Posted on Thu, Apr. 10, 2003
By Michael Smerconish
WHAT DO an Oklahoma City investigative reporter and a Philadelphia trial lawyer have in common?
It sounds like a riddle with a bad punch line, but the answer is far more somber.
In a post-9/11 version of "Six Degrees of Separation," both identified a terrorist link between Iraq and al Qaeda long before a discovery this week that supports the connection.
Jayna Davis is the reporter whose work I have twice featured on this page. She laboriously connected dots suggesting an Iraqi role in the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building. Many scoffed when Davis identified the infamous John Doe No. 2 as an Iraqi involved with Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, the two ex-Army buddies who many of us believed had acted alone.
Recall that in the immediate aftermath of the explosion, the FBI launched an international pursuit of several Mideastern-looking males seen fleeing the Murrah building in a brown Chevy pickup immediately before the blast. Without explanation, that APB was canceled.
Davis identified a group of Iraqis living in Oklahoma City, one of whom was a perfect match for John Doe No. 2. He even sported a tattoo on his left arm that Davis said indicated he likely served in Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard (this was before the rest of us ever heard of the Republican Guard). And she had two witnesses who put the Iraqi man with McVeigh and Nichols.
Davis has not gotten the credit she deserves, but she's looking more and more prescient.
The trial lawyer is James Beasley Jr. of the Beasley Firm in Center City who was the first lawyer in this country to file a wrongful-death suit in the aftermath of 9/11.
Beasley, acting on behalf of two families of people who died at Ground Zero, initially named as defendants the usual suspects: bin Laden, al Qaeda, the Taliban, certain Afghans. But he amended his federal court case more than a year ago to include Iraq and Saddam Hussein.
What led the trial lawyer to the same conclusion as the investigative reporter? In part, what he learned about Salman Pak.
Salman Pak is the Saddam terrorist camp 15 miles southeast of Baghdad that was overrun by U.S. marines this week.
On site at Salman Pak, coalition forces discovered part of the fuselage of a commercial passenger plane. But Salman Pak is no airport. The only conceivable explanation for the presence of the airplane is to train terrorists.
Which is exactly what Beasley told a federal judge in New York City on March 3, a month before the invasion of Iraq began. And that supports Davis' view that terrorism on our shores has Iraqi origins.
Beasley told Judge Harold Baer Jr. that Salman Pak has been devoted to enabling Islamic extremists to practice the art of murdering people.
He showed in open court the satellite photo that accompanies this column as part of the presentation of evidence that Iraq played a role in 9/11. And he had a big gun from the intelligence community supporting this view, a former director of the CIA, James Woolsey.
With regard to Salman Pak, Woolsey testified that "there was training of terrorists, Islamist terrorists, from countries other than Iraq, religious fundamentalists, in how to hijack aircraft."
"When I look at that pattern, what it strongly suggests to me is that in some fashion there was a common purpose here of the Iraqi government training of terrorists and those who conducted the Sept. 11 attack...to my mind, this is too much of a coincidence."
Woolsey also testified that he believes, due in large part to a letter to Beasley from the Czech U.N. ambassador, Hynek Mmonicek, that Mohammad Atta, the ringleader of the 9/11 hijackers, had indeed visited Prague in April 2001. And during that time he met with a senior Iraqi intelligence officer named Al-Ani.
Jayna Davis has similarly linked McVeigh and Nichols to the 9/11 hijackers. She has pointed out that Terry Nichols was a man of modest means who nevertheless traveled frequently to the Philippines. Davis discovered that Nichols was in Cebu City in December 1994 at the same time as the convicted mastermind of the first World Trade Center attack - Ramzi Yousef.
The plot thickens with the testimony of Laurie Mylroie, who holds a doctorate from Harvard for work on the rivalries among Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. She's also written two books on Iraq.
Mylroie told the court in Beasley's case that "Iraqi intelligence had been behind the World Trade Center bombing; that Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of that attack, was in fact an Iraqi intelligence agent." She further said that "Iraq, I believe, did provide support and resources for the Sept. 11 attacks."
No decision has been rendered in the federal case. But you could say that the discovery by the U.S. marines who overran Salman Pak has clearly spoken.