Newsweek attempts to discredit Iraq-al Qaeda link

by on January 1st, 2004

Yesterday, reader Aakash brought to my attention a Dec. 17 Newsweek exclusive that attempted to poke holes in a Telegraph article published just a few days before. The latter told the story of a memo written to Saddam by the former head of Iraqi intelligence detailing Mohammed Atta’s training in Baghdad prior to the September attacks. Newsweek was not pleased.

The point was made in the American magazine–which, by the way, refused to pick up the original story but ran only its supposedly discrediting counterpart–that while the memo tells of Atta’s trip to Iraq in the summer of 2001, his travel plans, according to FBI agents, suggest otherwise. Not being shy about the findings, Newsweek went one step further and alleged a political conspiracy.

The Telegraph story was apparently written with a political purpose: to bolster Bush administration claims of a connection between Al Qaeda and Saddam’s regime.[…]

The [memo], which according to Coughlin was supplied by Iraq’s interim government, doesn’t say exactly when Atta was supposed to have actually flown to Baghdad. But the memo is dated July 1, 2001, and Coughlin himself places the trip as the summer of 2001.

The problem with this, say U.S. law enforcement officials, is that the FBI has compiled a highly detailed time line for Atta’s movements throughout the spring and summer of 2001 based on a mountain of documentary evidence, including airline records, ATM withdrawals and hotel receipts. Those records show Atta crisscrossing the United States during this period—making only one overseas trip, an 11-day visit to Spain that didn’t begin until six days after the date of the Iraqi memo.

However, had the Newsweek authors actually read the original Telegraph article they would know that their story is no new news at all. Hardly a Newsweek exclusive, the original contained reference to records that placed Atta in Florida at the time, but discussed ways in which he could have been in both Iraq and the United States simultaneously.

Although Atta is believed to have been resident in Florida in the summer of 2001, he is known to have used more than a dozen aliases, and intelligence experts believe he could easily have slipped out of the US to visit Iraq.

I’d suggest Newsweek to next time actually read the original before offering up such a scathing criticism. Then they wouldn’t look so silly. Granted, validating the truth of such a memo will take some time. But those who are so quick to dismiss it as pure politics are engaging in political posturing of their own.

Etalkinghead Staff