As the lies of the War Party come unraveled, we find that, like a sweater with a loose thread, if we pull on one lie the whole thing comes apart.
When disinformation from forged documents purporting to show Iraq’s efforts to procure uranium in the African country of Niger somehow found expression in the President’s state of the union address, CIA director George Tenet agreed to fall on his sword. But the bloodshed won’t stop there.
The effort to rope the American people into war was contingent on galvanizing the anger generated by 9/11 and the key to making that connection was to implicate Saddam as being in cahoots with Al Qaeda. (Go here for an extensive record of the administration’s efforts to conflate the two.)
If, in fact, as Vice President Dick Cheney said, Saddam Hussein had “reconstituted nuclear weapons,” then the specter of an Iraqi-Al Qaeda alliance would loom larger and more ominously. Even if the Iraqis had, somehow, overcome the tight sanctions, evaded UN inspectors, and become the second Middle Eastern nation to join the nuclear club, Saddam still could have been deterred the same way his idol, Stalin, had been contained: with the threat of massive retaliation. But Al Qaeda, without any geographical center or civilian population to defend, would not be so constrained.
It wasn’t just the possession of WMD that would single Iraq out as the target of our post-9/11 rage: it was the possibility indeed, given the tone of the administration’s rhetoric, the inevitability that Osama bin Laden would get his hands on them that impelled us to act. Or so the White House led us to believe.
Now we learn there never was any connection. The administration’s efforts to link these two competitors for power in the Middle East were just as clumsy, in their way, as the outright forgeries of the Niger uranium fiasco.
The first such effort was the much-touted meeting alleged to have taken place between an Iraqi intelligence officer, Ahmad Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, and 9/11 plotter Mohammed Atta, in Prague. This story has gone through several transmutations, with both the Czechs and U.S. government officials changing their stories at least once. Newsweek reported that this tall tale was based on the “uncorroborated claim” of a Czech informant who says he saw the two men together on April 9, 2001. But, as Kate Taylor put it last year in Slate:
“Who needs evidence? According to Newsweek, when an FBI agent recently told Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz that the meeting was ‘unlikely,’ Wolfowitz grilled him until he agreed it was technically possible, since the FBI can’t cite Atta’s whereabouts on April 9.”
Czech President Vaclav Havel definitively debunked the myth of the Prague meeting by categorically but discreetly denying it ever took place, effectively settling the matter to everyone’s satisfaction but Wolfie’s.
Now ex-U.S. government officials are chipping away at the flimsy foundations of our most pervasive urban myth, which at one point had 66 percent of the American people pinning the 9/11 attacks on Saddam rather than Osama bin Laden. This sentiment is largely unchanged, at present, but may be about to undergo a major revision.
In his February 5 presentation to the United Nations, at the time widely praised as “masterful,” Secretary of State Colin Powell said:
“Iraq today harbors a deadly terrorist network headed by Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, a collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda lieutenants.”
He went on to claim “when our coalition ousted the Taliban, the Zarqawi network helped establish another poison and explosive training center camp. And this camp is located in northeastern Iraq.”
As William O. Beeman observes, however, the entire case for identifying Zarqawi as the focal point of Iraq’s support for Bin Laden’s cause is based on an “argument by proximity.” Zarqawi, no doubt a low-level Al Qaeda operative, did visit Baghdad for medical treatment, but there is no evidence of any cooperative effort or even meetings with Iraqi officials. On the other hand, Beeman writes,
“Washington officials also acknowledge that al-Zarqawi had support from a member of the Qatari Royal family, Abdul Karim al-Thani, who hosted him in Qatar. However, Washington officials do not claim that, as with Iraq, these facts show that the Qatari court is also connected to al Qaeda particularly since the United States depends on Qatar to provide staging support for the U.S. Central Command.”
My own favorite among the War Party’s lies is this canard about the “terrorist camp” ensconced in the midst of northern Iraq, where Saddam’s forces had absolutely no presence and which was surrounded by territory completely under the control of pro-U.S. Kurds. No need, here, to google endlessly for obscure bits of information. One has only to understand the basic political geography of pre-war Iraq to see that the “terrorist camp” story is completely bogus.
In an attempt to resuscitate the rapidly fading Al Qaeda/Iraqi connection, the War Party is circulating a report by Judge Gilbert S. Merritt, of Nashville, Tennessee, in Iraq as part of the effort to rebuild the judicial infrastructure. Judge Merritt writes:
“Through an unusual set of circumstances, I have been given documentary evidence of the names and positions of the 600 closest people in Iraq to Saddam Hussein, as well as his ongoing relationship with Osama bin Laden.
“I am looking at the document as I write this story from my hotel room overlooking the Tigris River in Baghdad.”
