Saturday, July 24, 2004

Psst. There's No Al Qaeda-Iraq Link. Pass it on.

"Recent polls have shown that more than 40 percent of the American public is still convinced that Iraq collaborated with Al Qaeda and had a role in the terrorist attacks," the Washington Post reports.

How can that be? How can such a higher percentage -- although not as high as the 59% figure I saw about a year ago -- still can be so misinformed?

The 9/11 commission found no evidence of a "collaborative operational relationship between the two. No role for Iraq in attacking the U.S. on 9/11.

Were there "contacts," or attempts at such, between the two? Circumstantial evidence suggests this, but some of the most notable references were essentially debunked by the 9/11 commission. As reported in the latest Progress Report:

Specifically, it found "Lead hijacker Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi diplomat, Samir al Ani, probably did not meet in Prague on April 9, 2001. It said surveillance photos taken around the Iraqi Embassy, where the meeting was alleged to have taken place, show no evidence of Atta." The White House has eagerly promulgated this uncorroborated story since 9/11 in an attempt to link al Qaeda with Iraq. Vice President Cheney said the meeting was "pretty well confirmed," and Richard Perle, while Chairman of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, said, "Muhammed Atta met (a secret collaborator of Saddam Hussein) prior to September 11. We have proof of that, and we are sure he wasn't just there for a holiday." The CIA, FBI and Czech intelligence have all debunked this myth in the past.

But even if there were contacts, or attempts at contacts, that doesn't mean that Iraq was behind 9/11. Even if an Al Qaeda terrorist, Abu Al-Zaquari, has resided in Iraq, that doesn't mean Iraq was "harboring" him, or that Iraq was behind 9/11. (Using that rationale, the fact that there were Al Qaeda in the U.S. pre-9/11 could be used to ridiculously suggest that the U.S. was harboring Al Qaeda, and possibly was behind 9/11.)

Why do 40 percent of Americans think this is so? You might recall an earlier JABBS in which I scoffed at MSNBC's Dan Abrams, who looked at a similar poll and essentially suggested Americans were stupid to believe such misinformation. Abrams cited official statements from the president, saying that Iraq was not behind 9/11.

But what Abrams failed to recognize -- and what I think is the real reason 40 percent of Americans remain uninformed -- is that members of the administration, led by President Bush and Vice President Cheney, have made misleading statements about Iraq and Al Qaeda. Statements that may be technically or legally accurate, but that the average listener could easily misinterpret. For example, what would the average listener think when Bush, on the air-craft carrier with the "Mission Accomplished" banner behind him, said that the U.S., in capturing Saddam, had eliminated an "ally of Al Qaeda" and a "patron of terror." Would the average listener think:

a) We have eliminated someone who support Al Qaeda and its terror actions against the U.S.
b) We have eliminated someone who posed a threat much like Al Qaeda -- in that Saddam hated the U.S. and we believe he wanted to do us harm -- and who has a record of offering monetary support for families of Palestinian suicide bombers.

And with the conservative punditry dominating our radio waves, television talk shows and editorial pages -- not to mention the affect such people have on "mainstream" media -- those misleading (but technically accurate) statements by Bush and Cheney get amplified over and over, regurgitated and, no doubt, enhanced.

Why do 40 percent of Americans think Iraq was behind Al Qaeda's attack of the U.S. Because they are listening to the conservatives. They are "true believers" of the Bush-Cheney administration, most likely getting their news from some combination of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News Channel. They are most likely to not listen to alternatives -- such as mainstream media -- because they believe the conservative-driven myth that such news entities suffer from a liberal bias.

Hey, let those 40 percent vote for Bush-Cheney. The rest of us know the truth, and we'll vote accordingly come November.



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