Secretary of State Colin L. Powell conceded Thursday that despite his assertions to the United Nations last year, he had no 'smoking gun' proof of a link between the government of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and terrorists of Al Qaeda.
'I have not seen smoking-gun, concrete evidence about the connection,' Mr. Powell said, in response to a question at a news conference. 'But I think the possibility of such connections did exist, and it was prudent to consider them at the time that we did.'
Mr. Powell's remarks on Thursday were a stark admission that there is no definitive evidence to back up administration statements and insinuations that Saddam Hussein had ties to Al Qaeda, the acknowledged authors of the Sept. 11 attacks. Although President Bush finally acknowledged in September that there was no known connection between Mr. Hussein and the attacks, the impression of a link in the public mind has become widely accepted %u2014 and something administration officials have done little to discourage.
Mr. Powell offered a vigorous defense of his Feb. 5 presentation before the Security Council, in which he voiced the administration's most detailed case to date for war with Iraq. After studying intelligence data, he said that a 'sinister nexus' existed 'between Iraq and the Al Qaeda terrorist network, a nexus that combines classic terrorist organizations and modern methods of murder.'
Without any additional qualifiers, Mr. Powell continued, 'Iraq today harbors a deadly terrorist network, headed by Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi, an associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda lieutenants.'
This is contemptible. If Powell had told the UN he had no hard proof, or if Bush had told Congress he had no hard proof, there would have been no war. Even Howard and Blair might have been reluctant to join the enterprise of Iraq if they had been told there was no hard proof.