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The Lie That Will Not Die
Cheney and the Iraq / al-Qaeda Link
by GARY LEUPP

"In the early 1990s, Saddam had sent a brigadier general in the Iraqi intelligence service to Sudan to train al Qaeda in bomb making and document forgery."

(Amazing, unsubstantiated fact suddenly revealed by Dick Cheney, July 1, New Orleans, after the bipartisan Bush-appointed 9-11 Commission reported "no collaborative relationship" existed between Iraq and al-Qaeda.)

Peter S. Canellos writes in the Boston Globe (June 29): "There has never been such a powerful vice president. There has never been anyone other than a president as powerful as Cheney."

The president himself is, almost by definition, the world’s most powerful man, but there is evidence that the current president, who obviously trails his subordinate in experience, intellect, attention span and verbal skills, has delegated so much power to Cheney that the latter now holds that status. De facto President Cheney, with his former boss Donald Rumsfeld, has shaped Bush’s bellicose foreign policy to date, sidelining Secretary of State Colin Powell. Powell notes that after 9-11 Cheney and his "Gestapo office" including Paul Wolfowitz, "Scooter" Libby, and Douglas Feith formed a "little government" dedicated to attacking Iraq, and manipulating information in any way necessary to do so.

The president, who claims the Iraqi’s tried to kill his dad, and who wants very badly to better his dad’s brutal record in the Persian Gulf, signed on to the plan. Powell, in a gesture of abject deference to Cheney, read the duplicitously scripted case for it at the United Nations.

Cheney differs from VPs in the recent past in that he cherishes no ambitions to the presidency. If, for some reason, there is a second Bush term, Cheney at 68 wouldn’t be a very viable candidate afterwards. He’s already had four heart attacks, and his poll numbers are low. He has nothing to lose by boldly going where no VP has gone before, and a golden opportunity to promote his agenda for global change for as long as he remains in office. That’s the agenda most clearly articulated by the neocons, who Cheney placed strategically throughout the administration as he was selecting top administration officials following the bogus 2000 election. It involves building upon America’s unchallengeable, unprecedented power to even further dominate the world, beginning with Southwest Asia.

The Brave New World these gentlemen strive to build will brook no constraints imposed by conventional legality. Hence the near immediate, unilateral U.S. withdrawal from a host of international agreements following Bush’s inauguration, and the discussion from the outset (long before 9-11) of means to justify the deeply desired invasion of Iraq. Hence the Cheney-managed response to 9-11, including efforts to prepare public opinion for an ongoing, vaguely conceptualized, war on all evil, with or without direct connection to al-Qaeda, everywhere in the world, to last well beyond the vice-president’s next heart attack.

Here is a man whose understanding of "terrorism" was revealed as early as 1986, when, as a Wyoming Representative in Congress, he voted against a Congressional resolution urging the South African government to recognize the African National Congress and free political prisoner Nelson Mandela. (The vote was 245 to 177 in favor, not strong enough to override a veto from President Reagan, who famously championed apartheid South Africa as the U.S.’s closest ally in Africa.) Why did Cheney vote as he did? Because he thought the ANC and Mandela were "terrorists." He and his crowd indeed think lots of decent people (including many, like the ANC, on the political left) are terrorists. In 2000, as Bush’s running mate, Cheney defended his position, and only very recently was Mandela’s name removed from an official terrorist roster by the Bush administration.

Beset by charges regarding Halliburton, the corporation he headed from 1995 to 2000; and by accusations that he allowed energy company lobbyists to unduly influence the 2001 energy task force that he headed, Cheney would be vulnerable indeed were it not for the abject deference of the mainstream press, post 9-11, to the Bush administration. Dogged by a possible indictment by a French court, pursuant to charges of bribery by a Halliburton subsidiary to Nigerian officials during his tenure as CEO; and by suspicions that one of his minions leaked the name of whistleblower Ambassador Wilson’s CIA wife, Cheney may yet end his service to the state in disgrace. But for the time being, he rages against the dying of the light. Verbally lashing out at his foes, the pious Methodist not only tells a senior senator critical of Halliburton’s Iraq contracts "Fuck yourself" on the Senate floor but follows up by telling the world (via Fox News) how good he felt after his unusual ejaculation. No apologies necessary; Cheney is The Man. He feels the power and loves it; it’s in his grin and his contemptuous dismissal of logic and reason. We have the Christian right, he reasons. Those dumb-asses who, God bless ‘em, all on our side. Those bothered by me saying "fuck" are balanced by the rednecks who think it’s fucking cool that I say "fuck." And whatever happens or gets exposed, I’m giving lots of opportunities, to my kind of people, to what Bush calls "my BASE," to make more money.

In this context, Vice President Cheney, even more (and more creatively) than President Bush, defends the indefensible war against Iraq, pursuing the original immediate post 9-11 strategy of linking Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. He says it over and over again, in steady, studied, weariedly impatient tones: We know. We have so much evidence! So much overwhelming evidence of longstanding official contacts between al-Qaeda and Iraq. The irresponsibility and laziness of the media, he avers (alluding to what has in fact been criminally complicit mainstream journalism), has denied the American people information that would better establish the connection (which, in fact, in the real world, bogus journalism and political hype has consistently ingrained in the impressionable public mind). Cheney knows that tendentious talk, plus racist predispositions, persuaded the majority long ago that Saddam Hussein, in some way, attacked the U.S. on 9-11. He knows that all the efforts of reasonable humans since to challenge this idiotic falsity have failed to educate a population usefully vulnerable to (officially deplored) Islamophobia. The ignorance is useful, since it allows millions disinclined to sort through all the complicated facts to merely conclude: Saddam and bin Laden both hated the USA. That’s the link. And of course their evilness connects them, as evil connects everything not American.

