Cheney Speaks In Orlando, Claims Ties Between Hussein And Al Qaida
ORLANDO, Fla. — Vice President Dick Cheney said Monday that Saddam Hussein had “long-established ties” with al Qaida, an assertion that has been repeatedly challenged by some policy experts and lawmakers.
“He was a patron of terrorism,” Cheney of Hussein during a speech before The James Madison Institute, a conservative think-tank based in Florida. “He had long established ties with al Qaida.”
Cheney offered no details backing up his claim of a link between Hussein and al Qaida.
In making the case for war in Iraq, Bush administration officials frequently cited what they said were Saddam’s decade-long contacts with al-Qaida operatives. They stopped short of claiming that Iraq was directly involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, but critics say Bush officials left that impression with the American public.
Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., said the Bush administration had “a sorry record in the war on terror.” Graham, the former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, spoke Sunday in a conference call arranged by John Kerry’s presidential campaign in anticipation of Cheney’s speech.
The U.S. State Department acknowledged last week it was wrong in stating that terrorism declined worldwide last year in a report that the Bush administration initially pointed to as evidence it was succeeding against terrorism, Graham noted. Instead, both the number of incidents and the toll in victims increased sharply, the department said.
“I believe that this administration has failed to protect the American people in the most fundamental way,” Graham said.
A handful of protesters led by the League of Conservation Voters protested outside the hotel where Cheney spoke Monday in Orlando.
The vice president later went to a Panama City for a $350,000 fund-raiser.
During his brief speech at the institute, Cheney listed what he described as the accomplishments of the Bush administration in the war on terror. He said democracy was taking root in Afghanistan and Iraq; Libya’s leader, Moammar Gadhafi, has abandoned his nuclear ambitions; Pakistani president Gen. Pervez Musharraf has become a U.S. ally, and Saudi Arabia’s leaders have gotten a wake up call about the threat posed by al Qaida operatives in the kingdom.
Cheney made no mention of the kidnapping in Saudi Arabia over the weekend of Lockheed Martin contractor Paul Johnson Jr., who has ties to Florida’s Space Coast.
“We are now about three years into the war on terrorism,” Cheney said. “We met great challenges. There are more ahead. This is not time for impatience or self-defeating pessimism.”
The vice president also praised the leadership style of President Bush.
“I’ve watched him make decisions and set the strategy,” Cheney said. “I’ve seen a man who is calm and deliberate, comfortable with responsibility.”
He added, “As a result, America’s friends know they can trust and America’s enemies know they must fear the leadership of President George W. Bush.”