President Bush is capitalizing on America’s lingering anger and fear over the September 11 terrorist attacks to help solidify public support for beginning a war with Iraq. One of the crucial tactics used by Bush had been to subtly tie the terrorists behind September 11 to Saddam Hussein.

This tie is unfounded. Intelligence sources say there is no evidence that Hussein played any role in these attacks on September 11, but it would be tough to discern that fact if you listen to Bush’s recent speeches.In a prime-time press conference last week, which focused almost entirely on the subject of Iraq, Bush mentioned the September 11 attacks eight times often in close proximity to references to the Iraqi president. While Bush never directly pinned blame for the attacks on Hussein, the overall effect of the verbal technique was to reinforce an incorrect impression among the public that Hussein played a key role in the attacks.

The strategy appears to be working. Polling data taken right after September 11, when Americans were asked open-ended questions about who was behind the attacks, showed that only 3 percent mentioned Iraq or Hussein. After a year and a half of Bush’s rhetoric, attitudes were transformed. In a poll this week, the “New York Times” found that 51 percent of Americans believe Hussein was “personally” involved in the terrorist attacks.

In the same vein, Knight-Ridder asked Americans how many of the September 11 hijackers were Iraqi citizens and the poll found that a majority of Americans responded that either most or some were. In fact, none of the attackers were Iraqi.

Subtle lies can be powerful as the same polls have found a strong correlation between support for the war and those who see a connection between Iraq and September 11.

No one denies the terrible nature of what happened to us more than a year ago but it is important that our president be clear and honest with his reasons for attacking Iraq and that he not attempt to mislead us.Hussein is guilty of a lot — invading two sovereign nations, using biological and chemical weapons against his own population and others, attempting to develop nuclear weapons — but one thing that has not been proved is that he is guilty of any involvement in the attacks that occurred on the September 11.

We need to be clear about what we’re doing in Iraq and until we find evidence to the contrary, Bush should rely on truths, not allusions to September 11. War may have started, but we must be sure that we are attacking for the right reasons.

Hildebrandt can be reached at

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