Panel backs claim of weak al-Qaida-Iraq link

Wednesday, July 7, 2004

WASHINGTON -- The Sept. 11 commission is standing by its finding that al-Qaida had only limited contact with Iraq before the terrorist attacks, a determination disputed by Vice President Dick Cheney.

The 10-member, bipartisan panel issued a one-sentence statement Tuesday saying it had access to the same information as Cheney, who suggested strong ties between ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida.

Those ties were a central justification the Bush administration gave for going to war with Iraq and were called into question after the commission released a preliminary report last month. The report cited contacts between Saddam's regime and Osama bin Laden but said there was no "collaborative relationship."

Cheney questioned the commission's finding in an interview with CNBC and said there "probably" was information about Iraq's links to terrorists that the commission members did not learn during their 14-month investigation. The commission statement disputed that.

"After examining available transcripts of the vice president's public remarks, the 9-11 commission believes it has access to the same information the vice president has seen regarding contacts between al-Qaida and Iraq prior to the 9-11 attacks," the commission said.

The commission invited Cheney to offer any evidence that he thought it didn't have but never received any information.

Cheney's spokesman, Kevin Kellems, said on Tuesday the vice president was satisfied the panel had all relevant information to make an accurate determination. Cheney's main concern was about some media reports suggesting that al-Qaida and Iraq had no ties whatsoever, he said.

"We are pleased with today's statement from the 9-11 commission, which puts to rest a non-story," Kellems said. "As we have said all along, the administration has provided the commission with unprecedented access to sensitive information so they can perform their mission."

The commission, which faces a July 26 deadline to issue its final report, is winding down its 1 1/2 year investigation into what went wrong and why.

Commissioners already have submitted substantial portions of the report to the White House for review and are meeting this week to hash out recommendations into how to prevent future attacks. Proposals under consideration include creating a domestic intelligence agency modeled after Britain's MI5.


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