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SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE  June 2003

SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE June 2003

Subject:

How NYT's Judith Miller commandeered her own WMD unit in Iraq

From:

Sujatha Byravan <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 27 Jun 2003 08:31:50 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

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text/plain (229 lines)

[Here's more, for those following the Judith Miller story - from this
article it appears that figures in the US military are upset at her undue
influence over their work. Judith Miller is the senior reporter for the NYT
who has continued to publish false claims about Iraqi WMDs based, as it
turned out, on leads from the highly biased and self-interested source, the
INC's Ahmed Chalabi. Judith Miller's reporting is the true measure of the
total abdication of journalistic responsibility by the major US liberal
press, causing infinitely more damage than anything Jayson Blair had ever
done .......A]
****************************************************************************

Washington Post June 25, 2003; Page C01
Embedded Reporter's Role In Army Unit's  Actions Questioned by Military
  by Howard Kurtz


http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A28385-003Jun24.html?nav=hptop
_ts

New York Times reporter Judith Miller played a highly unusual role in  an
Army unit assigned to search for dangerous Iraqi weapons,  according to
U.S. military officials, prompting criticism that the unit  was turned into
what one official called a "rogue operation."

More than a half-dozen military officers said that Miller acted as
a  middleman between the Army unit with which she was embedded and  Iraqi
National Congress leader Ahmed Chalabi, on one occasion  accompanying Army
officers to Chalabi's headquarters, where they  took custody of Saddam
Hussein's son-in-law. She also sat in on the  initial debriefing of the
son-in-law, these sources say.

Since interrogating Iraqis was not the mission of the unit,
these  officials said, it became a "Judith Miller team," in the words of
one  officer close to the situation.

In April, Miller wrote a letter objecting to an Army commander's order  to
withdraw the unit, Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha, from the field.  She
said this would be a "waste" of time and suggested that she  would write
about it unfavorably in the Times. After Miller took up the  matter with a
two-star general, the pullback order was dropped.

Times Assistant Managing Editor Andrew Rosenthal dismissed the  notion that
she exercised influence over the unit as "an idiotic  proposition."

"She didn't bring MET Alpha anywhere. . . . It's a baseless  accusation,"
he said. "She doesn't direct MET Alpha, she's a civilian.  Judith Miller is
a reporter. She's not a member of the U.S. armed  forces. She was covering
a unit, like hundreds of other reporters for  the New York Times,
Washington Post and others. She went where  they went to the degree that
they would allow."

Viewed from one perspective, Miller, a Pulitzer
Prize-winning  correspondent, nationally recognized expert on weapons of
mass  destruction and co-author of a best-selling book on bioterrorism,
was  acting as an aggressive journalist. She ferreted out sources, used
her  long-standing relationship with Chalabi to pursue potential
stories  and, in the process, helped the United States take custody of
two  important Iraqis. Some military officers say she cared
passionately  about her reporting without abandoning her objectivity, and
some of  her critics may be overly concerned with regulations and
perhaps  jealous of the attention Miller's unit received..

"We think she did really good work there," Rosenthal said. "We think  she
broke some important stories."

Miller declined to be interviewed for this article, saying it was unfair
of  The Washington Post to have published an internal e-mail of hers
last  month. She said only that "my past and future articles speak
for  themselves."

In a May 1 e-mail to Times colleague John Burns, The Post reported,  Miller
said: "I've been covering Chalabi for about 10 years, and have  done most
of the stories about him for our paper. . . . He has provided  most of the
front page exclusives on WMD to our paper."

Miller's role with MET Alpha was controversial within the
Defense  Department and among some staff members at the Times, where
one  reporter was assigned to check up on whether other
embedded  journalists followed similar procedures.

The MET Alpha team was charged with examining potential Iraqi  weapon sites
in the war's aftermath. Military officers critical of the  unit's conduct
say its members were not trained in the art of human  intelligence -- that
is, eliciting information from prisoners and potential  defectors.
Specialists in such interrogations say the initial hours of  questioning
are crucial, and several Army and Pentagon officials  were upset that MET
Alpha officers were debriefing Hussein son-in- law Jamal Sultan Tikriti.

"This was totally out of their lane, getting involved with
human  intelligence," said one military officer who, like several
others  interviewed, declined to be named because he is not an
authorized  spokesman. But, the officer said of Miller, "this woman came in
with a  plan. She was leading them. . . . She ended up almost hijacking
the  mission."

Said a senior staff officer of the 75th Exploitation Task Force, of  which
MET Alpha is a part: "It's impossible to exaggerate the impact  she had on
the mission of this unit, and not for the better." Three  weapons
specialists were reassigned as the unit changed its  approach, according to
officers with the task force.

Several military officers say Miller led MET Alpha members to  Chalabi's
compound in a former sporting club, where they wound up  taking custody of
Sultan, who was on the Pentagon's "deck of cards"  of the 55 most wanted
Iraqis. The April trip to Chalabi's headquarters  took place "at Judy's
direction," one officer said.

Chalabi said in a brief interview that he had not arranged the
handoff  with Miller in advance and that her presence that day was "a
total  coincidence. . . . She happened to be there."

A top aide to Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress, Zaab Sethna,  said
he didn't know whether Miller arrived that day "because she's old  friends
with Dr. Chalabi or because she wanted to introduce that team  she was
working with to the INC." But he said the idea of transferring  Sultan to
the MET Alpha squad originated in a conversation with  Miller.

