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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
Posted: June 21, 2004