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Brennan is Wrong on Batarfi

The president's assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism goes after Rep. Wolf, but doesn't have his facts straight.

3:14 PM, Feb 2, 2010 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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But Sufaat was no student at the time. Sufaat had graduated from California State years earlier. And al Qaeda tasked Sufaat with finding a way to manufacture anthrax, which is not an assignment that would be given to a mere student. Batarfi’s ties to Sufaat are particularly troubling because, after the September 11 attacks, U.S. authorities found that al Qaeda’s biological and chemical weapons programs were far more advanced than previously suspected. It is certainly plausible, if not likely given the allegations made against Batarfi while he was at Gitmo, that the equipment Batarfi agreed to purchase for Sufaat was part of this program – possibly to test blood for anthrax infections.

Batarfi was aware of how serious the allegations concerning Sufaat were. During the same hearing, Batarfi protested:

    “They put my case with the Malaysian guy because he was a microbiologist. But now I found they claim he was [in the] anthrax field. So I did not know anything about this charge. He was a student who did not complete his studies and he was in Afghanistan for only four months to work with the technicians about the lab test.”

Thus, Batarfi’s own testimony indicates he met with and approved the purchase of equipment for al Qaeda’s anthrax scientist. Batarfi’s denials were only tailored to convey his own supposed ignorance of what was really going on. But there is no reason we should take Batarfi’s excuses at face value. Batarfi’s denials are tissue-thin.

Indeed, Batarfi made a number of similar admissions in the context of hollow denials during his hearings at Gitmo. Batarfi admitted he purchased cyanide, but claimed it was for dental fillings. He admitted he worked for al Wafa, but claimed the al Qaeda-designated charity wasn’t really an al Qaeda front. Batarfi admitted that he met with bin Laden in the Tora Bora Mountains in November 2001. But, Batarfi claimed, he sent a letter to someone (he does not say to whom) asking to meet with the "head of the mountain" and, somewhat magically, just happened to get a face-to-face sit down with the world's most wanted terrorist -- at Tora Bora, in November of 2001 -- you know, when the whole world was looking for him. This was the second time Batarfi claims to have accidentally met bin Laden. The first time came at a funeral in Kabul when, again, bin Laden just happened upon the scene. Batarfi also admitted he stayed at various al Qaeda and Taliban guesthouses, but says he didn't realize they were facilities associated with Osama bin Laden at the time. Finally, Batarfi met the Taliban's health minister in 2001 because, well, that's just the sort of thing an al Wafa employee would do.

The bottom line is this: Congressman Wolf has good reasons to think Batarfi was involved in al Qaeda’s anthrax program. Brennan says he has a classified assessment showing otherwise. The Obama administration should release it, so we can see how the detainee task force reached this conclusion. Did the task force take Batarfi’s empty denials at face value?

In the meantime, there is plenty of evidence in the unclassified files, which are freely available online, showing that Brennan is wrong.

Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. 

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