National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  September 26, 2003

Lost in spin about whether Saddam did or didn't

Someone in the Bush administration must be breathless at this point, orchestrating all the news bits coming at us like bugs on a nighttime highway.

It’s almost impossible to keep track of it all and just as difficult to know what to believe.

The latest jolt to the assumptions we thought we were supposed to embrace was the announcement by President Bush that the administration had no evidence that Saddam Hussein had anything to do with 9/11.

That will come as a surprise to the majority of Americans (one poll said 70 percent) who believe Saddam Hussein was directly involved in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. It is reasonable to conclude that they had good reason to hold that conviction. For when the president most recently spoke on the war on terror, he never mentioned Osama bin Laden, once of “wanted dead or alive” infamy, but he did trot out the new focus of our ire, Saddam, twice.

That was only days ago, just before his vice president, Dick Cheney, on Sept. 14 described Iraq as “the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault for many years, but most especially on 9/11.”

Condoleezza Rice, Bush’s national security adviser, on Sept. 16 justified the war in Iraq because it is in “a region from which the 9/11 threat emerged.”

And who can forget Bush’s declaration of the end of major combat in Iraq -- before the more deadly guerrilla phase got underway -- which included the resounding words: “The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September the 11th, 2001 … With those attacks, the terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States. And war is what they got.”

One might parse all of that language and come to the conclusion that no one ever said, “Saddam attacked the United States on 9/11, so we need to invade Iraq in return.” But the intent was clear -- we were supposed to believe that very equation so we would support the United States going it alone, against the wishes of the rest of the world and with but one ally in tow, to invade Iraq.

Why the backtracking on the point is not clear. Nor is it clear what Attorney General John Ashcroft, leader of the domestic war-on-terror apparatus, intends to accomplish in berating the American public for being concerned about his persistent campaign to diminish our civil liberties. He is, after all, supposed to be protecting them.

Ashcroft recently snidely lashed out against librarians and civil liberties groups, calling their concerns that the FBI might misuse secret snooping authority to abuse civil rights “baseless hysteria.” Ashcroft needs to know that hysteria has nothing to do with it. But a reading of not-so-distant history of his agency would give reason for concern. The Justice Department has not been above abusing civil liberties when given the go-ahead from the top.

He should also read as deep and legitimate concern -- not hysteria -- the questions raised about an unelected official given nearly unprecedented authority to conduct secret searches of people’s homes, to hold suspects months on end without charges or legal representation, to require libraries to secretly hand over records of library users. And now he and the president want more power under the USA PATRIOT Act. They’d like to be able to conduct searches and seizures, for instance, without even going, secretly, before a judge.

Meanwhile, the death toll mounts in Iraq on both sides, Saddam and bin Laden remain out of reach, the U.S. treasury has flipped from a record surplus to record deficits, and Congress is being asked to approve the additional $87 billion the president said we need to continue to “rebuild” Iraq. At the same time, even television networks, once thinly disguised cheerleading sections for the war planners, are beginning to ask the obvious question: What are we getting for all of this expense, policy spin and assault on our civil liberties?

The windshield of the vehicle of state is getting pretty grimy.

National Catholic Reporter, September 26, 2003

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