Monday, August 11, 2008

Revisiting the Habbush Letter

The Neo-Cons' Dream Forgery


I don’t really want to remember those several months after 9-11. The memories upset my stomach. Those months of soaring Bush ratings, the ubiquitous intimidating sight of U.S. flags, the official exhortations to be afraid and suspicious, the endless indulgence in national self-righteousness and self-pity, the frighteningly successful effort to impose a highly simplistic worldview on a clueless population. The PATRIOT Act, passed overwhelmingly by a Congress that never read it, which savaged the Constitution. The anthrax scare, widely blamed on Iraq as the administration began its relentless campaign to target that country following the overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan. The reports about a new Information Awareness Office that seemed to take a page out of the Stasi handbook.

There were also reports about government plans to seed the media with propaganda helpful to the newly announced and vaguely conceptualized “War on Terror” that Dick Cheney was saying would “not end in our lifetimes” and would involve many different targets. I can’t find examples of such reportage on line, but I recall how at the time objections were raised to the placement of government agents in the U.S. press. It was therefore announced that propaganda would only be placed in foreign presses. So many outrageous plans were being announced, then withdrawn over protest, during that period as the neocons accomplished their coup and the nation flirted with fascism. How absolutely mad it all seems now, or should seem.

Of course we learned subsequently (2005) that the Bush administration paid journalists such as Armstrong Williams to support its positions, and that a bogus journalist/male prostitute was oddly admitted to White House press conferences where he tossed softball questions at the president. The same year we learned that U.S.-authored propaganda was being planted in the Iraqi press. We’d been informed by the 9-11 Commission in July 2004 that all the detailed “intelligence” about Iraq’s WMD and al-Qaeda ties was “flawed” (or more honestly, disinformation). Some of us even learned from investigative reporter Larissa Alexandrovna in late 2005 that the Office of Special Plans planned “off book” missions from March 2003 that included an effort to plant WMD in Iraq to cover Bush’s embarrassment.


The case for the Iraq War was falling apart by December 14, 2003, when the London Daily Telegraph published a dramatic scoop. Con Coughlin, executive foreign editor with a history of supporting neocon claims about Iraq, claimed to have a letter written to Saddam Hussein in July 2001 by his intelligence director Tahir Jalil Habbush al-Takriti. This document confirmed a number of administration assertions that had been discredited among a large section of thinking Americans. It placed the putative 9-11 mastermind Mohammed Atta in a Baghdad training camp founded by the Palestinian militant Abu Nidal:

“Mohammed Atta, an Egyptian national, came with Abu Ammer and we hosted him in Abu Nidal’s house at al-Dora under our direct supervision. We arranged a work program for him for three days with a team dedicated to working with him... He displayed extraordinary effort and showed a firm commitment to lead the team which will be responsible for attacking the targets that we have agreed to destroy.”

This reinforced Richard Perle’s statement to the Italian press in September 2002: “We have proof Mohammed Atta met Saddam Hussein in Baghdad prior to September 11.” It lent some support to the false report that Atta had had contact with Iraqi intelligence in Prague in 2001, as alleged by Vice President Cheney on NBC’s Meet the Press on December 9, 2001. In referring in passing to a “Niger shipment” through Libya and Syria facilitated by al-Qaeda it even revived belief in a myth punctured by the IAEA (which had exposed the Niger documents as amateurish forgeries in early 2003) and by Joseph Wilson’s exposure of the administration’s use of the myth even after his own trip to Niger had debunked it thoroughly.

The letter’s authenticity was confirmed by Iyad Allawi, then a member of the Iraqi Governing Council little known to Americans. He’d been a Baathist thug, defecting to British intelligence in the 1970s, then becoming a CIA asset. His “Iraqi National Accord” had produced the bogus intelligence that Saddam Hussein’s regime could use weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes against British troops in Cyprus. As noted by Salon’s Joe Conason, the Washington Post had reported on December 11, 2003 that Allawi had been “spending much of this week at CIA headquarters in Langley” planning the establishment of a new Iraqi “spy service.” (In May 2004 he was elected interim Prime Minister by the Governing Council, under U.S. pressure after months of wrangling. Due largely to a reputation for brutality and subservience to the Americans, his party did poorly in the January 2006 elections.)


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