Letter Touted as Al-Qaeda-Iraq Link a CIA Forgery, Ordered by Bush
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Ron Suskind, a Pulitzer Prize winning author/journalist, has been a thorn in the side of the Bush White House for a few years now, but this might be the most damning revelation yet: Suskind reports in his new book that White House officials ordered the CIA to forge a "back-dated, handwritten letter from the head of Iraqi intelligence to Saddam Hussein." The goal of the letter, apparently, was to "portray a false link between Hussein's regime and al Qaeda as a justification for the Iraq war."
The letter's existence has been reported before, and it had been written about as if it were genuine. It was passed in Baghdad to a reporter for The (London) Sunday Telegraph who wrote about it on the front page of Dec. 14, 2003, under the headline, "Terrorist behind September 11 strike 'was trained by Saddam.'"
The Telegraph story by Con Coughlin (which, coincidentally, ran the day Hussein was captured in his "spider hole") was touted in the U.S. media by supporters of the war, and he was interviewed on NBC's "Meet the Press."
"Over the next few days, the Habbush letter continued to be featured prominently in the United States and across the globe," Suskind writes. "Fox's Bill O'Reilly trumpeted the story Sunday night on 'The O'Reilly Factor,' talking breathlessly about details of the story and exhorting, 'Now, if this is true, that blows the lid off al Qaeda-Saddam.'"
According to Suskind, the administration had been in contact with the director of the Iraqi intelligence service in the last years of Hussein's regime, Tahir Jalil Habbush al-Tikriti.
"The White House had concocted a fake letter from Habbush to Saddam, backdated to July 1, 2001," Suskind writes. "It said that 9/11 ringleader Mohammad Atta had actually trained for his mission in Iraq -- thus showing, finally, that there was an operational link between Saddam and al Qaeda, something the Vice President's Office had been pressing CIA to prove since 9/11 as a justification to invade Iraq. There is no link."
Deputy White House press secretary Tony Fratto denied the report, calling the version of events Suskind described as "absurd."
That said, Suskind is a considerably more reliable source than the Bush White House.
Steve Benen is a freelance writer/researcher and creator of The Carpetbagger Report. In addition, he is the lead editor of Salon.com's Blog Report, and has been a contributor to Talking Points Memo, Washington Monthly, Crooks & Liars, The American Prospect, and the Guardian.