I'm as psyched as anyone that the dreaded Z man is dead. I've been blasting the Bush administration for years for not taking out Zarqawi prior to the Iraq war.
But that said, there's a lot about this terrorist's tale that just doesn't add up.
Today, we find out that Zarqawi wasn't killed instantly by the two 500-pound bunker-busting bombs dropped on his safe house —as Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell told Americans yesterday —but rather he survived long enough to be found by Iraqi police and strapped to a stretcher, before finally expiring in U.S. custody, mumbling unintelligibly with his final breaths.
Clearly, Zarqawi escaped the brunt of the bomb attack. Bombs that atomize a house like this, don't leave bodies intact like this . But why did the Pentagon mislead Americans? The military seems to have come clean only after the Washington Post and CNN started poking in to the incident.
And what are we to make of the official story that Iraqi police were the first to arrive on the scene and strapped Zarqawi to a stretcher. You mean to tell me that American Special Forces weren't pre-positioned to sweep in immediately after those bunker busters went off? Call me a tin-foil hat, but there's something oddly Jessica Lynch about this capture of the top terrorist in Iraq.
Is any of this important? It's impossible to say just yet. But even in regards to Zarqawi's death, the Pentagon doesn't seem to be shooting straight with the American people about Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Here, then, are the open questions I have for Rumsfeld & Co about Al Qaeda's main man in Mesopotamia:
Is it true that the military chose not to take out Zarqawi during the buildup to the Iraq war —as has been reported by MSNBC, The Wall Street Journal, and others —primarily because of his PR value in suggesting a link between Saddam and terrorist groups? The decision certainly helped make the case for war, as it allowed Colin Powell to declare in his speech to the UN: "Iraq today harbors a deadly terrorist network headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda lieutenants."According to several administration figures, Zarqawi had traveled to Baghdad in 2002 to receive medical treatment of a badly wounded leg. Many reports even had Zarqawi receiving an amputation. What signs did the terrorist's corpse show of this injury?According to the Washington Post, the Pentagon was deeply involved in a propaganda campaign to "villainize" Zarqawi, to make him the public face of terror in Iraq. The success of the "psychological operations" campaign was summarized in a military memo obtained by the Post:Through aggressive Strategic Communications Abu Musab al-Zarqawi now represents: —Terrorism in Iraq
—Foreign Fighters in Iraq
—Suffering of Iraqi People (Infrastructure Attacks)
—Denial of Aspirations (Disrupting Transfer of Sovereignty)The Post expose suggests that this campaign was almost too effective, distorting the fact that Zarqawi's violence, in the words of one military commander, Col. Derek Harvey, was a "very small part of the actual numbers." Col. Harvey continued: "Our own focus on Zarqawi has enlarged his caricature, if you will —made him more important than he really is."In celebrating Zarqawi's death yesterday President Bush declared that "the ideology of terror has lost one of its most visible and aggressive leaders." To what extent was the Pentagon complicit in raising Zarqawi's visibility?In response to the Post story questioning the Pentagon's decision to "magnify" Zarqawi's role in Iraq, military spokesman Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch declared, as the Post relayed it, that "more than ninety percent of the suicide attacks in Iraq are carried out by fighters recruited, trained and equipped by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq." If this is true, why is the Pentagon now warning that we should not expect a dramatic dropoff in this sort of violence from the insurgency.Also in the aftermath of the Post report, the Pentagon released outtakes of a video showing Zarqawi fumbling with an automatic rifle. Maj. Gen. Lynch mocked Zarqawi's inability to handle a weapon and questioned his capacities as a leader. Why should we not interpret this as an attempt to "demagnify" Zarqawi's importance?
Again, I'm not among those who questions the unalloyed good that this evil mass murderer is now dead. But there is more, or perhaps, rather, less to the life story of this miserable cur than we're hearing from our government.