Just Friends, Lovers No More

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As Mickey Kaus and others have noted, the blockbuster memo written about in the London Telegraph allegedly detailing Mohammed Atta's tight connections to Saddam Hussein is starting to look like a fake.

As Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball write,

U.S. officials and a leading Iraqi document expert tell NEWSWEEK that the document is most likely a forgery?part of a thriving new trade in dubious Iraqi documents that has cropped up in the wake of the collapse of Saddam's regime.
….

The Telegraph story was apparently written with a political purpose: to bolster Bush administration claims of a connection between Al Qaeda and Saddam's regime. The paper described a "handwritten memo" that was supposedly sent to Saddam Hussein by Tahir Jalil Habbush al-Tikriti, chief of Iraqi intelligence at the time. It describes a three-day "work program" that Atta had undertaken in Baghdad under the tutelage of notorious Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal, who lived in the Iraqi capital until his death under suspicious circumstances in August 2002.

If the memo is legit, it would certainly–though retroactively–help justify the invasion of Iraq. After all, very few war opponents were against invading Afghanistan once it became clear that the Taliban was hiding Bin Laden. That is to say, most war protesters are not pacifists per se.

Yet what's interesting is that the memo, whether real or fake, shouldn't really change the debate over the legitimacy of the action, especially as a guide to similar actions in the future. After all, the Bush administration did not sell the invasion of Iraq based on a connection between Saddam and 9/11. In fact, it consistently downplayed such a link, emphasizing instead Saddam's refusal to comply with UN resolutions and the threat (imminent, gathering, future, whatever) that Iraq posed to the U.S.

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  1. 20 years from now, I wonder if we will find evidence that many or most of these “Iraqi” terrorism documents were planted by the USA.

  2. man, -two- sammy davis, jr. songs in a week?

  3. This document merited yet another “Ha! We were right!” entry in NRO’s “The Corner,” along with the “mobile weapons labs” and about a million other mistakes and forgeries.

    You’d think these people would have learned about crying wolf from the Clinton scandals. At this point, if Kathryn Lopez were to trip over an atomic bomb, no one would believe her.

  4. The meat of Isikoff’s article documents (with help from his FBI sources) in some detail Atta’s movement from June 27-July 1. He calls this period of time “when the trip presumably would have taken place”. It is somewhat unclear why he thinks (“presumes”) Atta can not have gone to Iraq on some date prior to June 27. Of course, his FBI source calls the whole thing “highly unlikely”, so I guess it’s case closed.

    The real question is whether the document is a forgery(=not really written by Iraq’s intelligence chief to Saddam), or not, and this question is indepedent of Atta’s movements. (Even if Atta never went to Iraq, the document could in principle be genuine; perhaps its author was simply lying to Saddam. 🙂 For some reason the document expert cited by Isikoff hasn’t gotten around to looking at the memo yet (I believe one can find it on the internet). Regardless, he calls the whole thing “highly implausible”, so I guess it’s case closed.

    Well, I know I’m satisfied.

  5. When I read the Newsweek article yesterday it seemed like a cover story, so that it could be claimed that the item was no longer being ignored. But the brunt of their case seems to be (a) that it “could be” a fake (which was acknowledged in the Telegraph) and (b) that credit card receipts “proved” Atta was in the US at the time (failing to mention the previous info about collaborators switching ID documents to establish presence).

    I’m not convinced the document given to the Telegraph is genuine, but the Newsweek article does nothing to convince me that it is not — as a matter of fact, the weakness of the Newsweek article may be telling in itself.

    Related question: Why would this Reason-related blog think the Newsweek article is a significant item? When you read it again, more closely, what does it actually say to you?

  6. Bush never did cite any Saddam-9/11 link, but he did actively cite Saddam’s connections to terrorists, with the very possibility of Saddam passing WMD to them. I know Hit & Run readers discount both the WMD and terrorist claims, but I think they’ll both be vindicated when this is all over.

  7. Eric,

    What makes you think Iraq had WMD’s? I’m not saying he definitely didn’t, I’m just unaware of any evidence that he did.

  8. Les,

    Apparently a lot of people have been lying…oops “misleading” about WMD in Iraq:

    Sandy Berger, Clinton national security adviser, Feb. 18, 1998: “He will use those weapons of mass destruction again, as he has 10 times since 1983.”

    Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Dec. 16, 1998: “Saddam Hussein has been engaged in the development of weapons of mass destruction technology which is a threat to countries in the region, and he has made a mockery of the weapons inspection process.”

    Madeline Albright, Feb. 18, 1998: “Iraq is a long way from (here), but what happens there matters a great deal here. For the risks that the leaders of a rogue state will use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons against us or our allies is the greatest security threat we face.”

    Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., Oct. 10, 2002: “There is unmistakable evidence that Saddam Hussein is working aggressively to develop nuclear weapons and will likely have nuclear weapons within the next five years.”

    “If Saddam rejects peace and we have to use force, our purpose is clear. We want to seriously diminish the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program.”
    -President Clinton, Feb. 17, 1998
    “[W]e urge you, after consulting with Congress, and consistent with the U.S. Constitution and laws, to take necessary actions (including, if appropriate, air and missile strikes on suspect Iraqi sites) to respond effectively to the threat posed by Iraq’s refusal to end its weapons of mass destruction programs.” Letter to President Clinton, signed by:
    -Sens. Carl Levin, Tom Daschle, John Kerry, and others Oct. 9, 1998

    “We know that he has stored secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons throughout his country.”
    -Al Gore, Sept. 23, 2002

    Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., and others, in a letter to President Bush, Dec. 5, 2001: “There is no doubt that . . . Saddam Hussein has invigorated his weapons programs. . . . In addition, Saddam continues to redefine delivery systems and is doubtless using the cover of a licit missile program to develop longer-range missiles that will threaten the United States and our allies.”

  9. Les,
    First, he’s used them in the past. Second, defectors have told us that he still had them. The UN believed he had them, as did the French, Germans, Russians, and so on. Our own intelligence agencies believed he had them.

    Much of the pre-war debate took for granted that Saddam had these weapons. The issue was how to deal with it. Some wanted more inspections, others wanted a UN occupation with more inspectors (the French proposed that one). Bush, Blair, and others realized the true WMD was Saddam himself.

    Also, the inspectors who were in Iraq afer the Gulf War found a lot of WMD, and were still fiding more when Saddam tossed them out in 1998 (I think, could have been a year or two after or before).

  10. I know a lot of different people have said that he had WMD’s and we know that he USED to have them (around the time we were supplying him with them). From what I understand, our own intelligence agencies believed it was possible or even likely that he had them just prior to the war (which the pols, to the intelligence community’s widely expressed disppointment, turned into “we KNOW Saddam has WMD’s”), but no one ever has presented any hard evidence demonstrating their existence, let alone Saddam’s intent to give them to terrorist organizations (which I wouldn’t argue was something he’d never do, we all know he supported terrorists; but then again, so have we…).

  11. I’m skeptical about the Telegraph‘s memo. It is too convenient and too explicit. And I’m skeptical of the Newsweek debunking, to some degree, because it assumes a great deal about when Mohammed Atta would have to have been in Iraq and whether documents purporting to establish his presence in the United States truly do so. Basically, I’m in a wait and see mode.

    However, I must say that it is not true to suggest that the Bush administration did not cite linkage between Hussein’s regime and al Qaeda as part of its case for war. It did so on several occasions. Colin Powell talked about it, Dick Cheney talked about it, and the president talked about it. It wasn’t the only argument, of course, but who said there had to be a single argument? Actually, the presence of multiple arguments is what made the case persuasive to me. If one or more of the key arguments turns out to be unfounded, the debate turns out differently for me.

    It’s just too early to tell. Lots of information will have to be found, evaluated, and reported.

  12. Les is asking what evidence there was that Saddam had WMDs prior to the war: “we know that he USED to have them” but what about prior to the war??

    This is a bizarre location on which to place the burden of proof. I would turn around and ask you, Les, what evidence you have that at the time of the debate, Saddam didn’t have the WMDs we know that he USED to have. He had them, he hasn’t given any indication of having destroyed or otherwise gotten rid of them, least of all to the UN, when doing so would have saved his behind and kept him in palace luxury. So: if Saddam really got rid of, some way or another, the WMDs we know he used to have, what evidence is there for this?

    People will come back with a reflexive “innocent until proven guilty”, since this phrase has been pounded into everyone in childhood and countless Perry Mason style dramas. But this is not a criminal trial in a court of law, it is national security. The commander in chief should *not* operate from “innocent till proven guilty” principles; he would be derelict in his duty to do so. People are mis-applying that principle.

