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Democrats look weak on national security.  It's stupid, but there it is.  Americans don't trust us, they think we let terrorists escape, they think we don't have the backbone to do what needs to be done.  They think they can't trust us to protect them from terrorist killers that would murder us simply due to our nationality.  Democrats desperately need to show Americans that, in fact, it's the Republicans who are weak on national security.

If they want it, the Democrats have a focal point which blatantly speaks to the cynical and incompetent way the Republicans have conducted the war on terror.  His name is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Zarqawi is a monster.  He's the most dangerous terrorist operating in Iraq today, and he's behind some of the most organized acts of violence against American troops.  He's responsible for the beheading of Nicholas Berg, one of the most famous and disgusting acts of violence against a civilian in this war, and an act that started a rash of civilian beheadings that continues to this day.

Zarqawi is also believed to be responsible for the assasination of USAID diplomat Lawrence Foley.  Wikipedia lists these incidents as well:

  • Zarqawi is believed by the former Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq to have written an intercepted letter to the al-Qaida leadership in February, 2004 on the progress of the Iraqi jihad. Many observers do not believe that Zarqawi wrote the letter. (See Zarqawi Letter.)

  • U.S. officials believe that Zarqawi trained others in the use of poison for possible attacks in Europe, ran a terrorist haven in northern Iraq, and organized the bombing of a Baghdad hotel

  • Jordan accuses Zarqawi of plotting to release a chemical cloud in Amman. Men were arrested in Amman who purportedly were planning to release the chemical attack.

  • According to suspects arrested in Turkey, Zarqawi sent them to Istanbul to organize an attack on a NATO summit there on June 28 or June 29.

  • On July 11, 2004, Zarqawi claimed responsibility for a July 8 mortar attack in Samarra, Iraq. Five American soldiers and one Iraqi soldier were killed.

* U.S. officials blame Zarqawi for over 700 killings in Iraq during the occupation, mostly from bombings.

* Zarqawi has also purportedly claimed responsibility for the Canal Hotel bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Iraq on August 19, 2003. This attack killed 22 people including the UN Secretary-general's special Iraqi envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello.

While the White House initially claimed Zarqawi proved the link between al-Qaida and Saddam, the CIA has since concluded that's untrue.  In fact, Zarqawi's connection to al-Qaeda has always been a subject of controversy.  Regardless of any formal connection, he's not a Saddam loyalist, he's a religious fundamentalist with Islamic nationalist views similar to those of Osama bin Laden.  But he's becoming an important figure in the insurgency.

Clearly, Zarqawi is a threat to global security.  And, as Americans (or Westerners) he's a threat to you and me.  He's already attempted a chemical attack in a European city, and he's shown a willingness to target civilians.  If ever there was a terrorist who should have been caught and killed, it is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.   So why did George W. Bush let him go?

Slate reports on the controversy.

Why didn't the Bush administration kill Abu Musab al-Zarqawi when it had the chance?

That it had opportunities to take out the Jordanian-born jihadist has been clear since Secretary of State Colin Powell devoted a long section of his February 2003 speech to the United Nations Security Council. In those remarks, which were given to underscore the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, Powell dwelt at length on the terrorist camp in Khurmal, in the pre-invasion Kurdish enclave. It was at that camp that Zarqawi, other jihadists who had fled Afghanistan, and Kurdish radicals were training and producing the poison ricin and cyanide.

Neither the Khurmal camp nor the surrounding area were under Saddam's control, but Powell provided much detail purporting to show Zarqawi's ties to the Baghdad regime. His arguments have since been largely discredited by the intelligence community. Many of us who have worked in counterterrorism wondered at the time about Powell's claims. If we knew where the camp of a leading jihadist was and knew that his followers were working on unconventional weapons, why weren't we bombing it or sending in special operations forces--especially since this was a relatively "permissive" environment?

In recent months, the mystery of the administration's inaction has only grown. News reports--including, most recently, one in the Wall Street Journal this week--make it clear that military leaders and the CIA felt Zarqawi was a threat that could and should be removed. On at least three occasions between mid-2002 and the invasion of Iraq, the Pentagon presented plans to the White House to destroy the Khurmal camp. Each time the White House declined to act or did not respond at all.

MSNBC provides more information

In June 2002, U.S. officials say intelligence had revealed that Zarqawi and members of al-Qaida had set up a weapons lab at Kirma, in northern Iraq, producing deadly ricin and cyanide.

The Pentagon quickly drafted plans to attack the camp with cruise missiles and airstrikes and sent it to the White House, where, according to U.S. government sources, the plan was debated to death in the National Security Council.


Four months later, intelligence showed Zarqawi was planning to use ricin in terrorist attacks in Europe.

The Pentagon drew up a second strike plan, and the White House again killed it.  By then the administration had set its course for war with Iraq.

