Last Thursday?s New York Times headline told us that the 9/11 Commission found "no Qaeda-Iraq tie." The Washington Post insisted that the "Al Qaeda-Hussein link is dismissed."
But what Wednesday's commission statement actually said was that the panel had discovered "no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States."
Explains 9/11 Commision spokesman Jonathan Stull, "The report doesn't close the book on connections between Iraq and al Qaeda." And both the co-chairs of the panel?one Republican, one Democrat?have stressed that the interim report did not dispute the White House?s argument about ties between Iraq and al Qaeda.
And Saddam's possible role in 9/11 had little to do with the case for war in Iraq. The point there was to prevent another 9/11.
Apparently, this is too much nuance for most of the media to handle.
Did the administration make Iraq's substantial terrorist ties, including to al Qaeda, one of the primary reasons for going to war? Of course. But did the administration try to pin 9/11 on Saddam? No.
Yet the casual reader probably couldn't glean that from the initial media reaction to the commission's interim report. Nor that the "news" on Iraq was but one paragraph in a 12-page document.
The lead of the Times' Page One story reads like a John Kerry press release: "The staff of the commission investigating the 9/11 attacks sharply contradicted one of President Bush's central justifications for the Iraq war, reporting on Wednesday that there did not appear to have been a 'collaborative relationship' between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein."
What the Times neglected to mention was that the commission wrote that bin Laden personally had met with a senior Iraqi intelligence officer in Sudan in 1994. Hardly an insignificant detail, particularly when it's all in the same paragraph of the commission report.
The Washington Post was only slightly better: Its lead sentence announced that the report's single paragraph on Iraq "challeng[ed] one of the Bush administration's main justifications for the war in Iraq."
Except that, as already noted, Bush didn't use Saddam's role in 9/11 as a "justification" for the war. What Bush did do was, correctly, argue that Saddam's ongoing contacts with al Qaeda posed an unacceptable threat.
Joel Mowbray, who got his start with Townhall.com, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.
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