"We told Judy because we thought it was a good story," Sethna said.  "We
needed some way to get the guy to the Americans." He said his  organization
had no previous connection to MET Alpha: "We didn't  even know of their
existence until they showed up with Judy."

Asked why Chalabi didn't simply call his official Pentagon liaison to  turn
over an important Iraqi, Sethna said they wanted to make sure  that Sultan
was transported quickly and safely and that he was "very  surprised" when
MET Alpha agreed to take the prisoner.

In reporting the handover of Sultan and an associate, Khalid  Abdullah,
Miller wrote that the two men "were questioned by an  American intelligence
official and then handed over to Chief Warrant  Officer Richard L.
Gonzales, the leader of a Pentagon Mobile  Exploitation Team that has been
hunting for unconventional weapons  in Iraq." She wrote that Gonzales
"happened to be meeting tonight  with Mr. Chalabi to discuss
nonproliferation issues."

In another case, Miller wrote of her exclusive interview with
Nassir  Hindawi, a former top official in Iraq's biological warfare
program. The  interview took place while Hindawi was "in the protective
custody of  Iraqi opposition leader Ahmad Chalabi," Miller wrote.

On April 21, when the MET Alpha team was ordered to withdraw to  the
southern Iraqi town of Talil, Miller objected in a handwritten note  to two
public affairs officers. It said:

"I see no reason for me to waste time (or MET Alpha, for that matter)  in
Talil. . . . Request permission to stay on here with colleagues at
the  Palestine Hotel til MET Alpha returns or order to return is rescinded.
I  intend to write about this decision in the NY Times to send
a  successful team back home just as progress on WMD is being  made."

One military officer, who says that Miller sometimes "intimidated"  Army
soldiers by invoking Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld or  Undersecretary
Douglas Feith, was sharply critical of the note.  "Essentially, she
threatened them," the officer said, describing the  threat as that "she
would publish a negative story."

An Army officer, who regarded Miller's presence as "detrimental,"  said:
"Judith was always issuing threats of either going to the New  York Times
or to the secretary of defense. There was nothing veiled  about that
threat," this person said, and MET Alpha "was allowed to  bend the rules."

Times editor Rosenthal strongly disagreed, saying Miller's note  sounded
routine and that characterizing it as a threat is "a total  distortion of
that letter."

Miller later challenged the pullback order with Maj. Gen. David  Petraeus,
commander of the 101st Airborne. While Petraeus did not  have direct
authority over Col. Richard McPhee, the commander of  the 75th task force,
McPhee rescinded his withdrawal order after  Petraeus advised him to do so.
McPhee declined two requests for  comment.

"Our desire was to pull these guys back in," said an officer who  served
under McPhee, adding that it was "quite a surprise" that the  order was
reversed.

As for MET Alpha's seeming independence, this officer said: "The  way
McPhee phrased it for [staff] consumption was, 'I know they have  gone
independent, I know they have gone rogue, but by God at least  they're
doing something.' But if they're doing something, where's the  meat? It
didn't pan out."

That wasn't for lack of trying. In early May, Miller reported on
MET  Alpha's search for an ancient Jewish text that wound up
unearthing  Iraqi intelligence documents and maps related to Israel. In
this case,  too, Sethna said, the information was passed from Chalabi's
group to  Miller. "We thought this was a great story for the New York
Times,"  Sethna said. "She discussed it with her team. . . . That came from
us."

Asked if MET Alpha had gone astray, Col. Joe Curtin, an Army  spokesman,
said that "commanders make decisions based on  developing situations" and
that the unit had the approval of its  headquarters. He said that any lead
provided by a reporter is deemed  "open source, and we're going to use it."

But Curtin said of one MET Alpha foray: "Interrogating prisoners
is  usually left to military intelligence people who are trained in that
art  and do it right, under the laws of land warfare."

Miller formed a friendship with MET Alpha's leader, Chief Warrant  Officer
Gonzales, and several officers said they were surprised when  she
participated in a Baghdad ceremony in which Gonzales was  promoted. She
pinned the rank to his uniform, an eyewitness said,  and Gonzales thanked
Miller for her contributions. Gonzales did not  respond to a request for
comment.

Like other embedded reporters, Miller agreed to allow military
officials  to review her stories as a condition of traveling with the unit,
and in at  least one case wrote that information had been deleted on
security  grounds.

Miller's coverage of MET Alpha has drawn some critical press  scrutiny for
optimistic-sounding stories about the weapons hunt,  generating headlines
including "U.S. Analysts Link Iraq Labs to Germ  Arms," "U.S. Experts Find
Radioactive Material in Iraq" and "U.S.-Led  Forces Occupy Baghdad Complex
Filled With Chemical Agents."  These potential discoveries did not bear
fruit.

After returning from Iraq, Rosenthal noted, Miller and a colleague filed  a
report skeptical about claims that two trailers found in Iraq served  as
mobile germ labs. Her reporting was "very balanced," he said,  even though
she and other embedded reporters in Iraq had a limited  perspective while
traveling with the troops.

"Singling out one reporter for this kind of examination is a
little  bizarre," Rosenthal said.


------ End of Forwarded Message

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