"People were more obsessed with developing the coalition to overthrow Saddam than to execute the president's policy of preemption against terrorists," according to terrorism expert and former National Security Council member Roger Cressey.

In January 2003, the threat turned real. Police in London arrested six terror suspects and discovered a ricin lab connected to the camp in Iraq.

The Pentagon drew up still another attack plan, and for the third time, the National Security Council killed it.

Military officials insist their case for attacking Zarqawi's operation was airtight, but the administration feared destroying the terrorist camp in Iraq could undercut its case for war against Saddam.

700 human beings have been killed.  A terrorist is on the loose.  American troops are under attack. And all of this to make sure Bush could argue for war?  Where's the fucking outrage here?

This is an issue that could destroy Bush if Democrats run with it.  Every MTP appearance, every Hardball appearance, every interview on NPR, Democrats need to ask "why did you let Zarqawi go, Mr. President?"  We have established news sources on our side here, why are we shying away from asking the question?  Don't you think the American people deserve to know WHY their President let a known terrorist escape?  Don't you wonder how George W. Bush feels about the American casualties he should have prevented?  

Democrats need to start asking this question over and over.  "Why did you let Zarqawi go?"  And we need to pressure them.  I've written letters to my local paper and to my Congresspeople about them, but one voice asking isn't enough.  I need your help.  If you're as curious or outraged about this, ask your representatives (of either party) to try and get an answer.  We deserve to know.

Originally posted to ChicagoDem on Sun Dec 12, 2004 at 11:39 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Neglected Issue In Campaign (none)
    That MSNBC story from March was not pursued during the campaign. I sent it out as a link many times during the fall to conservatives who like to use him  as evidence of:
    1. Iraq Link To Osama.
    2. Evidence of foreign terrorist presence in Iraq
    3. Evidence that it is better that we fight the terrorists there than here. Dennis Prager had a story in October with a bit of disinformation. Zarqawi was in Germany don't you know.

    Yeah, lets hit the GOP over the head with this story now. But aren't we a little fucking late. How come the higher ups in the Kerry campaign  decide NOT to use this an issue???
    •  I know... (none)
      It angered me, especially since Bush had the fucking massive brass balls to USE ZARQAWI TO JUSTIFY THE WAR.  I kept yelling at Kerry to bring up Bush's hypocrisy there.

      But nobody ever believed me.  I don't know why.  I don't know if the Dems are just too scared to look "un-American" by criticizing Bush or what.  It pisses me off, though.  In any case, we have the issue.  We should use it, despite the idiocy of the Kerry campaign in ignoring it.

      •  Most Overlooked Story Of The Last 2 Years (none)
        I know their are organizations that rank overlooked stories. This has gotta be tops. You would have thought the NBC story would have been pursued further by NBC and the other major networks. People would often be surprised when I would send them the MSNBC link. The implications of this story are staggering. How could it not be treated as a Watergate type story.
        •  Yeah (none)
          It almost makes me think that we really do deserve to lose.  Here we've got a story that's CLEAR bad news for Bush and the Republicans.  And we totally fail to capitalize on it.  Why?

          I'm sending it to pols and local media yet again to see if maybe it strikes them this time.  I'm not optimistic though.  I'm also so confused as to why even many liberals don't pay attention to this story.  I've tried posting it before on kos and other places, and it always just fades away quick.  Why are so few people mad about this?

          •  Al Zarqawi - a local jihadist in Jordan (none)
            Was a local jihadist in Jordan village of Zarqawi and raises a large family. Had been imprisoned and was released under amnesty ruling.

            Recent documentary seen on TV with interviews with cousins, neighbors and friends. Al Zarqawi has local support, they see justification in ousting occupying forces in Iraq. Don't agree with some deeds.

            Gained stature only after US led invasion into Iraq. Uses his knowledge from training as jihadist in Afghanistan. Grows in importance by every vile action to support his cause. Recently felt `grand' enough to send message to his teacher Osama Bin Laden. Firm believe they can accomplish today in Iraq, what foreign fighters and OBL succeeded to oust the Soviets from Afghanistan. Recruits plenty in supply, numbers growing as long as insecurity can be maintained.

            Don't believe all the attacks the US portrays him as perpetrator. US is helping in a sense to increase stature.

            [Same happened to no-body Al Sadr - when US forces want to kill you and vouch as such, you become a hero overnight]

            Born a Liberal, voting Liberal, dying as a Liberal: á la Vie á la Mort

  •  I have often wondered (4.00)
    why Kerry didn't hammer this question home on the campaign trail.  Just another aspect of his campaign that drove me crazy. Good diary on it though.  Thanks for writing it.
  •  oh my goodness (none)
    i have never even heard of i ignorant or just like most people (which may mean the same thing)

    if a guy wants to enjoy our cookies, then let him defend the bakery...never fuck an anti-choicer (-susan jane gilman)

    by morgie5912 on Sun Dec 12, 2004 at 12:29:15 PM PST

  •  Ansar al-Islam - Taliban-style group grows in Iraq (none)
     The Christian Science Monitor   March 15, 2002 edition
    In the Kurdish north, a new Islamist group with ties to Al Qaeda has killed women without burqas, seized villages.
    Ansar al-Islam's Mr. Mala Kreker is a former member of a Kurdish Islamic party joined Ansar al-Islam, is considered leader of group.

