A report in the Washington Post has cast devastating new light on claims by the New York Times correspondent Judith Miller that the US military had uncovered the “smoking gun” of Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction” (WMD). Post media correspondent Howard Kurtz revealed May 26 the contents of an e-mail exchange between Miller and Times Baghdad chief John Burns in which the former acknowledges that long-time US government asset Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress “provided most of the front page exclusives on WMD” to the Times.
The failure of the US military to discover chemical and biological weapons in Iraq, the chief pretext for the “pre-emptive” invasion and overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime, has been an ongoing political embarrassment for the Bush administration.
Various clumsy efforts have been made since the end of the war, most prominently by Miller, to provide proof, even the slimmest, of these weapons’ existence. In a series of lurid articles in late April and early May, picked up by other news sources and widely distributed, the Times’s reporter claimed essentially that American forces had discovered the much-looked-for evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
In an April 21 piece, for example, headlined, “Illicit Arms Kept Till Eve of War, An Iraqi Scientist Is Said to Assert,” Miller claimed that an unnamed Iraqi scientist had been found who asserted that the Hussein regime had 1) destroyed its stocks of chemical weapons only days before the US invaded; 2) shared its weapons technology with Syria; and 3) collaborated with Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda. All three claims conveniently dovetailed with Bush administration positions. Miller’s article, however, provided nothing to substantiate these charges other than anonymous sources in the US military’s Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha (MET Alpha), the unit hunting for WMD.
Miller added this extraordinary disclaimer: “Under the terms of her accreditation to report on the activities of MET Alpha, this reporter was not permitted to interview the scientist or visit his home. Nor was she permitted to write about the discovery of the scientist for three days, and the copy was then submitted for a check by military officials.
“Those officials asked that details of what chemicals were uncovered be deleted. They said they feared that such information could jeopardize the scientist’s safety by identifying the part of the weapons program where he worked.”