Thursday, June 17, 2004

The 9-11 Commission Report

The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (popularly known as the 9-11 Commission) held it's twelfth and final public hearing yesterday and today. They released two staff statements, one titled Overview of the Enemy (sorry, it's a PDF) and the other Outline of the 9/11 Plot. The second is very informative, describing the origin of the idea, recruitment, training, etc. But it's the first statement that's making (rather, will make)news, adding to the controversy on Iraq.

The key paragraph (reproduced below for anyone too lazy to download the PDF and read the report), as far as Iraq is considered, says that there is no evidence Iraq had any links to the attack on September 11th, or even al Qaeda.
Bin Ladin also explored possible cooperation with Iraq during his time in Sudan, despite his opposition to Hussein's secular regime. Bin Ladin had in fact at one time sponsored anti-Saddam Islamists in Iraqi Kurdistan. The Sudanese, to protect their own ties with Iraq, reportedly persuaded Bin Ladin to cease this support and arranged for contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda. A senior Iraqi intelligence officer reportedly made three visits to Sudan, finally meeting Bin Ladin in 1994. Bin Ladin is said to have requested space to establish training camps, as well as assistance in procuring weapons, but Iraq apparently never responded. There have been reports that contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda also occurred after Bin Ladin returned to Afghanistan, but they do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship. Two senior Bin Ladin associates have adamantly denied that any ties existed between al Qaeda and Iraq. We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States.

The New York Times has an editorial sharply critical of President Bush, and demanding an apology for his misleading the American people.
Of all the ways Mr. Bush persuaded Americans to back the invasion of Iraq last year, the most plainly dishonest was his effort to link his war of choice with the battle against terrorists worldwide. While it's possible that Mr. Bush and his top advisers really believed that there were chemical, biological and nuclear weapons in Iraq, they should have known all along that there was no link between Iraq and Al Qaeda. No serious intelligence analyst believed the connection existed; Richard Clarke, the former antiterrorism chief, wrote in his book that Mr. Bush had been told just that.

Nevertheless, the Bush administration convinced a substantial majority of Americans before the war that Saddam Hussein was somehow linked to 9/11. And since the invasion, administration officials, especially Vice President Dick Cheney, have continued to declare such a connection. On Monday, Mr. Cheney said Mr. Hussein "had long-established ties with Al Qaeda." Mr. Bush later backed up Mr. Cheney, claiming that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a terrorist who may be operating in Baghdad, is "the best evidence" of a Qaeda link. This was particularly astonishing because the director of central intelligence, George Tenet, told the Senate earlier this year that Mr. Zarqawi did not work with the Hussein regime.

There are two unpleasant alternatives: either Mr. Bush knew he was not telling the truth, or he has a capacity for politically motivated self-deception that is terrifying in the post-9/11 world.

The Washington Post is carrying this article on the report. It's less harsh on the administration, presenting a reasonably well-balanced view. The Post also has an editorial reminding readers that this was not the focus of the reports issued yesterday. A lot of information on the attacks and al Qaeda was revealed, and this is being overshadowed by the lack of ties between Bin Ladin and Iraq.
Yet showing a peculiar instinct for the capillaries rather than the jugular, part of the public debate immediately focused on a single passing point that is no kind of revelation at all: "We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States." Administration foes seized on this sentence to claim that Vice President Cheney has been lying, as recently as this week, about a purported relationship between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. The accusation is nearly as irresponsible as the Bush administration's rhetoric has been.

True, there was more to the report, but how can the author possibly claim that the accusation was irresponsible? It's true: there are no links, which is no kind of revelation to anyone except Vice President Cheney, who is on record as claiming that there are. Or is it irresponsible because it might make the administration look foolish? I'm sure the Post does that as much as any other newspaper!

So what does this mean for Bush and his re-election campaign? My gut feeling is, not much. I think most people who could be put off by this 'revelation' have already decided not to vote for him.

No comments: