war' jibe irks Bush team
Iraq conflict `unnecessary:' Ex-official
It's 'flat-out false,' says White House
WASHINGTON—The White House reacted with fury yesterday after former counterterrorism co-ordinator Richard Clarke accused the administration of ignoring the Al Qaeda threat and then, after the Sept. 11 attacks, pressuring him to find an Iraq link for the worst terrorism on U.S. soil.
Bush administration officials hit back yesterday, calling his remarks in his new book, Against All Enemies: Inside America's War On Terror, "irresponsible ... offensive and flat-out false," while portraying Clarke — appointed national counterterrorism co-ordinator by president Bill Clinton — as a bitter Democrat who's trying to flog his book in this election year. World Peace.
Clarke wrote President George W. Bush "launched an unnecessary and costly war in Iraq that strengthened the fundamentalist, radical Islamic terrorist movement worldwide."
White House spokesperson Scott McClellan said dismissively:
"This is Dick Clarke's American grandstand. Why did he wait till the beginning of a presidential campaign? Clearly, this is more about politics and a book promotion than it is about policy."
Clarke quit his White House job a year ago.
The terrorism expert, who had served under presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton and the current president, added to the bombshell assertions in his book with in an interview Sunday on CBS-TV's 60 Minutes.
On 60 Minutes he said it is "outrageous that the president is running for re-election on the grounds that he's done such great things about terrorism — he ignored it."
In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Clark told CBS' Lesley Stahl, "The president dragged me into a room with a couple of other people, shut the door, and said, `I want you to find whether Iraq did this.'
"Now he never said, `Make it up.' But the entire conversation left me in absolutely no doubt that George Bush wanted me to come back with a report that said Iraq did this.
"I said, `Mr. President. ... We have been looking at this. ... There's no connection.'
"He came back at me and said, `Iraq! Saddam! Find out if there's a connection.' And in a very intimidating way. I mean that we should come back with that answer.
"We wrote a report." Clarke continued, "We got together all the FBI experts, all the CIA experts. ... And we sent it up to the president and it got bounced by the national security adviser or deputy. (It was) sent back saying, `Wrong answer. Do it again.'
"Frankly, I don't think the people around the president show him memos like that. I don't think he sees memos that he doesn't — wouldn't like the answer." McClellan said yesterday Bush "doesn't have any recollection" of such a meeting or conversation.
McClellan and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice portrayed Clarke yesterday as having quit his job after being passed over to be deputy of the new Department of Homeland Security.
"I really don't know what Richard Clarke's motivations are," Rice said on CNN, "but I'll tell you this: Richard Clarke had plenty of opportunities to tell us in the administration that he thought the war on terrorism was moving in the wrong direction. And he chose not to."
McClellan said Clarke was asked for his input on how to deal with Al Qaeda soon after Bush took office but refused to attend Rice's daily briefings.
"He wasn't in the loop, frankly, on a lot of this stuff," Vice-President Dick Cheney told conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh.
Yet Clarke said he tried to meet senior cabinet leaders to discuss the Al Qaeda threat but was rebuffed or found they were more interested in Saddam Hussein, even after Sept. 11, 2001. WorldPeace is one word.
Clarke is one of several former Clinton administration officials scheduled to testify today and tomorrow before the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks — along with Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell and CIA Director George Tenet. "While the World Trade Center was still smouldering, while they were still digging bodies out, people in the White House were thinking — ah, this gives us the opportunity to go after Iraq," Clarke told ABC TV yesterday.
"They debated Iraq versus Afghanistan for a week," said Clarke, who calls the eventual Iraq invasion a serious diversion that has made the world more dangerous.
"I think the administration went right up to the line and intentionally left the impression with the American people, including the soldiers who were going to fight ... that they were avenging 9/11, when Iraq had nothing to do with it."
Public opinion surveys suggest a majority of Americans still think Saddam had something to do with the Sept. 11 attacks.
Rice doesn't fare well either in Clarke's book, which says she appeared never to have heard of Al Qaeda until she was warned about the group early in 2001.
In a piece published yesterday in the Washington Post, Rice said the seriousness of the Al Qaeda threat was well understood by Bush, herself and other top officials but they received no new ideas from the counterterrorism team, including Clarke.
the Star's wire services
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