Could Scores of Sealed Documents Reveal Saddam Hussein's Terror Ties?

This is a partial transcript from "The Journal Editorial Report," March 11, 2006, that was edited for clarity.

PAUL GIGOT, HOST: Nearly three years after the fall of Saddam Hussein, some two million documents and tape recordings seized during Operation Iraqi Freedom remain largely un-translated, unanalyzed, and unavailable to the American public. These items appear to contain information relevant to the ongoing debate over the former dictator's terror ties, including some that describe in detail how Saddam trained thousands of Islamic radicals in the waning years of his regime.

Stephen Hayes broke this story for "The Weekly Standard." He joins me now from Washington.

Welcome, Steve.


GIGOT: Why should we care about these documents? And what do you expect to learn if they are uncovered?

HAYES: Well, I would say we should care about them both for historical reasons, and as you point out, for reasons that might help us with the very people we're fighting in Iraq today. There are lists, to give you one example, of Iraqi intelligence operatives who operated during Saddam Hussein's regime both inside and outside of Iraq. Those are likely the same people that U.S. forces are fighting on the ground in Iraq today. And if we knew, for instance, who these people trained with back in Iraq in 2002, we might have a better idea how they've set up theirselves in Iraq in 2006. So that's one of the main reasons.

GIGOT: Steve, is it possible that we could learn whether or not Saddam actually was doing business with Al Qaeda or Al Qaeda affiliates before the war?

HAYES: Well, I think we've already seen some indications that that's the case. There's one document that came out, was given to The New York Times in the summer of 2004 that was an internal Iraqi intelligence memo that actually described the relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda at that time. This was January of 1997.

So the people who say that there was no relationship are simply mistaken at this point.

GIGOT: Steve, we've been able to listen to, I think, 12 hours of Saddam's tapes. He was apparently like Nixon. He liked to tape himself and hear what he had to say. Maybe keeping it for history. There are about 3,000 in total. Has the government even listened to those tapes in their entirety?

HAYES: My understanding is that they have not. Now I think that some members of Congress on the Intelligence Committees have had access to more than just the 12 hours. Maybe 50 or 60 hours of these tapes, but this broader array of tapes, 3,000 plus hours, has not yet been made available to policymakers.

GIGOT: Amazing. All right, so if we could find out all of this out, what is holding the administration back? It would seem to me it would have a good reason to make it all public.

HAYES: Yes, one would think. You know, this is a classic fight between, I think, the president and some of his advisers. You know, President Bush — we have a story in "The Weekly Standard" this week that President Bush has said repeatedly and emphatically that he wants these documents out and he wants them out now.

John Negroponte, his director of National Intelligence, has been fighting this and fighting this really for several months. He's given a variety of reasons, some of them apparently contradictory.

And so, we can't really know why Negroponte doesn't want these documents out, but he seems to be at odds with his boss.

GIGOT: But Steve, I'm puzzled. You just mentioned the word boss. The president runs the show. How can one of the people who works for him, well he appointed, John Negroponte, not go along with what appear to be his wishes?

HAYES: Well, we don't know exactly what kind of orders the president has given to Negroponte, but I think it's pretty clear now that President Bush's is on record, saying that he wants the documents out.

I'm hopeful then, that this will sort of accelerate the process of getting this stuff out, and letting the American people see what we've learned. I mean, we have, as you've pointed out, more than two million unexploited items. There's a lot to learn.

GIGOT: And your information about how the president feels is about this is from your reporting with meetings he's had with members of Congress at the White House, where he has put on the record that he wants this out, but he has not said that publicly in any other forum. Has he?

HAYES: He has not. It would be nice if he would do so, actually.

GIGOT: OK. Let me read you a quote from Pete Hoekstra, the House Intelligence Committee Chairman, who is pushing to have these documents released. He told you, I think, in an upcoming story that the people at the Directorate of National Intelligence are "State Department people who want to make no waves, and don't want anything that would upset anyone." What do you think he's getting at with that analysis?

HAYES: Well, there's a concern. And this goes, you know, potentially to one of the reasons that Negroponte has avoided or refused to make this stuff public.

There is one concern that Negroponte's staff has offered repeatedly that we don't want to embarrass our allies and talk about embarrassing Russia because of their dealings with Saddam Hussein's regime, embarrassing France because of their dealings with the regime. These are allies that I think some people in the administration, potentially Negroponte, believe are being helpful, Russia with Iran, France with Syria. And embarrassing them might cause them to be disappointed or angry with the administration.

I don't buy the premise. And in any case, it's not worth not putting these documents out, so that people can see what they were up to.

GIGOT: OK, Steve. Who do you think is going to win this fight in the end? Hoekstra, urging the documents to get out? Negroponte, representing the intelligence agencies?

HAYES: Well, I think Hoekstra, in large measure because he has the president on his side and because it's hard to argue that these are documents that the American public generally should not see.

GIGOT: OK, Steve. Thank you for that. I hope you're right. Thanks for joining us.

HAYES: Thanks, Paul.

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