Two weeks ago, we noted that Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank had misquoted statements made by Vice President Dick Cheney in an interview Cheney had done on Meet the Press the day before. Milbank’s distortion of Cheney’s words was so grotesque–he Dowdified them to precisely reverse the meaning of Cheney’s statement–that the Post was forced to run a correction.
Now the Post is at it again, as reporters Dana Priest and Glenn Kessler misquote the same Cheney interview in today’s newspaper. Their story is headlined “Iraq, 9/11 Still Linked By Cheney”. It begins:
“In making the case for war against Iraq, Vice President Cheney has continued to suggest that an Iraqi intelligence agent met with a Sept. 11, 2001, hijacker five months before the attacks, even as the story was falling apart under scrutiny by the FBI, CIA and the foreign government that first made the allegation.” A nice neutral beginning.
Here is what Cheney actually said about the possible meeting between Mohammed Atta and Iraqi agent Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani in Prague in April 2001:
“With respect to 9/11, of course you’ve had the story that’s been publicly 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.”
Cheney did note that there is much evidence of connections between Saddam’s regime and terrorist groups:
“We learn more and more that there was a relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda that stretched back through most of the decade of the ’90s. That it involved training, for example, on BW and CW, that Al Qaeda sent personnel to Baghdad to get trained on the systems. It involved the Iraqis providing bomb-making expertise and advice to the Al Qaeda organization.
“We know, for example, in connection with the original World Trade Center bombing of ’93, that one of the bombers was Iraqi, returned to Iraq after the attack of ’93. And we’ve 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 of ’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.”
But the Post ignores those observations, focusing only on the alleged lack of any evidence of an Iraqi connection to 9/11. This is where the Post misquotes Cheney:
“Cheney described Iraq as ‘the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault for many years, but most especially on 9/11.’ Neither the CIA nor the congressional joint inquiry that investigated the assault on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon found any evidence linking Iraq to the hijackers or the attacks.”
Here is what Cheney really said in the interview:
“If we’re successful in Iraq, if we can stand up a good representative government in Iraq that secures the region so that it never again becomes a threat to its neighbors or to the United States, so it’s not pursuing weapons of mass destruction, so that it’s not a safe haven for terrorists, then we will have struck a major blow right at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists who had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11.”
Cheney’s point, obviously, is that a free Iraq would be strategically placed in the heart of the “region” that is the “geographic base of the terrorists,” i.e., the Middle East. The Post’s twisting of Cheney’s statement to make it sound as if he said that Iraq was the geographic base of the 9/11 hijackers–which neither Cheney nor any other administration official has ever claimed–can only be a deliberate misrepresentation.
Why is the Post going to such lengths to misquote Cheney repeatedly? Two things are going on here. First, the Post article appears to be based in large part on leaks from Colin Powell’s staff. A joint effort of Post reporters and Powell staffers to discredit a more hawkish member of the administration is a natural combination.
But there is something more important going on as well. The Democrats believe that the failure to find Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, together with ongoing American casualties, give them an unforeseen opportunity to retake the White House and perhaps capture one or both houses of Congress in 2004. They intend to run against the Iraq war, which they will paint as 1) unnecessary and 2) a failure.
To convince voters that the war was unnecessary, however, the Democrats need to make people believe it is indisputable that Iraq had no WMDs and that there was no connection between Saddam and the 9/11 hijackers. Uncertainty isn’t enough. If it is uncertain whether a hostile regime possesses weapons of mass destruction and is actively collaborating with terrorists, then it is prudent to change that regime. Hence the hysterical shrillness with which the Post, the New York Times and other Democratic newspapers insist that Iraq’s mobile labs were intended only to blow up weather balloons, and that Iraq never tried to buy uranium in Africa. And hence the effort to portray Cheney as a lone, out of step voice pushing the discredited claim that Atta met with the Iraqi agent as the only possible evidence of Iraq’s connection to terrorism.
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