Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld mixed up Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden with deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein twice in a speech Friday.
Among other things, Rumsfeld talked about the world just before the Sept. 11 attacks, whose third anniversary is today. In Afghanistan, he told the National Press Club, “the leader of the opposition Northern Alliance, Masoud, lay dead, his murder ordered by Saddam Hussein, by Osama bin Laden, Taliban’s co-conspirator.”
Ahmed Shah Masoud, who opposed the ruling Taliban, was killed by suspected Al Qaeda operatives -- not Hussein -- two days before the Sept. 11 attacks.
Later, Rumsfeld said, “Saddam Hussein, if he’s alive, is spending a whale of a lot of time trying to not get caught. And we’ve not seen him on a video since 2001.”
Hussein was captured by U.S. forces in Iraq; Bin Laden has not been found.
The moderator later asked Rumsfeld if he had meant Bin Laden, and the Defense secretary replied: “I did. I meant we haven’t seen Osama bin Laden.”
Critics accuse the Bush administration of having concentrated on Hussein at the expense of the hunt for Bin Laden, whose network carried out the Sept. 11 attacks.
In his speech, Rumsfeld also said the Pentagon was addressing the allegations of abuse at military prisons.
He said eight of 11 separate investigations into prisoner abuse had been completed. Investigators have recommended that 45 people face court-martial, and a few have already been prosecuted. Twenty-three people were discharged in connection with the scandal.
“Has it been harmful to our country? Yes. Is it something that has to be corrected? Yes,” he said. “Does it rank up there with chopping someone’s head off on television? It doesn’t. Was it done as a matter of policy? No.”