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Friday, April 07, 2006

The meme that wouldn't die

Today's New York Times, in an unsigned editorial entitled "Playing Hardball With Secrets," repeats for the umpteenth time the false meme that Joseph Wilson debunked claims that Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from the African nation of Niger. The Times says that
Mr. Wilson was sent by the administration to Niger to check out the report that Iraq tried to buy uranium in the late 1990's. He concluded that it was bogus and said so in a Times Op-Ed article in July 2003.
Wilson's op-ed said nothing of the sort. Here's what he wrote:

The next morning, I met with Ambassador Owens-Kirkpatrick at the [US] embassy [in Niger]. For reasons that are understandable, the embassy staff has always kept a close eye on Niger's uranium business. I was not surprised, then, when the ambassador told me that she knew about the allegations of uranium sales to Iraq — and that she felt she had already debunked them in her reports to Washington. Nevertheless, she and I agreed that my time would be best spent interviewing people who had been in government when the deal supposedly took place, which was before her arrival.

I spent the next eight days drinking sweet mint tea and meeting with dozens of people: current government officials, former government officials, people associated with the country's uranium business. It did not take long to conclude that it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place.

Nowhere does Wilson state that Saddam Hussein never attempted to purchase uranium from Niger. He says only that no actual purchase ever took place.

To my knowledge, no-one in the Bush administration ever claimed that Saddam successfully purchased uranium from Niger. Ah, but what about the "16 words" recited by the President himself in his January 2003 State 0f the Union address, the infamous 16 words that are a touchstone for the "Bush lied, people died" crowd? Well, here they are, as quoted by the very same New York Times exactly two weeks after Wilson's op-ed ran:
The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. [emphasis added]
Look carefully. The boldfaced word is sought, not bought. At no point in his SOTU address does the President assert that Saddam actually purchased uranium, only that he was attempting to do so.

To sum up:
  • Ambassador Wilson never said that Saddam did not attempt to buy uranium from Niger, only that he didn't succesfully complete such a transaction.
  • President Bush never said that Saddam successfully purchased uranium from Niger, only that he looked into conducting such a transaction.
Neither one of them contradicts or debunks the other.

So how does the editorial board of the very paper that published Wilson's op-ed get this wrong? As far as I can see, there are only two possible explanations: the first is that the board is simply incompetent, the second is that the board has an agenda and in its zeal to pursue this agenda simply doesn't care about the facts.

I report, you decide.

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