What is this amazing document? It turns out to be an issue of what Merritt refers to as the “Babylon Daily Political Newspaper,” published by Saddam’s son, Uday. No doubt he means the now-defunct Babil, formerly an Iraqi daily. In any case, according to the judge, the back page of the November 14, 2002 edition contains a story headlined as a “List of Honor,” identified as “a list of men we publish for the public,” purportedly a compendium of ”regime persons” with their names and positions listed. This is touted by the Judge as “the 600 people closest to Saddam Hussein,” and we are told:
“The list has 600 names and titles in three columns. It contains, for example, the names of the important officials who are members of Saddam’s family, such as Uday, and then other high officials, including the 55 American ”deck of cards” Iraqi officials, some of whom have been apprehended. Halfway down the middle column is written: ‘Abid Al-Karim Muhamed Aswod, intelligence officer responsible for the coordination of activities with the Osama bin Laden group at the Iraqi embassy in Pakistan.'”
The judge goes on to bloviate about how he had once been “skeptical” of the Bin Laden connection, but he has seen the light on account of this “strong proof that the two were in contact and conspiring to perform terrorist acts.”
I sure as heck wouldn’t want Judge Merritt to sit in judgement on any case in which I had an interest: he seems far too easily persuaded by dubious arguments. The judge ends his peroration with a rousing bit of rhetoric about how the “worldwide” conspiracy of Saddam bin Laden (or is that Osama bin Hussein?) remains a “threat,” but somehow fails to mention a key fact that is inserted parenthetically by the newspaper in which his screed appears:
“(For more about the list, see accompanying article on this page.)”
The accompanying article, “Puzzling passage precedes list of top Iraqi officials,” reports a strange anomaly in this alleged smoking gun:
“The newspaper list of top Iraqi officials that Judge Merritt describes in the accompanying article was also the subject of a mid-May report in the Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine. The list, published in an Iraqi newspaper before the U.S. invasion, has received little public attention elsewhere.
“The magazine noted, as did Merritt, that one person on the list was characterized as being in charge of relations with Osama bin Laden at the Iraqi embassy in Pakistan. The magazine also mentioned that the list was prefaced by this puzzling passage:
“‘This is a list of the henchmen of the regime. Our hands will reach them sooner or later. Woe unto them.’
“Since the list was published in a newspaper run by Saddam Hussein’s son, it was not clear why this passage would have been allowed to appear.”
The Weekly Standard account differs from Judge Merrit’s in that author Stephen F. Hayes claims it is the November 16 edition of Babil that published this startling admission all the more startling because Saddam Hussein was at that very moment vehemently denying any connection with or sympathy for Bin Laden. Hayes refers to the “woe unto them” remark as “a cryptic addendum included by accident?” but what kind of an “accident” would that be? Surely the open hostility of this interpolation had Uday suddenly decided to betray his own father? is more than a bit mysterious.
“Our hands will reach them sooner or later” begs the question: whose hands?
The theory that all this was an “accident,” and that, somehow, the Ba’athist regime inadvertently gave the U.S. a good reason to come after them through sheer incompetence, or perhaps a suicidal tendency, is supported by Judge Merrit’s contention that “Saddam had all the papers confiscated, and he ordered that publication of the paper be stopped for 10 days.” But the idea that the Ba’athists would try to confiscate each and every copy of the offending newspaper seems somewhat fanciful, and, besides that, the suspension of Babil has another more credible explanation, as reported by South Africa’s Sunday Times:
“In April 2001 Sahaf survived a run-in with the murderous Uday, which resulted in a change in his portfolio, from foreign to information minister. According to news reports at the time, publication of Uday’s newspaper, Babylon, was suspended for weeks after Sahaf took up his new job. “
Mohammed Saheed al-Sahaf, known as “Comical Ali” for his fanciful accounts of Iraqi military “success” as the regime went down to defeat, appears to have shut down Babil in his capacity as information minister, on account of his known antipathy for Uday.
Old Comical, by the way, appears to have done quite well for himself, these days: unlike the other Iraqi leaders, he was not included among the “most wanted” deck of cards, and turned himself in to the American military authorities, who questioned him and then released him. Comical has now turned up in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, where he will no doubt find a way to cash in on what the South Africa Times refers to as his “immense” popularity with Arab audiences:
“If Sahaf can somehow be co-opted to work with the forthcoming Interim Iraqi Authority, its credibility in the Arab world will be hugely enhanced in spite (or perhaps because) of his refusal to recognize an Abrams tank at a distance of 500m.”
Perhaps he was co-opted before the war ever began. I know of no other reason why such a man who might be described as the Goebbels of a regime that has often been equated with the Nazis might be allowed to go free. Is Comical Ali receiving his just reward for services rendered? If so, it is not too fantastic to consider whether those services might have included the otherwise mysterious insertion of a death threat to the regime in a Ba’athist newspaper.
