NB: Ed Epstein, distinguished author on intelligence issues, remarked on
the Wash Post article below, which first explains that a strong majority of
Americans believe that Iraq was involved in the 9/11 attacks, before
attempting to explain why all those people are slightly delusional.
Epstein noted that the artcile includes the paragraph:
"In late 2001, Vice President Cheney said it was 'pretty well confirmed'
that attack mastermind Mohamed Atta met with a senior Iraqi intelligence
official. Speaking on NBC's 'Meet the Press,' Cheney was referring to a
meeting that Czech officials said took place in Prague in April 2000. That
allegation was the most direct connection between Iraq and the Sept. 11
attacks. But this summer's congressional report on the attacks states, 'The
CIA has been unable to establish that [Atta] left the United States or
entered Europe in April under his true name or any known alias.'"
Epstein then observed, "But although that makes the Washington Post's point,
it is not what the CIA actually said. What CIA Director George Tenet
testified before the Joint Inquiry Into Terrorists Attacks was: 'Atta
allegedly traveled outside the U.S. in early April 2001 to meet with an
Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague; we are still working to confirm or
deny this allegation. It is possible that Atta traveled under an unknown
alias since we have been unable to establish that Atta left the U.S. or
entered Europe in April 2001 under his true name or any known aliases.'
"So the CIA said it could neither confirm or deny the Czech intelligence.
The Washington Post, citing a misleading summary to make its point and
ignoring the testimony itself, again demonstrates the true art of
journalism: Finding news that fits the story"
The Washington Post
Hussein Link to 9/11 Lingers in Many Minds
By Dana Milbank and Claudia Deane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, September 6, 2003
Nearing the second anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks,
seven in 10 Americans continue to believe that Iraq's Saddam Hussein had a
role in the attacks, even though the Bush administration and congressional
investigators say they have no evidence of this.
Sixty-nine percent of Americans said they thought it at least likely that
Hussein was involved in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the
Pentagon, according to the latest Washington Post poll. That impression,
which exists despite the fact that the hijackers were mostly Saudi nationals
acting for al Qaeda, is broadly shared by Democrats, Republicans and
The main reason for the endurance of the apparently groundless belief,
experts in public opinion say, is a deep and enduring distrust of Hussein
that makes him a likely suspect in anything related to Middle East violence.
"It's very easy to picture Saddam as a demon," said John Mueller, a
political scientist at Ohio State University and an expert on public opinion
and war. "You get a general fuzz going around: People know they don't like
al Qaeda, they are horrified by September 11th, they know this guy is a bad
guy, and it's not hard to put those things together."
Although that belief came without prompting from Washington, Democrats and
some independent experts say Bush exploited the apparent misconception by
implying a link between Hussein and the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the
months before the war with Iraq. "The notion was reinforced by these hints,
the discussions that they had about possible links with al Qaeda
terrorists," said Andrew Kohut, a pollster who leads the nonpartisan Pew
Research Center for the People and the Press.
The poll's findings are significant because they help to explain why the
public continues to support operations in Iraq despite the setbacks and
bloodshed there. Americans have more tolerance for war when it is provoked
by an attack, particularly one by an all-purpose villain such as Hussein.
"That's why attitudes about the decision to go to war are holding up," Kohut
Bush's opponents say he encouraged this misconception by linking al Qaeda to
Hussein in almost every speech on Iraq. Indeed, administration officials
began to hint about a Sept. 11-Hussein link soon after the attacks. In late
2001, Vice President Cheney said it was "pretty well confirmed" that attack
mastermind Mohamed Atta met with a senior Iraqi intelligence official.
Speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press," Cheney was referring to a meeting that
Czech officials said took place in Prague in April 2000. That allegation was
the most direct connection between Iraq and the Sept. 11 attacks. But this
summer's congressional report on the attacks states, "The CIA has been
unable to establish that [Atta] left the United States or entered Europe in
April under his true name or any known alias."
Bush, in his speeches, did not say directly that Hussein was culpable in the
Sept. 11 attacks. But he frequently juxtaposed Iraq and al Qaeda in ways
that hinted at a link. In a March speech about Iraq's "weapons of terror,"
Bush said: "If the world fails to confront the threat posed by the Iraqi
regime, refusing to use force, even as a last resort, free nations would
assume immense and unacceptable risks. The attacks of September the 11th,
2001, showed what the enemies of America did with four airplanes. We will
not wait to see what terrorists or terrorist states could do with weapons of
Then, in declaring the end of major combat in Iraq on May 1, Bush linked
Iraq and the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks: "The battle of Iraq is one victory in
a war on terror that began on September the 11, 2001 -- and still goes on.
