The media finally expose the myth of Iraq-Al Qaeda ties

The other day I overheard a couple guys complaining about how The New York Times was inadequately right-wing. They were particularly exercised about how The Times covered the staff reports issued by the independent commission Congress formed to examine the 9/11 attacks and the government response. The Times (and most other major newspapers) emphasized the commission finding that there was no "collaborative relationship" between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's Iraq, a direct contradiction of numerous administration statements about "longstanding ties" between the two. The Times article on the commission findings ran under the headline "Panel Finds No Qaeda-Iraq Tie".

In making the case for conquering Iraq, the Bush administration repeatedly highlighted these supposed ties, using careful wording that did not explicitly link Iraq to 9/11 but strongly implied Iraqi involvement. The media's uncritical relaying of these assertions accomplished exactly what the administration hoped: a majority of Americans came to believe that Saddam Hussein had taken a direct role in the 9/11 attacks. Popular support for the war in good measure came from this false belief. (Just prior to the publication of the commission's findings, 40 percent still believed it.)

Most experts doubted even the existence of the links the administration used to conflate Iraq and Al Qaeda, but the media always prefer official sources to independent experts. Perhaps because the 9/11 commission is itself an official source, and perhaps also because the media feel a bit guilty over having allowed themselves to be so crassly manipulated by the administration, they are now playing up the commission's finding that there were no operational ties between Hussein and Al Qaeda.

Dick Cheney has insisted that the media are confusing two issues: Iraqi involvement in the 9/11 attacks (which the administration never asserted) and other ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda (which he says the commission affirms). He argued that the commission "did not address the broader question of a relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda in other areas, in other ways."

But, as with so much else the vice president says, this is not true. The commission report states, "Bin Laden is said to have requested space to establish training camps, as well as assistance in procuring weapons, but Iraq apparently never responded....We have no credible evidence that Iraq and Al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States." The report said that despite evidence of several contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda in the '90s, "they do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship" (p. 5). The only "ties" that can be substantiated are a handful of meetings between Iraqi representatives and Al Qaeda agents, in which Al Qaeda appealed for help and Iraq declined.

The right-wingers I was eavesdropping on thought that the original Al Qaeda plan to hijack up to 10 planes and crash them into targets around the United States should have received more prominence. Is a plan that Al Qaeda considered but then rejected more important than extensive lies by our own government, which led us into war and conquest, killing hundreds of American soldiers and thousands of Iraqis? To ask is to answer.

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