Blitzer did not challenge Snow's false claim that Bush "never argued" that Saddam was involved in 9-11

››› ››› BEN ARMBRUSTER

On the May 1 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, host Wolf Blitzer did not challenge White House press secretary Tony Snow's claim that President Bush "never argued" that "somehow Saddam [Hussein] was involved in September 11th," nor his assertion that "[w]e've never made that argument." Blitzer also did not challenge Snow's suggestion that Al Qaeda had a "relationship" with Saddam and that the fact that "Abu Musab Al Zarqawi [was] on Iraqi soil" was evidence of such a connection. Yet as Media Matters for America has repeatedly noted (here here, here, and here), President Bush and other administration officials have frequently claimed a connection between Saddam and the September 11, 2001, attacks, including the specific assertion of such a link in a letter to Congress at the start of the war. Moreover, neither the 9-11 Commission, the Senate Intelligence Committee, nor, more recently, a report from the Inspector General of the Defense Department found any evidence that Saddam ever had an "operational relationship" or cooperated with either Al Qaeda or Zarqawi.

Media Matters for America noted that on April 30, Snow made a similar claim that went unchallenged by Good Morning America co-anchor Chris Cuomo. Snow asserted that "there's been no attempt to try to link Saddam Hussein to September 11."

During the interview on The Situation Room, Blitzer noted that former CIA director George Tenet said in his new book At the Center of the Storm (HarperCollins) that "there was never any real serious evidence that Saddam Hussein was an ally of Al Qaeda." Snow responded by suggesting that Zarqawi's presence on "Iraqi soil" demonstrated a relationship with the Iraqi government. Snow then claimed that neither Bush, nor his administration, ever linked Saddam to the attacks on September 11:

BLITZER: All right. In recent days, George Tenet in his new book says there was never any real serious evidence that Saddam Hussein was an ally of Al Qaeda, and now we all know they've never found any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, two basic points justifying the war that clearly did not materialize.

SNOW: Well, let's take a look at both of them. Number one, it's interesting, people have done a number of things to try to parse Al Qaeda and the relationship with Saddam Hussein. You did have Abu Musab al-Zarqawi on Iraqi soil. And apparently [Abu Ayyub] Al Masri, the man that everybody is trying to get right now as the head of Al Qaeda in Iraq, was there also, at least in 2002.

But having said that, one of the things the president never argued -- a lot of people have attributed to him -- is that somehow Saddam was involved in September 11th. He wasn't. We've never made that argument.

However, Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have frequently tried to link September 11 to Saddam's regime:

  • Bush linked Iraq to September 11 in a March 21, 2003, letter to the speaker of the House of Representatives and president pro tempore of the Senate, as Media Matters previously noted. In the letter, Bush stated that "the use of armed force against Iraq is consistent with the United States and other countries continuing to take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001."
  • In an October 7, 2002, speech, Bush stated:

BUSH: We know that Iraq and Al Qaeda have had high-level contacts that go back a decade. Some Al Qaeda leaders who fled Afghanistan went to Iraq. These include one very senior Al Qaeda leader who received medical treatment in Baghdad this year, and who has been associated with planning for chemical and biological attacks. We've learned that Iraq has trained Al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases. And we know that after September the 11th, Saddam Hussein's regime gleefully celebrated the terrorist attacks on America.

  • On the December 9, 2001, edition of NBC's Meet the Press, host Tim Russert asked Cheney if he "still believe[s] there is no evidence that Iraq was involved in September 11?" The vice president responded that it was "pretty well confirmed" that an Iraqi intelligence officer met with September 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta shortly before the attacks. On the September 14, 2003, edition of Meet the Press, Cheney repeated his claim that Iraq and 9-11 are linked, saying: "If we're successful in Iraq ... we will have struck a major blow right at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9-11."

Additionally, the 9-11 Commission found "no evidence" that contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda "developed into a collaborative operational relationship," and a September 8 Senate Intelligence Committee report concluded that Saddam's government "did not have a relationship, harbor or turn a blind eye toward Zarqawi and his associates." Also, on April 5, the inspector general of the Defense Department declassified a report that reviewed the pre-Iraq war intelligence gathering activities of the department's Office of Special Plans, run by then undersecretary of Defense for policy Douglas J. Feith. While the report states that the actions of Feith's office were "inappropriate," it also reports that "[t]he Intelligence Community discounted conclusions about the high degree of cooperation between Iraq and al-Qaida," adding that it is "noteworthy" that the post-war debriefs of Saddam Hussein and other former high ranking Iraqi government officials "as well as document exploitation by [the Defense Intelligence Agency] all confirmed that the Intelligence Community was correct: Iraq and al-Qaida did not cooperate in all categories" before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, as The Washington Post reported.

From the May 1 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

BLITZER: All right. In recent days, George Tenet, in his new book, says there was never any real serious evidence that Saddam Hussein was an ally of Al Qaeda, and now we all know they've never found any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, two basic points justifying the war that clearly did not materialize.

SNOW: Well, let's take a look at both of them. Number one, it's interesting, people have done a number of things to try to parse Al Qaeda and the relationship with Saddam Hussein. You did have Abu Musab al-Zarqawi on Iraqi soil. And apparently al-Masri, the man that everybody is trying to get right now as the head of Al Qaeda in Iraq, was there also, at least in 2002.

But having said that, one of the things the president never argued -- a lot of people have attributed to him -- is that somehow Saddam was involved in September 11th. He wasn't. We've never made that argument.

But let's face it. Saddam was part of the terror network. He was paying bounties to people who were killing Israelis. He was somebody who made it absolutely clear that he was going to try to do what he could to contribute to the terror network. That part remains unquestioned.

The second thing is, as far as weapons of mass destruction, one thing George Tenet does not argue is that intelligence at that time didn't show that there were weapons of mass destruction. Everybody agreed. Democrats went to the floor of the Senate and said, "There are weapons of mass destruction. We must not wait for the threat to be imminent. We must strike."

We had Democrats in the House of Representatives do it. We had members of both parties. So what's happening now is that people somehow are trying to attribute bad motives to an intelligence community, which worldwide had come to the conclusion that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. He didn't, and that's one of the reasons why we've reformed the intelligence community.

BLITZER: The State Department, in its annual report yesterday, said that terrorism worldwide is up 25 percent this year as opposed to the previous year. It looks like the situation is not going in the right direction.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, Intelligence, Terrorism
Network/Outlet
CNN
Person
Wolf Blitzer
Show/Publication
The Situation Room
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