So, a couple of guys, described as Iraqi “lawyers,” first names only, approach Judge Merritt and proffer "proof" of a joint Iraqi-Ladenite conspiracy at the very moment when the administration’s case for war is being mercilessly debunked. The whole thing screams “phony” so loudly that one can only wonder: can’t the War Party do any better than this?
As usual, everything government touches including disinformation and “black propaganda” is executed with supreme incompetence. I’m not sure which government we’re talking about, here, but I’ll just note that the very “evidence” cited by Judge Merritt is the best proof we’re being manipulated by obsessive liars who will stop at nothing to retroactively justify the rush to war.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
The neocons are after Ann Coulter‘s blonde mane because she praises Senator Joseph McCarthy in her latest best-selling book, Treason: the unanimity of the outcry from the Establishment Right is truly a phenomenon to behold. Dorothy Rabinowitz, (in the War Street Journal) David Horowitz, her old enemies at National Review, all have expressed some variation of the verdict enunciated by Andrew Sullivan in the Sunday Times of London:
“One of the most reputable scholars who has studied the McCarthy era in great detail, Ron Radosh, is appalled at the damage Coulter has done to the work he and many others have painstakingly done over the years. ‘I am furious and upset about her book,’ he told me last week. ‘I am reading it she uses my stuff, Harvey Klehr and John Haynes, Allen Weinstein etc. to distort what we actually say and to make ludicrous and historically incorrect arguments. You might recall my lengthy and negative review in The New Republic a few years ago of [Arthur] Herman’s book on McCarthy; well, she is ten times worse than Herman. At least he tried to use bona fide historical methods of research and argument.’ Now Radosh has endured ostracism and abuse for insisting that many of McCarthy’s victims were indeed Communist spies or agents. But he draws the line at Coulter’s crude and inflammatory defense of McCarthy. ‘I think it is important that those who are considered critics of left/liberalism don’t stop using our critical faculties when self-proclaimed conservatives start producing crap.'”
I haven’t read Coulter’s book, because I don’t need to be convinced that McCarthy was right. I would only note that among the most passionate defenders of Radosh against “ostracism and abuse” has been none other than Ms. Coulter:
“Ronald Radosh is one of the nation’s pre-eminent historians, but he is blacklisted from American universities because he wrote a book concluding that the Rosenbergs were guilty a few years before decrypted Soviet cables were released proving they were guilty.
“Inasmuch as Radosh had once been a ‘progressive’ himself, a fatwa was inevitable. Radosh marched for the Rosenbergs. He attended candlelight vigils for the Rosenbergs. He was even personally acquainted with Pete Seeger! But after setting out to write a book proving the Rosenbergs innocent, his research led him to conclude otherwise. He was a liberal who rejected the faith. Under strict fatwa procedures, Radosh had to be banned from academia.
“As has been copiously detailed by John Judis in the liberal New Republic magazine, whenever Radosh is on the verge of being hired by a major university, the liberal wolf pack bays and suddenly the position disappears. Anonymous critics were quoted ‘question[ing] his credentials.’ One historian told Judis: ‘I wouldn’t hire a red-baiter like Ron.’ Another said Radosh was ‘not a historian at all.'”
Coulter has gone to the barricades in defense of Radosh, and this is how Radosh repays her with smears. But smearing is his forte, in his new incarnation as a neoconservative. His latest pamphlet for the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies states that I am “in league with the most extremist anti-Semites in the Arab world” for merely reporting what Carl Cameron of Fox News reported back in December 2001, and I quote:
“There is no indication that the Israelis were involved in the 9-11 attacks, but investigators suspect that the Israelis may have gathered intelligence about the attacks in advance, and not shared it.”
Why are the neocons so exercised by Coulter’s book? Sullivan cattily disdains her as a “babe,” indicating, in his case, a toxic mix of professional envy and sheer misanthropy. But the deeper reason for this all-out assault is ideological: the neocons hated McCarthy, and still do, because he pointed to the internal danger posed by Communist sympathizers, rather than the “real” enemy abroad. He was also a populist, and the neocons despise the masses, who need to be guided by “public intellectuals” such as themselves. The McCarthyites were, after all, aiming their main fire at their own government in the neocons’ view, an impermissible act of lese majeste. The legitimacy of government must never be questioned.
While I have no sympathy for Ms. Coulter’s post-9/11 ranting, as my longtime readers know, one can only feel sympathy for her in her present situation, as she endures a public stoning by her former “friends.” Spirited, beautiful, and totally right about “Tail-Gunner Joe,” Ann Coulter is the latest victim of the neocons’ vituperative campaign to cleanse the conservative movement of any elements that might challenge them.
As for Ronald Radosh, “reformed” ex-Communist and professional turncoat, his own character as a back-stabbing cretin is now firmly established.