    Revisionist history and mis-applied jurisprudence aside, the burden of proof was entirely on Saddam to demonstrate that he had disarmed and indeed, that is precisely what the relevant UN resolution said.

  13. “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.”

    Dick Cheney
    Speech to VFW National Convention
    August 26, 2002

    “Right now, Iraq is expanding and improving facilities that were used for the production of biological weapons.”

    George W. Bush
    Speech to UN General Assembly
    September 12, 2002

    “We know for a fact that there are weapons there.”

    Ari Fleischer
    Press Briefing
    January 9, 2003

    “Our intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent.”

    George W. Bush
    State of the Union Address
    January 28, 2003

    “We have sources that tell us that Saddam Hussein recently authorized Iraqi field commanders to use chemical weapons — the very weapons the dictator tells us he does not have.”

    George W. Bush
    Radio Address
    February 8, 2003

    “Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.”

    George W. Bush
    Address to the Nation
    March 17, 2003

    “Well, there is no question that we have evidence and information that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, biological and chemical particularly . . . all this will be made clear in the course of the operation, for whatever duration it takes.”

    Ari Fleisher
    Press Briefing
    March 21, 2003

    “There is no doubt that the regime of Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction. And . . . as this operation continues, those weapons will be identified, found, along with the people who have produced them and who guard them.”

    Gen. Tommy Franks
    Press Conference
    March 22, 2003

    “We know where they are. They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.”

    Donald Rumsfeld
    ABC Interview
    March 30, 2003

    “Obviously the administration intends to publicize all the weapons of mass destruction U.S. forces find — and there will be plenty.”

    Neocon scholar Robert Kagan
    Washington Post op-ed
    April 9, 2003

    “But make no mistake — as I said earlier — we have high confidence that they have weapons of mass destruction. That is what this war was about and it is about. And we have high confidence it will be found.”

    Ari Fleischer
    Press Briefing
    April 10, 2003

    “We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction, is determined to make more.”

    Colin Powell
    Remarks to UN Security Council
    February 5, 2003

    (That’s a tiny part of Powell’s detailed description of weapons programs that, according to Greg Thielmann, a former director of the Strategic, Proliferation and Military Affairs Office at the State Department’s Intelligence Bureau, made the intelligence officers who were watching the speech with him laugh aloud. He accuses the White House of “systematic, across-the-board exaggeration” of intelligence as it made its case that Saddam Hussein posed an imminent threat to the U.S. He also contends that much of the intelligence about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was entirely politicized. “Senior officials made statements which I can only describe as dishonest,” he says. “They were distorting some of the information that we provided to make it seem more alarmist and more dangerous.”)

  14. The above statements share a lot in common with statements of the Clinton administration and the fact that they have not been proven thus far does not mean that they have been disproven, especially considering that the search continues at least until the spring of next year.

    “Although Western intelligence agencies have attempted to trace Atta’s movements in the months preceding September 11, there remain several periods during which his precise whereabouts are unknown.” – the Telegraph story

    Isikoff’s story makes no attempt to refute this, other than simply asserting that the FBI knows Atta’s movements. We are provided with proof of a week of Atta’s movements prior to the date of the letter, never mind that we don’t know when the supposed meeting took place. Secondly, the FBI has claimed to know things about Atta before that they just do not know and these claims are repeated to this day by the likes of the New York Times.

  15. The connections between Saddam and Bin Gone will be proven. The WMD are there and will be found. Anyone who believes otherwise is a complete fool. And, obviously, there are many fools out there. To credit the butcher bin Laden with the moral conviction to disdain an alliance with the most powerfully militarized Arab nation (Sunni at that!) based on moral compunction demonstrates the left’s true belief that “we had it coming.” The apologists perceive this animal as actually determining that some means do NOT justify the ends. Puhleeez! Every setback brings a more absurd response and reveals more and more of the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the antiwar crowd.

  16. In fact, it consistently downplayed such a link, emphasizing instead Saddam’s refusal to comply with UN resolutions and the threat (imminent, gathering, future, whatever) that Iraq posed to the U.S.

    This was actually why I thought the memo was a fake. It made two claims:

    (1): Hussein was involved in 9/11
    (2): Iraq tried to buy yellowcake from Niger.

    Both of these claims have two things in common:
    (1): The Bush administration has never, ever made them.
    (2): Lazy media types keep saying the Bush administration has made them.

