Probably nothing has made neoconservative chicken hawks flap and crow quite like the conclusion announced last week by the Sept 11 Commission that it could establish no "collaborative relationship" between Al Qaeda and the regime of Saddam Hussein.
For the next several days the Bush administration (including the president himself) and its water-fetchers in the media insisted the Commission didn't know what it was talking about. [Commission Staff Statement PDF] I guess if you say it three times, it's true.
But no matter how many times the armchair warriors claim Saddam and Al Qaeda were in cahoots, there remains no evidence to establish that, let alone that Saddam knew about or was involved in the attacks of 9/11.
There were, as both the administration and the Commission seem to agree, some "links" or "connections" or "contacts" between Iraq and Al Qaeda, but no substantive support of the terrorists by Baghdad and in particular no participation in Al Qaeda's attacks against U.S. targets.
As for the "links," "contacts," etc., of course they existed. The Baghdad government would have been nuts not to stay in touch with the terrorists, not only to see what they were up to as much as it could but also to make sure the mad mullahs in Osama bin Laden's stable didn't decide to turn the wrath of Allah against the less than pious Saddam himself.
Governments, good ones or bad ones, often maintain what are called "back channel" contacts with unsavory elements—terrorists, spies, criminals, even neoconservatives.
It's true the administration never actually claimed that Iraq was involved in the 9/11 attacks, but some spokesmen rather encouraged people to think so.
Even more than the administration itself, its chicken-hawk allies in the neocon media pushed this claim for all it was worth—which turns out to be not very much.
Back before snoopy commissions started poking into what actually happened, neoconservative pundits jabbered constantly about the murky ties between Iraq and 9/11. The pièce de résistance was the supposed meeting between Mohammed Atta, who masterminded the attacks, and an Iraqi diplomat in Prague on April 9, 2001.
Neoconservative columnist William Safire was the first to claim this meeting showed a connection of Iraq with 9/11, and even after published news stories showed it never happened, Fred Barnes, executive editor of the Weekly Standard, insisted that the Czech ambassador assured him it did take place. [Mohamed Atta Was Here, Fred Barnes Weekly Standard August 6, 2003]
The evidence for the meeting is a videotape of the Iraqi diplomat in Prague walking and talking with an unidentified man said to be Atta.
There's no doubt the diplomat did meet with somebody. There are two questions: Was it Atta, and if so, what did they talk about?
Mr. Barnes did not hesitate to leap to the conclusion that the meeting proved that Iraq was in on the 9/11 attacks. "The meeting has political and international importance," he puffed. "A connection between Iraq and Atta, an al Qaeda operative under Osama bin Laden, bolsters the case for military action by the United States to remove the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq."
Well, yes, that was the whole point, wasn't it, and it's the reason the chicken hawks are so infuriated that the Sept. 11 Commission can't find any "collaborative relationship" at all between Iraq and Al Qaeda.
As for the famous Atta chat with the Iraqi diplomat, the Commission has now shown that it almost certainly did not take place at all. Atta is known to have withdrawn money from his Virginia bank account on April 4, five days before the meeting, and calls are known to have been made from his cell phone on April 6, 9, 10, and 11—from Florida, not Prague. [No Evidence of Meeting With Iraqi By James Risen, NYT June 17, 2004]
Either Atta left his cell phone with someone else (most dubious—no self-respecting terrorist would let his cell phone out of his possession; it's like letting somebody else use your toothbrush) or was able to bilocate magically from Florida to Prague.
Or—as unthinkable as it may be to some people—Atta never met with the Iraqi at all.
The non-meeting has even more "political and international importance" than a real meeting, because the non-meeting means the whole case for the Al Qaeda-Saddam link collapses, as does the chicken hawk-administration case for "military action by the United States to remove the Saddam Hussein regime."
The really fascinating question about the whole Iraq war is one the Commission has not explored and probably won't: Just exactly how many lies did the Neoconservatives who engineered the war concoct?
We have known for more than a year now that the "weapons of mass destruction" claims were fake.
Now we know the same about Al Qaeda and its "links" with Iraq.
There are several other whoppers they also fabricated.
Somebody really ought to investigate.
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[Sam Francis [email him] is a nationally syndicated columnist. A selection of his columns, America Extinguished: Mass Immigration And The Disintegration Of American Culture, is now available from Americans For Immigration Control. Click here for Sam Francis' website. Click here to orderhis monograph, Ethnopolitics: Immigration, Race, and the American Political Future and here for Glynn Custred's review.]