Accuracy in Media

On September 6, the Washington Post published a story about surveys showing that many people cling to the mistaken belief that there was a link between Saddam Hussein, al Qaeda and the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The story, by Dana Milbank and Claudia Deane, described the belief in such a link as “apparently groundless” and an “apparent misperception.”

One day later, on September 7, the Post reported that there was, in fact, an al Qaeda-Iraq connection. It said that al Qaeda had established a presence in Baghdad before the war. This story, by Peter Finn and Susan Schmidt, reported that Mohammed Ibrahim Makawi, the military chief of al Qaeda, met in Iran with Abu Musab Zarqawi, who was associated with a group called Ansar al-Islam. The Post said that, “The encounter resulted in the dispatch of Zarqawi to become al Qaeda’s man in Iraq?” The Post was confirming the Saddam-al Qaeda link that Secretary of State Colin Powell had described in detail in a February 5 presentation to the U.N. Security Council.

In regard to this “groundless” connection, the Post failed to note that Judge Harold Baer ruled on May 7 that Iraq provided “material support and resources” to al Qaeda and conspired with them to commit the 9/11 attacks. The evidence included testimony about Salman Pak, a terrorist training facility southeast of Baghdad that featured an old passenger jet used to teach hijacking techniques to terrorists.

Those facts came from Sabah Khodada, who defected from the Iraqi army and came to the U.S. in May 2001. He gave an interview to the PBS Frontline program and the New York Times. U.S. troops in Iraq took control of the facility on April 6, 2003, and confirmed Khodada’s account of what was there. CIA director George Tenet had written an October 7, 2002 letter noting that there had been “senior level contacts” between Iraq and al Qaeda “going back a decade,” that Iraq and al Qaeda had “discussed safe haven and reciprocal nonaggression,” that there was “solid evidence” of al Qaeda members in Iraq, and that there was “credible reporting” of al Qaeda members seeking weapons of mass destruction “capabilities” from Iraq.

Not only was there evidence of a Saddam link to al Qaeda, but the Post had previously reported that Salman Pak was a site for Saddam’s biological weapons program. Back on November 25, 2001, the Post ran a story by Column Lynch on how Saddam may have obtained the anthrax strain used in the anthrax attacks on America.

The Monterey Institute of International Studies said that the federal Centers for Disease Control sent Iraq three shipments of West Nile Virus for use in “medical research” back in 1985. (West Nile Virus was prevalent in Africa, the Middle East, and West Asia) And it was not detected in the Western hemisphere until 1999. Its emergence in the U.S. was so curious that Senator Patrick Leahy urged an investigation of whether its spread was a result of biological terrorism. (So far this year, there have been 2324 human cases of West Nile Virus in the U.S. and 44 deaths.)

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