- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 19, 2004

The September 11 commission isn’t the first to say there is an absence of proof Iraq had anything to do with the terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001.

“We’ve had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with September 11,” President Bush said almost a year ago, earning fewer headlines than the recent commission report.

The commission staff does go further. It sees no evidence of any collaboration between al Qaeda and Iraq. Vice President Cheney has certainly talked as if there were. So did Clinton administration officials. The CIA has thought as much. Journalist Stephen Hayes has written a book and articles pointing to all sorts of collaborative possibilities.

Keep in mind that the September 11 commission is not the final word on anything; independent commissions are fallible, despite the apparent belief of some that they aren’t.

The commission stops short of saying there is no chance Saddam helped al Qaeda. It says you cannot demonstrate as much and that there’s reason to be suspicious of such a connection. We know Saddam did help some terrorists and al Qaeda is not the only conceivable threat from militant Islamism.

Even the commission’s own report says there was at least one meeting and perhaps more between Osama bin Laden and an Iraqi official in Sudan in the 1990s. Although the report concludes Iraq did not accede to a bin Laden request for assistance, the interaction itself should trouble those who pause to reflect on Saddam’s hatred of the United States, his recklessness, his aggressiveness, his genocidal history and the known fact he once had weapons of mass destruction.

The report does not provide fresh reason to suppose the war in Iraq unjustified. Nor does it show the Bush administration misled the American people. The information available to President Bush was and is sufficient to persuade a prudent leader to do what he did. And the administration has by and large carefully qualified its statements about Iraq and al Qaeda.

The quote from Mr. Bush, taken from a news account about the report, demonstrates that some of those criticizing the White House are not listening to what the White House says.

Jay Ambrose is director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard Newspapers.

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