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Goldberg’s Non Mea Culpa

In my piece yesterday about the journalists who hawked the Saddam-Al Qaeda lie, I wrote that the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg “has simply kept quiet about what he did.” Right as the piece was churning its way to the internet, however, Goldberg broke his silence in a piece for Slate. Unfortunately, from his perspective, it probably would have been better for him to have kept his mouth shut.

In the section that actually deals with what Goldberg “reported” before the war — Kurdish intelligence officials introduced him to prisoners who they said were the connections between Saddam’s intelligence apparatus and Al Qaeda — he writes:

I believed that Saddam was a supporter of terrorism. The report on Saddam’s terrorist ties released last week by the Joint Forces Command confirms this (not that you would know it from the scant press coverage of the study). The study, citing captured Iraqi documents, indicates that Saddam’s regime supported various jihadist groups, including Ayman al-Zawahiri’s, and including Kurdish Islamist groups, about whom I have reported. But read the study for yourself; it’s actually quite an achievement of translation and analysis.

So there you go: Goldberg was right all along! In truth, however, he’s trusting that you won’t actually read the report. Because what he wrote is simply not supported by what’s in the Joint Forces Command study.

The relevant section of the report is stretches from pages 30 to 34. There, it details a 1993 Iraqi Defense Ministry letter describing a campaign of attacks on civilians and non-governmental organizations in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq.

“Terrorist operations in the Kurdish areas were carried out with the direct knowledge of the highest levels of the Iraqi government,” the report states. “… According to correspondence between [the Defense Ministry] and [an Iraqi intelligence organization], seventy-nine regime-directed attacks were successful against ‘saboteurs,’ Kurdish factions, UN operations, and various international [non-governmental organizations] in the northern Iraq [sic] during a six-month period in 1993.”

That is obviously a campaign of deliberate state violence. What it is obviously not is a collaboration between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. Rather, it was a campaign conducted by Saddam’s own operatives. Goldberg says Saddam was “a supporter of terrorism.” What he’s hoping you’re too half-awake to realize is that there’s a difference between generic “terror” groups and Al Qaeda. The report, as I wrote in my piece, does not say, at all, contra to Goldberg’s misleading implication, that Saddam collaborated with Ayman Zawahiri. It says that around 1993, a memo from one of Saddam’s apparatchiks noted, “In a meeting in the Sudan we agreed to renew our relations with the Islamic Jihad Organization in Egypt.” Years later, that organization would merge with Al Qaeda. Nowhere in the report does Joint Forces Command substantiate that Saddam and Zawahiri’s group actually, you know, did anything together. To the contrary: it refers to a memorandum, “dated 8 February 1993, asking that movement to refrain from moving against the Egyptian government at that time.”

Goldberg has misled The New Yorker’s readers for years. Now he’s misleading Slate’s readers. And, when you think about it, why shouldn’t he? After all, he rode his misrepresentations all the way to a great job at The Atlantic. All the incentives have aligned for him. Why stop now? It’s not like 4,000 Americans have died or anything.

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