January 14, 2004

Iraq was distraction, Clark says

This kind of talk is what should be expected of a political
leader in the throes of a national emergency...

Wesley Clark quoted in the Boston Globe: ''They didn't
do everything they could have before 9/11 to prevent
the tragedy that was 9/11,'' Clark said on board his
campaign plane. ''This is a story that needs full

Reveal the Truth about 9/11, Show Up for Democracy in
2004: Defeat Bush (again!)


Iraq was distraction, Clark says
By Raja Mishra and Joanna Weiss, Globe Staff,

ISMARCK, N.D. -- Retired Army General Wesley K. Clark
said yesterday that the Bush administration,
distracted by plans to invade Iraq, discounted
intelligence on Al Qaeda handed over by outgoing
Clinton administration officials in 2000, leaving
security gaps that made it easier for Osama bin
Laden's terrorist agents to strike on Sept. 11, 2001.

Clark's charges follow public statements from former
Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, who, in a forthcoming
book, says the Bush administration had been planning
an invasion of Iraq since its first days in the White

But Clark's accusation that Bush bears responsibility
for the Sept. 11 attacks has increasingly become the
national security centerpiece of Clark's campaign,
with Clark going beyond standard Democratic critiques
of the Iraq war to confront Bush on the event that has
come to define his presidency.

''They didn't do everything they could have before
9/11 to prevent the tragedy that was 9/11,'' Clark
said on board his campaign plane. ''This is a story
that needs full investigation.''

Yesterday, Clark -- who served during the Clinton
administration in several high-ranking Army positions
-- went into further detail than he has in the past,
saying Clinton's national security team had compiled a
lengthy intelligence record on Al Qaeda, accelerating
its efforts in 1998 after a bin Laden lieutenant
issued a fatwa, or religious directive, calling for
the killing of Americans.

After the bombings at American embassies in Tanzania
and Kenya, and the attack on the USS Cole, Clark said,
the Clinton team spent months devising a detailed
special operations plan to dismantle Al Qaeda that was
in place in 2000.

''They built a plan and turned it over to the Bush
administration,'' said Clark, who said the plan was
ignored. ''This administration failed to do its duty
to protect the United States of America before 9/11.''
A spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee
shot back at Clark yesterday, questioning whether the
Clinton administration should have acted on such a
plan, and pointing to rumors she said Clark has cited
as truth. In October, for example, Clark said Defense
Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had leaked his own memo
charging that the United States had no strategy for
dealing with terrorism. When questioned, Clark said he
had heard rumors to that effect.

''Wesley Clark is long on wild accusasion and
conspiracy thories and very, very short on facts to
back these things up,'' said Christine Iverson, the
RNC spokeswoman. ''His comments on 9/11 have drawn
fire even from his fellow Democratic primary

Clark said he believes Bush administration officials
were more focused on ousting Saddam Hussein than Al
Qaeda from the outset. However, Clark stops short of
asserting a causal link between the Sept. 11 attacks
and Bush's alleged neglect, saying ''You can never
really know if the Sept. 11 attacks could have been

Yesterday's accusations also follow a New York Times
report that in October 2002, Clark -- who was
reportedly mulling a race for president -- told a New
Hampshire gathering that he believed there was a link
between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.

Clark's aides said yesterday that, at the time, Clark
was referring to a New York Times story that cited a
leaked letter from CIA director George Tenet,
asserting a tie between Al Qaeda and Iraq.

''Hindsight is 20/20, but at the time, everyone
thought that there was the possiblity of some kind of
connection,'' said Clark's press secretary, Bill Buck.
''When you see a front-page story saying that the
director of the Central Intelligence Agency, an
organization that [Clark] had relied on during his
career, was telling the United States Senate that
there was a tie, well then if he was asked about it,
the logical answer is that there is.''

Earlier this fall, former Vermont governor Howard Dean
was criticized for publicly raising the rumor that
Bush had advance notice about Sept. 11. Dean, however,
quickly distanced himself from the rumor.

Dean's antiwar position has been a centerpiece of his
presidential campaign. Other leading candidates have
focused their foreign policy criticism on Bush's
diplomacy before the war and ongoing efforts to
rebuild Iraq.

Raja Mishra can be reached at rmishra@globe.com.

Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

Posted by richard at January 14, 2004 12:13 PM