NY Times and Washington Post Get It Wrong?Yet Again

Joel Mowbray

6/22/2004 12:00:00 AM - Joel Mowbray

Last Thursday?s New York Times headline told us that the 9/11 Commission found "no Qaeda-Iraq tie." The Washington Post insisted that the "Al Qaeda-Hussein link is dismissed."

But what Wednesday's commission statement actually said was that the panel had discovered "no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States."

Explains 9/11 Commision spokesman Jonathan Stull, "The report doesn't close the book on connections between Iraq and al Qaeda."  And both the co-chairs of the panel?one Republican, one Democrat?have stressed that the interim report did not dispute the White House?s argument about ties between Iraq and al Qaeda.

And Saddam's possible role in 9/11 had little to do with the case for war in Iraq. The point there was to prevent another 9/11.

Apparently, this is too much nuance for most of the media to handle.

Did the administration make Iraq's substantial terrorist ties, including to al Qaeda, one of the primary reasons for going to war? Of course. But did the administration try to pin 9/11 on Saddam? No.

Yet the casual reader probably couldn't glean that from the initial media reaction to the commission's interim report. Nor that the "news" on Iraq was but one paragraph in a 12-page document.

The lead of the Times' Page One story reads like a John Kerry press release: "The staff of the commission investigating the 9/11 attacks sharply contradicted one of President Bush's central justifications for the Iraq war, reporting on Wednesday that there did not appear to have been a 'collaborative relationship' between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein."

What the Times neglected to mention was that the commission wrote that bin Laden personally had met with a senior Iraqi intelligence officer in Sudan in 1994. Hardly an insignificant detail, particularly when it's all in the same paragraph of the commission report.

The Washington Post was only slightly better: Its lead sentence announced that the report's single paragraph on Iraq "challeng[ed] one of the Bush administration's main justifications for the war in Iraq."

Except that, as already noted, Bush didn't use Saddam's role in 9/11 as a "justification" for the war. What Bush did do was, correctly, argue that Saddam's ongoing contacts with al Qaeda posed an unacceptable threat.

Nowhere has this case been made more cogently or completely than by Stephen Hayes of The Weekly Standard in his new book, "The Connection: How al Qaeda's Collaboration with Saddam Hussein Has Endangered America."

Far from some crackpot conspiracy theorist, Hayes is a cautious, seasoned journalist who is careful to add caveats about each piece of evidence. Even though, as he is quick to point out, a number of the stories and events may turn out not to be true, the sheer volume of ties ? in terms of both depth and breadth ? between Iraq and al Qaeda should leave little doubt that this was a determined, ongoing relationship.

"The Connection" lives up to its title in exploring Saddam's support for and sheltering of one of the perpetrators of the first World Trade Center bombing, as well as extensive meetings between various Iraqi intelligence officials and bin Laden over the years. Also covered in depth is top Qaeda terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who has operated in Iraq since before the war, and is likely behind yesterday's deadly bombing at a military recruiting station.

Hayes even presents evidence of an agreement for Iraq to aid al Qaeda in developing WMDs. The danger is obvious: Stockpiles or no, no one disputes Saddam's WMD know-how.

With heaps of evidence documenting at least a substantial relationship, the question becomes: What more do the media need, a photograph of a Saddam-bin Laden tea party?