Bush and Cheney have in recent days flip-flopped on the their claims about an imagined link between Al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. Last September Bush said, “We've had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved in Sept. 11.” Three days earlier on Meet the Press, Dick Cheney was less emphatic, “We don’t know. We’ve learned some things.” Now, as the 9-11 Commission’s staff report states that they found no evidence of “a collaborative relationship” between Al-Qaeda and Saddam’s regime, let alone a link between Saddam and 9-11, Bush and Cheney have reasserted their belief that Al-Qaeda and Saddam had “ties” or "contacts" -- depending on their moods apparently.
Without providing new evidence and relying on disproven claims, and despite the fact that the words “ties” and “contacts” have very different meanings, Cheney now insists that the administration never said Saddam was behind 9-11, but only that Saddam and Al-Qaeda are linked. He doesn’t explain to what extent nor does he say how he knows. But did the administration organize their speeches and remarks to the world, world leaders, the American people, members of Congress and themselves to create the impression of a collaboration between Saddam and Al-Qaeda not just in general but on specific activities in preparation for 9-11? They clearly did.
Linda Feldmann, writing just days before Bush ordered the attack on Iraq in the Christian Science Monitor, paints a more accurate picture. At a rare televised prime time press conference on the Iraq war, “Bush mentioned Sept. 11 eight times. He referred to Saddam Hussein many more times than that, often in the same breath with Sept. 11,” writes Feldmann. “The overall effect was to reinforce an impression that persists among much of the American public: that the Iraqi dictator did play a direct role in the attacks.”
This “overall effect” was discernible to a BBC reporter covering a Cheney speech on September 11, 2002. “US Vice-President Dick Cheney has taken the opportunity,” BBC reported, “of the 11 September anniversary to draw attention to possible links between Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the al-Qaeda network.” Cheney’s opportunism was not the administration’s first or last public effort to create this impression.
Feldmann also felt that “the White House appears to be encouraging this false impression, as it seeks to maintain American support for a possible war against Iraq.” Public opinion polls indicated that this White House strategy worked. Only 3 percent of Americans linked Iraq or Hussein to 9-11 right after the terrorist attacks, but by January 2003, after a year-long Bush campaign against Iraq and without any evidence to support the claim of a connection, almost half of Americans made such a link. By the time the war was under way that nearly 3 of 4 US people polled believed Saddam was behind the 9-11 terrorist attacks.
Bush’s willingness to fudge the truth has deep roots and an ideological rationale. From the first day of the administration, says former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, Bush believed “that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go.” It was the top foreign policy item eight months before 9-11. In fact, O’Neill reports that plans for occupation of and dividing up Iraq’s oil were made in February 2001.
Former administration counter-terrorism expert Richard Clarke told CBS that when his office tried to point to the need to deal with Al-Qaeda and the depth of the threat it posed, other administration officials, such as Donald Rumsfeld, insisted on an Iraq focus and downplayed Al-Qaeda’s threat. As reported on North Star Network, Clarke further said that “once the attacks on 9/11 occurred Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made clear that the target was Iraq and not Afghanistan, where al Qaeda was clustered.” When Clarke’s office could find no “credible link” between Al-Qaeda and Saddam, his attempts to show this to Bush “fell on deaf ears.” Clarke accused Bush of deceiving the public about the relationship between the terrorist organization and the Iraqi government. He said, “Americans went to their deaths in Iraq thinking they were avenging 9/11, and Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.”
Bush and Cheney’s denials notwithstanding, they created the impression that Saddam and Al-Qaeda were not only in cahoots, but that they collaborated on the 9-11 terrorist attacks. A look at just a few of the remarks Bush, Cheney or their spokespersons have made over the last two and a half years betrays them. Here are some samples:
* “[W]e have to be concerned about the potential marriage, if you will, between a terrorist organization like Al Qaeda and those who hold or are proliferating knowledge about weapons of mass destruction.” (Cheney, remarks to the press, March 11, 2002, White House website)
* “As President Bush has said, time is not on our side. Deliverable weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terror network, or a murderous dictator, or the two working together, constitutes as grave a threat as can be imagined.” VP Cheney, VFW Convention, August 26, 2002, White House web site.
