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The Times v The Nation: Questioning Iran’s role in Iraq–and White House credibility

The New York Times‘s chief military correspondent, Michael Gordon, co-authored Judith Miller’s fateful (and now infamous) article of September 8, 2002. In that article, aluminum tubes found in Iraq were cited as evidence of Iraq’s nuclear threat.

While Miller took the heat–going to jail to protect her anonymous sources and losing her job for the piece’s clear pro-administration, pro-war credence–Gordon sat back in the shadows and waited, clinging carefully and silently to his illustrious job.

As Alexander Cockburn points out in last week’s (March 5) issue of The Nation, Gordon appears to be back as the Bush administration’s war-propaganda resaler–this time peddling evidence to justify an invasion of Iran over… not quite aluminum tubes, but an item known as an EFP.

Cockburn writes, “The [Times] story [of February 10] was from the usual sales folk, unnamed ‘American officials.’ Their mission: get Gordon to boost Bush’s anti-Iran propaganda drive by promoting the story that Iran is supplying Iraqi Shiites with the new ‘explosively formed penetrator,’ the war’s ‘most lethal weapon,’ now killing American boys in their Humvees, Bradleys and even Abrams tanks. Their method: gull the bridge buyer with a brisk technical resume.”

As Cockburn points out, the story rests on the rather technical sounding case that these “explosively formed penetrator”s (EFPs) are made from difficult to acquire materials which, these jargon-toting anonymous sources promise, can only come from… Iran.

Gordon writes, “To make the weapon, a metal cylinder is filled with powerful explosives. A metal concave disk manufactured on a special press is fixed to the firing end…. According to American intelligence, Iran has excelled in developing this type of bomb and has provided similar technology to Hezbollah. The manufacture of the key metal components required sophisticated machinery, raw material and expertise that American intelligence agencies do not believe can be found in Iraq.”

Cockburn refutes this rationale directly, by consulting a weapons maker and boning up on military history–and by simply remembering events of the past few years that have conclusively demonstrated the Bush administration’s crippling incompetence:

“These improvised EFPs don’t require Iranian-manufactured components. The necessary equipment consists of a copper bowl (a hand-beaten one of the style sold to tourists is fine), a six-to-nine-inch-diameter iron or steel pipe (an oil pipe would serve well), a few pounds of explosive and a fuse. The 140 tons of US RDX explosive that went missing after the invasion due to lax security would be high-quality stuff for the job. With these ingredients, all the insurgents need is one or two chalk talks or a video to learn how to assemble an EFP.”

He also points out what should by now be obvious: “Now, the people attacking and killing most American troops in Iraq are not Shiite but Sunni, and are therefore unlikely to have been supplied by Iran.”

In his Feb 15 followup piece on Iran’s role in Iraq, Gordon justifies the timing of the administration’s case against Iran, insisting that EFP use is rising, killing more US soldiers now than ever.

This, presumably, more than the public’s souring on the war in Iraq, is why the war cry is again being trumpeted in the Times‘s influential pages: Bush (who wouldn’t visit any) cares about casualties. Cockburn anticipates this and easily refutes it (or, as it were, pre-futes it): “Even the use of EFPs in Iraq is old news. They were first employed by insurgents in late 2003 and have been used steadily–in small numbers–since then.”

It’s not like the Times has learned absolutely zilch from their irresponsible coverage of the buildup to war in Iraq, and the disastrous consequences (both to their reputation and the public’s trust in government, not to mention the well being of Iraqis). This time they took the minimum step of printing an editorial , where they call for skepticism and refer to pieces like Miller’s and Gordon’s as discredited, along with an article challenging evidence cited in Gordon’s piece. Better late than never.

But given the Times‘s decision to keep Gordon on staff, couldn’t Times readers count on a little more oversight, a little more balance within Gordon’s pieces themselves–as a bare minimum? Should any journalist now, let alone a journalist with Gordon’s backstory, be credible quoting anonymous sources in an administration as prone to deception as this one?

To read other blog entries by Joel Whitney or others at GUERNICA click HERE



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