There's an odd story making the right-wing rounds.
According to the story, a certain Iraqi, Abid Al-Karim Muhamed Aswod (or Abd-al-Karim Muhammad Aswad), was identified as Iraq's liaison to Osama bin Laden in a public document -- an article that appeared in November 2002 in Babil, a newspaper whose publisher was Uday Hussein, son of Saddam. The article was given to an American judge, Gilbert Merritt, who had been sent to Iraq by the Justice Department after the war. Merritt wrote about the document in this article for Nashville's Tennesseean newspaper. He explains:
On the back page [of the newspaper] was a story headlined ''List of Honor.'' In a box below the headline was ''A list of men we publish for the public.'' The lead sentence refers to a list of ''regime persons'' with their names and positions.
The list has 600 names and titles in three columns. It contains, for example, the names of the important officials who are members of Saddam's family, such as Uday, and then other high officials, including the 55 American ''deck of cards'' Iraqi officials, some of whom have been apprehended.
Halfway down the middle column is written: ''Abid Al-Karim Muhamed Aswod, intelligence officer responsible for the coordination of activities with the Osama bin Laden group at the Iraqi embassy in Pakistan.''
This may seem odd to you -- the U.S. was clearly hankering for a war with Iraq, and looking for a casus belli, and here, allegedly, was an Iraqi newspaper proclaiming an Iraqi link to al-Qaeda.
But it gets weirder. As a sidebar to the judge's story explains,
the list was prefaced by this puzzling passage:
''This is a list of the henchmen of the regime. Our hands will reach them sooner or later. Woe unto them.''
Since the list was published in a newspaper run by Saddam Hussein's son, it was not clear why this passage would have been allowed to appear.
The judge was told a rather farfetched tale, which he believes:
The lawyer who brought the newspaper to me, Samir, and another lawyer with whom I have been working, Zuhair, translated the Arabic words and described what had happened in Baghdad the day it was published.
Samir bought his paper at a newsstand at around 8 a.m. Within two hours, the Iraqi intelligence officers were going by every newsstand in Baghdad and confiscating the papers. They also went to the home of every person who they were told received a paper that day and confiscated it.
The other lawyer, Zuhair, who was the counsel for the Arab League in Baghdad, did not receive delivery of his paper that day. He called his vendor, who told him that there would be no paper that day, a singular occurrence he could not explain.
For the next 10 days, the paper was not published at all. Samir's newspaper was not confiscated and he retained it because it contained this interesting ''Honor Roll of 600'' of the people closest to the regime.
The only explanation for this strange set of events, according to the Iraqi lawyers, is that Uday, an impulsive and somewhat unbalanced individual, decided to publish this honor roll at a time when the regime was under worldwide verbal attack in the press, especially by us. It would, he thought, make them more loyal and supportive of the regime.
None of which explains why the threatening remarks about the honor-roll members also saw print.
Is this bizarre item a smoking gun? Is it even a real newspaper article? The Weekly Standard (which is owned by Rupert Murdoch) thinks so -- the Standard published an article about the document a couple of months before Judge Merritt did. The New York Post (which is owned by Rupert Murdoch) thinks so -- its story cheekily adds the detail that the judge is "a Democrat and longtime family friend of Al Gore." And, according to Glenn "InstaPundit" Reynolds, Bill O'Reilly (who is employed by Rupert Murdoch) will have the judge on his show tonight.*
Look, I don't know about this thing. Has anyone seen it who might be able to judge whether it's genuine or a crude Yellowcakegate-level forgery? Has the story of the seizure of the papers been verified? Is the translation accurate?
I worry that this story will make its way up the media food chain until it's taken seriously. On the other hand, InstaPundit says the judge has "complained about being 'gagged' by the U.S. government." So maybe something else is going on -- maybe the point is just to float a story that will keep the true believers believing, but to keep it under the radar so it's never subjected to real scrutiny by people who could really debunk it. Maybe this is being put out in the hope that it will be half-heard and half-read by people who will go on to tell their friends and neighbors, "You know, there are documents proving a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda." This would be a nonstandard propaganda technique, an odd use of word of mouth, but I wouldn't put it past the Bushies.
* That last sentence isn't exactly accurate. See this post for a couple of corrections.