About the Ties Between Saddam and Osama
The following news brief was sent out by the White House on June 18, 2004.
9/11 Commission Report Confirms Administration's Views of al-Qaeda/Iraq Ties
A 9/11 Commission staff report supports the Bush Administration's longstanding conclusion that there was no evidence of" collaboration" between Iraq and al-Qaeda on the 9-11 attacks against the United States. The Administration has said, however, that it was worried about a number of contacts between Iraq and al-Qaeda, including contacts between senior Iraqi intelligence officers and senior members of al-Qaeda. The Commission's investigation does not dispute that contacts between Iraq and al-Qaeda occurred.
The Administration also knew that Iraq was harboring a terrorist network headed by Zarqawi. Zarqawi, the senior al-Qaeda associate who was known to be in Baghdad for medical treatment in May 2002, continues to undertake indiscriminate acts of terrorism today. The Administration knew Saddam had longstanding, direct, and continuing ties to a number of terrorist groups, including groups responsible for killing Americans.
On Thursday, both President Bush and the 9/11 Commission's Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton commented on press reaction to this 9/11 Commission staff report:
"The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and al-Qaeda [is] because there was a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda. This administration never said that the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated between Saddam and al-Qaeda. We did say there were numerous contacts between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. For example, Iraqi intelligence officers met with bin Laden, the head of al-Qaeda, in the Sudan. There's numerous contacts between the two."
- President George W. Bush, 06/17/04
"I must say I have trouble understanding the flack over this. The vice president is saying, I think, that there were connections between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's government. We don't disagree with that. What we have said is... we don't have any evidence of a cooperative, or a corroborative relationship between Saddam Hussein's government and these al-Qaeda operatives with regard to the attacks on the United States. So it seems to me the sharp differences that the press has drawn, the media has drawn, are not that apparent to me."
- Lee Hamilton, 9/11 Commission Vice Chairman, 06/17/04
The New York Times
From the NYT, June 18, 2004
President Bush and Vice President Cheney said yesterday that they remain convinced that Saddam Hussein's government had a long history of ties to Al Qaeda, a day after the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks reported that its review of classified intelligence found no evidence of a" collaborative relationship" that linked Iraq to the terrorist organization.
Mr. Bush, responding to a reporter's question about the report after a White House cabinet meeting yesterday morning, said:"The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and Al Qaeda" is"because there was a relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda."
He said:"This administration never said that the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated between Saddam and Al Qaeda. We did say there were numerous contacts between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. For example, Iraqi intelligence officers met with bin Laden, the head of Al Qaeda, in the Sudan. There's numerous contacts between the two."
He repeated that Mr. Hussein was"a threat" and"a sworn enemy to the United States of America."
Last night Mr. Cheney, who was the administration's most forceful advocate of the Qaeda-Hussein links, was more pointed, repeating in detail his case for those ties and saying that The New York Times's coverage yesterday of the commission's findings"was outrageous."
"They do a lot of outrageous things," Mr. Cheney, appearing on"Capital Report" on CNBC, said of the Times, referring specifically to a four-column front page headline that read"Panel Finds No Qaeda-Iraq Tie." Mr. Cheney added:"The press wants to run out and say there's a fundamental split here now between what the president said and what the commission said."...
From the NYT (June 19, 2004):
... The report found that there did not appear to have been a "collaborative relationship" between Iraq and the terrorist network.
That finding appeared to undermine one of the main justifications cited by Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney for invading Iraq and toppling Mr. Hussein....
Mr. Hamilton, a former Democratic House member from Indiana and former chairman of the House intelligence committee, said the commission has found evidence of repeated contacts between Iraqi officials and the Qaeda terrorists and may describe those contacts in greater detail in its final report next month. But he said the panel had been unable to document any "collaborative relationship" between Iraq and the terror network — against the United States or any other target....
...Advisers to the White House said Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney would continue to be aggressive in countering the commission's conclusions — or in the White House's official view, the misinterpretation by the news media of the commission's conclusions — because failing to do so would undermine their credibility and their rationale for taking the country to war.
The Bush campaign and the Republican National Committee sent e-mail messages to supporters highlighting comments by Mr. Kean and Mr. Hamilton on Thursday suggesting that they saw no big gulf between the White House's position and the commission. Mr. Bartlett said Mr. Bush had no specific plans at the moment to revisit the issue in a speech, but that he would raise it when he had the opportunity in coming weeks.
