- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 24, 2004

Former Vice President Al Gore yesterday cited a September 11 commission report as proof that President Bush is telling “an artful and important lie” about a connection between Iraq and al Qaeda, despite the commission’s top officials having since disavowed the report.

“The extensive independent investigation by the bipartisan commission formed to study the September 11 attacks has just reported that there was no meaningful relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda of any kind,” Mr. Gore told about 200 students at the Georgetown University Law Center.

“If Iraq had nothing to do with the attack or the organization that attacked us, then that means the president took us to war when he didn’t have to,” he said.

Mr. Gore was referring to a June 16 interim statement compiled by the commission’s staff.

In the 12-page document, the staff confirmed several contacts between Iraqi intelligence and al Qaeda members, including a meeting between a senior Iraqi intelligence official and al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in 1994. But one paragraph said there had been “no collaborative relationship” between Iraq and al Qaeda.

In the following days, the panel’s chairman, Republican Thomas H. Kean, and vice chairman, Democrat Lee Hamilton, distanced themselves from the report’s assertions after objections from Vice President Dick Cheney, who has long charged that Iraq and the terrorist organization have ties.

“Were there contacts between al Qaeda and Iraq?” Mr. Kean said last week. “Yes … no question.”

“The vice president is saying, I think, that there were connections… we don’t disagree with that,” Mr. Hamilton said.

Yet, Mr. Gore said the president and Mr. Cheney have orchestrated a plot to deceive Americans about what he said is proof that there has never been a connection between Saddam Hussein and the terrorist group.

“Beginning very soon after the attacks of 9/11, President Bush made a decision to start mentioning Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein in the same breath in a cynical mantra designed to fuse them together as one in the public’s mind,” he said. “Indeed, Bush’s consistent and careful artifice is itself evidence that he knew full well that he was telling an artful and important lie — visibly circumnavigating the truth over and over again as if he had practiced how to avoid encountering the truth.”

Mr. Gore, who lost to Mr. Bush in the 2000 election and endorsed Democrat Howard Dean for president before joining forces with Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, said the administration’s stubborn adherence to a connection that now has been proven never to have existed means that “President Bush is now intentionally misleading the American people by continuing to aggressively and brazenly assert a linkage between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.”

Mr. Kerry jumped on the commission statement, saying: “The administration misled America, the administration reached too far, they did not tell the truth to Americans about what was happening or their own intentions.”

Although Mr. Bush has sought to tie Saddam to al Qaeda, “this administration never said that the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated between Saddam and al Qaeda,” the president said after a meeting with his Cabinet last week.

Mr. Hamilton agreed, saying: “I’ve looked at these statements quite carefully from the administration — they are not claiming that there was a collaborative relationship between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda with regard to the attacks on the United States.”

But in his hourlong speech, read from a TelePrompTer and interrupted by laughter and applause from the crowd, Mr. Gore insisted that Mr. Bush’s and Mr. Cheney’s effort to connect Saddam to al Qaeda “makes them unfit” for re-election.

“If they believe these flimsy scraps, then who would want them in charge? Are they too dishonest or too gullible? Take your pick,” he said to laughter from the students.

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