Jewish World Review June 21, 2004 / 2 Tamuz, 5764

Jack Kelly

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The 9/11 commission does see an Iraq link | On Thursday, the lead headline in my home paper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, was "Saddam, al-Qaida Not Linked. Sept. 11 Panel's Conclusion at Odds with Administration." In the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that day, the banner headline read: "9/11 Panel Debunks Saddam Link. Report: No Evidence of al-Qaida Ties."

This was false, as the chair and vice chair of the 9/11 commission hastened to make clear.

"Were there contacts between al-Qaida and Iraq? Yes. Some of them were shadowy, but they were there," commission Chair Thomas Kean told reporters on Thursday.

"There were connections between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein's government," said commission Vice Chair Lee Hamilton. "We don't disagree with that. What we have said is that we don't have any evidence of a cooperative, or a collaborative relationship between Saddam Hussein's government and these al-Qaida operatives with regard to attacks on the United States [italics added]. So it seems to me that the sharp differences that the press has drawn, that the media has drawn, are not that apparent to me."

Since the Bush administration has never claimed that Saddam had a role in planning the 9/11 attacks, or earlier attacks on the USS Cole, the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the Khobar Towers bombing, or the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, there is essentially no difference between what the commission said in its staff report, and what President Bush has been saying all along.

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In Friday's paper, the PG made no mention of what Kean and Hamilton had to say about the erroneous reporting of the day before.

The Post-Gazette and Tribune-Review were by no means alone in getting the story wrong. The erroneous PG story Thursday was from The Washington Post. The story we ran Friday, headlined "Bush, Cheney Defend Linking Iraq, al-Qaida" — which avoided mentioning that both the chairman and co-chairman of the 9/11 commission agreed with Bush —was from The New York Times.

Television news was worse. MSNBC's Keith Olbermann began his broadcast Wednesday night with the announcement: "Memo to the vice president: 9/11 commission finds, quote 'no credible evidence,' unquote, of any link between al-Qaida and Iraq." CBS's John Roberts said the Bush administration "took a devastating hit when the 9/11 commission declared there was no collaborative relationship between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. The report is yet another blow to the president's credibility."

The 9/11 commission staff report details a series of contacts between Saddam Hussein's regime and Osama bin Laden. The report in effect confirms everything Secretary of State Colin Powell said about Iraq/al-Qaida ties in his February 2003 presentation to the United Nations, though you'd never know that from the reporting that has been done on the report.

Reasonable people can differ on how significant were the linkages between Saddam and al-Qaida. But it is certainly possible for linkages to be dangerous even if one party is not privy to the operational planning of the other. Nazi Germany and Tojo's Japan had a "collaborative relationship" before and during World War II which was, to put it mildly, troublesome for the United States, even though there is "no credible evidence" that Hitler was involved in planning the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Iraq provided money, weapons, training and safe harbor to al-Qaida and other terror groups. The 9/11 commission concluded that the support Saddam pro-offered wasn't as extensive as Osama bin Laden desired, but it was extensive enough to cause reasonable people to conclude that Iraq's support for terror was a danger to the United States.

Nor should the report of the 9/11 commission — composed of grandstanders with little background in national security policy — be considered the last word. The staff appeared to base its finding that there was no collaborative relationship in planning attacks on Americ on the testimony of two senior al-Qaida operatives in U.S. custody. Al-Qaida operatives have been known to lie to infidels.

On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters that after Sept. 11, he passed on to President Bush several warnings that Saddam Hussein was planning terror attacks in the United States, and against U.S. interests abroad.

"Russian special services several times received such information and passed it on to their American colleagues," Putin said.

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JWR contributor Jack Kelly, a former Marine and Green Beret, was a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration. Comment by clicking here.

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