June 18, 2004



SUBJECT: September 11 Commission Staff Report

With the release of the September 11 Commission staff report, I wanted to bring to your attention two noteworthy items.

One is a federal indictment, released November 6, 1998, against Osama Bin Laden for conspiring to murder Americans. In detailing the charges against Bin Laden, the indictment points out that "al Qaeda reached an understanding with the government of Iraq that al Qaeda would not work against that government and that on particular projects, specifically including weapons development, al Qaeda would work cooperatively with the Government of Iraq." Text of the indictment may be found here.

In addition, yesterday, some media outlets mischaracterized the September 11 staff report's findings regarding the relationship between Saddam Hussein's Iraq and al Qaeda. In particular, the New York Times ran the headline, "Panel Finds No Qaeda-Iraq Tie." Last night, Vice President Cheney responded to the September 11 staff report, and to the media's coverage of it. Selected excerpts from the Vice President's interview (full text available here) on CNBC's "Capital Report" follow:

"I disagree with the way their findings have been portrayed. [There] has been enormous confusion over the Iraq-al-Qaida connection.... First of all, on the question of whether or not there was any kind of a relationship, there clearly was a relationship. It's been testified to. The evidence is overwhelming. It goes back to the early '90s.

"It involves a whole series of contacts, high-level contacts between Osama bin Laden and Iraqi intelligence officials. It involves a senior official, a brigadier general in the Iraqi intelligence service going to the Sudan before bin Laden ever went to Afghanistan to train them in bomb-making, helping teach them how to forge documents. Mr. Zarqawi, who's in Baghdad today, is an al-Qaida associate who took refuge in Baghdad, found sanctuary and safe harbor there before we ever launched into Iraq. There's a Mr. Yasin, who was a World Trade Center bomber in '93, who fled to Iraq after that and we found since when we got into Baghdad, documents showing that he was put on the payroll and given housing by Saddam Hussein after the '93 attack; in other words, provided safe harbor and sanctuary. There's clearly been a relationship....

"Look at the Zarqawi case. Here's a man who's Jordanian by birth. He's described as an al-Qaida associate. He ran training camps in Afghanistan back before we went to war in Afghanistan. After we went in and hit his training camp, he fled to Baghdad. Found safe harbor and sanctuary in Baghdad in May of 2002. He arrived with about two dozen other supporters of his, members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which was Zawahiri's organization. He's the number two to bin Laden, which was merged with al-Qaida interchangeably. Egyptian Islamic Jihad, al-Qaida, same-same. They're all now part of one organization. They merged some years ago. So Zarqawi living in Baghdad.... He was allowed to operate out of Baghdad. He ran the poisons factory in northern Iraq out of Baghdad, which became a safe harbor for Ansar al-Islam as well as al-Qaida fleeing Afghanistan. There clearly was a relationship there that stretched back over that period of time to at least May of '02, a year before we launched into Iraq. He is the worst offender. He's probably killed more Iraqis than any other man in Iraq today. He is probably the leading terrorist still operating in Iraq today....

"He had been involved working side by side, as described by the CIA, with al-Qaida over the years. This is an old established relationship. He's the man who killed our man Foley in Jordan, an AID official, during this period of time. To suggest that there's no connection between Zarqawi, no relationship if you will, and Iraq just simply is not true.

"I think the decision we made was exactly the right one. Everything I know today, everything the president knows today, we would have done exactly the same thing. Saddam Hussein was an evil man. He'd launched two wars. He'd produced and used weapons of mass destruction in the past. He had provided safe harbor and sanctuary for terrorists. He was paying $25,000 a pop to the families of suicide bombers who'd kill Israelis. He hosted Abu Nidal in Baghdad, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, had established a relationship with al-Qaida. This was an evil man who had tried previously to expand his influence in the area and we did exactly the right thing."

Saddam unquestionably had ties to terrorists and terrorist organizations, including al Qaeda. If a different impression is left by the combination of a sloppy September 11 Commission staff report regarding this issue and biased media coverage, this should not go unchallenged.