Bush attempts to restore credibility after findings of 9/11 report

US: The Bush administration scrambled yesterday to recover from another serious blow to its credibility after the independent…

US: The Bush administration scrambled yesterday to recover from another serious blow to its credibility after the independent commission investigating the 9/11 attacks on America dismissed one of its central justifications for the war in Iraq.

Opponents of the administration and leading US newspapers accused Mr Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney of purposely deceiving the public by implicating Saddam Hussein in the attacks on New York and Washington.

The bi-partisan commission found on Wednesday that there was no evidence of a link between Iraq and 9/11 or of a "collaborative relationship" between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.

This was a "very, very serious finding" said Democratic presidential candidate Senator John Kerry.


The administration "did not tell the truth to Americans about what was happening or their own intentions", he added.

The New York Times said Mr Bush should apologise to the American people for his "plainly dishonest" linking of his "war of choice" with the war on terrorism.

The conclusion of the 9/11 commission, contained in an interim staff report published to coincide with two final days of commission hearings in Washington, could be particularly damaging to Mr Bush in the presidential election.

Most Americans, and Congress, were convinced by the administration that war with Iraq was necessary because of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and his links with al-Qaeda, both of which claims have now been seriously undermined. No unconventional weapons stocks have been found.

Speaking after a cabinet meeting yesterday, Mr Bush insisted there was a relationship between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.

He also said that "this administration never said that the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated between Saddam and al-Qaeda".

However in a letter to Congress on March 19th, 2003 - the day the war in Iraq began - Mr Bush asserted that the war was permitted under legislation authorising force against those who "planned, authorised, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11th, 2001".

The president yesterday cited a meeting of Iraqi intelligence officers with Osama bin Laden in Sudan in 1994, and Sadddam's provision of "safe haven to terrorists like Zarqawi".

The 9/11 commission concluded that Iraq rebuffed al-Qaeda's requests for co-operation at the 1992 meeting in Sudan, and earlier this year CIA director George Tenet testified that Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi did not work with Saddam Hussein's regime.

The bipartisan commission, basing its conclusions on 18 months of interviews and hearings, also said that "two senior bin Laden associates have adamantly denied that any ties existed between al-Qaeda and Iraq".

It dismissed a report cited by Mr Cheney last year that Mohamed Atta, leader of the 9/11 hijackers, met a senior Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague before the attacks, saying that Atta was in the US at the time.

Several statements were made by the Bush administration since 9/11 linking Iraq with al- Qaeda.

On October 7th, 2002 Mr Bush said: "We've learned that Iraq has trained al-Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases." In his State of the Union address on January 28th, 2003 he declared: "Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications and statements by people now in custody reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of al-Qaeda."

Again on February 6th, 2003 Mr Bush said: "Iraq has also provided al-Qaeda with chemical and biological weapons training."

Mr Cheney said in a TV interview in September 2003 that "it's not surprising that people make that connection" between Saddam Hussein and September 11th, a statement which caused a furore and prompted Mr Bush to say a few days later: "No, we've no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with September 11th." On January 22nd, 2004 however Defence Secretary Mr Donald Rumsfeld said: "There's overwhelming evidence . . . of a connection between al-Qaeda and Iraq" and on Monday of this week Mr Cheney again linked al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.

The Republican chairman of the 10-member commission, Mr Thomas Kean, said in a television interview that there were contacts between Iraq and al-Qaeda "but as far as any evidence that Saddam Hussein was in any way involved in the attack on 9/11, it just isn't there".

The Democratic vice chairman, Mr Lee Hamilton, said: "I don't think there's any doubt but that there were some contacts between Saddam Hussein's government and al-Qaeda . . . but our finding relates to a collaborative effort, the lack of evidence for a collaborative effort to attack the United States."