One Month After 9/11, McCain Said Anthrax ‘May Have Come From Iraq,’ Warned Iraq Is ‘The Second Phase’

Today, the LA Times reports that the individual who may have been responsible for the 2001 anthrax attacks that killed five people and sickened 17 others apparently committed suicide. As Atrios recalls, shortly after 9/11, conservatives were pinning the blame for the anthrax attacks on Iraq, laying the groundwork for a subsequent invasion. John McCain was part of this fearmongering effort.

On October 18, 2001, McCain appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman. When asked how the war in Afghanistan was progressing, McCain volunteered that the invasion of Iraq would be the “second phase” of the War on Terror. He preyed on the public’s fear at the time by claiming that the anthrax “may have come from Iraq”:

LETTERMAN: How are things going in Afghanistan now? MCCAIN: I think we’re doing fine …. I think we’ll do fine. The second phase — if I could just make one, very quickly — the second phase is Iraq. There is some indication, and I don’t have the conclusions, but some of this anthrax may — and I emphasize may — have come from Iraq.

LETTERMAN: Oh is that right?

MCCAIN: If that should be the case, that’s when some tough decisions are gonna have to be made.

Watch it:

In the interview McCain tastelessly joked, in reference to the House adjourning until the Capitol could be cleared of the anthrax threat, that Congress members should “bring out their dead!” Less than a week later, two US Postal Service employees working in a facility that sorted mail destined for the Capitol would be dead.


McCain opened the interview by asking Letterman, “What is Osama bin Laden going to be for Halloween?” “Dead!” McCain said, delivering the punchline to his joke. Nearly seven Halloweens later, Osama bin Laden remains alive and free.

Later in the interview, McCain explained his counterterrorism approach: “The more serious these people [terrorists] think we are and believe we are — and we are serious — then I think they might, you know, go back to selling camels or whatever enterprise that they might want to engage in.”

Concluding the interview, McCain warned once again that Iraq was next. “The crunch time will be if — and emphasize if — we have to go after Iraq, and then that coalition could be strained,” he said. “But nothing succeeds like success. … World power politics is very interesting. People are very friendly when they know you’re the most powerful kid on the block.”

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