Just days after the 9/11 attacks, Vice President Cheney, on “Meet The Press,” said the response should be aimed at Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terror organization not Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
When asked if any evidence connected the Iraqis to the operation, Cheney said, "no."
But during that same time period, according to Bob Woodward's book, Bush At War, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was pushing for military strikes on Iraq and during cabinet meetings Cheney, "expressed deep concern about Saddam and wouldn't rule out going after Iraq at some point."
That point started to come 11 months later, just before the first anniversary of 9/11.
The president and vice president had decided to redirect their war on terror to Baghdad. So, with the help of the newly-formed White House Iraq group, which consisted of top officials and strategists, the selling of a war on Iraq began and the administration's rhetoric about Saddam changed.
On September 8, 2002, not only did White House hawks tell The New York Times for a front page exclusive that Saddam was building a nuclear weapon, five administration officials also went on the Sunday television shows that day to repeat the charge.
"He is, in fact actively and aggressively seeking to acquire nuclear weapons," Cheney told Tim Russert on “Meet The Press".
But the White House started claiming that Iraq and the group responsible for 9/11 were one in the same.
"The war on terror, you can't distinguish between al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror," said Bush on September 25, 2002.
"We've learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases," said Bush a few days later on October 7. "He's a threat because he is dealing with Al-Qaeda."
In pushing the Saddam-Iraq-9/11 connection, both the president and the vice president made two crucial claims. First, they alleged there had been a 1994 meeting in the Sudan between Osama bin Laden and an Iraqi intelligence official.
After the Iraq war began, however, the 9/11 Commission was formed and reported that while Osama bin Laden may have requested Iraqi help, "Iraq apparently never responded."
The other crucial pre-war White House claim was that 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta met with a senior Iraqi intelligence official in the Czech republic in April 2001.
Cheney stated, "It's been pretty well confirmed that he did go to Prague and he did meet with a Senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service."
Confirmed or unconfirmed by Vice President Cheney the 9/11 Commission said, "We do not believe such a meeting occurred." Why? Because cell phone records from the time show Atta in the United States.
None the less, the White House strategy worked. In March of 2003, one poll found 45 percent of Americans believed Saddam Hussein was personally involved in 9/11.
On the eve of the Iraq war, the White House sent a letter to Congress telling lawmakers that force was authorized against those who, "aided the 9/11 attacks."
Yet the Bush administration continues to say it never claimed Iraq was linked to 9/11.
"I think I made it very clear that we have never made that claim," White House Press Secretary McClellan repeated on Sept. 17, 2003.
The brutal irony is that while implications, innuendo, or false claims if you will about a 9/11 connection helped take us into Iraq. The Iraqi war itself has created a real al-Qaeda/Iraq link that may keep us from getting out.
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