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 9-11
Cheney appeared again to try to link the administration's decision to invade Iraq to the 9-11 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 made public Wednesday said that while Saddam retained the ability to build them, 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.
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 regime 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 Zarqawi "to set up shop in Baghdad" and run a poison facility in "Khurmal."
The facility was actually in a hamlet called 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 believe Zarqawi spent most of his time before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Cheney said Zarqawi is now in Baghdad; U.S. intelligence agencies believe he's probably in the city of Fallujah, which is controlled by insurgents.
The cost of war
Edwards contended that the United States has spent $200 billion in invading and occupying Iraq and that American forces have suffered 90 percent of the casualties.
"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's 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 accounted for only about half the casualties.
While estimating the percentage of casualties is extremely 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 American troops account for 94 percent of coalition casualties and about 58 percent of all coalition and Iraqi forces killed.
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.
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 that 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 in Cheney's criticism 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 Urban-Brookings 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.
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. (He gave the wrong address, it's factcheck.org, not factcheck.com).
But Halliburton's own corporate Web site and its official filings with the federal government acknowledge Edwards' charges and contradict Cheney.