Having failed to make any impact whatsoever on Bush administration policies, the left has come out strongly on the counterattack, with the biggest theme being that the whole administration is dishonest. That's to be expected in politics (both dishonesty and accusations thereof), but reasonable people need to learn the distinction between differences of opinion, mistakes, and actual lies. Most importantly, if you're going to accuse someone of lying, shouldn't you make sure your facts are correct first? It seems like a good rule of thumb. But if so, someone needs to explain it to The Nation. In a column entitled The Latest Bush Gang Whoppers, David Corn attempts to dissect Dick Cheney's weekend appearance on Meet The Press, where he cited the meeting between Mohammed Atta and Iraqi intelligence in Prague as possible evidence of ties between Saddam Hussein and 9/11.
Let's start with Dick Cheney. He appeared on Meet The Press and was asked by host Tim Russert if there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks. He replied, "Of course, we've had the story that's been public out there. The Czechs alleged that Mohamed Atta, the lead attacker, met in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official five months before the attack. But we've never been able to develop any more of that yet either in terms of confirming it or discrediting it. We just don't know." This was a deceptive answer.Now, the first thing to note is that Cheney was careful here not to make any claims of knowledge here. How can it possibly be "deceptive" to point out that this report is out there, unconfirmed, and that we don't know? Well, Corn has an answer:
Shortly after 9/11, Czech intelligence officials did say they had a report from a source--a single source--that Atta had met with this Iraqi intelligence official in April 2001. Subsequent media reports in the United States noted that the source was an Arab student who was not considered particularly reliable. The FBI investigated and found nothing to substantiate the report of the meeting. In fact, the FBI concluded that Atta was most likely in Florida at the time of the supposed meeting, and the CIA questioned the existence of this meeting. (Even if there had been a meeting, one could not tell what it meant unless it was known what was said--and no one, not even Cheney, has claimed to know what might have transpired.Huh? Didn't Corn just repeat exactly what Cheney said? That is: there's a report of a meeting that the US hasn't been able to confirm, so we don't know. Where's the "deception"?
Oh, here it is:
Moreover, on October 21, 2002, The New York Times reported that Czech President Vaclav Havel "quietly told the White House he has concluded that there is no evidence to confirm earlier reports" of the meeting. And it seemed that Atta had gone to Prague in June 2000, not April 2001. "Now," the paper noted, "some Czech and German officials say that their best explanation of why Mr. Atta came to Prague was to get a cheap airfare to the United States."Yes, that illustrates deception. The deception here, though, is not Cheney's, but the Nation's. The "some reason" Cheney didn't share the information about Havel's denial is because it never happened. The New York Times made it up:
For some reason, Cheney did not share with the Meet the Press audience the information about Havel's denial.
"It is a fabrication. Nothing like this has occurred," [Havel spokesperson Ladislav] Spacek said about Havel's alleged phone conversation with the White House.Oh. Yeah. Oops. Admittedly, it would have been tough for Nation to discover this... unless they read the Times two days later, where the Times admitted it.
There is, of course, serious debate about whether this meeting took place, and what it would prove if it did. The evidence for the meeting is limited to a single source, and he provides no details about the substance of the meeting. But that in no way justifies calling Cheney a liar for citing this as possible evidence of a connection, and it in no way justifies citing a fabricated New York Times story as evidence that Cheney lied.