    It has always seemed extremely likely, to me anyway, that the documents were phonied up by somebody who reads the newspapers and/or watches TV, but lacks in-depth knowledge of the allegations surrounding Hussein. It isn’t just that the memo is “too perfect”; it’s that it “too perfectly” describes a reality that nobody has actually been saying is true. 😉

  17. Les,

    See, I knew you could do it. 🙂

    Whipping out my handy dandy Bush-apologist parsing device, I think I’d be able to dismiss many of your quotes: #2/Bush only mentions “facilities”. #3/Fleischer only mentions “weapons” (surely Saddam had “weapons”!) #4/Bush uses past tense verb “had” (as well as fudge “estimate”). #5/Bush is irrelevant (Saddam can give orders to use WMD whether or not he has any). #7/Fleischer says we have “evidence” (which we did).

    #9/Rummy is hilarious (esp. “east, west, south and north somewhat” – as long as he’s precise!) Now I see where people get the idea that they said they knew “exactly” where the WMDs were, maybe.

    #10/Kagan is irrelevant (Kagan?). #11/Fleischer asserts “confidence” (surely they had “confidence”!). #12/Powell is an assertion about Saddam’s internal mental state and “determin”ation, which could have been and probably was correct regardless of whether he actually had “WMDs”.

    But that still leaves #1, 3, 6, 8 as survivors of the most asskissing Bush suck-up apologetics I can muster. Like I said, I had no real doubt that such quotes existed. 😉

    Incidentally this was a useful exercise because it enabled me to notice that most of the quotes (all the non-Fleischer quotes, I think) which survived my excuse making seem to use the phrase “no doubt”. I don’t know if that is just a coincidence or not. The possibility occurs to me that using the phrase “intelligence leaves no doubt that…” was their way of hedging while making the strongest-sounding possible statements they could. But even if so, those statements still didn’t survive my parsing. Even a Bush suckup has gotta draw the line somewhere 😉

    Best,

  18. Les,

    Which of the statements you listed are false?

  19. Dan, I think blixa does a fair job of filtering out the technically not inaccurate statements from the outright lies.

    The intelligence community reported to the administration that they “suspected” things about WMD’s or that there were “possibilities” regarding locations and amounts of WMD’s. So whenever the administration said they “knew” the things they were told were “suspected”, they were lying, pure and simple.

    Again, consider the words of Greg Thielmann, a former director of the Strategic, Proliferation and Military Affairs Office at the State Department’s Intelligence Bureau, and who reported directly to Colin Powell.

    “Senior officials made statements which I can only describe as dishonest. They were distorting some of the information that we provided to make it seem more alarmist and more dangerous.”

  20. And since this thread might die out soon, let me just add that I would love, love, love it if we found all the WMD’s described. It would make the mission easier for the men and women serving there and make the entire invasion less questionable.

    That said, if a bear expert tells me there “might” be a bear in the woods and I tell everyone else that the expert “knows” there’s a bear in the woods, I’m still a liar, even if we find a bear in the woods.

  21. Dan, I didn’t mean to dismiss your question.

    Here are some inarguably false statements from above:

    “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.”

    Dick Cheney
    Speech to VFW National Convention
    August 26, 2002

    There was plenty of doubt from the very people providing him with reports.

    “Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.”

    George W. Bush
    Address to the Nation
    March 17, 2003

    Again, there was plenty of doubt within the government.

    “Well, there is no question that we have evidence and information that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, biological and chemical particularly . . . ”

    Ari Fleisher
    Press Briefing
    March 21, 2003

    There was a question and still is one.

    “There is no doubt that the regime of Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction.”

    Gen. Tommy Franks
    Press Conference
    March 22, 2003

    “We know where they are. They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.”

    Donald Rumsfeld
    ABC Interview
    March 30, 2003

    This was an obviously false statement.

    “We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction, is determined to make more.”

    Colin Powell
    Remarks to UN Security Council
    February 5, 2003

    Those giving Powell his information were clear that they didn’t “know” anything, but rather suspected some things.

  22. And blixa, it’s good to disagree with an agreeable fellow. It helps to weed out my weaker arguments.

  23. ^Hilarious parody. Thoreau, you’ve got competition. I especially like the part where the beliefs of “the left” are based on an assumption of Bin Laden’s moral compass.

