Wall Street Journal - Editorial Page
http://www.opinionjournal.com/editorial ... =110005237
Cross posted from OPED on US Media lack of objectivity
REVIEW & OUTLOOK
The press ignores the commission's most interesting findings.
Friday, June 18, 2004 12:01 a.m.
We'll say this on behalf of the latest staff reports from the 9/11 Commission: They are far more interesting than the media coverage suggests. Americans who go online to read the reports will actually learn a few things.
For example, they'll discover new details about the links between al Qaeda and Iran. The conventional wisdom has been that these Shiite and Sunni cultures couldn't meet, but the report says they did so "to cooperate against a common enemy"--the infidel U.S.
Specifically, al Qaeda operatives trained in Iran, and al Qaeda helped Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorists obtain explosives. Al Qaeda was also probably involved in two attacks on U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, including the 1996 bombing of Khobar Towers that killed 19 Americans and injured 372 and had previously been blamed largely on Hezbollah. This certainly sheds some useful light on State Department attempts to "engage" Tehran's mullahs as they attempt to build a nuclear bomb.
Another revelation concerns al Qaeda and anthrax. The 9/11 panel says al Qaeda had an "ambitious" biological weapons program and "was making advances in its ability to produce anthrax prior to September 11." It cites CIA Director George Tenet as saying that al Qaeda's ability to conduct an anthrax attack is "one of the most immediate threats the United States is likely to face." Given that we already were attacked by anthrax, and that we still don't know who did it, this sounds like news too.
Yet nearly all of the media coverage has focused on what the 9/11 panel claims it didn't find--namely, smoking-gun proof that al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein were working together. The country has traveled a long way psychologically from the trauma of September 11 if we are now focusing on the threats that allegedly don't exist instead of those that certainly do.
Or, to be more precise, we're further from 9/11 but very close to an election. The "no Saddam link" story is getting so much play because it fits the broader antiwar, anti-Bush narrative that Iraq was a "distraction" from the broader war on terror. So once again the 9/11 Commission is being used to tarnish the Iraqi effort and damage President Bush's credibility in fighting terror. John Kerry surely thinks so because he jumped on the coverage to once again assail Mr. Bush on Iraq.
Even here, though, the staff report is less a "slam dunk," as the CIA likes to say, than the coverage asserts. We are supposed to believe, for example, that the Commission has found out once and for all that there was no meeting in Prague between the Iraqi agent al-Ani and 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta. But the only new evidence the report turns up is that some calls were made from Florida on Atta's cell phone at the same time he was reportedly in Prague. And since that phone would not have worked in Europe anyway, how do we know someone else wasn't using it? The Czechs still believe the Atta meeting took place, and the truth is we still don't know for sure.
There's also the testimony the Commission heard Wednesday from Patrick Fitzgerald. The former Manhattan prosecutor was asked about his 1998 indictment against Osama bin Laden that asserted that al Qaeda had an "understanding" with Iraq that it would not "work against that government" and that "on certain projects, specifically including weapons development," they would "work cooperatively." Mr. Fitzgerald testified that "there was that relationship that went from opposing each other to not opposing each other to possibly working with each other."
Somehow the Commission also omitted any reference to Mr. Tenet's 2002 letter to Congress. "We have solid reporting of senior level contacts between Iraq and al-Qaeda going back a decade," he wrote. And, "We have credible reporting that al-Qaeda's leaders sought contacts in Iraq who could help them acquire W.M.D. capabilities. The reporting also stated that Iraq has provided training to al-Qaeda members in the areas of poisons and gases and making conventional bombs."
We could go on, but suffice to say that the report hardly disproves any Saddam-al Qaeda link. Mr. Bush was entirely correct when he said yesterday that, "The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and al-Qaeda is because there was a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda." The extent of those ties is the issue, and it is essential to U.S. security that we keep probing them. In particular, the President should order the release of some of the official Iraqi documents that coalition forces have captured in Iraq and that shed additional light on that relationship.
We thought everyone had learned the hard way on 9/11 that the greatest security danger comes not from taking threats too seriously but from dismissing them too easily. Apparently some people have forgotten that lesson already.
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