Reasons for War with Iraq

William Cohen's testimony during the 9/11 hearings

On August 20, 1998, President Bill Clinton ordered a cruise missile attack against a chemical weapons factory in Sudan. This strike was in response to the August 7, 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya which killed more than 200 and wounded more than 5,000 others. The chemical weapons factory in Sudan was funded, in part, by Osama bin Laden who the U.S. believed responsible for the embassy bombings.

During the 9/11 hearings, William Cohen, the former Secretary of Defense under President Bill Clinton, testified that the manager of this al-Qaeda funded chemical weapons plant met in Baghdad with an Iraqi nerve gas expert. Read a partial transcript of William Cohen's 9/11 hearing testimony below.

For more on Iraq's connection to the El Shifa factory, see Thomas Pickering's press briefing and statements made by Richard Clarke and this 1998 article titled "Soil Sample Provoked U.S. Attack On Plant." National Public Radio reported on the links (listen to the report, transcript here). This 1998 task force report provides some additional information about Iraq and chemical weapons factories built in Sudan.

Watch this video for an excerpt from William Cohen's testimony.

William Cohen Testifies Before 9/11 Commission
(partial transcript from March 23, 2004)

COHEN: Senator Gorton, let me give you a real case involving actionable intelligence, the so-called pharmaceutical plant in Sudan. I want to use that as an example because there we were given information that bin Laden, following the bombings of the embassies in East Africa, was seeking to get his hands on chemical and biological weapons to kill as many people as he could.

We were real concerned about that. I was very concerned about that.

Intelligence started to come in about this particular plant. They had been gathering information on it, and I think I point this out in my written testimony, but, frankly, I apologize for not getting it to you much sooner. I was still working on it as of yesterday, last night.

But to give you an example, this particular facility, according to the intelligence we had at that time, had been constructed under extraordinary security circumstances, even with some surface-to-air missile capability or defense capabilities.

That the plant itself had been constructed under the security measures, that the plant had been funded, in part, by the so-called military industrial corporation, that bin Laden had been living there, that he had in fact money that he had put into this military industrial corporation, that the owner of the plant had traveled to Baghdad to meet with the father of the VX program, and that the CIA had found traces of EMTA nearby the facility itself.

According to all the intelligence, there was no other known use for EMTA at that time other than as a precursor to VX.

Under those circumstances, I said, that's actionable enough for me -- that that plant could in fact be producing not baby aspirin or some other pharmaceutical for the benefit of the people, but it was enough for me to say we should take it out -- and I recommended that.

Now, I was criticized for that, saying, you didn't have enough. And I put myself in the position of coming before you and having someone like you say to me, "Let me get this straight, Mr. Secretary, we've just had a chemical weapons attack upon our cities or our troops and we've lost several hundred or several thousand. And this is the information which you had at your fingertips. You had a plant that was built under the following circumstances, had you manager that went to Baghdad, you had Osama bin Laden who had funded at least the corporation, and you had traces of EMTA and did you what? You did nothing? Is that a responsible activity on the part of the Secretary of Defense?"

And the answer is pretty clear.

So I was satisfied, even though that still is pointed as a mistake, that it was the right thing to do then. I would do it again, based on that kind of intelligence.

So that was an example of actionable intelligence. When it comes to other circumstances, you have to weigh it, each and every case.

You say, do you take action just for the sake of taking it, saying do something? I think we have a greater responsibility. Before I decide or make a recommendation to the president of the United States to launch a missile that's going to kill a lot of people, I want to make sure as much as I can it's not out of passion, but out of as much reasoned analysis as I can make to say, "This is a target that poses a threat to us, Mr. President. And yes, there are risks that you're going to kill some innocent people, but we have an obligation to take it out."

It's individual analysis. I can't give you specifics on it. I gave you an example of where I thought it was the right thing.


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