Book Review: The Connection: How al Qaeda's Collaboration with Saddam Hussein has Endangered America


by Stephen F. Hayes

New York: HarperCollins, 2004. Pp. 194. . $19.95. ISBN:0-06-074673-4

Did al-Qaeda have help carrying out the attacks of 9/11? And if they did have help, who assisted them? Those questions have to be answered, and these answers have serious implications. One of the justifications for going into Iraq was a connection to al-Qaeda. Did one exist?

Stephen F. Hayes, a reporter with the Weekly Standard who has covered the war on terror for two years, makes a good case that the answer is ”Yes”. Much of what he has gathered in this book has come from open sources - such as newspaper reports. That said, Hayes also has relied on some classified documents and leaks from government officials. To his credit, when he is able to use open sources, he uses them rather than the classified material he has received.

Hayes starts his case with an opening statement that is sharply critical of the media coverage of an article he wrote in November, 2003, based on a classified memo by Douglas Feith. Then, he begins to lay out his case. He starts with what is arguably his strongest exhibit - the case of Ahmed Hikmar Shakir. Pointing out the unusual circumstances surrounding Shakir's employment as a "greeter" with Malaysian Airlines (he got his job through the Iraqi embassy - which controlled his work schedule), Hayes notes that Shakir assisted two men through Malaysian customs - and then, in an unusual act for a “greeter", he goes with the two to their hotel, where he attends at least part of a four-day "summit" with as many as nine of al-Qaeda's senior personnel. Three of the attendees at that summit would be on the plane that smashed into the Pentagon on 9/11. Hayes goes on to detail what was found when Shakir was arrested in Qatar six days after the attacks, his release, and what happened when Jordan picked him up right until Shakir was last seen headed for Baghdad on his release from Jordanian custody.

From that point, Hayes then proceeds to rebut many of the assumptions seen in major media outlets. He then goes into the background, laying out the case point-by-point. He often will point out items that seem conveniently forgotten in the heat of the campaign, like media reports of Saddam and al-Qaeda pursuing a relationship – from the same outlets that now view such claims with derision (The New York Times is a particular target). The reviewer wonders what is scarier, the fact that Hayes lays out a good case that Iraq was providing support to al-Qaeda in general despite the differences bin Laden and Saddam had, or the inability of intelligence agencies in the United States to detect this alliance in time for leaders to do something about it.

Hayes has done a fine job. This book's lack of a bibliography and index are not crippling. If anything, they force the reader to start from the beginning, which means that the case is presented in a strong fashion. That said, the book does start with a typographical error which will throw the reader off. That said, there are few other flaws in this book, and overall, Hayes has woven together an account that does not provide a smoking gun, but shows that there is a lot of smoke - enough to understand why some would recommend going to war, even if the decisive proof has not yet materialized.rc=

Reviewer: Harold C. Hutchison   

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