Oct 5th, 2004, 02:09 PM
Bush, Chenney undercut AGAIN on Sadaam/Al Quaeda connection
The Administrations contention that Zarqawi's presence in Iraq is proof of collaboration is like saying the presence of the 9/11 hijackers in America is proof our government collaborated with Al Quaeda.
Talk about your flip flops! Bush, Chenney and Rumsfeld have all come down on both sides of this issue multiple times in a deliberate attempt to leave to leave voters with a false impression. Chenney said yesterday there was no connection and said today that he was missunderstood. Chenney still maintains a connection, though the CIA, W. and the 9/11 comission say there's no evidence. Chenney has implied he's seen evidence others haven't. The 9/11 comission asked him to present it and he offereed nothing new.
Iraq-al Qaeda tie called unlikely
A new review by the Central Intelligence Agency undercut the Bush administration's case that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was linked to Islamic terrorists.
BY WARREN P. STROBEL, JONATHAN S. LANDAY AND JOHN WALCOTT
Knight Ridder News Service
WASHINGTON - A new CIA assessment undercuts the White House claim that Saddam Hussein maintained ties to al Qaeda, saying there is no conclusive evidence that the regime harbored terrorist Abu Musab al Zarqawi, U.S. officials said Monday.
The CIA review, which the officials said was requested some months ago by Vice President Dick Cheney, is the latest assessment that calls into question one of President Bush's key justifications for last year's U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
The new assessment follows the independent Sept. 11 commission's finding that there was no ''collaborative relationship'' between the former Iraqi regime and Osama bin Laden's terrorist network.
While intelligence officials cautioned that information about Zarqawi remains incomplete, Bush, Cheney and other top officials have publicly made Zarqawi the linchpin of their contention that Hussein's Iraq had ties to al Qaeda. Questions about whether the president and other officials overstated the intelligence about Iraq and omitted contradictory information and analysis are now at the center of the campaign debate over Iraq policy.
Since the 9/11 commission's judgment in June, Bush and Cheney have repeatedly said that Zarqawi was an associate of bin Laden and received safe haven from Hussein.
Moreover, they've charged, Hussein's regime allowed the Jordanian native to travel to Baghdad and set up cells of his Islamic terrorist network in the Iraqi capital.
Zarqawi is now a major figure directing part of the anti-U.S. insurgency in Iraq. He has appeared in videos in which American and other hostages are executed, often by beheading.
''Zarqawi's the best evidence of connection to al Qaeda affiliates and al Qaeda. He's the person who's still killing. He's the person -- remember the e-mail exchange between al Qaeda leadership and he himself about how to disrupt the progress toward freedom,'' Bush said in the Rose Garden in June.
Zarqawi ''was in and out of Baghdad. He ordered the killing of an American citizen from Baghdad -- Foley,'' Bush said of U.S. Agency for International Development official Laurence Foley on Saturday in Ohio. ``This is before . . . we went in. Saddam Hussein had used weapons of mass destruction. I understood -- I understand today that the connection between weapons of mass destruction and the terrorist network is the biggest threat we face.''
But according to a senior administration official and intelligence officials familiar with the process, CIA analysts spent several months reviewing new material and reexamining earlier intelligence at Cheney's request.
NO SMOKING GUN
A U.S. official familiar with the new CIA assessment said intelligence analysts are unable to determine conclusively the nature of the relationship between Zarqawi and Hussein.
''It's still being worked,'' he said. ''[The assessment] . . . doesn't make clear-cut, bottom-line judgments'' about whether Hussein's regime was aiding Zarqawi.
He said the report contained new details of Zarqawi's prewar activities in Iraq, including the arrests in late 2002 or early 2003 of three of his ''associates'' by the regime.
''This was brought to Hussein's attention and he ordered one of them released,'' the official said, and provided no further details.
''What is indisputable is that Zarqawi was operating out of Baghdad and was involved in a lot of bad activities,'' he said, including ordering Foley's killing.
The report did not conclude that Hussein's regime had provided ''aid, comfort and succor'' to Zarqawi, said a senior administration official.
He added that there are now questions about earlier administration assertions that Zarqawi received treatment at a Baghdad hospital in May 2002.
''The evidence is that Saddam never gave Zarqawi anything,'' said another U.S. official.
A congressional official said that members of Congress had received an intelligence report in late August containing similar findings.
The officials who described the new assessment spoke on condition of anonymity because the matter is classified and because, as one put it, ''I don't want to get caught in the crossfire'' between the White House and the CIA.
CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield declined to comment on the subject or to confirm the existence of the new analysis.
The findings -- delivered to Cheney last week -- appear to again put the Bush administration and the CIA on a collision course over intelligence regarding Iraq.