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DERRICK Z. JACKSON

Cheney's misspeaking streak

DICK CHENEY has lived off his press clippings far too long. In 2000, Cheney was the stealth vice presidential candidate whose image obliterated his radical associations with the far right and oil. Next to presidential candidate George W. Bush, who had little foreign experience. Cheney, a former defense secretary, White House chief of staff, and congressman, was described by both Republicans and Democrats as adding "gravitas," "weight," "heft," and "integrity" to the ticket.

His balding dome, round body, and soft voice led many to describe him as "grandfatherly." He was described by political analysts and journalists as a safe and even boring addition to the ticket who would "do no harm" to Bush's bid for the White House.

Three years later, the stealth grandfather is the hired gun. His harm to America's integrity is now incalculable.

On "Meet the Press" last Sunday, Cheney claimed that the White House has "learned more and more that there was a relationship" between Iraq and Al Qaeda, the terrorist network responsible for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. One of his pieces of "evidence" was the old report of a meeting in Prague in early 2001 between Mohamed Atta, one of the Sept. 11 airplane hijackers, and what Cheney described as "a senior Iraqi intelligence official."

The Czech government began backing away from the claim almost as soon as it was made. American and British intelligence agencies never found any hard evidence of a meeting. The claim became a dubious if not a dead issue in intelligence circles more than a year ago. The more likely possibility, according to intelligence records, was that Atta was in Virginia Beach, casing naval facilities.

Yet Cheney on his own brought it back up Sunday as if the meeting remains a real possibility, with an investigation still in progress. "With respect to 9/11, of course, we've had the story that's been public out there. The Czechs alleged that Mohamed Atta, the lead attacker, met in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official five months before the attack. But we've never been able to develop any more of that yet either in terms of confirming it or discrediting it. We just don't know."

Cheney also made the claim that Al Qaeda "sent personnel to Baghdad to get trained" on biological and chemical weapons and bomb making. No such training sessions have ever been confirmed. Cheney offered no new evidence to substantiate his claim. The Globe, in a story yesterday, quoted a senior defense official as saying, "There isn't any new intelligence."

Cheney's claim that we have learned more when we have learned nothing more is one more lie in the chain of deception that convinced a critical number of Americans to support the invasion and occupation of Iraq -- at the loss of nearly 300 American soldiers and thousands of Iraqi soldiers and civilians. The fact that he dredged up the thinnest of alleged links between Iraq and Al Qaeda shocked his own intelligence officials. The fact that his own senior defense officials say there is no new intelligence is a dead giveaway that there never was a justification for this invasion.

It is fitting that Cheney is the man showing the White House's empty hand. It was he who said during the buildup:

"We now know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons."

"There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction."

"We know he's reconstituted these programs since the Gulf War."

"We know that he has a long-standing relationship with various terrorist groups, including the Al Qaeda organization."

"We believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons."

The string of claims has finally reached the point where the media are challenging dear old granddad. On Sunday's "Meet the Press," NBC's Tim Russert replayed the quote about Saddam currently having reconstituted nuclear weapons. Russert said to Cheney, "You misspoke."

Cheney responded, "Yeah, I did misspeak. I said repeatedly during the show `weapons capability.' We never had any evidence that he had acquired a nuclear weapon."

Misspeak? In March, Russert asked Cheney, "What do you think is the most important rationale for going to war with Iraq?" Cheney responded, "Well, I think I've just given it, Tim, in terms of the combination of his development and use of chemical weapons, his development of biological weapons, his pursuit of nuclear weapons."

With no proof that Saddam had any of those weapons at the time of the invasion, Cheney's claim that he misspoke becomes yet another lie. Cheney once wowed the Washington elite with his gravitas. With so many soldiers and civilians dead, his gravitas now leads to the grave.

Derrick Z. Jackson's e-mail address is jackson@globe.com.

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