"The extensive investigation by the bipartisan commission formed to study the 9-11 attacks has just reported that there was no meaningful relation between Iraq and Al Qaeda of any kind," said Al Gore in his latest furious denunciation of George W. Bush. (Perhaps someone should ask George McGovern, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis and Bob Dole, losing nominees who never made such furious denunciations of the presidents who beat them, to do an intervention on Gore.)
Gore was just parroting the line of The New York Times, which a week before ran the headline "Panel finds no Iraq-Al Qaeda tie" over a story on the 9-11 Commission staff report that quoted the sentence, "They do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship."
But Gore and the Times were dead wrong. The commission's key sentence was, "We have no credible evidence that Iraq and Al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States." The staff report listed a number of contacts between Al Qaeda and Iraq, and there were others, as well, documented in Stephen Hayes's new book "The Connection."
Lee Hamilton, the former Democratic congressman who is the commission's vice chairman, said: "The vice president is saying, I think, that there were connections between Al Qaeda and the Saddam Hussein government. We don't disagree with that. What we have said is what the governor (Commission Chairman Thomas Kean) just said, we don't have any evidence of a cooperative, or a corroborative, relationship between Saddam Hussein's government and these Al Qaeda operatives with regard to the attacks on the United States."
Not a hard story to get right, but the Times and many other media outlets got it wrong. Bush and Cheney have in fact been careful not to claim that Iraq and Al Qaeda collaborated on 9-11. Yet Democrats and many in the media claim they have. Their argument -- I heard it recently from Clinton National Security Council staffer Nancy Soderberg -- is that by mentioning Iraq-Al Qaeda ties many times, Bush and Cheney are trying to fool the public into believing that they collaborated on 9-11. So while they don't claim collaboration on 9-11, they do. Words evidently mean the opposite of what they mean. George Orwell's Winston Smith would feel at home.
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