Are Crackpot Liars Being Used to Tie Iran to 9/11?
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All the "expert witnesses" insist vehemently that Iran continued to provide "safe haven" for al Qaeda operatives who fled from Afghanistan to Iran after 9/11, allowing them to direct terrorist activities against Saudi Arabia in particular. But that accusation merely recycles the claim first made in early 2002 by Bush administration officials seeking to prevent negotiations between the United States and Iran and push for the adoption of a regime change strategy in Iran.
The central pretense of the neoconservative "safe haven" ploy was that, if any al Qaeda operatives were able to function in Iran, Iran must have deliberately permitted it. But the United States has been unable to shut down al Qaeda's operation in Pakistan after a decade of trying, despite the cooperation of the Pakistani intelligence service and the drone coverage of the tribal areas. If the same criteria applied to Iran were to be applied to the Bush administration and the government of Germany, they could be accused of having provided "safe haven" for al Qaeda operatives prior to 9/11.
In fact, after US complaints about al Qaeda presence in Iran in late 2001, Tehran detained nearly 300 al Qaeda operatives, and gave a dossier with their names, passport pictures and fingerprints to the United Nations. Iran also repatriated at least 200 of those detainees to the newly formed government of Afghanistan.
US Ambassador Ryan Crocker revealed last year that, in late 2001, the Iranians had been willing to discuss possible surrender of the senior al Qaeda officials it was detaining to the United States and share any intelligence they had gained from their investigations as part of a wider understanding with Washington. But the neoconservative faction in the administration rejected that offer, demanding that Iran give them the al Qaeda detainees without getting anything in return.
Iran's crackdown on al Qaeda continued in 2002-03 and netted a number of top officials. One of the senior al Qaeda detainees apparently detained by Iran during that period, Saif al-Adel, later told a Jordanian journalist that Iran's operations against al Qaeda had "confused us and aborted 75 percent of our plan." The arrests included "up to 80 percent" of Abu Musab al Zarqawi's group, he said, and those who had not been swept up were forced to leave for Iraq.
In further negotiations with the Bush administration in May 2003, Iran again offered to turn over the senior al Qaeda detainees to the United States in return for the MEK captured by US forces in Iraq. The Bush administration again refused the offer.
By 2005, a "senior US intelligence official" was publicly admitting that 20 to 25 top al Qaeda leaders were in detention in Iran and that they were "not able to do much of anything."
In 2008, one US official told ABC news that administration officials had not been raising the al Qaeda issue publicly, because "they believe Iran has largely kept the al Qaeda operatives under control since 2003, limiting their ability to travel and communicate."
But in the world of the right-wing Islam-hating extremists and others pushing for confrontation with Iran, reality is no obstacle to spinning tales of secret Iranian assistance to al Qaeda.
Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specializing in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, "Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam", was published in 2006.