If there is anything more foolish than the New York Times criticizing itself on dubious grounds, it is the follow-up story that ran about this controversy in the Chicago Tribune. Leon Lazaroff and Mike Dorning of the Tribune referred to the Times’ “extraordinary public mea culpa” when it raised questions about its own coverage of WMD in Iraq and Saddam’s links to terrorists.
Stockpiles of WMD haven’t been found in Iraq, but a sarin gas bomb was recently discovered. On the matter of Saddam and al Qaeda, George Tenet sent a letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee on their connections going back many years. Weekly Standard reporter Stephen Hayes publicized a Defense Department memo that went into detail about this. He has now written a book, “The Connection: How al Qaeda’s Collaboration with Saddam Hussein Has Endangered America.”
The Tribune reporters said one of the stories criticized by Times editors was written by Chris Hedges and ran November 8, 2001. It “asserted that two defectors from Iraqi intelligence had worked for several years at a secret government camp that trained Islamic terrorists, and produced biological weapons.” But the Times wrote in its editor’s note that, “these accounts have never been independently verified.” The Times’ note is mind-boggling. The camp exists and was taken over by U.S. forces after the invasion. There was a Boeing 707 fuselage in the camp used for hijacking training. No biological weapons were found, but U.S. intelligence believed it had been used in the past to produce such weapons.
The story itself was careful in its wording. It said defectors “did not know if the Islamic militants being trained at the camp, known as Salman Pak, were linked to Osama bin Laden.” Hedges also quoted unnamed American officials as saying “it was unlikely that the training on the fuselage was linked to the Sept. 11 hijackings in the United States.”
Another reporter criticized by the Times is Judith Miller. She and Hedges are both criticized primarily because they used information or defectors provided by Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi exile and head of the Iraqi National Congress. The Tribune reporters say, “Chalabi, widely believed to be Miller’s most prominent source, was all but officially discredited last week following a raid by U.S. and Iraqi forces on his Iraqi National Congress offices.” But that’s bunk. Chalabi, who was not targeted in the raid, was getting paid by the U.S. for a reason. Other U.S. officials, such as Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard Myers, said information provided by Chalabi has proven to be accurate and helped save American lives.
We are happy to see the Times review its work. But it is troubling to see the paper publicly admonish its own reporters for covering the threat from Iraq when the jury is still out on some of the big questions, such as WMD. It looks like the paper is bending to left-wing pressure from activists who want to see the Bush administration’s Iraq policy discredited, and think that the Times coverage set the stage for the war. Ironically, the coverage had no impact on the Times itself. The paper editorially opposed the war.