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June 17, 2004

House GOP disputes the 9-11 finding

House Republican lawmakers are disputing the Sept. 11 commission’s new finding that there is “no credible evidence” showing Iraq and al Qaeda worked together to attack the United States.

The GOP comments signify the latest rift between congressional Republicans and the commission. Many Republicans on Capitol Hill believe the panel has become partisan, and some have objected to the amount of media interviews commissioners have granted over the past couple of months. This tension has led some to speculate that Hill Republicans are unlikely to embrace the panel’s final recommendations, which are expected to be released at the end of July.

photo courtesy Rep. Ros-Lehtinen
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.)

Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told The Hill: “I don’t put much credence in the 9-11 panel,” adding that he had not yet read the new report.

The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, the independent panel investigating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, contradicted claims made by Vice President Dick Cheney in a speech earlier this week that Saddam Hussein “had long-established ties with al Qaeda.”

The panel issued its 15th staff report, titled “Overview of the Enemy.” In an understated tone, the commission’s staff detailed how al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden grew into a fearsome and violent terrorist organization.

It also addressed whether the stateless terrorist organization and Saddam Hussein cooperated on planning and executing the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, which has become a sticking point in the debate over whether the war in Iraq was justified.

The report says that contacts between Iraq and Osama bin Laden “do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship. Two senior bin Laden associates have adamantly denied that any ties existed. … We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al-Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States.”

But when pressed on the specifics of the report, Republican lawmakers glossed over the lack of so-called “operational” evidence and pointed to the fact that al Qaeda and Iraq share the same goal of killing Americans.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the chairwoman of the International Affairs Middle East Subcommittee, said: “Whether or not there is a direct link to the World Trade Center does not mean that Iraq is not meritorious of shedding blood. The common link is that they hate America.”

She added that the opponents of the war in Iraq have drawn the “wrong conclusion” if they think the war was unjustified because there was no link between Saddam and bin Laden.

Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.), who has made several trips to postwar Iraq, said: “Iraq is a terrorist nation. … [Al Qaeda] and Iraq, they’re like peas in a pod. They’re like-minded.”

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), who is well-traveled in Afghanistan, told The Hill: “Iraq is a strategic move to offer a democratic alternative in the Middle East.”

Asked whether the Bush administration made a mistake in hyping the connection between bin Laden and Saddam, Rohrabacher said: “Was it a well-thought out sales pitch? Probably not.”

Not unexpectedly, Democrats have a different view of the world.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) said: “The president of the United States has already said that is not true. Condoleezza Rice said he never made that assertion. Maybe Cheney was out of the loop, and hopefully Rice will include him” on interoffice
memorandums, he said.

Emanuel was referring to Cheney’s speech delivered at the James Madison Institute, a conservative think tank in Florida, on Monday where he also claimed that Saddam
“was a patron of terrorism.”

President Bush, who has said in past statements that there were no ties between Saddam and al Qaeda, defended Cheney’s remarks yesterday saying Saddam ‘’had ties to terrorist organizations.” He did not mention al Qaeda.

In a statement, Emanuel said, “I know in this town, some people are firm in their opinions and flexible on their principles.”

Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said: “There’s no intelligence to support an operational relationship pre-military action in Iraq. I have no idea where the vice president gets his information.”

The Sept. 11 panel’s report also says that bin Laden’s role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 1999 plot to blow up a dozen U.S. commercial airliners “remains a matter of substantial uncertainty.”

Additionally, the report says the training received by al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan “was apparently quite good” and that they functioned to create “a climate … to think creatively about ways to commit mass murder.”


 


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