By: Greg Mitchell
As if he hadn?t done enough damage already, helping to promote the American invasion of Iraq with deeply flawed articles in The New York Times, Michael R. Gordon is now writing scare stories that offer ammunition for the growing chorus of neo-cons calling for a U.S. strike against Iran ? his most recent effort appearing just this morning.
What?s most lamentable is that editors at The New York Times, who should have learned their lessons four years ago, are once again serving as enablers.
The Times carried Gordon?s latest opus at the top of its front page today. The Washington Post, in contrast, carried the same claims by an American military spokesman, in an article by Joshua Partlow, on page A8. After a brief accounting of the military’s assertion, Partlow devotes much of the rest of the story to a general war roundup (including news of civilians south of Baghdad killed by our bombs).
At least the Times, fittingly, ran today’s long list of names of U.S. war dead in a box within the Gordon article.
The latest official effort to blame-blame Iran so that perhaps we can bomb-bomb Iran revolves around new claims by Brig. Gen. Kevin J. Bergner that the deaths of five American soldiers in Karbala in January were actually plotted by Iranian militants. Gordon?s breathless article first appeared on the Times? site yesterday with absolutely no caveats ? revealing his true motives and standards. “In effect, American officials are charging that Iran has been engaged in a proxy war against American forces for years,” Gordon declared.
Perhaps even his editors were concerned or embarrassed. The same story suddenly gained a couple of qualifiers, though not nearly enough, later yesterday (first spotted by Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald), and then got enlarged somewhat today, and with the byline of John F. Burns added to Gordon’s.
The story even has a lead character reminiscent of ?Curveball? and ?Baseball Cap Guy? from Judy Miller’s reporting on Iraq in 2003.
Our new star informer is a Lebanese citizen named Ali Musa Daqdug aka ?Hamid the Mute? who supposedly (this is all coming from Gen. Bergner) has a ?24-year history in Hezbollah?.The general said Mr. Daqdug had been sent by Hezbollah to Iran in 2005 with orders to work with the Quds Force, an elite unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, to train ‘Iraqi extremists.’?
The Times article contains a number of howlers delivered with all seriousness. Here?s one: ?General Bergner, seemingly keen to avoid a renewal of the criticism that the American command has used the allegations of Iranian interference here to lend momentum to the Bush administration?s war policy, declined to draw any broader political implications….?
That?s topped by this, in explaining that ?Hamid the Mute? had suddenly started talking: ?The official said the shift had been achieved without harming Mr. Daqduq. ?We don?t torture,? the official said. ?We follow scrupulously the interrogation techniques in the Army?s new field manual, which forbids torture, and has the force of law.??
And who is Gen. Bergner? He arrived in Iraq just a few weeks ago from his previous job, as special assistant — to President Bush in the White House.
At his press conference on Monday, which supplied quotes for Gordon, he admitted he could not explain the motivation for the attack on the five U.S. soldiers; why the Iranians would feel any need to outsource to Hezbollah; or why they would risk this kind of “exposure.”
The danger of the Times article — given the prominence attached to it — is real. For example, Sen. Joe Lieberman responded to the allegations by asserting that this means Iran “has declared war on us.”
You may recall that this past February, Gordon had trumpeted the charge that Iran was now supplying a new form of IED — or as the Times put it, the ?deadliest weapon aimed at American troops? in Iraq. This charge, promoted by the U.S. military and given prominent play by the Times, also came at a time of rising calls for taking action against Iran. Experts subsequently disputed key parts of evidence cited by Gordon and the charge largely subsided ? until now.
Meanwhile, he has written many articles more optimistic about the “surge” than most of his colleagues in the press. They reflect the view of the surge he stated on Charlie Rose’s PBS show back in January (he was chastised by his editors then for speaking his mind too freely): ”So I think, you know, as a purely personal view, I think it’s worth one last effort for sure to try to get this right, because my personal view is we’ve never really tried to win. We’ve simply been managing our way to defeat. And I think that if it’s done right, I think that there is the chance to accomplish something.”
Gordon, of course, is the same Times reporter who, on his own or with Miller, wrote some of the key yet badly misleading or downright inaccurate — articles about Iraqi WMDs in the run-up to the 2003 invasion. Gordon, in fact, wrote with Miller the paper’s most widely criticized — even by the Times itself — WMD story of all, the Sept. 8, 2002, ?aluminum tubes? story that proved so influential, especially since the administration embraced it lovingly on TV talk shows.
When the Times eventually carried an editors? note that admitted some of its Iraq coverage was wrong and/or overblown, it criticized two Miller-Gordon stories, and? noted that the Sept. 8, 2002, article on page one of the newspaper “gave the first detailed account of the aluminum tubes. The article cited unidentified senior administration officials who insisted that the dimensions, specifications and numbers of tubes sought showed that they were intended for a nuclear weapons program.” This, of course, proved bogus.
The paper’s ?mea-culpa? story dryly observed: “The article gave no hint of a debate over the tubes,” adding, “The White House did much to increase the impact of The Times article.”
Gordon also wrote, following Secretary of State Colin Powell’s crucial, and appallingly wrong, speech to the United Nations in 2003 that helped sell the war, that “it will be difficult for skeptics to argue that Washington’s case against Iraq is based on groundless suspicions and not intelligence information.”
That Miller-Gordon Sept. 8, 2002, article also included this: ?Iraq’s nuclear program is not Washington’s only concern. An Iraqi defector said Mr. Hussein had also heightened his efforts to develop new types of chemical weapons….
?Hard-liners are alarmed that American intelligence underestimated the pace and scale of Iraq’s nuclear program before Baghdad’s defeat in the gulf war. Conscious of this lapse in the past, they argue that Washington dare not wait until analysts have found hard evidence that Mr. Hussein has acquired a nuclear weapon. The first sign of a ‘smoking gun,’ they argue, may be a mushroom cloud.?
Writing at the Times’ “The Lede” blog on its Web site, the paper’s Mike Nizza states that the question of exactly who the “Quds” force is working for remains unanswered, if the exchange with Gen. Gergner was any guide. He then quotes a transcript.
Gen. Bergner: ?Our intelligence reveals that senior leadership in Iran is aware of this activity.?
Q ?Can you define senior leadership??
Gen. Bergner: ?I think I?ll leave it at that.?
Q: ?Would you exclude the supreme leader??
Gen. Bergner: ?I?ll leave it at ?senior leadership in Iran???
Q: ?Put it this way: Do you think it?s possible that he doesn?t know??
Gen. Bergner: ??That would be hard to imagine.?
Nizza then comments, “A tough question indeed: from intelligence to imagination in four steps.”