The Iraq Forgery
On Dec. 14, 2003, the London Sunday Telegraph published an explosive front-page story headlined, "Terrorist behind September 11 strike 'was trained by Saddam.'" The proof was a July 1, 2001, letter from the head of Iraqi intelligence, Tahir Jalil Habbush, stating that 9/11 terrorist Mohammed Atta had trained for his mission in Iraq. War supporters touted this story as further justification for the Bush administration's war. That same day, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly proclaimed, "Now, if this is true, that blows the lid off al Qaeda/Saddam." However, as the 9/11 Commission proved, there were no pre-war ties between Saddam Hussein's regime and the al Qaeda organization. So what happened? Pulitzer-Prize winning author Ron Suskind argues in his new book, "The Way of the World," the White House fabricated this letter and paid Habbush $5 million to stay quiet. Additionally, officials ignored Habbush's warnings that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. Suskind's reporting provides the latest bit of evidence that the Bush administration deliberately misled the public to launch its war.
IGNORING UNWANTED EVIDENCE: In January 2003, Michael Shipster, the head of Iraqi operations for the British intelligence service MI6, began secret talks with Habbush. According to Nigel Inkster, a former senior British intelligence official, Habbush confirmed that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. Hussein was "more concerned with threats from regional enemies like Iran than a US invasion." Senior White House officials were well-informed about these discussions. The British intelligence services prepared a final report on Shipster's meetings with Habbush, which then-CIA director George Tenet used to brief President Bush and then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. "The report stated that according to Habbush, Saddam had ended his nuclear program in 1991, the same year he destroyed his chemical weapons stockpile. Iraq had no intention, Habbush said, of restarting either program," Suskind writes. "The White House then buried the Habbush report. They instructed the British that they were no longer interested in keeping the channel open." But as Suskind told MSNBC's Keith Olbermann yesterday, Bush administration officials became worried that Habbush might go public with his revelations after Amb. Joseph Wilson published his infamous op-ed on July 6, 2003. "Everyone was terrified that Habbush would pop up on the screen," former CIA agent Rob Maguire told Suskind. The CIA paid Habbush $5 million in hush money in October 2003 to lay low and stay quiet. Ironically, the State Department's "Rewards for Justice" website still lists Habbush as a "wanted" man, offering a $1 million reward.
THE BOGUS LETTER: Around the time that it hushed Habbush, the White House decided to use the Iraqi's name to forge the bogus letter, backdated to July 2001. The letter was meant to show "that there was an operational link between Saddam and al Qaeda, something the Vice President's Office had been pressing CIA to prove since 9/11 as a justification to invade Iraq," writes Suskind. According to Suskind's CIA sources, officials remember seeing the forgery order on "creamy White House stationery." Furthermore, they concluded that the letter must have come from the "highest reaches of the White House." The fake letter was then strategically leaked to Telegraph reporter Con Coughlin. Coughlin noted that in the memo, Habbush said that Atta "displayed extraordinary effort" and would be able to attack "the targets that we have agreed to destroy." The second part of the memo, headed "Niger Shipment," detailed an unspecified shipment -- presumably uranium -- that was allegedly shipped to Iraq via Libya and Syria. In his article, Coughlin wrote, Iraqi officials refused to disclose how and where they had obtained the document." Dr. Ayad Allawi, then a member of Iraq's Presidential Committee, nevertheless "said the document was genuine."
GUTTER ATTACKS: Current and former Bush administration officials wasted no time in excoriating Suskind's work. "There was no such order from the White House to me nor, to the best of my knowledge, was anyone from CIA ever involved in any such effort," said Tenet. He also questioned whether Suskind was a "serious journalist." White House spokesman Tony Fratto went further, telling Politico, "Ron Suskind makes a living from gutter journalism. He is about selling books and making wild allegations that no one can verify." The White House told NPR that the claims in the book were part of the "bizarre conspiracy theories that Ron Suskind likes to dwell in." Yesterday in a Washington Post online chat, media reporter Howard Kurtz disputed the White House's characterization of Suskind, stating, "Gutter journalism is certainly not a phrase I'd associate with Ron Suskind." Moreover, Suskind is standing by his work. He said that many of his sources "felt that at the end of this Bush era it is imperative to be truthful about this issue -- going to war under false pretenses so that we settle accounts and people understand what occurred and what the truth is. So we can get past this as a country." He also called the White House's reaction "regrettable" but "expected." "If they reacted any other way they would have to answer questions that might have some legal consequences," he told ABC News.