I have seen the answer to that question [of the connection between Saddam and Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network] migrate in the intelligence community over a period of a year in the most amazing way. Second, there are differences in the intelligence community as to what the relationship was [..]. To my knowledge, I have not seen any strong, hard evidence that links the two. [..]
I just read an intelligence report recently about one person who's connected to al-Qaida who was in and out of Iraq. And it is the most tortured description of why he might have had a relationship and why he might not have had a relationship. It may have been something that was not representative of a hard linkage.
Rumsfeld said President Bush made the judgment that Saddam "ran a vicious regime that had used weapons of mass destruction on its own people, as well as its neighbors, and that it was important to set that right by removing that regime before they, in fact, did gather weapons of mass destruction, either themselves or transferring them to terrorist networks."
Before the war, U.S. officials spoke of Iraq's already possessing weapons of mass destruction, not a potential for gathering them.
"It turns out that we have not found weapons of mass destruction," Rumsfeld said.
Now even the GOP-led Senate Intelligence Committee concedes there's no credible evidence of pre-9/11 ties between Saddam and al Qaeda. When even Pat Roberts isn't carrying your water anymore, you know you're in trouble.
Senate Panel Releases Report on Iraq Intelligence
The disclosure undercuts continuing claims by the Bush administration that such ties existed, and that they provided evidence of links between Iraq and Al Qaeda. The Republican-controlled committee also sharply criticized the administration for its reliance on the Iraqi National Congress during the run-up to the war in Iraq.
The findings, in two new reports, are part of an ongoing inquiry by the Senate committee into pre-war intelligence about Iraq. The conclusions went beyond the committee's earlier findings, issued in the summer of 2004, by including criticism not just of American intelligence agencies but also the administration.
The reports did not address the politically divisive question of whether Bush administration had exaggerated or misused intelligence in its effort to win support for the invasion of Iraq. But they did serve to undercut the administration's assertions, made before the war and since, that ties between Mr. Zarqawi and Mr. Hussein's government provided evidence of a close relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda.
As recently as two weeks ago, President Bush said at a news conference that Mr. Hussein "had relations with Zarqawi.'' But a C.I.A. report completed in October 2005 concluded instead that Sadddam Hussein's regime "did not have a relationship, harbor, or even turn a blind eye toward Mr. Zarqawi and his associates," according to the new Senate findings.
The C.I.A. report also directly contradicted claims made in February 2003 by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who mentioned Mr. Zarqawi by name no fewer than 20 times during a speech to the United Nations Security Council that made the administration's case to go to war. In that speech, Mr. Powell said that Iraq "today harbors a deadly terrorist network'' headed by Mr. Zarqawi, and dismissed as "not credible'' assertions by the Iraqi government that it had no knowledge of Mr. Zarqawi's whereabouts.
In fact, the Senate investigation concluded that Mr. Hussein regarded Al Qaeda as a threat rather as a potential ally, and that the Iraqi intelligence service "actively attempted to locate and capture al-Zarqawi without success.''
WHAT WILL THE WEEKLY STANDARD SAY?:
As Mike notes, the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that Iraq had no pre-war ties to Al Qaeda. The question that immediately rises: how will The Weekly Standard explain this away?
After all, the Standard, and especially Connection author Steve Hayes, has worked tirelessly to convince you that the regime the Standard wanted to overthrow was in cahoots with the jihadis who attacked us on September 11. Unfortunately for our neocon colleagues, that dubious thesis has taken one beating after another-first the 9/11 Commission said it's not true, then a key source recanted his torture-induced story, et cetera. One redoubt for the magazine had been the Senate Intel Committee under GOP hack Pat Roberts, but now the vandals have apparently taken the handles. The Standard, if I'm not mistaken, goes to press today. What to do? In the spirit of professional camaraderie, here are a few suggestions:
The report actually says that Saddam and Osama were connected.
This is a tried-and-true option: Find some footnotes in the Senate report, or maybe in the GOP-penned annexes, that support the Hayesian thesis. Hey, there have to be some, right? So maybe the real Senate narrative lies in the outlier footnotes. How Feithian!
The report would have said that Saddam and Osama were connected, if not for those meddlesome Democrats and lily-livered Republicans.
Always a good fallback position. Find an earlier version of the report that went further out into Standard-land, and claim this one as the truth, uncorrupted by politics. Byron York recently helped out in this regard by claiming a certain GOP aide on the committee as insufficiently slavish to Bush, so maybe an earlier, more ideologically correct draft is out there. Happy hunting!
Point out that not everything that liberal critics predicted before the war panned out, either.
Yeah, why not? Some of us said that there were no Saddam-Al Qaeda ties, and others said there were. We were all wrong, right? What's more, some critics said there might not even be another Senate Iraq report. They look pretty stupid now, right? What right do they have to criticize the Standard?
Denounce the report furiously as hack work.
Damn you, Carl Levin! Is there nothing you won't corrupt! How dare you leave your greasy fingerprints all over the historical record? When will we have a real investigation into the Saddam-Osama connection?
Insist it's still an open question.
That'll be a mite rich coming from a magazine that published a story based on a laughable piece of Feith-analysis and titled it "Case Closed," but it might be the most mainstream-acceptable option available. In this sense, revisionists are like Iraqi insurgents: they don't need to disprove the truth, they need only to make you think that the truth and a lie are equal possibilities-they just need to stop the truth from winning, in other words.
Candidly admit error.
Never, ever do this.
--Spencer Ackerman; posted 5:07 p.m.