Your paper's June 17 editorial regarding the Sept. 11 commission report that found no evidence of a "collaborative relationship" between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda criticized those who said the report shows that the Bush administration misled the public. "Administration foes," the editorial noted, "seized on this sentence to claim that Vice President Cheney has been lying, as recently as this week, about a purported relationship between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. The accusation is nearly as irresponsible as the Bush administration's rhetoric has been." Not so.

Before the war, Bush's primary argument for attacking Iraq was that Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and that he could at any moment slip such weapons to allies in al Qaeda. Bush said of Hussein, "He's a threat because he is dealing with al Qaeda." He declared, "Iraq has sent bomb-making and document forgery experts to work with al Qaeda. Iraq has also provided al Qaeda with chemical and biological weapons training." In his post-invasion speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, he called Hussein "an ally of al Qaeda."

According to the commission's report, those were false statements. Hussein in the years before the war was not "dealing" with al Qaeda; Iraq had not supplied material assistance to al Qaeda, and Hussein was no "ally" of Osama bin Laden.

Your paper claimed that the commission did not "contradict what Mr. Cheney actually said -- and President Bush backed up -- earlier this week: that there were 'long-established ties' between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's Iraq." But regarding these "ties," the report said bin Laden "explored possible cooperation with Iraq" in the early 1990s, and one Iraqi intelligence officer "finally" met with him in 1994. Bin Laden "is said to have requested" assistance from Iraq, but "Iraq apparently never responded."

How does a meeting from 10 years ago (that resulted in nothing) -- as well as possible but unconfirmed contacts that happened in 1996 -- become "long-established ties"? Let's be honest about the use of language. By deploying this phrase, Cheney meant to suggest that an active relationship existed between al Qaeda and Iraq.

Your paper tries to have it both ways. After chastising Bush critics, it acknowledges that Cheney has overstated "rather tentative ties" between bin Laden and Hussein. But if your paper believes the links were "rather tentative," how can it endorse Cheney's use of the term "long-established ties"? More importantly, how can it denounce the critics for reasonably pointing to the commission's report as evidence that President Bush and Vice President Cheney did not tell the truth about the al Qaeda-Iraq connection before the war? The Bush administration did not maintain war was necessary because of "rather tentative" ties. The misleading assertions of the administration -- not the justifiable response of the critics -- remain the main story.

-- David Corn


The writer is Washington editor of the Nation and author of "The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception."