Wednesday, October 06, 2004

FACT CHECK: When Points Weren't Personal, Liberties Were Taken With the Truth

The New York Times
October 6, 2004
When Points Weren't Personal, Liberties Were Taken With the Truth

In a debate laden with detailed assertions and rebuttals more than with rhetorical flashes, Vice President Dick Cheney and Senator John Edwards often stretched the facts last night on issues including the war in Iraq and medical malpractice lawsuits.

Often the matters were old saws, like Mr. Edwards's suggestion of an improper relationship between the Bush administration and the Halliburton Company, or Mr. Cheney's assertion that Senator John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee and Mr. Edwards's running mate, had voted nearly 100 times to raise taxes.

But on matters like Iraq, taxes and jobs, the liberties the vice presidential candidates took with the truth are worthy of scrutiny.

Iraq and Al Qaeda

Mr. Edwards accused the vice president of having justified the invasion of Iraq by saying a link existed between Iraq and Al Qaeda. Mr. Cheney declared, "I have not suggested there is a connection between Iraq and 9/11."

What Mr. Cheney said was only partly true, because while he has never explicitly made the link, he has on several occasions strongly suggested that evidence pointed to such a connection.

The vice president went furthest along these lines on Sept. 8, 2002, on "Meet the Press" on NBC.

"I'm not here today to make a specific allegation that Iraq was somehow responsible for 9/11," he said. "I can't say that. On the other hand," he went on to say, since a previous interview on the show, "new information has come to light," adding "there has been reporting that suggest that there have been a number of contacts over the years."

He said that Mohamed Atta, one of the lead Sept. 11 hijackers, was "in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official a few months before the attack on the World Trade Center. The debate's about, you know, was he there or wasn't he there. Again, it's the intelligence business."

Investigations later concluded that Mr. Atta was not in Prague at that time. Nor did Mr. Cheney's frequent accusations of deep contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda hold up, though there apparently were contacts. A bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report concluded, "The Central Intelligence Agency reasonably assessed that there were likely several instances of contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda throughout the 1990's but that these contacts did not add up to an established formal relationship."

The Senate report added that the C.I.A.'s assessment that "there was no evidence proving Iraqi complicity or assistance in an Al Qaeda attack was responsible and objective."

Weapons Votes

Mr. Cheney said that Mr. Kerry had repeatedly voted against spending for military weapons systems in the last years of the cold war. That is true. But Mr. Cheney, as secretary of defense in the first Bush administration, opposed some of the systems himself, including the Apache helicopter and the F-14 aircraft.


Mr. Edwards suggested an improper relationship between the Bush administration and Halliburton, the company with large contracts in Iraq that Mr. Cheney led before he ran for vice president.

Mr. Edwards was right that Halliburton holds a no-bid contract for services in Iraq, is under investigation for overcharges and is still being paid by the government. But there is no evidence Mr. Cheney has pulled strings on Halliburton's behalf since becoming vice president. And the independent Government Accountability Office concluded that Halliburton was the only company that could have provided the services the Army needed at the outset of the war and was thus justified in having received the noncompetitive contract.

War Costs and Casualties

Some factual disputes were echoes from last week's debate between the presidential candidates, including the cost of the war - Mr. Edwards put the figure at $200 billion, but only $119 billion has been spent so far. Another issue was the proportion of casualties borne by the United States: Mr. Edwards said 90 percent of fatalities, but that includes only foreign troops killed, and does not count approximately 700 Iraqi security forces said to have died.


Mr. Edwards said that under the Bush-Cheney tax laws, millionaires receiving dividends paid taxes at a lower rate than did troops fighting in Iraq. The 2003 tax law lowered the rate on stock dividends to 15 percent. Many soldiers pay a rate higher than that on some of their income.

Mr. Cheney said that Mr. Kerry had voted 98 times to raise taxes. No question, he cast votes for higher taxes. But the number Mr. Cheney cited included multiple votes on the same legislation. Mr. Edwards said Mr. Kerry had voted against the overall legislation to cut taxes because the benefits went largely to the wealthy.

Mr. Cheney said that 900,000 small businesses would be affected by the Kerry proposal to raise taxes on individuals with incomes of more than $200,000. The Tax Policy Center found that only about 5 percent of small businesses would be affected by the Kerry plan and that much of the income of the business operators who would be affected came from sources other than their businesses.


Mr. Cheney said that two and a half years ago, Mr. Edwards said the situation in Afghanistan "was chaotic, the situation was deteriorating, the warlords were about to take over." Noting that elections are scheduled to take place in four days, the vice president said his opponent "just got it wrong."

In an October 2002 speech in Washington, Mr. Edwards called Afghanistan "largely unstable," with much of the country "under the control of drug lords and warlords."

Last night Mr. Edwards stuck to essentially that description, saying that contrary to the "rosy scenario" described by Mr. Cheney, "What's actually happened is, they're now providing 75 percent of the world's opium" and "large parts of the country are under the control of drug lords and warlords."

The Drug Enforcement Administration has reported that opium production in Afghanistan has soared since the end of Taliban rule in 2001, from 74 metric tons in 2001 to 2,965 metric tons last year. The government of President Hamid Karzai does not control large parts of the country.


Mr. Edwards said that the nation has lost 1.6 million private-sector jobs since Mr. Bush took office, while Mr. Cheney said the nation has added 1.7 million jobs in the past year.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of payroll jobs has declined by about 900,000 since Mr. Bush took office. Mr. Edwards's higher number comes from isolating private-sector jobs, not taking into account increases in state, local and federal government jobs.

Mr. Cheney was correct in saying that the nation has added about 1.7 million jobs in the past year. But employment has yet to return to its level before the 2001 recession and a sharp decline in manufacturing employment continued for nearly two years after the recession officially ended in November 2001.

More importantly, in the view of many economists, employment growth has lagged even further behind the growth in population. The nation's adult work force climbs by more than a million people every year. So even if the number of jobs returns to its level of January 2001, as many as three million more people would still be unemployed or underemployed than they were then.

Voting Records

Mr. Cheney said correctly that Mr. Edwards had missed most votes in the Senate this year, as well as many committee meetings. Candidates for president and vice president generally skip all but the most important votes because they are on the campaign trail.

Mr. Cheney said that Mr. Edwards had been absent so often that he had never even met him before last night. Mr. Edwards said later last night that he and Mr. Cheney had in fact met twice before, at a prayer breakfast in 2001 and at the swearing-in last year of Senator Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina.

Mr. Edwards was correct in saying that Mr. Cheney, as a member of the House, had voted against such measures as the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, Head Start and creation of the Department of Education.

Contributing reporting for this article were David E. Sanger, Edmund L. Andrews, Robert Pear and ScottShane.