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"Still to be Confirmed" (But, Meanwhile, Please Believe It!)

John Lehman on Iraq / al-Qaeda Links

by GARY LEUPP

On Sunday (June 20), John Lehman told NBC’s "Meet the Press" that the members of the 9-11 Commission, on which he sits, has knowledge of documents captured in Iraq that "indicate that there is at least one officer of Saddam’s Fedayeen, a lieutenant colonel, who was a very prominent member of al-Qaeda." He added, as if to both strengthen and weaken this eyebrow-raising assertion, "That still has to be confirmed. We are now in the process of getting this latest intelligence." So there’s reason enough to get the story out, to tell us all what documents "indicate"—and thus stoke the embers of the dying al-Qaeda link allegation. But Lehman can’t commit to the story, lest other commissioners—less committed to propagating that link—dismiss what seems a highly implausible contention.

Following so suddenly the headlined announcement by the Commission that, "We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al-Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States," this juicy piece of "intelligence" (from one of those responsible for the disappointing report) must have seemed a godsend to the type of American who wants so badly to believe that there’s something, anyway, to administration claims that those responsible for 9-11 were somehow "linked" to the country where America now sacrifices the flower of its youth. (Anyway, they’re all Arabs, right?) The type of American so happy to believe that weird news item about how Russia’s President Putin passed on reports about an actual Baghdad plot to attack the U.S. after 9-11. The type perplexed and disappointed, subsequently, when the Bush administration expressed puzzlement, actually recalling no such communication from the Kremlin. Sure enough, the redeeming story about the al-Qaeda lieutenant colonel was all over the Bush-right websites.

Not surprising. The American educational system does not encourage Cartesian doubt or what universities call "critical reasoning." On the contrary, it encourages blind faith in governmental authority as one’s patriotic duty. The corporate media, its ownership ever more concentrated and its political line ever more unified, chooses the regime’s perspective as its default objective journalism. Hence months and months of falsity, transparent to the discerning population, but credible enough to the patriotically frightened and vengeful true believers who find their belief system challenged by unfolding realities the political and media establishments (much though they might wish) cannot conceal. Whenever someone tosses the believers a lifeline, they grasp it desperately, only to watch it snap. Then it’s back to treading water.

A dose of reality, percolating up through the media despite itself. Reuters,

June 22 (with the headline in the Boston Globe, "US officials doubt Iraqi officer was an Al Qaeda member): "But US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they had no indication there was a high-level Al Qaeda official in Hussein’s militia, known as Fedayeen. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said he could not confirm the intelligence." The report stated that "if proven true," Lehman’s statement "would buttress claims by the Bush administration of ties between Iraq" and al-Qaeda. Other reports suggested that the person to whom "Lehman appeared to be referring" was one Ahmed Hikmat Shakir, and that someone by that name (which according to "terrorism analyst" Peter Bergen, cited by UPI June 20, is quite common) was present at an al-Qaeda linked meeting in January 2000 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

What are the odds that this latest, yet-to-be-confirmed, intelligence report in progress turns out to be more Niger uranium? I think high. But that doesn’t matter so much, you see, because for a couple days it radiates the believing, lifting their faith and sustaining their commitment to the good folks who propagate it—like John Lehman, Secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan, CEO of J. F. Lehman Co., chairman of the board of OAO Technology Solutions, Inc. ("a subcontractor to global outsourcers") , and advocate of "pre-emptive strikes" on "violent, Islamic fundamentalism."

Fortunately the administration they wish to believe, in their need to simplify a complex world, is so rent by contradictions consequent to its actions (which among other things are fundamentally dishonest) that it can no longer, itself, take advantage of the disinformation which Cheney or Chalabi or Perle or Lehman—or Putin for that matter—may toss out to the frustrated credulous. That "anonymous officials" who could, given their anonymity, say "Yes that’s probably true" instead say, "No, we have no information on that," suggests that the liars are hurting, and that their willing audience (who like to be lied to because it’s so much more comfortable than dealing with the truth), are in for a mounting crisis of faith as reality unfolds. It is of course always a good if painful thing when honest questioning clashes with naïve faith, and the latter loses. But the faith of the believers who buoy the Bushites, in their ongoing (simplistic, fundamentalist-religious) project to smite all "Evil" in the world, begs ongoing disabusing exposure.

GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900.

He can be reached at: gleupp@granite.tufts.edu