The Washington Post reported in a front-page story that the preliminary findings of the 9/11 commission “showed the potential threat” to the reelection of President Bush because it found there was no “collaborative relationship” between Iraq and al Qaeda. The headline over the piece said the findings brought the issue of Bush’s “credibility” to the forefront of the campaign. Actually, the credibility problems rested with the Post and the commission.
The Post devoted only one small paragraph, buried deep in the story, to what Vice President Cheney had said about the findings. Cheney’s rebuttal, delivered in an interview on CNBC, was so devastating that George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s Sunday This Week program was compelled to question the co-chairmen of the commission about it. The staff of the commission claimed that Osama bin Laden’s overtures to Saddam Hussein were not returned. Cheney cited the case of “a senior official, a brigadier general in the Iraqi intelligence service going to the Sudan before bin Laden ever went to Afghanistan to train them in bomb-making [and] helping teach them how to forge documents.” He noted that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, “who’s in Baghdad today, is an al-Qaeda associate who took refuge in Baghdad, found sanctuary and safe harbor there before we ever launched into Iraq.” Then Cheney cited the case of Abdul Rahman Yasin, a World Trade Center bomber in 1993 who fled to Iraq, was put on Saddam’s payroll, and was given housing by the regime.
This was the kind of rebuttal to media misinformation that we have been urging for months. Not only Cheney but Bush came out swinging.
Like many others in the media, one of the CNBC interviewers, Gloria Borger, exhibited confusion about the matter. Cheney told her, “Gloria, the notion that there is no relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda just simply is not true.” Cheney cited evidence that in the fall of 1995 and again in the summer of 1996, “bin Laden met with Iraqi intelligence service representatives at his farm in Sudan. Bin Laden asked for terror training from Iraq. The Iraqi intelligence service responded. It deployed a bomb-making expert, a brigadier general in the Iraqi intelligence.”
To his credit, George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s This Week not only cited Cheney’s evidence but effectively rebutted left-wing filmmaker Michael Moore about charges in his new film. One of the central claims is that the Bush family’s relationship with the bin Laden family of Saudi Arabia led to members of the Saudi family being escorted out of the U.S. shortly after 9/11 before they were investigated for ties to al Qaeda.
Stephanopoulos made the key point that former counter-terrorism official Richard Clarke, a Clinton hold-over who has emerged as a critic of the Bush administration, made this decision. Clarke, then at the National Security Council, says the bin Ladens were screened for terrorist ties. George W. Bush had nothing to do with it. Hence, a key claim in Michael Moore’s award-winning film falls apart.