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One of the most under-reported findings of the joint congressional inquiry into the suicide hijackings of 9/11, published July 24, is that U.S. intelligence had no evidence that Iraq was involved in the attacks or that it supported the al-Qaeda terrorist network that planned and carried them out.
This disclosure contradicts the Bush administration, which cited links between Saddam Hussein’s regime and al-Qaeda terrorists as one of the reasons for attacking Iraq. The report bolsters the argument that the Bush administration cynically manipulated intelligence to justify invading Iraq. What’s more, it’s clear that the White House deliberately delayed the report’s release until the pre-emptive invasion was a fait accompli.
The inquiry, conducted by a joint House and Senate committee, was impaneled in February 2002 after considerable White House foot dragging. The committee completed its work at the end of last year, but publication of the report was delayed by disputes between Congress and the administration over what should remain classified.
Former Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.), a member of the joint committee that produced the report, told UPI, “The reason this report was delayed for so long — deliberately opposed at first, then slow-walked after it was created — is that the administration wanted to get the war in Iraq in and over … before it came out.” Cleland added, “Had this report come out in January like it should have done, we would have known these things before the war in Iraq, which would not have suited the administration.”
As it is, the report offers a mild rebuke to both the Bush and Clinton administrations for failing to place proper emphasis on intelligence information pre-9/11 that revealed al-Qaeda’s deadly intentions. And the report places much of the blame for 9/11 on the failure of the nation’s intelligence agencies: “The important point is that the intelligence community, for a variety of reasons, did not bring together and fully appreciate a range of information that could have greatly enhanced its chances of uncovering and preventing Osama bin Laden’s plans to attack the United States on September 11, 2001.”
The investigation revealed several examples of intelligence community failures. Yet, most media interest seems focused on 28 redacted (censored) pages of the report that are said to contain information highly critical of Saudi Arabia.
Media reaction to the release of information belabors the obvious. After all, 15 of the 19 suicide hijackers hailed from Saudi Arabia, which also is the home of the militant brand of Islam (the Wahabi sect) that animates al-Qaeda’s fanaticism.
The more significant story than the 28 blank pages is the Bush administration’s blank response to the committee’s requests for information about the president’s level of engagement in pre-9/11 counterterrorism efforts. The report indicated that the congressional panel was stonewalled by the White House when it attempted to determine “to what extent the president received threat-specific warnings during this period.”
The report also calls into question statements made by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice last year about the White House’s knowledge of terrorism threats. Rice told the public in May 2002 that a pre-9/11 intelligence briefing for the president contained only general warnings of terrorism threats, not specific plots.
Rice also said, “I don’t think anybody could have predicted that these people would … try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile.”
But the congressional report noted that “from at least 1994, and continuing into the summer of 2001, the intelligence community received information indicating that terrorists were contemplating, among other means of attack, the use of aircraft as weapons.”
The report faintly damns the Bush administration for failing to act on information that may have allowed authorities to at least disrupt the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The White House has shown a disturbing readiness to ignore intelligence that’s out of sync with its own ideology, and this tendency needs to be corrected. Will Congress leave that job to the electorate?
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Salim Muwakkil is a senior editor of In These Times and host of “The Salim Muwakkil Show” on radio station WVON-AM in Chicago. Muwakkil was also contributing columnist for both the Chicago Sun-Times (1993 – 1997) and the Chicago Tribune (1998 – 2005). He is also a co-founder of Pacifica News’ network daily “Democracy Now” program and served as an adjunct professor at Northwestern University, University of Illinois, the Art Institute of Chicago and Chicago’s Columbia College.