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War's Critics Abetting Terrorists, Cheney Says
When Russert presented polling data suggesting that most Americans do not view Iraq as part of a war against terrorists, Cheney replied, "I beg to differ. . . . The fact is, the world is much better off today with Saddam Hussein out of power."
Russert pushed Cheney on his repeated assertions that Sept. 11 plotter Mohamed Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague, which the vice president has used to raise the possibility of a connection between Hussein and the Sept. 11 attacks.
Cheney said yesterday the CIA had presented a Czech intelligence report to him of the meeting but later "backed off" it; U.S. intelligence reports, however, repeatedly cast doubt on that meeting, even in the months before Cheney discussed it publicly in September 2002, according to a declassified report released Friday by the Senate intelligence committee.
Separate from the issue of Sept. 11, the vice president maintained, prewar Iraq was a state sponsor of terrorism. He quoted former CIA chief George Tenet in saying there was a relationship between Hussein and al-Qaeda going "back at least a decade" before the U.S. invasion.
Cheney asserted that the slain al-Qaeda operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had fled Afghanistan and "set up operations in Baghdad in the spring of '02 and was there from then, basically, until basically the time we launched into Iraq." The Senate intelligence committee reported that, by October 2005, the CIA had debunked the idea of any prewar relationship between Zarqawi and Hussein's government.
Cheney told Russert that he had not read the Senate report.
Cheney said it is "hard to say" whether there are more terrorists now than five years ago. But the fact that al-Qaeda has launched no successful attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001, shows that the administration's policies are working, he added.
"I don't know how you can explain five years of no attacks, five years of successful disruption of attacks, five years of, of defeating the efforts of al-Qaeda to come back and kill more Americans," Cheney said. "You've got to give some credence to the notion that maybe somebody did something right."
Cheney said he sees "part of my job is to think about the unthinkable, to focus upon what, in fact, the terrorists may have in store for us." He said the threat that drives administration thinking is "the possibility of a cell of al-Qaeda in the midst of one of our own cities with a nuclear weapon, or a biological agent. In that case, you'd be dealing -- for example, if on 9/11 they'd had a nuke instead of an airplane, you'd have been looking at a casualty toll that would rival all the deaths in all the wars fought by Americans in 230 years."
Staff writer Walter Pincus contributed to this report.