* “[A] factor that is new is what took place on September 11th, and the awakening here that we are vulnerable to attacks on our own soil, now, and that Saddam Hussein, if he links up with terrorists, has an interest in harming us.” Ari Fleischer, remarks to the press, 10-09-02, White house website)
* “Imagine if this madman [Saddam] had a nuclear weapon. … And, not only that, he is -- would like nothing better than to hook-up with one of these shadowy terrorist networks like al Qaeda, provide some weapons and training to them, let them come and do his dirty work, and we wouldn't be able to see his fingerprints on his action.” (Bush, South Dakota Speech, November 3, 2002, White House website)
* “Saddam Hussein is a man who told the world he wouldn't have weapons of mass destruction, but he's got them. He's a man who a while ago who was close to having a nuclear weapon. Imagine if this madman had a nuclear weapon. It's a man who not only has chemical weapons, but he's used chemical weapons against some of his neighbors. He used chemical weapons, incredibly enough, against his own people. He can't stand America. He can't stand some of our closest friends.
“Saddam Hussein has longstanding, direct and continuing ties to terrorist networks. Senior members of Iraqi intelligence and al Qaeda have met at least eight times since the early 1990s. Iraq has sent bomb-making and document forgery experts to work with al Qaeda. Iraq has also provided al Qaeda with chemical and biological weapons training.” (Bush speech, February 6, 2003, White House website)
* “On September 11, 2001, America saw what terrorists could do by turning four airplanes into weapons. We will not wait to see what terrorists or terrorist states could do with chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons. Saddam Hussein has made Iraq into a prison, a poison factory, and a torture chamber for patriots and dissidents. He has the motive, means, recklessness and hatred to threaten the American people. Saddam Hussein will be stopped.” Bush remarks, February 8, 2003, White House website.
* “The issue facing our nation and the world is the extension of the war on terror to places like Iraq. Prior to September the 11th, there was apparently no connection between a place like Iraq and terror. Oh, sure, he had run some terrorist networks out of his country, and that was of concern to us. But it was very difficult to link a terrorist network and Saddam Hussein to the American soil. As a matter of fact, it was very difficult to link any attack on the American soil, because prior to September the 11th, we were confident that two oceans could protect us from harm.
“The world changed on September the 11th.” […] “And therefore, when we hear of stories about weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a brutal dictator, who hates America, we need to take that seriously, and we are. And when we find out there's links between Baghdad and a killer who actually ordered the killing of one of our fellow citizens, we've got to realize the -- what that means to our future.” (Bush, Congress of Tomorrow Reception, February 10, 2003, White House website)
* “Saddam Hussein has a long history of reckless aggression and terrible crimes. He possesses weapons of terror. He provides funding and training and safe haven to terrorists who would willingly deliver weapons of mass destruction against America and other peace-loving countries. The attacks of September the 11, 2001 showed what the enemies of America did with four airplanes. We will not wait to see what terrorists or terror states could do with weapons of mass destruction. We are determined to confront threats wherever they arise. And, as a last resort, we must be willing to use military force. We are doing everything we can to avoid war in Iraq. But if Saddam Hussein does not disarm peacefully, he will be disarmed by force.” (Bush, Radio Address, March 8, 2003, White House website)
* “And it [Iraq] has aided, trained and harbored terrorists, including operatives of al Qaeda.” -- Television broadcast, George W. Bush, March 17, 2003 (White House website)
* “There's overwhelming evidence there was a connection between al Qaeda and the Iraqi government. I am very confident that there was an established relationship there.” -- Vice President Cheney, 1/22/04 (Center for American Progress website)
* “Right after September the 11th, I laid out a doctrine that said, if you harbor a terrorist, if you feed a terrorist, if you hide a terrorist, you're just as guilty as the terrorist.” -- Bush speech, Kalamazoo, Michigan, May 3, 2004 (White House website)
And the icing on the cake…
“If we had not acted, Saddam Hussein and his sons would still be in power…. the torture chambers would still be in operation.” -- Cheney, July 25, 2003, quoted in Washington Times.
Other Articles by Joel Wendland