First, former CIA Director George Tenet told the president it was a “slam dunk” that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Then came efforts by the Bush White House to discredit critics, like ambassador Joe Wilson, who questioned the wisdom of going to war in Iraq.
Now comes a new book by author Ron Suskind claiming that the White House ordered the CIA to forge and backdate a handwritten letter from the head of Iraqi intelligence to Saddam Hussein to link the Iraq regime to Al Qaeda. The White House calls the assertion nonsense.
In “The Way of the World,” to be published today, Suskind writes:
The White House had concocted a fake letter from Habbush to Saddam, backdated to July 1, 2001. 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.
Suskind says the order to forge such a letter was written on “creamy White House stationery” but gives no details about how it was created or how it was delivered to Iraq.
The White House dismissed the accusation as so much sensationalism from a sensationalizing journalist. According to a story about the forgery in Politico, spokesman Tony Fratto said, “The allegation that the White House directed anyone to forge a document from Habbush to Saddam is just absurd.”
Tenet weighed in to defend the administration, issuing a statement saying:
There was no such order from the White House to me nor, to the best of my knowledge, was anyone from CIA ever involved in any such effort.
Asked about Tenet’s response to claims of a forgery on the “Today Show” this morning, Suskind dismissed it as “part of George’s memory issue.”
Suskind was last in the news for co-authoring former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill’s kiss-and-tell memoir, “The Price of Loyalty.” He is not viewed as a friend of the Bush White House. As Fratto said:
Ron Suskind makes a living from gutter journalism. He is about selling books and making wild allegations that no one can verify, including the numerous bipartisan commissions that have reported on prewar intelligence.
On the same day Suskind’s book was published, a conservative national defense analyst issued a report saying that there were WMD and that the president kept quiet about a discovery that could have blown his critics out of the water to keep terrorists in the dark.
Retired Maj. Gen. Jerry Curry, who ran for the Republican nomination for president this year, reported in a national security blog item that U.S. operatives secretly transported Iraqi uranium to Canada for examination during a two-week airlift from Baghdad that featured a ship voyage crossing two oceans. He said of Bush:
He made a very brave stand, a resolute stand … in which he decided that he wasn’t going to blab everything to the press…. And in the meantime while he kept it quiet, he was buying time from the terrorists to get all that stuff out of the country. So that’s what was done — he just very quietly kept his mouth shut.
- Johanna Neuman
Photo: President Bush at a 2003 briefing with, from left, Vice President Dick Cheney, CIA Director George Tenet and Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. Credit: Eric Draper / White House