Ten years after the tragedy in Manhattan it is a question that many still ask. The response in Afghanistan was in some ways a reaction, and perhaps understandable given the defined linkage between the Taliban and al-Qaeda. But what about Iraq? How and why did the Bush administration somehow link Saddam Hussein and Iraq to the events of 9/11?
Ambassador Joe Wilson is one who has some reasons and is uniquely qualified to express them. He was the last US diplomat to meet Saddam before the first Gulf War - as acting ambassador in Baghdad he actively challenged him. Saddam had issued an order saying any person "sheltering" foreigners could face execution. There were more than a hundred US citizens in the embassy at that stage and Wilson appeared at an off-the-record news conference wearing a noose around his neck and famously said - "If the choice is to allow American citizens to be taken hostage or to be executed, I will bring my own [expletive] rope".
All in the embassy were evacuated safely.
Challenging President Bush
Having confronted Saddam, Wilson then went on to challenge his own president little more than a decade later. It was a precise issue - in his State of the Union address in January 2003, George W Bush made the following statement:"The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa".
|Former US ambassador to Iraq discusses 9/11, invasion of Iraq, and the "dire consequences" of both
A few months earlier, though, Wilson had travelled to Niger at the request of the CIA to investigate the claim, and found it to be false. He was shocked that the Bush administration was using what he knew to be incorrect information as a justification for war. After weeks of attempting to set the record straight, Wilson went public - writing an article entitled "What I didn't find in Africa" in the New York Times, repudiating what the president said.
The response was ferocious - not just against Wilson himself. His wife, Valerie Plame, was outed as a CIA agent by the administration - a move that put her life in danger, along with that of the many sources she had cultivated in Iraq and other areas.
Now the two live with their children and black Labrador dog as far away from Washington as possible while staying in the US. Years after these events, Wilson still asks that the location is not revealed - though not specifying whether the threat is internal or external.
We had a wide-ranging discussion focusing on reasons why Iraq was a target of the Bush administration. Wilson refers firstly to then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's comment: "There are no targets worth striking in Afghanistan, go strike Baghdad."
Then he recollects the statement made by Bush at a fundraiser that "they tried to kill my daddy".
But the heart of the reason, Wilson believes, lies in a document called the Project for the New American Century. In it, a group that came to be known as the "Neo-Cons" postulate an American military presence around the world, rather like the great Roman Empire. "It says quite clearly that in order to make their grandiose imperialistic ambitions come to life, you were going to need a cataclysmic event along the lines of Pearl Harbor - 9/11 provided them that."
Linked to this, Wilson argues, is a Middle East policy the Neo-Cons espoused. "They talked in terms of the way to peace in the Middle East is not through Jerusalem, it is through Baghdad."
I asked the obvious question: "Are you saying that 9/11 provided an excuse to push that global agenda?" – the response: "I am not sure it provided an excuse; it was certainly an opportunity they seized."
'No real connection'
This assertion that the Bush administration also saw opportunity in tragedy was echoed by another person I spoke to. Geoff Millard's National Guard Unit was the first to be deployed in the wreckage of the World Trade Center, on the evening of the attacks. Subsequently, he was deployed to Iraq as a member of the 42nd Armored Division, working in their intelligence section.
He remembers clearly discussions with fellow intelligence officers. "I used to talk to the major in charge of our unit all the time, and he would talk about how al-Qaeda in Iraq was actually set up by us. In the sense that we named it. So our intel officers freely admitted in private that there was no real connection between al-Qaeda in Iraq and the bin Laden al-Qaeda."
It was all, says Geoff Millard, a lie - one that led to the loss of thousands of US and Iraqi lives. He himself, like so many others, came back from Iraq physically disabled and deeply angry at an administration that went to war under false pretenses.
The question again - why would the administration want to link 9/11 to Iraq?
"Nine-eleven got connected to Iraq because you can't argue with 9/11," he says. "We lost 2000 people in a matter of hours. That's too much of a connection, and then the constant media coverage of something like that just seared into us. Every American out there and most people worldwide have a gut reaction to 9/11. It is the perfect selling point."
In the view of this veteran, all the death, all the destruction, all the loss of trust in the United States came about ultimately because of one simple fact.
The Bush administration went to war in Iraq because it could.