Orrin Hatch, Saddam Hussein and the art of taking it all back

The Utah Republican steps back, not so gracefully, from a claim that the Iraqi leader provided support to al-Qaida.

Published February 22, 2006 8:38PM (EST)

When we saw the other day that Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch was talking up linkage between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida, we didn't think much about it: Members of the president's party trot out the story now and again, and there wasn't much new in Hatch's telling of it.

But now Hatch is trying to backtrack, and -- as Daily Kos notes -- his attempt is so pathetic that it's worth a moment in the sun.

During an appearance in Cedar City, Utah, Saturday, Hatch defended the war in Iraq by saying that it could lead to the spread of democracy in the Middle East. "And, more importantly," he said, "we've stopped a mass murderer in Saddam Hussein. Nobody denies that he was supporting al-Qaida. Well, I shouldn't say 'nobody' -- nobody with brains."

Confronted with the fact that plenty of people "with brains" -- including, for example, the members of the 9/11 Commission -- have said that there's no evidence that Saddam Hussein was supporting al-Qaida, Hatch now says that isn't what he meant to suggest at all.

"Saddam clearly had a long history of supporting terrorists, but I was not talking about any formal link between Saddam and al-Qaida before the war," Hatch says in a statement excerpted by the Salt Lake Tribune. "Instead, I pointed out that the current insurgency in Iraq includes al-Qaida, under the leadership of al-Zarqawi, along with former elements of Saddam's regime."

In other words, Hatch says that when he said that Saddam Hussein "was supporting al-Qaida," what he really meant was that al-Qaida is active in Iraq now that Saddam Hussein is out of power. Which is a defense of the decision to go to war there . . . how?

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

MORE FROM Tim Grieve

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Al-qaida Iraq War War Room