Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Evidence of the Iraq-al-Qaeda Connection…or Not?

Book Review: Bin Laden – The Man Who Declared War on America by Yossef Bodansky

This book is the second Bodansky book graded by this blog, but the first to raise serious credibility issues about the author. Written in 1999, the book traces the life of bin Laden in the context of growing Islamic militancy. In particular, it highlights bin Laden’s upward movement within the ranks of these groups, from his initial involvement during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to later operations requiring bin Laden’s special knowledge of engineering and international finance.

Bodansky makes three assertions that I find questionable. First, he mentions that bin Laden spent part of his youth in Beirut, which at that time was the Paris of the Middle East, and frequently partook in that city’s extravagant nightlife (e.g. boozing, womanizing and fighting). However, such claims were questioned by Peter Bergen in Holy War, Inc., in which he recalls that bin Laden was known by his friends as deeply religious even at the age of seventeen.

Second, Bodansky cites the Flight 800 crash off Long Island as being a joint attack by Iran and bin Laden. Bergen also points to the fallacy of this claim and this reviewer’s recollection of the subsequent media and government press releases supports Bergen’s story. Flight 800 was the 1996 TWA Boeing 747 that exploded during a trip from New York to Paris. All aboard were killed, including a high school French club from Pennsylvania. The NTSB report on the matter concluded that the explosion was the result of an electrical short in the fuel tank. However, numerous conspiracy theories remain and Bodansky’s failure to cite sources makes it difficult to distinguish his work from those found on an inordinate number of websites (see here).

Third, Bodansky makes the assertion that Saddam Hussein was active in terrorism during the late 1990s, even to the extent of sending one of his sons and other confidants to meet with bin Laden’s people in Kandahar. Again, he cites few sources, although a few excerpts could be verified by reviewing Hussein’s public rhetoric during the period (e.g. did his rhetoric change in favor of more Islamist tone?). Bodansky mentions this as an indicator that Hussein had agreed to support the Islamist jihad against the United States (including WMD) in exchange for reduced pressure from the Islamists. Based on the present religious and ethnic strife in Iraq, it is difficult for me to imagine any deal being struck between Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Iran and the Islamists in some entente seeking to expel the United States from the hub of Islam. This is especially the case when the author fails to cite sources. The question is whether this is the source for the Bush Administration’s early claims that Iraq was involved in terrorism (above and beyond Hussein’s financial support of certain Palestinian groups). Being that the book was written in 1999, while he was director of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, one would think that he would have played a greater role in making the Administration’s case. Apart from the occasional appearance on the John Batchelor Show, I have not heard much from Mr. Bodansky and the issue has all but disappeared from public discourse.

Overall, I would gladly retract any negative statements about Mr. Bodansky’s book, and give it a better review, if I were confident about his sources. He addresses some concerns in an opening chapter on sources, but I still feel this is insufficient. Granted, I don’t expect him to name certain individuals who speak with him on the condition of unanimity or for him to disseminate classified materials, but with the advent of the Internet, there appears to be an abundance of open source information that could possibly suffice. I don’t expect much. On the other hand, I believe his title at the time amounts to something and that he may actually know what he is talking about.

Temporary’s Grade: C+.


Kim said...

I wonder why Bodansky doesn't cite his sources...and why a publisher would publish his work without them in this day and age of credibility and fact-checking.

Kim said...

I wonder why Bodansky doesn't cite his sources...and why a publisher would publish his work without them in this day and age of credibility and fact-checking.