The problem is that some politicians and journalists, to preserve any sense of professional integrity, have to ask questions, and weigh evidence, and come to conclusions. And a host of inquiring minds, including the members of the bipartisan 9-11 Commission, have concluded that there was no significant operational link between al-Qaeda and Iraq. No weapons of mass destruction, and no al-Qaeda link. These conclusions deeply irritate Mr. Cheney, not because he thinks they’re wrong, but because he thinks they’re disobedient. The aforementioned "little government" has made great efforts to string together bits and pieces of information to build a case for war with Iraq, and to sustain popular support for the costly occupation. For journalists, academics or politicians to question that case is brazen anti-Americanism serving the enemy.

So let us not question Cheney but merely present his case. At present, he maintains that the story of Muhammed Atta meeting Iraqi operative in Prague before 9-11, widely doubted within and without the administration, remains plausible. "We just don’t know." He emphasizes the al-Zarqawi link, the master-narrative of which entails

(1) the Jordanian’s affiliation (of some kind) with al-Qaeda prior to 9-11, at which time al-Zarqawi was in Afghanistan;

(2) his presence in Baghdad for medical treatment (leg amputation) following the U.S. attack on Afghanistan, this presence known to and welcomed by the Saddam regime;

(3) Zarqawi’s leadership of al-Ansar, a largely Kurdish group in the far north, which produced chemical weapons in 2002-3 in a camp obliterated during the invasion of Iraq, with Saddam’s express approval;

(4) Zarqawi’s personal involvement in the beheading of Nick Berg; and

(5) his ongoing leadership of "foreign forces" in Iraq that challenge the Coalition and constitute a greater threat to the success of their democratizing mission than does indigenous Iraqi resistance.

The other key piece of Cheney evidence for Iraq-bin Laden links is a series of meetings that occurred between a senior Iraqi intelligence official and bin Laden associates in the early 1990s, just as al-Qaeda was taking shape in Sudan, where bin Laden was headquartered. The bipartisan Bush-appointed 9-11 Commission reports that there were three meetings; only the third resulted in a direct encounter between an Iraqi and bin Laden. The Commission suggests that Saddam was seeking to persuade bin Laden to refrain from attacks on Iraq, which bin Laden despised as a secular nation that discouraged Islamic fundamentalism. It states that bin Laden requested Iraqi assistance with training and the production of chemical weapons, and that Baghdad never replied to the request. It further states, categorically, that there was "no collaborative relationship" between al-Qaeda and Iraq.

After the Commission released its preliminary report, and the press asked Cheney for comment, he immediately faulted "lazy" journalists for not more fully exposing the collaborate relationship (in his words, "senior level contacts going back a decade") that he himself continued to stubbornly posit. On June 18 he told CNBC that he "probably" had information unavailable to the Commission, although he didn’t explain why any information at all should have been withheld. On June 20, former secretary of the navy John Lehman and Commission member told NBC’s "Meet the Press" that he had information, not included in the Commission report, that an Iraqi lieutenant colonel was "a very prominent member of al-Qaeda" and had attended an al-Qaeda meeting in Malaysia in 2000. Within a day or so this report was discredited; turns out someone had confused (or deliberately conflated) al-Qaeda employee Ahmad Hikmat Shakir Azzawi with Iraqi intelligence agent Hikmat Shakir Ahmad.

On July 1 Cheney told a D-Day Museum crowd of 600 in New Orleans that "In the early 1990s, Saddam had sent a brigadier general in the Iraqi intelligence service to Sudan to train al Qaeda in bomb making and document forgery." This is of course a remarkable charge, a jarring elaboration of the Commission’s finding. But the intelligence community says it has no such information, and the media has given the story little play, perhaps because to do so would oblige reporters to spotlight the disconnect between Cheney’s pronouncements and the verifiable world. And since he is so damned powerful, and so bristles when you do that, they may hesitate. But anything trumpeted by the administration as the key or missing link should have its fragility tested, immediately, before—like a spider web collecting dust—it becomes more substantial even as it traps more victims.

Why was this revelation made in such a venue? What will the follow up be? Probably very little. The true believers (who want to believe that the taking of Baghdad was like the storming of the beaches at Normandy, and who may well also believe that Elvis lives), will have faith that Atta met Iraqis in Prague, or even Saddam in Baghdad. They’ll believe that an Iraqi general participated in the plans to attack the Twin Towers. Every logically discredited detail will stick in the mind of the believer. That’s the intention, and the brilliance of the neocon technique. A relentless cascade of falsehoods, sometimes reported on page 1 and refuted days later on page 10 (thus sustaining the integrity of the Free Press) will satisfy the requirements of the Noble Liars. Questioning reporters, academics and officials—the "assholes—yeah, big time," those who should fuck themselves, those who are too "lazy" to effectively propagandize the mission—will incur Cheney’s powerful wrath until his "little government," based on jerry rigged links and lengthening lies and the intimidated silence of the corporate press, crashes on the shoals of the Bush-Cheney war in a sea of accompanying scandals.

GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades.

He can be reached at: gleupp@granite.tufts.edu