Bush + Dick Insist On Iraq-Al Qaeda Link
dat's mah stawry n' ahm stikkin' tew it
Bush insists on Iraq-al Qaeda link
David E. Sanger, Robin Toner, New York Times
Friday, June 18, 2004
President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney insisted on Thursday that Saddam Hussein's deposed regime had a long history of ties to al Qaeda despite a report by the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks that found no "collaborative relationship" between Iraq and the terrorist network.
Bush, responding to a reporter's question about the report after a White House Cabinet meeting, 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 Osama bin Laden, the head of al Qaeda, in the Sudan. There's numerous contacts between the two."
Bush said he had called Hussein a threat "because he had used weapons of mass destruction against his own people. He was a threat because he was a sworn enemy to the United States of America, just like al Qaeda. Now, he was a threat because he had terrorist connections, not only al Qaeda connections, but other connections to terrorist organizations."
On Thursday evening, Cheney, who was the administration's most forceful advocate of the al Qaeda-Hussein links, was more pointed, repeating in detail his case for those ties and charging that the New York Times' coverage of the commission's findings Thursday morning "was outrageous."
"They do a lot of outrageous things," Cheney, appearing on CNBC's "Capital Report," said of the Times, referring specifically to a four-column front-page headline that read "Panel Finds No Qaida-Iraq Tie."
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."
He said the media had confused the question of whether there was evidence of Iraqi participation in Sept. 11 with the issue of whether a relationship existed between al Qaeda and Hussein's regime.
Speaking of the commission, he said, "They did not address the broader question of a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda in other areas, in other ways."
Saying "the evidence is overwhelming," Cheney described the ties and cited numerous links back to the 1990s, including contacts between bin Laden and Iraqi intelligence officials.
Sen. John Kerry, the likely Democratic nominee for president, also jumped into the debate on Thursday, saying, "It is clear that President Bush owes the American people a fundamental explanation about why he rushed to war for a purpose that it now turns out is not supported by the facts. That is the finding of this commission. The war against al Qaeda is not the war in Iraq, when it began."
Staff Report 15, released by the commission Wednesday, detailed how a senior Iraqi intelligence officer "reportedly made three visits to Sudan" and met with bin Laden in 1994. At that meeting, the report concludes, bin Laden sought permission to establish training camps in Iraq and help in obtaining weapons, "but Iraq apparently never responded."
"There have been reports that contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda also occurred after bin Laden had returned to Afghanistan, but they do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship," the report continued. "Two senior bin Laden associates have adamantly denied that any ties existed between al Qaeda and Iraq. We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States."
Cheney expressed a slightly different view on Thursday evening, saying, "We have never been able to prove that there was a connection there on 9/11."
He went on to cite a Czech intelligence service report that Mohamed Atta, one of the lead hijackers, had met a senior Iraqi intelligence official in April 2001. "That's never been proven," he said. "It's never been refuted."
The commission report released on Wednesday concluded: "We do not believe that such a meeting occurred," citing phone records and other evidence that Atta had been in Florida at that time, rather than in Prague.
Commission Chairman Thomas Kean, asked at a news conference about Bush's comments, said the panel does not dispute that there were contacts between Hussein's government and al Qaeda. But Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey, said the panel's staff found "that there is no credible evidence that we can discover, after a long investigation, that Iraq and Saddam Hussein were in any way part of the attack on the United States."
Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman, said, "I must say, I have trouble understanding the flap over this." The commission's position, he said, is that "we don't have any evidence of a cooperative ... relationship between Saddam Hussein's government and these al Qaeda operatives with regard to the attacks on the United States."
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the commission finding of long- standing high-level contacts between al Qaeda and Iraq justified the administration's earlier assertions. "We stand behind what was said publicly," he said.
They said, he said
What the panelists say
"We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States."
The president's response
"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."
The Washington Post contributed to this report.
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