    Krekar is presently living in Norway as a refugee and has managed to escape indictment and extradiction to US.

    BBC news: Iraq in Depth
    March 22, 2003 - Coalition forces launch Cruise missile attack on bases held by Ansar al-Islam in the north. Dozens killed in the headquarters of the Islamic Group, an unrelated radical Islamist faction when a missile hits the Khormal area.

    The horror of war does not end when peace has been achieved

    •  Maybe Indicates Why Kerry Didn't Use It (none)
      The Monitor has speculation that Hussein was behind Ansar al-Islam activities in the Kurdish areas. That speculation, sufficiently stovepiped, could have helped further GOP claims of the Hussein-Bin Laden link if Kerry did bring it up.

      But the MSNBC story did quote officials claiming that the US held off in order to justify the Iraq invasion. That is damning stuff that should have been pursued by the media and have been made a campaign issue.

      •  Coalition of misinformation (none)
        These are voices of PUK Kurds, involved with US led misinformation before war! Can't believe at face value what is on print.

        Mustapha Saed Qada, a PUK commander also claims that Ansar al-Islam has ties to agents of Saddam Hussein operating in northern Iraq.

        Barhim Salih, a PUK leader, says a second group affiliated with Ansar al-Islam is working from the Baghdad-controlled city of Mosul.

        Born a Liberal, voting Liberal, dying as a Liberal: á la Vie á la Mort

  •  This one really... (none)
    bugged me, as well.  Bush had several opportunities for real a "pre-emptive strike" and didn't pull the trigger.  I agree that this was a HUGE under-reported story during the campaign by media and the Dems.  I think we should still push it now.  Why should we lay off the idiot Shrub's failures just because the election is over?  Stories like this one start to heap on folks who are beginning to worry about the deficit, changes in SS, the downward spiral in Iraq, etc.  I think there were plenty of moderate Bush voters who are developing some creeping axiety.  Can't wait for Shrub to ask for the next $100 Billion for Iraq...
    •  The Perpetual Campaign (none)
      Definitely hit with Bush with everything he was hit with during the campaign. And stuff like this which he wasn't hit with.
      Have to keep moral high while doing it though. Warning. Sports Metaphor ahead.
      We are a bit like a football teams offense that just executed a wonderful 90 yard drive but didn't score.
      We have the ball again deep in our own territory.  We just have to do it again.
  •  who? (none)
    This is driving me crazy. Yes I remember this. Like so much information it has been out there just waiting recognition.

    I recall that because Zarqawi was in Northern Iraq (Kurdish) that Sadaam had little control over (ie in our no-fly zone) finding him and taking him out there was not advantageous to the case Bush was building for war.


    But hell when I talk to Bush voters who don't even know who Condi Rice is...well how can I expect them to know who Zarqawi is?

    •  US invasion of Iraq worsened terror threat (none)
      WASHINGTON, July 9 (UPI) -- One of the world's leading terrorism experts Wednesday told the panel investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that the U.S. invasion of Iraq may have worsened the threat of terrorism.

      Prof. Rohan Gunaratna gives evidence

      Born a Liberal, voting Liberal, dying as a Liberal: á la Vie á la Mort

    •  NBC misleading info (none)
      Read paragraph carefully:
      NBC News story
      The United States did attack the camp at Kirma at the beginning of the war, but it was too late--Zarqawi and many of his followers were gone. "Here's a case where they waited, they waited too long and now we're suffering as a result inside Iraq," Cressey added.
      And despite the Bush administration's tough talk about hitting the terrorists before they strike, Zarqawi's killing streak continues today.

      Cressey is respected terror expert, his quote was:
      "Here's a case where they waited, they waited too long and now we're suffering as a result inside Iraq," Cressey added.

      Cressey made no link to Zarqawi. Link is to Ansar al-Islam camp with Al-Qaeda jihadists. NBC misleading info.

      Born a Liberal, voting Liberal, dying as a Liberal: á la Vie á la Mort

      •  after the start of the war (none)
        The Bush adminstration made the decision to delay any attack on the camp until after the start of the Iraq War. I'm not sure if that is just a case of waiting too long.
  •  The only legit reason I could (none)
    think of was to save sources in the Zarqawi camp. Perhaps we had agents or informants with him the pentagon didn't know about. Then I think, hey, this is the administration that outed Plame'.

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