George W. Bush, meet Richard B. Cheney

The president says nobody "ever suggested" that Saddam Hussein ordered the attacks of 9/11.

Published August 21, 2006 5:02PM (EDT)

In a moment of candor in this morning's presidential press conference, George W. Bush acknowledged that Saddam Hussein had neither weapons of mass destruction nor anything at all to do with the attacks of 9/11.

The truth telling didn't last long.

After acknowledging that Saddam had no hand in 9/11, Bush tried to argue that his administration had never claimed as much. "Nobody has ever suggested that the attacks of September the 11th were ordered by Iraq," he said.

Of course, the White House has spent the better part of the last three years suggesting -- if not exactly saying -- exactly that. Bush has usually done it through a sort of guilt-by-association game: Stick "9/11" and "Iraq" in the same sentence often enough, and pretty soon people start believing that one has something to do with the other.

Dick Cheney hasn't been so subtle. In an interview wth National Public Radio in January 2004, the vice president said there was "overwhelming evidence" that Saddam Hussein had a relationship with al-Qaida. In a "Meet the Press" interview in December 2001, Cheney said it had been "pretty well confirmed" that Mohammed Atta met with Iraqi intelligence officials before the attack. And in another "Meet the Press" appearance in September 2003, Cheney said it was at least an open question whether Saddam had played a role in plotting the 9/11 attacks.

During the "Meet the Press" interview, Tim Russert asked Cheney about polls showing that a majority of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was somehow involved in 9/11. The vice president said it was "not surprising" that so many people "make that connection."

Yes, Russert said, but is there a connection?

"We dont know," Cheney said. "You and I talked about this two years ago. I can remember you asking me this question just a few days after the original attack. At the time I said no, we didnt have any evidence of that. Subsequent to that, we've learned a couple of things," he said. "We learned more and more that there was a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaida that stretched back through most of the decade of the '90s, that it involved training, for example, on BW and CW, that al-Qaida sent personnel to Baghdad to get trained on the systems that are involved. The Iraqis providing bomb-making expertise and advice to the al-Qaida organization.

"We know, for example, in connection with the original World Trade Center bombing in '93 that one of the bombers was Iraqi, returned to Iraq after the attack of '93. And weve learned subsequent to that, since we went into Baghdad and got into the intelligence files, that this individual probably also received financing from the Iraqi government as well as safe haven.

"Now, is there a connection between the Iraqi government and the original World Trade Center bombing in '93? We know, as I say, that one of the perpetrators of that act did, in fact, receive support from the Iraqi government after the fact. With respect to 9/11, of course, we've had the story thats been public out there. The Czechs alleged that Mohammed Atta, the lead attacker, met in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official five months before the attack, but we've never been able to develop any more of that yet either in terms of confirming it or discrediting it. We just don't know."

By Tim Grieve

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

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Dick Cheney George W. Bush Iraq Middle East War Room