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Jewish World Review March 26, 2004 / 4 Adar, 5764

Michael Barone

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Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence |
"There's absolutely no evidence that Iraq was supporting al Qaeda," said former White House counterrorism official Richard Clarke to Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes. It's a statement often made by Democrats and critics of the Bush administration.

The problem is it's flat out wrong. As CIA Director George Tenet told the Senate Intelligence Committee in October 2002, "We have credible reporting that al Qaeda leaders sought contacts in Iraq who could help them acquire WMD capabilities. The reporting also stated that Iraq has provided training to al Qaeda members in the areas of poisons and gases and making conventional bombs." The Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes has documented copious evidence of ties between al Qaeda and Iraq.

Such evidence is not conclusive. But it is evidence. Clarke and others who state with certainty that we know of no ties between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's regime are simply wrong. On the basis of the evidence currently available, we cannot know for sure that there was no connection between al Qaeda and Iraq or that Saddam was not connected in some way to the September 11 attacks. And we probably never will know those things for certain.

Policymakers have to make decisions on the basis of incomplete and sometimes fragmentary evidence. When confronted with evidence of ties between al Qaeda and Iraq, those who say there is no evidence fall back on the argument that the evidence is not conclusive. And indeed it is not. But that is no reason not to have taken action against Saddam.

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Opponents of that action seem to assume that it should not have been taken unless there was evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. But evil regimes are not entitled to a presumption of innocence. The presumption of the moral equality of individuals within a society does not mean that there should be a moral presumption of the moral equality of regimes within the world. Regimes have history, and few regimes have a history of brutality and aggression as stark as that of Saddam. There is no reason to assume that there were no ties between al Qaeda and Saddam just because the evidence of such ties was inconclusive. Absence of evidence, as Donald Rumsfeld has said, is not evidence of absence.

My own guess — and it is only that — is that there were ties between al Qaeda and Iraq and that Saddam aided and abetted September 11. I cannot prove that. But no one can prove the opposite either.

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JWR contributor Michael Barone is a columnist at U.S. News & World Report and the author of, most recently, "The New Americans." He also edits the biennial "Almanac of American Politics". Send your comments to him by clicking here.


©2004, Michael Barone