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Wednesday, October 06, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Facts sometimes suffered in Edwards-Cheney face-off

By Jonathan S. Landay and Seth Borenstein
Knight Ridder Newspapers

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WASHINGTON — Vice President Dick Cheney and his Democratic opponent, Sen. John Edwards, clashed over Saddam Hussein's ties to al-Qaida, the human and financial costs of the war in Iraq, the economy and the company Cheney headed as a private businessman.

Among the flaws with both men's charges and claims:

Iraq and Sept. 11, 2001. Cheney appeared again to try to link the administration's decision to invade Iraq to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the global war on terrorism, saying that after the attacks, the United States had to take action against states that were "safe harbors for terror or for the development of deadly weapons."

But no stockpiles of illegal weapons have been found in Iraq, and a report by the chief U.S. weapons inspector due out today is expected to say that while Saddam retained the ability to build illegal weapons, he didn't possess them. Moreover, the independent 9/ 11 commission, the Senate Intelligence Committee and the CIA have found that while there were multiple contacts between al-Qaida and Iraq during the 1990s, none resulted in a collaborative relationship that led to the deaths of Americans.

In addition, the CIA concluded months before the invasion that Saddam was unlikely to supply chemical or biological weapons to terrorists unless he faced an invasion.

Early in the debate, Cheney snapped at Edwards, "The senator has got his facts wrong. I have not suggested there's a connection between Iraq and 9/11."

But in numerous interviews, Cheney has skated close to the line in ways that may have left that impression, usually when he cited the possibility that Mohamed Atta, a 9/11 hijacker, met with an Iraqi official, even after the theory was largely discredited. In at least three Sunday talk-show interviews, he said the senior Iraqi intelligence official met with Atta in Prague, the Czech Republic. And on "Meet the Press" in fall 2002, Cheney described Iraq as part of "the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault for many years, but most especially on 9/11."

Last week, the CIA presented a new assessment to Cheney that said U.S. intelligence agencies have found no conclusive evidence to support the administration's contention that Saddam's government harbored terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an ally but not a member of al-Qaida.

Despite that report, Cheney said that Saddam's regime allowed al-Zarqawi "to set up shop in Baghdad" and run a poison facility in "Khurmal." The facility was actually in Sargat.

Sargat, however, is in a region of Iraq that was under the control of U.S.-backed Kurdish rebels, not Saddam's forces, where U.S. intelligence agencies think al-Zarqawi spent most of his time before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

The cost of war. Edwards contended that the United States has spent $200 billion in invading and occupying Iraq and that U.S. forces have suffered 90 percent of the casualties.
 
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"Today, we are 90 percent of the casualties and 90 percent of the cost — $200 billion — $200 billion that could be used for health care, for schools, for construction, for prescription drugs for seniors. And it's in Iraq," he said.

According to the Office of Management and Budget, the war in Iraq had cost U.S. taxpayers $119 billion through the end of September.

According to FactCheck.org, which is run by the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, the Kerry-Edwards campaign reaches the $200 billion figure by combining what has been spent so far with money scheduled to be spent next year and future funds for Iraq that haven't yet been requested from Congress, as well as projected appropriations for Afghanistan.

Casualties in Iraq. Cheney challenged Edwards' claim that the United States accounts for 90 percent of the casualties suffered by the U.S.-led coalition and bears 90 percent of the cost of the war. Cheney said the United States accounts for only about half the casualties.

While estimating the percentage of casualties is difficult, Edwards is correct. Cheney's 50 percent figure comes from adding casualties suffered by Iraqi forces to the coalition total.

According to official figures, 1,061 Americans, 70 other coalition troops and more than 700 Iraqi security forces have been killed since the beginning of the war in Iraq. That means that U.S. troops account for nearly 94 percent of coalition casualties and about 58 percent of all coalition and Iraqi forces killed.

The economy. Edwards blamed the administration for the loss of "1.6 million private-sector jobs." Technically, that is correct. But adding growth in public-service jobs under Bush deals a net job loss of slightly fewer than 1 million.

Tax cuts. Cheney said the Kerry plan to roll back the Bush tax cuts on taxpayers with incomes greater than $200,000 would affect "900,000 small businesses."

That number is drawn from an analysis by the Tax Policy Center, a joint venture by the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution, which concluded the Kerry plan would increase taxes on 995,000 taxpayers with "business income." The Tax Policy Center has since adjusted that analysis and cut the number in half. Moreover, most of those taxpayers have no employees beside themselves and only half of them derived most of their income from business. With 33 million small businesses in the country, left unsaid by Cheney is that more than 32 million wouldn't be affected or would benefit from Kerry's plan.

Taxing the rich. Edwards said "millionaires sitting by their swimming pool, collecting their statements, pay a lower tax rate than the men and women who are receiving paychecks for serving on the ground in Iraq."

That would be true if these were millionaires earning money strictly from dividends. But by and large, the rich will still pay taxes at a higher rate than low- and middle-income Americans. The Tax Policy Center concluded that the average federal income-tax rate for taxpayers with incomes greater than $1 million will be less than 26 percent in 2006. That's significantly higher than the rate paid by Americans with incomes of $40,000 and $50,000.

Halliburton. Edwards attacked Halliburton, the firm Cheney once headed, as being investigated for corruption and dealing with governments hostile to the United States while Cheney ran the company. Cheney replied "they know those charges are false" and referred to the Web site FactCheck.org.

But Halliburton's own corporate Web site and its official filings with the federal government acknowledge Edwards' charges and contradict Cheney.

Material from The Washington Post is included in this report.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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