Cheney Had No New Data on Saddam, Al Qaeda-Panel
By David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Sept. 11 commission, which reported no evidence of collaborative links between Iraq (news - web sites) and al Qaeda, said on Tuesday that Vice President Dick Cheney (news - web sites) had no more information than commission investigators to support his later assertions to the contrary.
The 10-member bipartisan panel investigating the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington said it reached its conclusion after reviewing available transcripts of Cheney's public remarks on the subject.
The vice president has asserted long-standing links between the former Iraqi president and Osama Bin Laden's Islamist militant network.
"The 9-11 Commission believes it has access to the same information the vice president has seen regarding contacts between al Qaeda and Iraq prior to the 9-11 attacks," the commission said in a statement.
Neither commission Chairman Thomas Kean nor Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton were available to elaborate on their panel's statement.
Cheney spokesman Kevin Kellems denied any conflict between the commission's finding of no Saddam/al Qaeda relationship and the vice president's position. He described Cheney as being "pleased" about the commission's statement and said the message "put to rest a non-story.
"As we have said all along, the administration provided the commission with unprecedented access to sensitive information so they could perform their mission," said Kellems, who noted that the commission's report was a draft.
"We look forward to reading the commission's final report," he added.
Al Qaeda is blamed for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that killed about 3,000 people and prompted President Bush (news - web sites) to launch his war on terrorism with an invasion that ousted Afghanistan (news - web sites)'s former Taliban regime.
NO WEAPONS, AL QAEDA TIES FOUND
Assertions that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and could be prepared to provide chemical or biological agents to al Qaeda for attacks on the United States were a main justification for Bush's decision to invade and occupy Iraq.
No such weapons have been found, and recent opinion polls have suggested growing public skepticism about the Bush administration's reasons for launching a war in which 870 U.S. soldiers have died and nearly 5,400 have been wounded.
The commission called White House claims about links between Saddam Hussein (news - web sites) and al Qaeda into question on June 11, with a staff report that found no evidence of a collaborative relationship between the Iraqi leader and al Qaeda leading up to the attacks.
But Bush and his top aides stood firm, with Cheney forcefully maintaining that evidence depicting an Iraqi role in the Sept. 11 attacks may yet emerge.
"The notion that there is no relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda just simply is not true," Cheney said in an interview with CNBC in which the vice president also suggested he might have more information than the panel.
The New York Times later reported Kean and Hamilton hoped to see any additional information Cheney had on the subject.
As part of the White House response to the Sept. 11 commission's report, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice (news - web sites) said she believed the panel was actually denying Saddam had control over al Qaeda. Kean and Hamilton flatly rejected her interpretation.
Bush and Co. What a lying, lying mess!