In its systematic and concerted effort to portray a link between Saddam and bin Laden, the White House propaganda team was so successful that a poll conducted in late 2002 showed that over half of the people polled believed that Saddam was connected to 9/11.
While that may have been great news for the home team back then, the problem for Bush today is that he is never going to get 50% of Americans to erase their memory of all the statements that were made, and believe the line that members of the administration never said anything to make people think that Saddam was involved in 9/11.
The truth is that the story about Saddam supporting al Qaeda was a key component in case for war and the administration worked non-stop to promote it even though the basis for the story was debunked early on by intelligence officials.
When making public remarks and speeches indicating a connection between Saddam and al Qaeda, Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and National Security Advisor Condi Rice consistently failed to mention the fact that intelligence agencies had dismissed it as false.
According to the March 16, 2004, report, "Iraq On The Record: The Bush Administration's Public Statements On Iraq," from the Committee on Government Reform, together the above five top officials "made 61 misleading statements about the strength of the Iraq-al Qaeda alliance in 52 public appearances."
The new Senate investigation hasn't even got off the ground and already the future is looking grim for the Bush team. It has now been revealed that US military intelligence specifically warned the administration in February 2002 that the key source of information about Al-Qaeda's ties to Iraq had provided "intentionally misleading" data, in a newly declassified Defense Intelligence Agency document made public this month.
While this is clear evidence that they should have known better, over the following year top officials continued to make false claims that the Iraqi government was training and supporting members of bin Laden's terrorist group to bolster their rationale for war.
For instance, eight months later, in a speech on November 7, 2002, Bush told the audience: Saddam Hussein is "a threat because he is dealing with Al Qaida... [A] true threat facing our country is that an Al Qaida-type network trained and armed by Saddam could attack America and not leave one fingerprint."
In his January 28, 2003 State of the Union address, Bush said: "Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications, and statements by people now in custody reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of al Qaeda. Secretly, and without fingerprints, he could provide one of his hidden weapons to terrorists, or help them develop their own."
On January 26, 2003, when speaking at the World Economic Forum, Colin Powell stated, "The more we wait, the more chance there is for this dictator with clear ties to terrorist groups, including al-Qaida, more time for him to pass a weapon, share a technology, or use these weapons again."
In his February 5, 2003 speech at the UN, Powell told the audience: "what I want to bring to your attention today is the potentially much more sinister nexus between Iraq and the al Qaeda terrorist network, a nexus that combines classic terrorist organizations and modern methods of murder."
"Iraq today," Powell said, "harbors a deadly terrorist network headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi an associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida lieutenants."
To intentionally play on the public's emotions, around the second anniversary of 9/11, Dick Cheney told Tim Russert on Meet the Press that Iraq was "the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault for many years, but most especially on 9/11."
Cheney also told the Heritage Foundation on October 10, 2003 that Saddam Hussein "had an established relationship with al Qaeda."
The Bush Team Should Be Worried
The administration has good reason to worry about the investigation. Last year, it got a glimpse of the kind of information that will likely come out, on March 9, 2004, during then CIA Director George Tenet's testimony before the Armed Services Committee, when Democrats revealed that Scooter Libby had received secret intelligence briefings in August 2002 on Saddam's ties to al-Qaeda from then Assistant Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith.
Prior to that hearing, Feith had already said that he never gave any such briefings, which in turn supported the theory that a private secret intelligence group in the White House was set up to manufacture the case for war. Tenet told the committee that he had only first learned of Feith's private briefings "last week."
Feith better not be too comfortable in his retirement because he is definitely going to be spending some time up on the Hill. Virtually everything that went wrong in Iraq, relating to matters that Congress will be investigating, can be traced back to Feith's door. He played a leading role in the run-up to war.
The buck stops with Feith on its way to Cheney and Bush. Who knows, maybe Feith will agree to take the hit and he and Libby can bunk together in prison.
The Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation Group and the Office of Special Plans (OSP) were both established under Feith's authority and will in all likelihood garner particular interest during the investigation.
The OSP, with the help of Ahmed Chalabi and his band of defectors, is believed to have cooked up the most alarming pre-war intelligence and "stovepiped" it to Bush through Rumsfeld and Cheney, without the vetting of any intelligence official, in order to establish the existence of a link between Saddam and al-Qaeda.
The content of Feith's August 2002 private briefings have been described as a cherry-picked collection of raw, uncorroborated pieces of information, which painted a false picture of a link between Saddam and 9/11.
The investigation will surely focus on October 2003 when Feith sent a memo to the Senate Intelligence Committee citing proof of a definite relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda, and it somehow got published in the November 2003, Weekly Standard complete with the memo's classified annex claiming that its list of Iraq-al Qaeda contacts proved "an operational relationship from the early 1990s" and that "there can no longer be any serious argument about whether Saddam Hussein's Iraq worked with Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda to plot against Americans."
The Defense Department immediately ran for cover and issued a statement saying that "[t]he classified annex was not an analysis of the substantive issue of the relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda, and it drew no conclusions."
And on March 9, 2004, when Tenet again testified before the Armed Services Committee, he made sure to tell the committee that the CIA "did not agree with the way the data was characterized in that document."
The investigation team will no doubt want to interview the neoconsí best friend Ahmed Chalabi, but he has already demonstrated that he could care less if he's accused of deliberately misleading the US in making the case for war, being he got what he wanted.
"We are heroes in error," he told the News Telegraph on February 19, 2004. "As far as we're concerned we've been entirely successful. That tyrant Saddam is gone and the Americans are in Baghdad," he said, "What was said before is not important."
Evelyn J. Pringle is a columnist for Independent Media TV and an investigative journalist focused on exposing government corruption. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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