ONE DAY after the Sept. 11 Commission said that there was "no collaborative relationship" between Iraq and Al Qaeda, Vice President Cheney reasserted on CNBC, "There clearly was a relationship. It's been testified to. The evidence is overwhelming."
CNBC's Gloria Borger asked Cheney, "Do you know some things that the commission does not know?"
Cheney said, "Probably . . . There are reams of material here. Your show isn't long enough for me to read all the pieces of it."
The Dick Cheney Show isn't long enough for how many times he has claimed to possess overwhelming reams of material, yet has not read one piece of it on the air. By saying he "probably" knows things the commission does not yet know, Cheney makes a mockery of the morning in April that the commission interviewed him and President Bush at the Oval Office.
Credibility that day was already strained because no oaths were taken and Bush and Cheney allowed no tape recording for posterity. The session lasted three hours. Afterwards, Bush talked as if it were less a grilling than a kaffee klatsch. "I'm glad I did it," Bush said. "I'm glad I took the time . . . I enjoyed it."
You would enjoy it too if you knew that the majority of your words could never be parsed for contradictions and lies. The commission, desperate for whatever face time it could get, issued a statement saying that Bush and Cheney were "forthcoming and candid" in the "extraordinary" meeting. Commissioner Jim Thompson, the former Republican governor of Illinois, said, "The president put everybody at ease. There were no tense moments."
Richard Ben-Veniste, a former Watergate prosecutor and previously one of the more feisty Democratic members of the commission, said Bush "answered all of our questions. I don't think we have the need to ask any further questions of the president." Everyone was so at ease that two Democratic members of the commission split an hour early: vice chairman and former US Representative Lee Hamilton of Indiana and former Senator Bob Kerrey of Nebraska.
Commission chairman Thomas Kean, the former Republican governor of New Jersey, capped the klatsch by saying that if the session had been made public, Americans "would've had a lot more confidence in our government."
Kean may be a Republican, but partisanship does not extend to being made to look like a fool. Reminded on the Sunday talk shows about Cheney's claim that he "probably" had more information, Kean said, "We need it, and we need it pretty fast." Kean said that Al Qaeda had far more active contacts with Iran and Pakistan than with Iraq.
In what can only be described as an attempt to help Cheney save face, one of the other Republican members of the commission, former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman, said Sunday that Cheney was "right." Lehman said new information that "still has to be confirmed" had indeed come in on Iraq and Al Qaeda ties.
But by Monday, US officials said there was yet no evidence for Lehman's claim.
The other problem with Lehman's claim is that Cheney has boasted for months that he had all the information we needed. Last fall Cheney said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that a successful invasion and occupation of Iraq "will have struck a major blow right at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographical base of the terrorists who had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11."
In an interview with National Public Radio last January, Cheney said, "There's overwhelming evidence that there was a connection between Al Qaeda and the Iraqi government . . . I'm very confident that there was an established relationship there."
Yet over a year after the NBC interview, five months after the NPR interview, and nearly two months after the Oval Office kaffee klatsch, the 9/11 commission said the opposite.
It said the opposite despite its access to classified documents. It said the opposite despite nearly two years of statements by White House officials that built upon Bush's November 2002 declaration that former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein "is dealing with Al Qaeda."
Besides Cheney and Bush, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice flooded the talk shows and spiced up major policy speeches with claims of possessing "reams of information." Sometimes, the administration talked in the past tense that Hussein "had" ties. But they spoke often enough in the present tense after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that nearly 70 percent of Americans thought Iraq had a direct hand in 9/11.
A month before the Iraq invasion, Powell said to the United Nations Security Council, "What I want to bring to your attention today is the potentially much more sinister nexus between Iraq and the Al Qaeda terrorist network." The 9/11 Commission, despite losing to history the verbatim testimony of Bush and Cheney, still did America a major service. It brought to our attention the sinister nexus between Bush, Cheney, and their network of statements that terrorized Americans into a gruesome war.
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.