Nearly lost in the runup to the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Sept. 8 finally reported that US intelligence analysts were disputing alleged links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda while Bush administration officials were claiming those links justified invading Iraq.
A 400-page report made it out of the intel committee despite the opposition of Republican leaders who blocked the report from appearing before the 2004 election -- and continue to block even more damaging revelations of what the administration knew before the Iraq invasion.
George W. Bush and Dick Cheney repeatedly claimed that there was linkage between Saddam and Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of an al Qaeda offshoot in Iraq, who was killed by US forces this past summer. Indeed, Bush said in October 2004 that "Zarqawi's the best evidence of a connection to al-Qaeda affiliates and al-Qaeda." But a CIA assessment in October 2005 concluded that Hussein's government "did not have a relationship, harbor, or turn a blind eye toward Zarqawi and his associates," according to the report. The president continued to invoke Zarqawi's name in suggesting a Saddam-9/11 linkage in March 2006 -- that is, six months after the CIA had concluded that Zarqawi had no relationship with Saddam.
As recently as Aug. 21, the Washington Post noted, Bush was still suggesting a link between Hussein and Zarqawi.
On the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Bush continued to insist that Iraq was the key to winning the war against terrorists. "Whatever mistakes have been made in Iraq," he said in a nationally televised speech in an intermission of ABC's Path to Power infomercial, "the worst mistake would be to think that if we pulled out, the terrorists would leave us alone."
However, Cheney said the previous day on Meet the Press that not only was the Iraq invasion the right thing to do, "if we had it to do over again, we'd do exactly the same thing."
Sen. John Rockefeller, ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said the investigation revealed that the Bush administration's case for war in Iraq was "fundamentally misleading." He added, "The administration pursued a deceptive strategy of using intelligence reporting that the intelligence community had already warned was uncorroborated, unreliable, and in critical instances, fabricated."
Senate Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) is still blocking the release of a companion report that compares administration statements in the run-up to the US invasion of Iraq with the intelligence then available.
The published report also said exiles from the Iraqi National Congress (INC) tried to influence US policy by providing, through defectors, false information on Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons capabilities. Despite warnings by skeptical analysts that the group had been penetrated by hostile intelligence services, including Iran's, the White House in 2002 ordered that US funding for the INC be continued.
Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, one of two Republican senators (with Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska) who signed off on the report, noted that information provided by an INC source was cited in Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's February 2003 speech to the United Nations as corroborating evidence about Iraq's mobile biological weapons program. Those citations came despite two April 2002 CIA assessments, a May 2002 Defense Intelligence Agency fabrication notice and a July 2002 National Intelligence Council warning -- all saying the INC source may have been coached by the exile group into fabricating the information, the Post noted.
White House spokesman Tony Snow dismissed the Senate committee's findings as old news.
But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who as national security adviser in 2003 also hyped the Iraq threat, couldn't let go of a good lie as she brushed aside the official reports that there was no evidence Saddam's regime was helping al Qaeda obtain arms. "There were ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda," she insisted on Fox News Sunday, Sept. 10.
ABC should be ashamed of its $40 million mockumentary, Path to 9/11 -- but stockholders and customers should demand accountability from The Walt Disney Co., which owns ABC.
The movie, written and produced by conservatives and aired without advertising, amounted to an infomercial for George W. Bush and the Republican Party just eight weeks before the mid-term elections. It blamed the rise of al Qaeda on the Clinton administration; it minimized the Bush administration's inattention to the al-Qaeda threat and it generally suggested that due process of law was a nuisance that stopped the FBI and CIA from nailing the bad guys.
It's hard to tell how much of the two-part movie was invented by the scriptwriter, who was personally endorsed by Rush Limbaugh, but it is certain that CIA and anti-Taliban Northern Alliance fighters never had bin Laden encircled in an Afghan town, as the film depicted, only to have the Clinton administration dither over whether to capture or kill him.
In another scene, Clinton's Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is depicted as tipping off bin Laden about a missile attack by notifying Pakistan in advance. In fact, the Pentagon notified Pakistan because unidentified missiles flying over Pakistani territory might have sparked a nuclear exchange with India. It's unknown if Pakistani sources tipped off bin Laden or if he just got lucky and left before the missiles arrived.
Former Clinton aides blasted the revisionist history as "disgraceful." Albright and Sandy Berger, Clinton's national security adviser, say the film put words in their mouths that they never said and had them doing things they never did.
Richard Clarke, a senior counterterrorism official in the Bush and Clinton administrations and an ABC News consultant, also criticized Path as "an egregious distortion." He suggested there was a bias against the Clinton administration. "Although I am not one to easily believe in conspiracy theories and have spent a great deal of time debunking them, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the errors in this screen play are more than the result of dramatization and time compression. There is throughout the screenplay a consistent bias and distortion seeking to portray senior Clinton administration officials as holding back the hard charging CIA, FBI, and military officers who would otherwise have prevented 9/11. The exact opposite is true."
Tom Kean Sr., Republican former co-chairman of the 9/11 Commission, was a consultant to the movie and defended the fictional elements. Former 9/11 Commissioner John Lehman (R) also defended it. "If you don't like the hits to the Clinton administration, well, welcome to the club," Lehman told ABC. Defamatory material is acceptable, he said, because conservatives "have lived with Michael Moore" and "most of Hollywood."
Disney is a very conservative corporation. Remember that one of the first things Disney did after buying ABC in 1995 was to cancel the radio talk show of progressive populist Jim Hightower, who had criticized the media merger.
Also remember that Disney tried to block distribution of Moore's documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11, for political reasons in 2004. Producers Bob and Harvey Weinstein had to buy the film back from Disney and get their own distribution deal. Despite conservative complaints, Moore backed up the facts in his documentary (see "Facts in Mike's Films" at michaelmoore.com).
Disney can do this because corporations are not required to have consciences. But the rest of us are not required to patronize Disney products or ABC programming. And a Democratic Congress should make restoration of the Fairness Doctrine one of its priorities. -- JMC
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