"The reason you guys are here is because on 9/11 the United States got attacked," he told troops at Camp Victory, the largest U.S. military outpost in Baghdad. "And 3,000 Americans — 3,000 not just Americans, 3,000 human beings, innocent human beings — got killed because of al-Qaeda. And we've been fighting as a result of that."

His statement echoed comments made by Bush and his administration, which tried to tie then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to al-Qaeda. But it put Panetta at odds with Obama, the 9/11 Commission and other independent experts, who have said that al-Qaeda lacked a presence in Iraq before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

Pressed by reporters to elaborate, Panetta said: "I wasn't saying, you know, the invasion — or going into the issues or the justification of that. It was more the fact that we really had to deal with al-Qaeda here; they developed a presence here and that tied in." His aides then intervened and shooed the press corps away.

The Big Lie -- that Iraq had anything to do with 9/11 -- led to the senseless death of tens of thousands of people, including more than 4,000 Americans. It's every bit as outrageous when Obama pick Leon Panetta tells it as when Dick Cheney and George W. Bush and their Fox and Friends spread around the first time.

Is it too late to bring Robert Gates back?