That terrible morning, 19 evil men -- the shock troops of a hateful
ideology -- gave America and the civilized world a glimpse of their
Moments later, Bush added: "The liberation of Iraq is a crucial advance in
the campaign against terror. We've removed an ally of al Qaeda, and cut off
a source of terrorist funding. And this much is certain: No terrorist
network will gain weapons of mass destruction from the Iraqi regime, because
the regime is no more. In these 19 months that changed the world, our
actions have been focused and deliberate and proportionate to the offense.
We have not forgotten the victims of September the 11th -- the last phone
calls, the cold murder of children, the searches in the rubble. With those
attacks, the terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United
States. And war is what they got."
A number of nongovernment officials close to the Bush administration have
made the link more directly. Richard N. Perle, who until recently was
chairman of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, long argued that there was
Iraqi involvement, calling the evidence "overwhelming."
Some Democrats said that although Bush did not make the direct link to the
2001 attacks, his implications helped to turn the public fury over Sept. 11
into support for war against Iraq. "You couldn't distinguish between al
Qaeda and Saddam Hussein," said Democratic tactician Donna Brazile. "Every
member of the administration did the drumbeat. My mother said if you repeat
a lie long enough, it becomes a gospel truth. This one became a gospel hit."
In a speech Aug. 7, former vice president Al Gore cited Hussein's
culpability in the attacks as one of the "false impressions" given by a Bush
administration making a "systematic effort to manipulate facts in service to
a totalistic ideology."
Bush's defenders say the administration's rhetoric was not responsible for
the public perception of Hussein's involvement in the Sept. 11, 2001,
attacks. While Hussein and al Qaeda come from different strains of Islam and
Hussein's secularism is incompatible with al Qaeda fundamentalism, Americans
instinctively lump both foes together as Middle Eastern enemies. "The
intellectual argument is there is a war in Iraq and a war on terrorism and
you have to separate them, but the public doesn't do that," said Matthew
Dowd, a Bush campaign strategist. "They see Middle Eastern terrorism, bad
people in the Middle East, all as one big problem."
A number of public-opinion experts agreed that the public automatically
blamed Iraq, just as they would have blamed Libya if a similar attack had
occurred in the 1980s. There is good evidence for this: On Sept. 13, 2001, a
Time/CNN poll found that 78 percent suspected Hussein's involvement -- even
though the administration had not made a connection. The belief remained
consistent even as evidence to the contrary emerged.
"You can say Bush should be faulted for not correcting every single
misapprehension, but that's something different than saying they set out
deliberately to deceive," said Duke University political scientist Peter D.
Feaver. "Since the facts are all over the place, Americans revert to a
judgment: Hussein is a bad guy who would do stuff to us if he could."
Key administration figures have largely abandoned any claim that Iraq was
involved in the 2001 attacks. "I'm not sure even now that I would say Iraq
had something to do with it," Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, a
leading hawk on Iraq, said on the Laura Ingraham radio show on Aug. 1.
A top White House official told The Washington Post on July 31: "I don't
believe that the evidence was there to suggest that Iraq had played a direct
role in 9/11." The official added: "Anything is possible, but we hadn't
ruled it in or ruled it out. There wasn't evidence to substantiate that
But the public continues to embrace the connection.
In follow-up interviews, poll respondents were generally unsure why they
believed Hussein was behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, often describing it
as an instinct that came from news reports and their long-standing views of
Hussein. For example, Peter Bankers, 59, a New York film publicist, figures
his belief that Hussein was behind the attacks "has probably been fed to me
in some PR way," but he doesn't know how. "I think that the whole group of
people, those with anti-American feelings, they all kind of cooperated with
each other," he said.
Similarly, Kim Morrison, 32, a teacher from Plymouth, Ind., described her
belief in Hussein's guilt as a "gut feeling" shaped by television. "From
what we've heard from the media, it seems like what they feel is that Saddam
and the whole al Qaeda thing are connected," she said.
Deborah Tannen, a Georgetown University professor of linguistics who has
studied Bush's rhetoric, said it is impossible to know but "plausible" that
Bush's words furthered such public impressions. "Clearly, he's using
language to imply a connection between Saddam Hussein and September 11th,"
"There is a specific manipulation of language here to imply a connection."
Bush, she said, seems to imply that in Iraq "we have gone to war with the
terrorists who attacked us."
Tannen said even a gentle implication would be enough to reinforce
Americans' feelings about Hussein. "If we like the conclusion, we're much
less critical of the logic," she said.
The Post poll, conducted Aug. 7-11, found that 62 percent of Democrats, 80
percent of Republicans and 67 percent of independents suspected a link
between Hussein and 9/11. In addition, eight in 10 Americans said it was
likely that Hussein had provided assistance to al Qaeda, and a similar
proportion suspected he had developed weapons of mass destruction.