Mr. Taliban

Dornan says Rohrabachers got a weakness for terror suspects

The congressman also maintained a cordial, behind-the-scenes relationship with bin Laden associates in the Middle East in the months just before Sept. 11. On April 11, 2001, Rohrabacher traveled with Saffuri and others from Washington, D.C., to meet in Qatar with Taliban leader Mullah Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil. The regime that was protecting bin Laden from U.S. intelligence operations wanted Rohrabacher to help increase U.S. aid to it, at the time already more than $100 million annually. Rohrabacher emerged from those meetings to tell Middle Eastern news media that the meeting had been "frank and open" and that the Taliban leaders were "thoughtful and inquisitive" as well as "flexible."

Rohrabacher was obviously mistaken. Five months later to the day, bin Laden's terrorists hijacked planes and flew them into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. In the days following those attacks, the congressman claimed he had anticipated the Sept. 11 suicide missions a day before they were launched, but could not get National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice to hear his warnings. He eventually blamed the disaster on Bill Clinton, who had been out of power for eight months. The Orange County Registerdutifully reported the congressman's attack on Clinton, but left out his questionable involvement with the Taliban.

Now that he's in a tough primary fight, Rohrabacher won't find it so easy to dodge questions about his Middle Eastern friends. Ask Dornan why he thinks he can win and he won't hesitate to reply: "9-11." For the typically longwinded, flame-throwing ex-congressman, the campaign strategy is both uncharacteristically simple and credible.

"What was Dana thinking?" said Dornan shortly after announcing his run for office. "Why would he be working with those characters? It's unforgivable. He's got a lot of explaining to do."

For related Rohrabacher articles, go to "Rogue Statesman" (Sept. 6, 2002) and "Separate and Unequal: Thank God for the conservative media" (Sept. 27, 2002).

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