"We'll continue to talk about how Saddam Hussein was a threat, and his ties to terrorism, and we will not give an inch on what we've said in the past," Mr. Bartlett said.
One outside adviser to the White House said the administration expected the debate over Iraq's ties to Al Qaeda to be "a regular feature" of the presidential campaign.
"They feel it's important to their long-term credibility on the issue of the decision to go to war," the adviser said. "It's important because it's part of the overall view that Iraq is part of the war on terror. If you discount the relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda, then you discount the proposition that it's part of the war on terror. If it's not part of the war on terror, then what is it — some cockeyed adventure on the part of George W. Bush?"...
From a NYT editorial, June 19, 2004:
When the commission studying the 9/11 terrorist attacks refuted the Bush administration's claims of a connection between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, we suggested that President Bush apologize for using these claims to help win Americans' support for the invasion of Iraq. We did not really expect that to happen. But we were surprised by the depth and ferocity of the administration's capacity for denial. President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have not only brushed aside the panel's findings and questioned its expertise, but they are also trying to rewrite history.
Mr. Bush said the 9/11 panel had actually confirmed his contention that there were "ties" between Iraq and Al Qaeda. He said his administration had never connected Saddam Hussein to 9/11. Both statements are wrong.
Before the war, Mr. Bush spoke of far more than vague "ties" between Iraq and Al Qaeda. He said Iraq had provided Al Qaeda with weapons training, bomb-making expertise and a base in Iraq. On Feb. 8, 2003, Mr. Bush said that "an Al Qaeda operative was sent to Iraq several times in the late 1990's for help in acquiring poisons and gases." The 9/11 panel's report, as well as news articles, indicate that these things never happened.
Mr. Cheney said yesterday that the "evidence is overwhelming" of an Iraq-Qaeda axis and that there had been a "whole series of high-level contacts" between them. The 9/11 panel said a senior Iraqi intelligence officer made three visits to Sudan in the early 1990's, meeting with Osama bin Laden once in 1994. It said Osama bin Laden had asked for "space to establish training camps, as well as assistance in procuring weapons, but Iraq apparently never responded." The panel cited reports of further contacts after Osama bin Laden returned to Afghanistan in 1996, but said there was no working relationship. As far as the public record is concerned, then, Mr. Cheney's "longstanding ties" amount to one confirmed meeting, after which the Iraq government did not help Al Qaeda. By those standards, the United States has longstanding ties to North Korea.
Mr. Bush has also used a terrorist named Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as evidence of a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda. Mr. Bush used to refer to Mr. Zarqawi as a "senior Al Qaeda terrorist planner" who was in Baghdad working with the Iraqi government. But the director of central intelligence, George Tenet, told the Senate earlier this year that Mr. Zarqawi did not work with the Hussein regime, nor under the direction of Al Qaeda.
When it comes to 9/11, someone in the Bush administration has indeed drawn the connection to Iraq: the vice president. Mr. Cheney has repeatedly referred to reports that Mohamed Atta met in Prague in April 2001 with an Iraqi intelligence agent. He told Tim Russert of NBC on Dec. 9, 2001, that this report has "been pretty well confirmed." If so, no one seems to have informed the C.I.A., the Czech government or the 9/11 commission, which said it did not appear to be true. Yet Mr. Cheney cited it, again, on Thursday night on CNBC.
Mr. Cheney said he had lots of documents to prove his claims. We have heard that before, but Mr. Cheney always seems too pressed for time or too concerned about secrets to share them. Last September, Mr. Cheney's adviser, Mary Matalin, explained to The Washington Post that Mr. Cheney had access to lots of secret stuff. She said he had to "tiptoe through the land mines of what's sayable and not sayable" to the public, but that "his job is to connect the dots."
The message, if we hear it properly, is that when it comes to this critical issue, the vice president is not prepared to offer any evidence beyond the flimsy-to-nonexistent arguments he has used in the past, but he wants us to trust him when he says there's more behind the screen. So far, when it comes to Iraq, blind faith in this administration has been a losing strategy.
Talking Points Memo
The New Republic's Spencer Ackerman, writing as a guest blogger on TalkingPointsMemo.com, June 18, 2004.
