Senior U.S. officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, had also warned before the war of possible links between Hussein's government and the planners of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
Bush acknowledged on Friday there was no evidence of such a link.
"There was no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with the attack of 9/11," Bush said. "I've never said that and never made that case prior to going into Iraq."
But he added that he believed the two issues were related even in the absence of direct ties.
"I think they are related in the war on terror because he (Saddam) had terrorist connections. Again, he was a sworn enemy and he'd had weapons of mass destruction, had used them," Bush said.
But it seems if you even do a cursory examination of President Bush's various statements regarding Saddam Hussein and 9/11 a rather different picture emerges.
Q: Mr. President, do you believe that Saddam Hussein is a bigger threat to the United States than al Qaeda?
PRESIDENT BUSH: That's a -- that is an interesting question. I'm trying to think of something humorous to say. (Laughter.) But I can't when I think about al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. They're both risks, they're both dangerous. The difference, of course, is that al Qaeda likes to hijack governments. Saddam Hussein is a dictator of a government. Al Qaeda hides, Saddam doesn't, but the danger is, is that they work in concert. The danger is, is that al Qaeda becomes an extension of Saddam's madness and his hatred and his capacity to extend weapons of mass destruction around the world.
Both of them need to be dealt with. The war on terror, you can't distinguish between al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror. And so it's a comparison that is -- I can't make because I can't distinguish between the two, because they're both equally as bad, and equally as evil, and equally as destructive.
The [Saddam Hussein] regime has long-standing and continuing ties to terrorist organizations. And there are al Qaeda terrorists inside Iraq.
The Iraqi regime has actively and secretly attempted to obtain equipment needed to produce chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. Firsthand witnesses have informed us that Iraq has at least seven mobile factories for the production of biological agents, equipment mounted on trucks and rails to evade discovery. Using these factories, Iraq could produce within just months hundreds of pounds of biological poisons.
The Iraqi regime has acquired and tested the means to deliver weapons of mass destruction. All the world has now seen the footage of an Iraqi Mirage aircraft with a fuel tank modified to spray biological agents over wide areas. Iraq has developed spray devices that could be used on unmanned aerial vehicles with ranges far beyond what is permitted by the Security Council. A UAV launched from a vessel off the American coast could reach hundreds of miles inland."
"One of the greatest dangers we face is that weapons of mass destruction might be passed to terrorists, who would not hesitate to use those weapons. Saddam Hussein has longstanding, direct and continuing ties to terrorist networks. Senior members of Iraqi intelligence and al Qaeda have met at least eight times since the early 1990s. Iraq has sent bomb-making and document forgery experts to work with al Qaeda. Iraq has also provided al Qaeda with chemical and biological weapons training.
We also know that Iraq is harboring a terrorist network, headed by a senior al Qaeda terrorist planner. The network runs a poison and explosive training center in northeast Iraq, and many of its leaders are known to be in Baghdad. The head of this network traveled to Baghdad for medical treatment and stayed for months. Nearly two dozen associates joined him there and have been operating in Baghdad for more than eight months.
Q: Sir, is U.S. credibility on the line over weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?
THE PRESIDENT: I'm not exactly sure what that means. I mean, Iraq had a weapons program. Intelligence throughout the decade showed they had a weapons program. I am absolutely convinced with time we'll find out that they did have a weapons program. The credibility of this country is based upon our strong desire to make the world more peaceful and the world is now more peaceful after our decision; the strong desire to make sure free nations are more secure -- our free nations are now more secure; and the strong desire to spread freedom. And the Iraqi people are now free and are learning the habits of freedom and the responsibilities that come with freedom.
I read a report that somehow, you know, that there is no al Qaeda presence in Baghdad. I guess the people who wrote that article forgot about Al Zarqawi's network inside of Baghdad that ordered the killing of a U.S. citizen named Foley. And history will show, history -- time will prove that the United States made the absolute right decision in freeing the people of Iraq from the clutches of Saddam Hussein.
Note: Bush found Zarqawi so dangerous, he refused to attack him - when he had the chance in June 2002.
Nearly two years ago, following deadly attacks on our country, we began a systematic campaign against terrorism. These months have been a time of new responsibilities, and sacrifice, and national resolve and great progress. ...
Two years ago, I told the Congress and the country that the war on terror would be a lengthy war, a different kind of war, fought on many fronts in many places. Iraq is now the central front.
The regime of Saddam Hussein cultivated ties to terror while it built weapons of mass destruction. It used those weapons in acts of mass murder, and refused to account for them when confronted by the world.
LEHRER: Mr. President, new question. Two minutes. Does the Iraq experience make it more likely or less likely that you would take the United States into another preemptive military action?
BUSH: I would hope I never have to. I understand how hard it is to commit troops. Never wanted to commit troops. When I was running -- when we had the debate in 2000, never dreamt I'd be doing that.
But the enemy attacked us, Jim, and I have a solemn duty to protect the American people, to do everything I can to protect us.
I think that by speaking clearly and doing what we say and not sending mixed messages, it is less likely we'll ever have to use troops.
But a president must always be willing to use troops. It must -- as a last resort.
I was hopeful diplomacy would work in Iraq. It was falling apart. There was no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein was hoping that the world would turn a blind eye.
And if he had been in power, in other words, if we would have said, "Let the inspectors work, or let's, you know, hope to talk him out. Maybe an 18th resolution would work," he would have been stronger and tougher, and the world would have been a lot worse off. There's just no doubt in my mind we would rue the day, had Saddam Hussein been in power.
So we use diplomacy every chance we get, believe me. And I would hope to never have to use force.
But by speaking clearly and sending messages that we mean what we say, we've affected the world in a positive way. [...]
LEHRER: Senator Kerry, 90 seconds.
KERRY: Jim, the president just said something extraordinarily revealing and frankly very important in this debate. In answer to your question about Iraq and sending people into Iraq, he just said, "The enemy attacked us."
Saddam Hussein didn't attack us. Osama bin Laden attacked us. Al Qaida attacked us. And when we had Osama bin Laden cornered in the mountains of Tora Bora, 1,000 of his cohorts with him in those mountains. With the American military forces nearby and in the field, we didn't use the best trained troops in the world to go kill the world's number one criminal and terrorist.
Throughout these many quotes, Bush is clearly creating a link between Saddam/Iraq and terrorism - including al-Qaeda, but is now straddling the claim that this does not involve 9/11 -- except of course during the debates when he himself slipped-up and starting saying "the enemy attacked us".
Well, which "Enemy" is that Mr. President? When you state that "you can't distinguish between al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror" - then exactly how are you supposed to distinction between 9/11 (which was commited by al-Qaeda) and the invasion of Kuwait (which was commited by Iraq and Saddam)? All those "Terrorists" are the enemy then, Saddam, the Sunni Insurgents, Zarqawi and bin Laden.. and they are all "Linked".
But then I guess it all depends on what the meaning of "Link" is - now doesn't it?