Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Administration vindicated. Press buries the lead.

The Washington Post engaged in a bit of irresponsibly biased reporting today.

An article subtitled "9/11 Panel Finds No Collaboration Between Iraq, Al Qaeda" runs as follows:
In an overview of al Qaeda released in a separate report earlier this morning, the commission also found "no credible evidence" that al Qaeda collaborated with Saddam Hussein's government in Iraq on the Sept. 11 strikes or any other attacks on the United States. That finding comes in the wake of statements Monday by Vice President Cheney that Iraq had "long-established ties" with al Qaeda, and comments by President Bush yesterday backing up that assertion.
Guess what? The commission report in fact backs up Cheney's statements despite the Post's efforts to discredit the Vice President.

A more accurate story would have been headlined, "9/11 Panel Reveals Longstanding Collaboration Between Iraq, Al Qaeda -- Bush Administration Vindicated."

The report notes explicitly that at least one terrorist group from Iraq joined the "broader Islamic army" that Bin Ladin was seeking to build with al Qaeda as its foundation. (See page 3, second full paragraph.) It is not clear from the report when this happened, but it looks like it may have been ~1991.

In addition, the report reveals:

- Bin Ladin "explored possible cooperation with Iraq during his time in Sudan" (1991-1996). The Sudanese "arranged for contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda. A senior Iraqi intelligence officer reportedly made three visits to Sudan, finally meeting Bin Ladin in 1994. Bin Ladin is said to have requested space to establish training camps, as well as assistance in procuring weapons." (See page 5, paragraph 4.) Apparently, Saddam did not provide the camps and weapons.

- Further contacts between al Qaeda and Iraq were reported after Bin Ladin's return to Afghanistan in 1996. (See page 5, paragraph 4.) These contacts apparently persisted despite no overt collaboration at that point.

While the report does state, "We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States," [emphasis mine] it nowhere states that Iraq and al Qaeda did not cooperate otherwise, or might not have cooperated in the future on attacks against the U.S.

Unsurprisingly, the Post is not alone in spinning the story against the Administration. An A.P. story on the NY Times web site today runs as follows:
Sept. 11 Commission Report Says Iraq Rebuffed Al Qaeda

Published: June 16, 2004

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks found ``no credible evidence'' of a link between Iraq and al-Qaida in attacks against the United States, contradicting President Bush's assertion that such a connection was among the reasons it was necessary to topple Saddam Hussein.

UPDATE: I have learned that since I quoted from the story in the Post, they have edited it to remove the disparaging remarks about Cheney. But I see no indication of the correction. I've e-mailed the reporter to inquire about the missing lines; I'll let you know if I hear anything.

'NOTHER UPDATE: Instapundit has a round-up of comments on the matter, including a link to this post. David M makes big time.

UPDATE: As of 11:15 a.m. EST, Jun. 17, I have received no reply from yesterday afternoon's inquiry to the reporter at the Post. In the meantime the article in question has been fairly significantly edited yet again, with no indication that there have been any edits or corrections. Does anyone have the Jun. 17 print version of the Post to see what version made it into the paper?