Saturday, July 12, 2003

16 + 19 + 5 = 38 and counting

Smoking Sentence #1: the 16 ...

Smoking Sentence #2: the 19 from the aluminum tubes we know about ...

Now, Smoking Sentence #3: these 5:

Bush in the SOTU:

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 Qaeda.

Let's not parse the "aid and protect" weasel words, eh? After all Bush is no Clinton.... The clear implication is that Saddam and AQ were working together. That was dubious then, and it's dubious now.

Matt Kelley of the AP gives lots of good detail here:

Before the war, Bush and members of his cabinet said Saddam was harboring top al-Qaida operatives and suggested Iraq could slip the terrorist network chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons.

Critics attacked those assertions from the beginning for being counter to the ideologies of Saddam and al-Qaida and short on corroborating evidence. Now, two former Bush administration intelligence officials say the evidence linking Saddam to the group responsible for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks was never more than sketchy at best.

"There was no significant pattern of cooperation between Iraq and the al-Qaida terrorist operation," former State Department intelligence official Greg Thielmann said this week.

Another former Bush administration intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, agreed there was no clear link between Saddam and al-Qaida.

The administration's key evidence of a link was an operative named Abu Musab Zarqawi, who got medical care in Baghdad in May 2002 after being wounded in Afghanistan. In his Feb. 5 presentation to the United Nations, Powell called Zarqawi "an associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida lieutenants."

Current and former intelligence officials now say Zarqawi's links to al-Qaida are more tenuous - the CIA now says Zarqawi considers himself independent of al-Qaida, for example. And while Zarqawi spent time in Iraq, it's unclear whether Saddam's regime simply allowed him to be there or actively tried to work with him.

"There was scant evidence there had been any other contacts between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden," Graham said in an interview Friday.

The administration's case apparently was persuasive. In a poll conducted last month by Knowledge Networks, 52 percent of those questioned said they thought the United States found clear evidence in Iraq that Saddam was working closely with al-Qaida - although no such evidence has been found.

Of course, it's the pattern of deceit that matters, but 16 + 19 + 5 is starting to look like a pattern... and in only one speech! (Granted, speech that sent hundreds of our soldiers and 1000s of Iraqi civilians to their deaths.)

UPDATE: Of course, the dubious character of the link to AQ was knwon at the time, too. (Thanks to alert reader Jennifer.)