The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee has released new information claiming the Bush administration misled the American people in the run-up to the war in Iraq.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said on Thursday that a 2003 CIA cable warns the administration of former President George W. Bush against making reference to claims that Mohammad Atta – the leader of the 9/11 hijackers – had met with an Iraqi intelligence officer in the Czech Republic before the attacks.
Levin, who is retiring, maintains that Bush officials used the unconfirmed meeting to link Iraq to 9/11 and Al-Qaeda in order to justify the US invasion in Iraq.
“There was a concerted campaign on the part of the Bush administration to connect Iraq in the public mind with the horror of the Sept. 11 attacks. That campaign succeeded,” said Levin, who cited opinion polls from that time showing that many Americans believed former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was involved in the attacks. “Of course, connections between Saddam and 9/11 or Al-Qaida were fiction.”
Levin has called for the full declassification of the Prague CIA cable and has repeatedly called on the directors of the CIA to make it public. Levin said the war in Iraq was the most significant event in his 36 years as a United States senator, and the cable is an important historical record showcasing why the US went to war in Iraq in 2003.
On Thursday, he read into the Congressional Record a letter he received from CIA Director John Brennan on March 13, 2014, declassifying for the first time a statement from the cable.
“[T]here is not one USG [counterterrorism] or FBI expert that…has said they have evidence or ‘know’ that [Atta] was in indeed [in Prague]. In fact the analysis has been quite the opposite.”
In his speech, Levin referred to an appearance by Vice President Dick Cheney on ‘Meet the Press‘ on December 9, 2001, where Cheney said: “It’s been pretty well confirmed that he (Atta) did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service in Czechoslovakia last April, several months before the attack.”
Levin said that, far from “pretty well confirmed,” there was almost no evidence that such a meeting took place, or records to indicate that it had. He said, in fact, that Atta was almost certainly in the United States at the time of the purported meeting in Prague.
“Mr. President, those statements were simple not true. We did know. We did know there was no evidence that such a meeting had taken place,” he said. “The Vice President (Dick Cheney) recklessly disregarded the truth, and he did so in a way calculated to maintain support for the administration’s decision to go to war in Iraq.”
Levin said he is bringing up the CIA cable from a decade ago because it is about giving the American people a full account of the march to war as new information becomes available. He said it is about trying to hold leaders who misled the public accountable, and about warning future leaders that they must not commit sons and daughters to battle on the basis of false statements.
Levin said that at the time, the Bush administration campaign was successful in convincing more than half of Americans that Saddam Hussein was directly involved in the attacks. He added that in a poll taken six months after the invasion of Iraq, 70 percent of Americans believed it was likely that Hussein was personally involved in the September 11 attacks.
Levin also referred to a memoir published by the former head of the Czech Republic’s counterintelligence, Jiri Ruzek, who wrote: “It is becoming more and more clear that we had not met expectations and not provide the ‘right’ intelligence output…The Americans showed me that anything can be violated, including the rules they themselves taught us.”
Levin said that Director Brennan’s apparent refusal to declassify the cable or ask the Czech government if it objects to the release of the cable “takes on the character of continuing cover-up.”