Earlier today we posted this story from the Washington Times reporting on 9/11 commission member John Lehman’s statement that “there is at least one officer of Saddam’s Fedayeen, a lieutenant colonel, who was a very prominent member of al Qaeda.” The Times also reports that Richard Ben-Veniste, the Democrats’ pit-bull on the commission, says he hopes the panel will get intelligence “with respect to the individual that John Lehman has talked about.”
Which makes me wonder about the commission’s motives for opining about the presence or absence of an al Qaeda-Saddam connection. As I understand it, the purposes of the commission are to figure out what went wrong prior to 9/11 and to recommend changes that will prevent future terrorist attacks. I fail to see how the relationship (or lack thereof) between al Qaeda and Iraq bears on either purpose. It is possible that the commission nonetheless decided to address this issue in the name of historical completeness. But, in the current climate, it strikes me as gratuitous for the commission, for example, to have expressed its “belief” on the essentially unknowable question of whether Mohammad Atta met with Iraqi officials in the Czech Republic or, for that matter, to now undertake an inquiry regarding Ahmed Hikmat Shakir, the lieutenant colonel to whom Lehman referred.
It also strikes me as counterproductive for the commission to have embarked on this line of inquiry, unless its overriding motivation is politically, not policy, based. If the commission’s objective is to be a credible bi-partisan group that makes policy recommendations to be embraced by policy-makers on both sides of the political spectrum, the worst thing it could have done was to lead off with statements on a shadowy, politically charged issue that (presumably) has nothing to do with what its policy recommendations ultimately will be. This probably explains why Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton (who, unlike some on the commission, seem to care about the commission’s viability on the policy-recommending side) immediately tried to minimize the controversy the report created by claiming that they didn’t understand what the fuss was about. We can be sure that Ben-Viniste understands.
HINDROCKET adds: This whole affair seems to me to be shocking on several levels. Not the least shocking is this: any reader of Power Line, not to mention any reader of Stephen Hayes’ The Connection, apparently had more knowledge about the relations between Iraq and al Qaeda than the 9/11 commission’s staff did. The staff report never mentions Lt. Col. Shakir, and betrays no knowledge of his existence. It now appears that this omission, which seemed puzzling when I read the staff report, is explained by the fact that the staff had never heard of Shakir. The 9/11 staff, in other words, knows less about the connections between Iraq and al Qaeda than we do. For the staff to have plunged into this politically-charged subject from a position of such abject ignorance is, as I say, shocking.
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