What did the 9/11 Commission actually say about Iraq-al Qaeda connections? And what did the Bush administration actually say about them? An e-mail sent out from the White House Office of Public Liaison titled,"TALKING POINTS: 9-11 Commission Staff Report Confirmes Administration's Views of al-Qaeda/Iraq Ties" claims:
A 9-11 Commission staff report supports the Bush Administration's longstanding conclusion that there was no evidence of" collaboration" between al-Qaeda on the 9-11 attacks against the United States. The Administration has never suggested that Iraq" collaborated" or" cooperated" with al-Qaeda to carry out the 9-11 attacks.
And indeed, as the, uh, talking points memo notes, President Bush stated that"We've had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with ... September 11th." Of course, what the memo quickly adds is that he said that on September 17, 2003. And what it leaves out entirely is why he said that on September 17, 2003. It was in response to this:
MR. RUSSERT: The Washington Post asked the American people about Saddam Hussein, and this is what they said: 69 percent said he was involved in the September 11 attacks. Are you surprised by that?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: No. I think it’s not surprising that people make that connection.
MR. RUSSERT: But is there a connection?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: We don’t know. You and I talked about this two years ago. I can remember you asking me this question just a few days after the original attack. At the time I said no, we didn’t have any evidence of that. Subsequent to that, we’ve learned a couple of things. We learned more and more that there was a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda that stretched back through most of the decade of the ’90s, that it involved training, for example, on BW and CW, that al-Qaeda sent personnel to Baghdad to get trained on the systems that are involved. The Iraqis providing bomb-making expertise and advice to the al-Qaeda organization.
We know, for example, in connection with the original World Trade Center bombing in ’93 that one of the bombers was Iraqi, returned to Iraq after the attack of ’93. And we’ve learned subsequent to that, since we went into Baghdad and got into the intelligence files, that this individual probably also received financing from the Iraqi government as well as safe haven.
Now, is there a connection between the Iraqi government and the original World Trade Center bombing in ’93? We know, as I say, that one of the perpetrators of that act did, in fact, receive support from the Iraqi government after the fact. With respect to 9/11, of course, we’ve had the story that’s been public out there. The Czechs alleged that Mohamed Atta, the lead attacker, met in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official five months before the attack, but we’ve never been able to develop anymore of that yet either in terms of confirming it or discrediting it. We just don’t know.
Despite not having a shred of evidence, Dick Cheney not only floated the prospect of Saddam sponsoring 9/11, but Saddam being behind the 1993 World Trade Center attacks--which Paul Wolfowitz also referenced on Good Morning America for the second anniversary of 9/11. (Hey Dick: Let's see the evidence on that one, too.) The ensuing media outrage at this blatant dishonesty was what prompted Bush to set the record straight(er).
Let's not stop there. The White House memo continues:
The Administration has said, however, that it was worried about a number of contacts between Iraq and al-Qaeda, including contacts between senior Iraqi intelligence officers and senior members of al-Qaeda.
This is what the 9/11 Commission actually said:
A senior Iraqi intelligence officer reportedly made three visits to Sudan, finally meeting Bin Laden in 1994. Bin Laden is said to have requested space to establish training camps, as well as assistance in procuring weapons, but Iraq apparently never responded. There have been reports that contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda also occurred after Bin Laden returned to Afghanistan, but they do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship. Two senior Bin Laden associates have adamantly denied that any ties existed between Al Qaeda and Iraq. [Emphasis added]
So for the White House memo to be conveying truthful information, the Bush administration would need to have followed up any references to" contacts between Iraq and al-Qaeda" with reminders that the intelligence community saw no indication that those contacts were fruitful--and that in some cases entreaties were apparently rebuffed. Did they say that?
On October 7, 2002, in a televised, primetime speech on the threat from Iraq, President Bush said:
We know that Iraq and al Qaeda have had high-level contacts that go back a decade. Some al Qaeda leaders who fled Afghanistan went to Iraq. These include one very senior al Qaeda leader who received medical treatment in Baghdad this year, and who has been associated with planning for chemical and biological attacks. We've learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases. And we know that after September the 11th, Saddam Hussein's regime gleefully celebrated the terrorist attacks on America. Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists.
Two weeks earlier, in a press conference with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe he said:
The war on terror, you can't distinguish between al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror.
Any given day.You can't distinguish between al-Qaeda and Saddam. (For more administration assertions of the dubious link between Iraq and al-Qaeda, check out the IRAQ'D mixtape sweepstakes.) If the American people mistakenly think Saddam is tied to 9/11, it's not surprising. On that count, I think I agree with Dick Cheney.