Tuesday's must-reads

Published July 13, 2004 1:44PM (EDT)

Bush insists on Iraq al-Qaida relationship
Undeterred by reports from the Senate Intelligence Committee and 9/11 commission that conclude otherwise, George W. Bush went on the road yesterday and repeated his contention that Iraq and al-Qaida had an operational relationship that warranted the Iraq war, Knight-Ridder reports.

"'Although we have not found stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, we were right to go into Iraq,' the president said. 'We removed a declared enemy of America, who had the capability of producing weapons of mass murder, and could have passed that capability to terrorists bent on acquiring them.' He added: 'In the world after September 11th, that was a risk we could not afford to take.'"

"White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said Bush was speaking broadly about 'the nexus between terrorists and outlaw regimes.' Asked if the president was speaking about a Saddam-al-Qaida connection, McClellan said, 'We know there were ties between Iraq and terrorists, including al-Qaida.' McClellan noted that Abu Musab al Zarqawi, a Palestinian from Jordan held responsible for numerous terrorist attacks in Iraq and who ran an al-Qaida camp in Afghanistan, was a 'senior al-Qaida' member who was in Iraq."

"But U.S. intelligence officials consider Zarqawi an associate of the terrorist network, not a member sworn to obey Osama bin Laden. Zarqawi, they think, is an independent operator who has an agenda similar to bin Laden's and cooperates with al-Qaida when it's convenient. He and some followers found sanctuary in an enclave in northern Iraq run by armed Kurdish Islamic extremists that was outside Saddam's control."

"In 2002, Zarqawi reportedly received medical treatment in Baghdad and set up cells in the city, leading Bush administration officials to view his presence there as proof that Saddam was collaborating with al-Qaida. U.S. intelligence officials think it just as likely that Iraqi officials, who were hostile to Islamic extremists, gave him medical care and refuge because it was easier to monitor his activities in Baghdad than in northern Iraq."

Ad war surprise: Kerry advantage
George W. Bush has raised more money than any presidential candidate in history, but John Kerry and his allies have defied expectations by spending three times more than the Republicans on paid advertising in the last month, the Los Angeles Times reports.

" .. When independent groups supporting Kerry -- such as MoveOn.org, the AFL-CIO and the Media Fund -- are included, the total television spending for the Democratic side exceeds the total spending for Bush by nearly 60 percent. The figures underscore the extent to which Democrats have defied predictions and blunted the financial advantage that Bush had four months ago, when Kerry effectively clinched his party's presidential nomination. At that point, the Massachusetts senator was short on money while Bush had more than $100 million."

" ... In the next several weeks, the Democratic advantage may increase and then shrink, at least somewhat. That is because the Bush campaign appears to have decided to husband its resources for a major advertising blitz after the four-day Democratic convention, which starts July 26 in Boston ... Yet even if Bush outspends Kerry in August, it appears likely the bottom line for such expenditures will be tilted much more toward the Democrats than appeared possible when the general election campaign effectively began in early March."

Red Cross fears U.S. hiding detainees
The Geneva Conventions require the United States to give the Red Cross access to prisoners of war and other detainees, but the ICRC "said Tuesday that it fears U.S. officials are holding terror suspects secretly in locations across the world," the AP reports.

"'We have access to people detained by the United States in Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan and Iraq, but in our understanding there are people that are detained outside these places for which we haven't received notification or access,' said Antonella Notari, a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross. The United States says it is cooperating with the organization and has allowed Red Cross delegates access to thousands of prisoners, including former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein."

"But Notari told The Associated Press that some suspects reported as arrested by the FBI on its Web site, or identified in media reports, are unaccounted for. 'Some of these people who have been reported to be arrested never showed up in any of the places of detention run by the U.S. where we visit,' Notari said."

Will gay marriage swing the vote?
Republican strategists hope that movements against gay marriage in swing states will motivate socially conservative voters to go to the polls in November and boost Bush's chances for reelection, the Los Angeles Times reports.

"In the last month, activists in four states -- Arkansas, Michigan, Montana and Oregon -- have gathered enough petition signatures to force a vote in November on marriage amendments to their state constitutions. Five other states had already put the issue on their November ballots; two more will vote on amendments before then. Other states may yet take up the topic. Those state petition drives are welcome successes for conservatives, who say they have found it surprisingly difficult to light a fire at the federal level for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage."

"Conservatives seized the issue because they view same-sex marriage as an affront to the sanctity of a fundamental social institution  and as a political issue that could be as potent an organizing tool as the fight against abortion has been. Although public opinion polls show that a majority of Americans oppose legal recognition of same-sex marriage, there is less support for amending the Constitution to ban it. What is more, polls show that only a minority of voters consider the issue a top priority."

Da candidate?
Illinois Republicans, dealt a setback by the withdrawal of their candidate Jack Ryan from the U.S. Senate race amid scandal, are toying with putting former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka up against Democratic rising star Barack Obama, the Chicago Tribune reports. Ditka told an interviewer he would "be a better senator then Ted Kennedy ... I didn't have any experience of head coaching when I took over the Bears, either, so that's bull."

"The dearth of well-known names interested in replacing Ryan resulted in a draft Ditka for Senate movement. It was an offshoot of what had been a publicity-seeking effort by Illinois House Republican leader Tom Cross' staff to tap Ditka to replace state Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka as leader of the state GOP when she steps down after the Nov. 2 election."

"The movement was fueled by electronic media speculation over how Ditka, once the subject of a series of skits featuring Chicago 'Super Fans' touting his prowess against imagined rivals on 'Saturday Night Live' would fare against the Democratic nominee, state Sen. Barack Obama of Chicago. But talk of a Ditka candidacy also has been viewed by some Republicans as a reflection of desperation for a once-proud political organization that has seen its credibility damaged by scandal and infighting."

"On Monday, the former Bears coach called Topinka to say that he was interested in discussing the Ryan vacancy--though he also noted that he had several commitments for the fall that could prevent a candidacy. Perhaps the biggest obstacle would be a new TV sports gig for the upcoming football season serving as an analyst for ESPN on SportsCenter, NFL Live and Monday Quarterback. As a candidate for federal office, he would have to give that up as well as any lucrative endorsements that would require television or radio advertising. '[Ditka] said, 'This is something I've always wanted to do,' said one party source familiar with his conversation with Topinka. 'He said he thought he could do a good job at it.'"

By Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

MORE FROM Geraldine Sealey

By Stephen W. Stromberg

Stephen W. Stromberg is a former editorial fellow at Salon.

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