    Now, if you can link support for the radical imposition of Sharia law with liberal disdain for religion and traditional moral codes, you’re ready to take the show on the road.

  24. That is to say, most war protesters are not pacifists per se.

    This is unquestionably true. A pacifist would be equally opposed to the use of force by both sides in an armed conflict. Most war protesters want to see the US lose, to see it humiliated, to see, in short, successful acts of violence by our enemies.

    They are protesting the use of force by America. They weren’t and aren’t protesting the use of force by America’s enemies.

    Oh no, not pacifists at all.

  25. Without getting into the meaning of “pacifist,” I think the original statement might have been more accurate if it read: “Most LIBERTARIAN anti-war protestors are not pacifists per se.”

    Otherwise the qualifier “most” is likely inaccurate, at least among active protestors, as opposed to just people who’ve expressed an opinion against the war.

  26. Isikoff’s record for accuracy on this issue is, er, spotty to be kind. Take it with a huge grain of salt just like the original story. The left, of course, will claim vindication just like they did when the mainstream press claimed that phantom Czech officials had denied the Atta/al-Ani meeting had ever taken place, that Havel had called Bush to say so (the call never happened), etc.

  27. “Most war protesters want to see the US lose, to see it humiliated, to see, in short, successful acts of violence by our enemies.”

    Are unsubstantiated generalities like this constructive at all? I don’t think so.

    “They are protesting the use of force by America. They weren’t and aren’t protesting the use of force by America’s enemies.”

    Why would American citizens protest the actions of people/organizations for which they have no responsibility? That would be silly.

    Though I disagree with most of what anti-war protesters are saying, I think it’s obvious that they simply are against the use of their tax dollars to attack Iraq and the subsequent loss of life that accompanies such (usually sloppy) operations. I think their reasoning is often too simplistic, but what on Earth is wrong with Americans protesting what they perceive to be a misuse of their tax dollars?

  28. and you have the Bush admin telling the American people and the world that we KNOW he had WMD’s

    Les,

    I think this is a fair criticism.

    There often seems to be much confusion about what exactly the Bush administration did or did not say. For example, many Bush critics have complained to me that Bush said that they knew “exactly where the WMDs were”, and I think that’s nonsense, I think Bush said nothing of the kind. (Neither did Bush mention “Niger” in his State Of The Union.) Misperceptions such as this abound.

    Did they say “We KNOW he HAS WMDs?”, or “We KNOW he HAD WMDs?” (the latter being correct). I honestly don’t know and it probably depends on which public comment one chooses to quote and parse. What was their actual claim, precisely? Honestly, I had always thought the general argument was: we know he’s hiding something, he hasn’t accounted for everything we know he USED to have, and we can’t take that chance. But to be honest, I don’t really doubt that you could come back and show me a quote from Bush or someone close to me to the effect that “we KNOW he has WMDs”.

    But it’s hard to pin down exactly what their “case” was (partially because there’s no such thing as an official “case” for war), and it’s certainly fair to accuse them of having (at least) fudged the issue and letting confusion exist in peoples’ minds if it would help maintain public support for the course of action they were advocating. Indeed, it would be genuinely surprising if they hadn’t done this to some extent. Best,

  29. Blixa, believe it or not, I agree with a lot of what you’re saying. In a way, Saddam was begging for invasion and I’m glad he’s gone. My main problem is that you have the intelligence community telling the Bush admin that he MIGHT have WMD’s and you have the Bush admin telling the American people and the world that we KNOW he had WMD’s. That was a lie and it was a lie repeated by everyone in that administration.

    This is the main source of my conflict regarding the war. I think getting rid of Saddam was a good thing and needed to be done, but I’m ashamed of the dishonest and incompetent way that it was accomplished.

  30. Edward Epstein seems to pretty convincingly, and pre-emptively, debunk the Newsweek debunking:
    http://slate.msn.com/id/2091354/

    Money line: “There were no car rental records in Virginia, Florida, or anywhere else in April 2001 for Mohamed Atta, since he had not yet obtained his Florida license”

    Epstein does not mention the tactic of an ally using one’s identity cards while the other is not present, to occlude any trail. I don’t have citations for this tactic but have read of its use among the named 9/11 conspirators. The prior Prague visits just before Atta’s journey to the US are quite interesting.

    What we in the public don’t know still exceeds what we can confirm.

  31. I completely agree with what you’re saying. Amen.

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