Speaking of Iraq and Al Qaeda, I see the New York Times is still pushing the story that 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta never met with Iraqi agents in Prague. At least they didn't have to invent a phony claim by Vaclav Havel this time to do so. They cite the 9/11 Commission's report this time. I'll let you be the judge on whether the Times' version:
But on Wednesday, the Sept. 11 commission said its investigation had found that the meeting never took place.
is an accurate rendition of the report's statement:
We have examined the allegation that Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague on April 9. Based on the evidence available—including investigation by Czech and U.S. authorities plus detainee reporting—we do not believe that such a meeting occurred.
But what I do know is that unless there's undisclosed classified information which backs it up, both versions of the claim are premature at best.
There are some facts which tend to support the claim that they met:
- A Czech intelligence source reported seeing Mohammed Atta meeting with Iraqi diplomat/operative Ahmed al-Ani.
- al-Ani's predecessor is known to have met with terrorists in Prague to target American interests.
- Atta previously traveled to Prague to meet with unknown people on urgent business, during which he attempted to avoid detection.
- Whoever al-Ani met with was described by him as a "Hamburg student."
- Atta was a Hamburg student.
Here's the list of facts cited by the Times and the commission which supposedly refute the theory:
- Atta was in Virginia 5 days before the meeting in Prague.
- Atta's telephone was in Florida during the time of the meeting in Prague and the surrounding days.
- Under interrogation, al-Ani (who is now in American custody) has denied meeting with Atta.
- The one report is uncorroborated.
- No record of Atta traveling to Prague at that time has been found.
It's not the strongest case for the meeting, certainly. Circumstantial evidence, and only a single source.
On the other hand, the case against is even weaker. That Atta was in Virginia five days earlier is about as relevant as what I had for lunch today. Who cares where he was five days earlier? Unless he was hitchhiking to get there, it wasn't going to take him five days to reach Prague, and there's no reason why he would have arrived early.
That Atta's phone was in Florida is a little meaningful, but hardly overly so. American cell phones generally do not work in Europe; he might well have left it in the US even had he travelled to Prague. And if he had, his co-conspirators may well have used it.
That al-Ani didn't admit to being part of one of the biggest atrocities in history? Since when do self-serving claims of innocence outweigh witness testimony?
The other two points are merely saying that the evidence isn't conclusive; it doesn't actually serve to refute the evidence. After all, we're sure that someone met with al-Ani. If it wasn't Atta, it was someone else. But the evidence that it was someone else is even weaker than the evidence it was Atta, since nobody has identified another person who fits. Obviously if there were travel records, corroborated eyewitness reports, etc., that pointed the finger at another person, we'd have heard about it by now. So in the absence of any other facts which haven't been presented, the strongest evidence is still for the claim that it was Mohammed Atta who met with Al-Ani.