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« 9-11 Comm: Richard Clarke Cites Iraq-Al Qaeda WMD Tie | Main | The Washington Post: Firmly On-Record Against Speculative Charges »
July 22, 2004

Washington Post Buries Report Finding of Iraq Safe Haven Offer to Al Qaeda While Claiming "No Ties"

Washington Post Headline: Findings Further Erode Claims of Iraq-Al Qaeda Ties.

Key bits:

One week after the terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon, White House counterterrorism director Paul Kurtz wrote in a memo to national security adviser Condoleezza Rice that no "compelling case" existed for Iraq's involvement in the attacks and that links between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's government were weak.

Not only did Osama bin Laden resent the Iraqi government's secularism, Kurtz's classified memo stated, but there was no confirmed information about collaboration between them on weapons of mass destruction.

Yesterday, after a lengthy investigation, the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States laid out a detailed body of evidence supporting Kurtz's view. Although recent polls have shown that more than 40 percent of the American public is still convinced that Iraq collaborated with al Qaeda and had a role in the terrorist attacks, the commission reported finding no evidence of a "collaborative operational relationship" between the two or an Iraqi role in attacking the United States.

It stated that representatives of the two may have been in contact in 1994 or 1995, 1998 and possibly 1999, largely because of what the commission described as a shared hatred of the United States. But the commission found that their interests were largely out of sync, and nothing came of the contacts.


The issue of Iraq's relationship with al Qaeda has figured prominently in debate over the wisdom of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. Senior administration officials have repeatedly linked the two and said the war eliminated a sanctuary for terrorists. Administration supporters may now interpret the commission's evidence of meetings between the two as a problem that could have become a significant threat.

The commission staff previously cast doubt on such claims regarding Iraq. Yesterday's report -- issued in the name of the commission members, not just its staff -- affirms that skepticism and makes the case in greater detail.

Later on in the piece, the writer slips in this nugget quickly:

A year later, Iraq's position reversed. Impressed by bin Laden's declaration of holy war against the United States, Iraqi intelligence officials reportedly hosted a visit by two al Qaeda members; follow-up meetings took place in 1998 and possibly in 1999, the report states. But bin Laden declined an Iraqi offer of haven.

What was that he just said? Bin Laden declined an Iraqi offer of haven? That seems to merit more than a quick, vague, late-paragraph mention, doesn't it?

The actual report is a little clearer on this point than the Post reporter, R. Jeffrey Smith, would like to be:

There is also evidence that around this time Bin Ladin sent out a number of feelers to the Iraqi regime, offering some cooperation. None are reported to have received a significant response.According to one report, Saddam Hussein’s efforts at this time to rebuild relations with the Saudis and other Middle Eastern regimes led him to stay clear of Bin Ladin.

In mid-1998, the situation reversed; it was Iraq that reportedly took the ini tiative. In March 1998, after Bin Ladin’s public fatwa against the United States, two al Qaeda members reportedly went to Iraq to meet with Iraqi intelligence. In July, an Iraqi delegation traveled to Afghanistan to meet first with the Taliban and then with Bin Ladin. Sources reported that one, or perhaps both, of these meetings was apparently arranged through Bin Ladin’s Egyptian deputy, Zawahiri, who had ties of his own to the Iraqis. In 1998, Iraq was under intensifying U.S. pressure, which culminated in a series of large air attacks in December.

Similar meetings between Iraqi officials and Bin Ladin or his aides may have occurred in 1999 during a period of some reported strains with the Taliban. According to the reporting, Iraqi officials offered Bin Ladin a safe haven in Iraq. Bin Ladin declined, apparently judging that his circumstances in Afghanistan remained more favorable than the Iraqi alternative. The reports describe friendly contacts and indicate some common themes in both sides’ hatred of the United States. But to date we have seen no evidence that these or the earlier contacts ever developed into a collaborative operational relationship. Nor have we seen evidence indicating that Iraq cooperated with al Qaeda in developing or carrying out any attacks against the United States.

Note that the Washington Post elides over the bombshell finding that Saddam Hussein offered his country as a safe haven for bin Ladin. It is an impossible fact to spin, so the liberal reporters do what they usually do with facts that they can't spin: They simply refuse to report them at all.

Here, R. Jeffrey sort of mentions the offer, but note how he does so: He doesn't write the sentence in an active-verb way, making the actor and the action clear. Such as:

Saddam Hussein offered bin Ladin safe haven.

That's the way the copybook tells you to write sentences, with the actor and action clear and bright and shiny. At least, that's the way you're supposed to write, if your intent is to convey information, instead of suppressing it.

Rather than write the sentence in that natural fashion -- or simply quote the 9-11 report, which writes in that fashion as well-- R. Jeffrey writes a sentence in which Saddam Hussein takes no action at all. All the action is done by bin Ladin, declining an offer which isn't actively made:

But bin Laden declined an Iraqi offer of haven.

Compare the two side-by-side:

9-11 Report: ...Iraqi officials offered Bin Ladin a safe haven in Iraq

R. Jeffrey, Liberal Warrior: But bin Laden declined an Iraqi offer of haven.

One sentence is written to convey information. The other is written deliberately to conceal information.

At any rate.

No "collaborative relationship"? Well, maybe not; but that seems to have been bin Ladin's decision. Saddam was offering. And if ever bin Ladin changed his mind, Al Qaeda could have a new home.

This is getting into Orwellian territory here, folks. When the media chooses to gloss over and paraphrase the finding that Hussein offered a safe haven to bin Ladin and Al Qaeda, and spins the selectively-reported findings as some sort of vindication for the anti-warriors, we have crossed the line from spin into actual lies.

Correction: I initially said that the writer didn't mention the offer of safe haven at all. He did.

Sort of.

I missed the mention, because he worded it in such an evasive way, making it seem benign, and made that mention in a brief sentence without any follow-up or any discussion of the implications of the offer of safe haven.

Congratulations, R. Jeffrey-- your article did what you intended it to do. At least one reader completely missed your lightning-quick, vaguely worded mention of Saddam Hussein's offer of safe haven to bin Ladin's terror network.

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posted by Ace at 11:48 PM

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