was arrested in Doha, Qatar, at which time he was found with contact information for numerous high-level al Qaeda terrorists.

HUME: And then he was eventually arrested, was he not? I mean after he was arrested, was he held where?

HAYES: He was held in Jordan then for three months. And he was interrogated. He was eventually released after, what some people in the administration and the intelligence community regard as, significant pressure from the Iraqi regime on the Jordanians to release him.

HUME: And what's happening now?

HAYES: Well, the most interesting revelation is that since that time, his name has popped up on three separate rolls of Saddam Fedayeen officers. Which means that someone named Ahmed Hickma Shakir, perhaps the same person, was both a Saddam Fedayeen officer and was present at the September 11 planning meeting in Kuala Lumpur.

HUME: That's a fairly strong connection I'd say.

HAYES: It's pretty striking, I think. And I hope it gets further exploration. I hope the September 11 Commission takes a look at that.

HUME: What else? Anything else that you would -- people ought to know about that you would cite as particularly important?

HAYES: Sure. There are any number of documents that have been recovered in post-war Iraq. In fact, Fox News' Bret Baier reported on one of them. In 1992, an Iraqi intelligence document listing its assets in the Saudi Kingdom and in Kuwait, included Usama bin Laden on that list of Iraqi intelligence assets. Doesn't mean that bin Laden considered himself an Iraqi intelligence asset. But it's certainly interesting that the Iraqis considered him an asset, and someone in a good relationship, quote-unquote.

HUME: So where has this notion come from? You heard it said over and over, and over again in the national media that there is no connection. Last question. We just have a few seconds.

HAYES: Well, I think it's a silly -- I mean we can argue about whether the war was worth it. We can argue about whether the connection was a threat. We can have any number of debates.

But to the question of whether there was a connection? The Clinton administration cited it repeatedly, the Bush administration, the intelligence community, George Tenet, the new Iraqi prime minister. I mean the list goes on. There's very little dispute that there was a connection.

HUME: Steve Hayes, congratulations.

HAYES: Thanks, Brit.

HUME: Nice to have you. Thanks very much.

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