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June 20, 2004
9/11 Commission Wakes Up, Smells Coffee

The Washington Post reports in tomorrow's edition that the 9/11 Commission has just heard about new evidence supporting the Bush administration's contention that the Saddam Hussein regime had serious connections to al-Qaeda:

The commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has been told "a very prominent member" of al Qaeda served as an officer in Saddam Hussein's militia, a panel member said yesterday. Republican commissioner John Lehman told NBC's "Meet the Press" that the new intelligence, if proved true, buttresses claims by the Bush administration of ties between Iraq and the militant network believed responsible for the attacks on the United States. ...

"Some of these documents indicate that [there was] at least one officer of Saddam's Fedayeen, a lieutenant colonel, who was a very prominent member of al Qaeda," Lehman said. "That still has to be confirmed, but the vice president was right when he said that he may have things that we don't yet have," said Lehman, a former Navy secretary.

If this sounds familiar, it should -- you read it here on my blog three weeks ago, and prior to that in the Wall Street Journal:

One striking bit of new evidence is that the name Ahmed Hikmat Shakir appears on three captured rosters of officers in Saddam Fedayeen, the elite paramilitary group run by Saddam's son Uday and entrusted with doing much of the regime's dirty work. Our government sources, who have seen translations of the documents, say Shakir is listed with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.

This matters because if Shakir was an officer in the Fedayeen, it would establish a direct link between Iraq and the al Qaeda operatives who planned 9/11. Shakir was present at the January 2000 al Qaeda "summit" in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, at which the 9/11 attacks were planned. The U.S. has never been sure whether he was there on behalf of the Iraqi regime or whether he was an Iraqi Islamicist who hooked up with al Qaeda on his own.

The story has also been covered by reporter Stephen Hayes, both in the Weekly Standard and in his excellent book on Iraqi ties to al-Qaeda and Islamofascist terrorists in general, The Connection. The fact that John Lehman and the rest of the 9/11 Commission had no clue about Shakir until this weekend underscores the incompetence of this supposed blue-ribbon committee. How could they have not known of Shakir and his connections to both al-Qaeda and the Iraqi regime? The 9/11 Commission had no idea about intelligence reports that Americans can read on the newstand and in the bookstores?

What have these commissioners been reading during their investigation? Mother Jones and the funny pages?

UPDATE: More reactions from the commission. Reuters reports that Richard Ben-Veniste, one of the partisan hacks on the panel, told NBC that he hoped Cheney would provide information "on a current basis ... with respect to the individual that John Lehman has talked about." The report includes Republican co-chair Thomas Kean's wish that someone get them the information, and fast:

"Obviously, if there is any information (that) has to do with the subject of the report, we need it, and we need it pretty fast," Kean said on ABC's "This Week" program. "We'll ask for it and see."

He said the final report would be modified to take any new intelligence into account.

Excuse me, but what's the rush? Is this Beat the Clock? The commission shouldn't be writing reports until they have all of the information, and they sure as hell shouldn't be releasing them without checking the facts first. If Kean and Ben-Veniste are in such a hurry, it begs the question of motivation. Are there some panel members who are pushing to get the reports out early in order to embarrass the Bush administration, even while evidence disputing their conclusions is already out in the public domain?

The New York Times' Susan Jo Keller, meanwhile, buries the lede in her report on the statements by the commissioners. She starts off by focusing on Kean's assertion that the staff report claiming no collaboration between Iraq and al-Qaeda does not conflict with the Bush administration's statements (which is mostly true), and publishes this statement by Senator Carl Levin before getting to the main point which makes him a liar -- in the ninth paragraph:

"I find it, frankly, shocking that the exaggerations of the administration before the war relative to that connection continue to this day," Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said in an interview on the CNN program "Late Edition." ...

Another Republican member of the commission, John Lehman, said Sunday that new information not yet confirmed suggested that a lieutenant colonel in Mr. Hussein's Fedayeen fighter force was a "very prominent member" of Al Qaeda.

"Not yet confirmed" and "new" means, of course, "not yet acknowledged by the NYT editorial board". Keller doesn't want to admit that this information is far from new and has been reported by a major broadsheet in the same city weeks ago.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 20, 2004 11:05 PM

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