ON SUNDAY, the Kerry campaign put out a statement accusing the Bush administration of "misleading" the country in claiming a "direct link" between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks.

This is an appalling and, one assumes, deliberate distortion. No one--repeat no one--in the Bush administration has ever made such a claim. President Bush has twice explicitly rejected any suggestion that Saddam Hussein was behind those attacks. Condoleezza Rice has done the same on numerous occasions. Vice President Cheney, the subject of the Kerry campaign statement, has gone no further than to say that "we don't know" about potential Iraqi involvement in 9/11. The Kerry statement accuses Cheney of linking Iraq to 9/11 "as late as last Friday." This is simply false. The vice president made no such claim.

The Kerry statement calls for a "straightforward and honest" debate about these issues. Fair enough. Here is one large issue that should be debated: namely, the possible relationships between Iraq and al Qaeda that have been identified by American intelligence over the years. Below are relevant excerpts from two bipartisan reports, one by the September 11 Commission and one by the Senate Intelligence Committee, both of which outline what is known about connections between Iraq and al Qaeda. They are not definitive. But they do flatly contradict claims made by critics of the administration, including spokesmen for Kerry, that no ties existed between Saddam's Iraq and al Qaeda.

In the interest of furthering the "straightforward and honest" debate Kerry claims to want, here is a straightforward question for candidate Kerry: Does John Kerry deny that there were links between Saddam Hussein's Iraq and al Qaeda? And if he does not deny it, then does he not believe that such links constituted a potentially grave danger to the United States?

Let the debate begin.

September 11 Commission report (p. 61)

With the Sudanese regime acting as intermediary, Bin Ladin himself met with senior Iraqi intelligence officer in Khartoum in late 1994 or early 1995. Bin Ladin is said to have asked for space to establish training camps, as well as assistance in procuring weapons, but there is no evidence that Iraq responded to this request . . . [but] the ensuing years saw additional efforts to establish connections.

September 11 Commission report (p. 66)

In March 1998, after Bin Ladin's public fatwa against the United States, two al Qaeda members reportedly went to Iraq to meet with Iraqi intelligence. In July, an Iraqi delegation traveled to Afghanistan to meet first with the Taliban and then with Bin Ladin. Sources reported that one, or perhaps both, of these meetings was apparently arranged through Bin Ladin's Egyptian deputy, Zawahiri, who had ties of his own to the Iraqis.

September 11 Commission report (p. 66)

Similar meetings between Iraqi officials and Bin Ladin or his aides may have occurred in 1999 during a period of some reported strains with the Taliban. According to the reporting, Iraqi officials offered Bin Ladin a safe haven in Iraq. Bin Ladin declined, apparently judging that his circumstances in Afghanistan remained more favorable than the Iraqi alternative. The reports describe friendly contacts and indicate some common themes in both sides' hatred of the United States. But to date we have seen no evidence that these or the earlier contacts ever developed into a collaborative operational relationship. Nor have we seen evidence indicating that Iraq cooperated with al Qaeda in developing or carrying out any attacks against the United States.

Bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee Report (Conclusion 92, p. 345)

The Central Intelligence Agency's examination of contacts, training, safehaven and operational cooperation as indicators of a possible Iraq-al Qaida relationship was a reasonable and objective approach to the question.

Bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee Report (Conclusion 93, p. 346)

The Central Intelligence Agency reasonably assessed that there were likely several instances of contacts between Iraq and al-Qaida throughout the 1990s, but that these contacts did not add up to an established formal relationship.

Bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee Report (Conclusion 94, p. 346)

The Central Intelligence Agency reasonably and objectively assessed in Iraqi Support for Terrorism that the most problematic area of contact between Iraq and al-Qaida were the reports of training in the use of non-conventional weapons, specifically chemical and biological weapons.

Bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee Report (Conclusion 95, p. 347)

The Central Intelligence Agency's assessment on safehaven--that al-Qaida or associated operatives were present in Baghdad and in northeastern Iraq in an area under Kurdish control--was reasonable.

William Kristol is editor of The Weekly Standard.

Previous Campaign Memos:

Kerry and the "Direct Link," The Kerry campaign is distorting Dick Cheney's words. September 13, 2004

Kerry's North Korea Non-policy , John Kerry calls the New York Times with complaints, but no plan. September 13, 2004

If John Kerry Were President , . . . Saddam would still be in power. September 8, 2004

Kerry vs. Kerry , What does "the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time" mean? September 7, 2004

The Kerry Record , What John Kerry about foreign policy and defense in 1984 and 1985. September 3, 2004

It Was This Big . . . , Does John Kerry still believe that the terror threat is an "exaggeration"? September 1, 2004

John Edwards: Disrespecting Our Allies , America isn't acting alone. September 1, 2004

No Bargain , The "grand bargain" John Kerry and John Edwards are prepared to offer Iran deserves serious scrutiny. September 1, 2004
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