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Saddam and 9/11: On the record

President Bush took the unusual step of denying categorically that his administration has evidence that connects Saddam Hussein with the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But critics say the damage is already done and that the administration deliberately kept the theory alive.

President Bush took the unusual step of denying categorically that his administration has evidence that connects Saddam Hussein with the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. “We’ve had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with September the 11th,” Bush said. But critics say the damage is already done and that the administration deliberately kept the theory alive.

The president's statement follows remarks by Vice President Dick Cheney Sunday that seemed to suggest that at least some in the administration still considered the issue to be open. And last month a Washington Post poll found that 69 percent of Americans think it is likely the former Iraqi dictator had a role in the attacks.

The administration has cited intelligence evidence of ties between al-Qaida and Iraq, though other intelligence officials dismiss such evidence as circumstantial. The most thorough public explanation of the evidence to date came last February, when Secretary of State Colin Powell included the alleged ties in a presentation to the U.N. Security Council as the debate over war raged on.


At no time did he or another senior official flatly accuse Saddam of complicity in the 9/11 attacks, though some Republicans who serve the administration in an advisory role — including Richard Perle and former CIA Director James Woolsey — say they support the idea.

Critics charge that administration statements over the past two years, coupled with speeches and interviews given by advisors like Perle and Woolsey, have contributed to the 9/11 misconception. In fact, the administration has consistently linked the attacks to the U.S.-led push to oust Saddam, at least rhetorically, by juxtaposing al-Qaida’s deeds with the potential threat posed by Iraq.

Here are some of those statements:

“With nuclear arms or a full arsenal of chemical and biological weapons, Saddam Hussein could resume his ambitions of conquest in the Middle East and create deadly havoc in that region. And this Congress and the America people must recognize another threat. 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-Qaida. Secretly, and without fingerprints, he could provide one of his hidden weapons to terrorists, or help them develop their own.”

— President Bush, State of the Union Speech, Jan. 28, 2003.

“But what I want to bring to your attention today is the potentially much more sinister nexus between Iraq and the al-Qaida terrorist network, a nexus that combines classic terrorist organizations and modern methods of murder. Iraq today harbors a deadly terrorist network headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi an associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida lieutenants. … But Baghdad has an agent in the most senior levels of the radical organization Ansar al-Islam that controls this corner of Iraq. In 2000, this agent offered al-Qaida safe haven in the region. We know members of both organizations met repeatedly and have met at least eight times at very senior levels since the early 1990s. In 1996, a foreign security service tells us that bin Laden met with a senior Iraqi intelligence official in Khartoum and later met the director of the Iraqi intelligence service. Saddam became more interested as he saw al-Qaida’s appalling attacks. A detained al-Qaida member tells us that Saddam was more willing to assist al-Qaida after the 1998 bombings of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Saddam was also impressed by al-Qaida’s attacks on the USS Cole in Yemen in October 2000.”

— Secretary of State Colin Powell, Statement to the U.N. Security Council, Feb. 5, 2003.

“After the attacks of September the 11th, 2001, we will not allow grave threats to go unopposed. We are now working to locate and destroy Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. This is a historic moment. Just over a month ago, not all that long ago, a cruel dictator ruled a country, ruled Iraq by torture and fear. His regime was allied with terrorists, and the regime was armed with weapons of mass destruction. Today, that regime is no more.”

— President Bush, Speech to workers at Abrams tank plant in Lima, Ohio, April 24, 2003.

“The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September the 11, 2001 — and still goes on. That terrible morning, 19 evil men — the shock troops of a hateful ideology — gave America and the civilized world a glimpse of their ambitions. They imagined, in the words of one terrorist, that September the 11th would be the ‘beginning of the end of America.’ By seeking to turn our cities into killing fields, terrorists and their allies believed that they could destroy this nation’s resolve, and force our retreat from the world. They have failed.”

— President Bush, aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, May 1, 2003.

“The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that still goes on. al-Qaida is wounded, not destroyed. The scattered cells of the terrorist networks still operate in many nations. And we know from daily intelligence that they continue to plot against free people. The proliferation of deadly weapons remains a serious danger. The enemies of freedom are not idle, and neither are we. Our government has taken unprecedented measures to defend our homeland and, more importantly, we will continue to hunt the enemy down before he can strike. No act of terrorists will change our purpose or weaken our resolve or alter their fate. Their cause is lost. Free nations will press on to victory.”

—President Bush, Weekly radio address, May 3, 2003.

“I think that if you ask, do we know that he had a role in 9-11 — No, we do not know that he had a role in 9-11. I think that this is a test that sets the bar far too high. I don’t think that we want to try and make the case that he directed somehow the 9-11 events.”

—National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice, Interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Sept. 8, 2003.

MR. RUSSERT: The Washington Post asked the American people about Saddam Hussein, and this is what they said: 69 percent said he was involved in the September 11 attacks. Are you surprised by that?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: No. I think it’s not surprising that people make that connection.

MR. RUSSERT: But is there a connection?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: We don’t know. You and I talked about this two years ago. I can remember you asking me this question just a few days after the original attack. At the time I said no, we didn’t have any evidence of that. Subsequent to that, we’ve learned a couple of things. We learned more and more that there was a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaida that stretched back through most of the decade of the ’90s, that it involved training, for example, on BW and CW, that al-Qaida sent personnel to Baghdad to get trained on the systems that are involved. The Iraqis providing bomb-making expertise and advice to the al-Qaida organization.

We know, for example, in connection with the original World Trade Center bombing in ’93 that one of the bombers was Iraqi, returned to Iraq after the attack of ’93. And we’ve learned subsequent to that, since we went into Baghdad and got into the intelligence files, that this individual probably also received financing from the Iraqi government as well as safe haven.

Now, is there a connection between the Iraqi government and the original World Trade Center bombing in ’93? We know, as I say, that one of the perpetrators of that act did, in fact, receive support from the Iraqi government after the fact. With respect to 9/11, of course, we’ve had the story that’s been public out there. The Czechs alleged that Mohamed Atta, the lead attacker, met in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official five months before the attack, but we’ve never been able to develop anymore of that yet either in terms of confirming it or discrediting it. We just don’t know.

—Vice President Dick Cheney, Interview with NBC’s Tim Russert, Sunday, Sept. 14, 2003.