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June 19, 2004
9/11 Commission Report on AQ/Iraq Connections Misleadingly Vague: Hayes

Stephen Hayes, author of The Connection, responds to the 9/11 Commission's assertion that no credible evidence exists of collaboration between al-Qaeda and Iraq in the Weekly Standard. He also takes the media to task for misinterpreting the already misleadingly vague staff report:

IT'S SETTLED, APPARENTLY. Saddam Hussein's regime never supported al Qaeda in its "attacks on America," and meetings between representatives of Iraq and al Qaeda did not result in a "collaborative relationship." That, we're told, is the conclusion of two staff reports the September 11 Commission released last Wednesday.

But the contents of the documents have been widely misreported. Together the new reports total 32 pages; one contains a paragraph on the broad question of a Saddam-al Qaeda relationship, the other a paragraph on an alleged meeting between the lead hijacker and an Iraqi agent. Nowhere in the documents is the "Al Qaeda-Hussein Link...Dismissed," as Washington Post headline writers would have us believe. In fact, Staff Statement 15 discusses several "links." It never, as the Associated Press maintained, "bluntly contradicted" the Bush administration's prewar arguments. The Los Angeles Times was more emphatic still: "The findings appear to be the most complete and authoritative dismissal of a key Bush administration rationale for invading Iraq: that Hussein's regime had worked in collusion with al Qaeda."

Hayes quotes the Democratic co-chair of the 9/11 Commission, Lee Hamilton, during an interview on PBS' News Hour June 17, which for some reason has not been transcribed on the PBS website:

I must say I have trouble understanding the flak over this. The Vice President is saying, I think, that there were connections between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's government. We don't disagree with that. What we have said is just what [Republican co-chairman Tom Kean] just said: We don't have any evidence of a cooperative or collaborative relationship between Saddam Hussein's government and al Qaeda with regard to the attacks on the United States. So it seems to me that sharp differences that the press has drawn, that the media has drawn, are not that apparent to me.

Thomas Kean, during the PBS interview on the night prior, had this to say at the very start of the interview about al-Qaeda/Iraqi connections [bold emphasis mine]:

MARGARET WARNER: Your conclusion today in the staff statement was-- and I quote-- "we have no credible evidence that Iraq and al-Qaida cooperated on attacks against the United States."

Chairman Kean, are you unanimous in that conclusion and what makes you so sure?

THOMAS KEAN: Well, first of all, this is a staff report. It's not the report of the commission or the commissioners as yet. But the staff in their investigation has found that, yes, there were contacts between Iraq and al-Qaida, a number of them, some of them a little shadowy. They were definitely there. But as far as any evidence that Saddam Hussein was in any way involved in the attack on 9/11, it just isn't there.

Hayes reminds readers of the pre-2001 consensus that Saddam Hussein actively collaborated with al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, especially in the Sudan where the government there was an AQ front almost as transparent as that of the Taliban in Afghanistan:

According to numerous intelligence reports dating back to the Clinton administration, Iraq provided chemical weapons training (and perhaps materials) to the Sudanese government-run Military Industrial Corporation--which, along with Sudanese intelligence, also had a close relationship with al Qaeda. (Jamal Ahmed Al-Fadl and Ali A. Mohamed, two high-ranking al Qaeda terrorists who cooperated with U.S. authorities before 9/11, said Sudanese intelligence and military officials provided security for al Qaeda safehouses and training camps, and al Qaeda operatives did the same for Sudanese government facilities.)

William Cohen, secretary of defense under Clinton, testified to this before the September 11 Commission on March 23, 2004. Cohen was asked about U.S. attacks on a Sudanese pharmaceutical factory on August 20, 1998. The strikes came 13 days after al Qaeda terrorists bombed U.S. embassies in East Africa, killing some 257 people (including 12 Americans) and injuring more than 5,000. The Clinton administration and the intelligence community quickly determined that al Qaeda was behind the attacks and struck back at the facility in Sudan and at an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. Almost immediately, the decision to attack the plant outside Khartoum was controversial. The Clinton administration, in its efforts to justify the strikes, told reporters that the plant had strong links to Iraq's chemical weapons program. No fewer than six top Clinton administration officials--on the record--cited the Iraq connection to justify its strikes in response to the al Qaeda attacks on the U.S. embassies. (Some of these officials, like James Rubin and Sandy Berger, now hold top advisory positions in John Kerry's presidential campaign. Kerry, however, now says he was misled about an Iraq-al Qaeda relationship.)

Be sure to read all of Hayes' rebuttal, and be sure to read Hayes' book, which is more timely than ever now. It's a quick read, and easily absorbed. (via Power Line)

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 19, 2004 7:49 AM

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