Nearing the end of its work, the September 11 commission is inviting Vice President Dick Cheney to provide any evidence he has that would show links between al Qaeda and Iraq under Saddam Hussein, a panel member said yesterday.
The member said the panel also wants to follow up its questioning of President Bush’s national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and CIA Director George J. Tenet.
The Cheney request culminates a week in which the commission said it found no evidence of collaboration between Saddam’s Iraq and al Qaeda, while the White House stuck by its position that the two had significant links.
Mr. Cheney told the CNBC network that there probably were things about Iraq’s links to terrorists that the commission members did not learn during their 14-month investigation.
After hearing the vice president’s comment, commission members said they would like to see any intelligence reports to which Mr. Cheney was referring.
“We would certainly welcome any information bearing on the issue of assistance or collaboration with al Qaeda by any government, including Iraq,” said commission member Richard Ben-Veniste. Commission Chairman Thomas Kean and Vice Chairman Lee H. Hamilton made similar comments to the New York Times.
The Bush administration used the assertion of collaboration between al Qaeda and Saddam’s regime as one of its reasons for invading Iraq.
Commission spokesman Al Felzenberg said the commission is not making another formal request for documents from the White House.
“We have made an extensive document request of the administration, and they have responded to our requests,” Mr. Felzenberg said. The panel is saying, he added: “If the vice president or anybody else has any information on this subject that they would like the commission to examine, the commission would very much like to see it.”
Regarding additional questioning of witnesses, Mr. Ben-Veniste said, “We are following up on interviews and other investigative leads at the same time we begin finalizing the factual accounts which will be contained in the final report.”
“Following up with Dr. Rice and George Tenet are two obvious areas of interest.”
The Los Angeles Times first reported the panel’s desire for further questioning of the two. The Times said Mr. Tenet, who leaves office in July, had agreed to be re-interviewed, and the commission might submit written questions to Miss Rice.
Without addressing whether the commission wants to question Miss Rice and Mr. Tenet again, Mr. Felzenberg said, “It is not unusual to go back to someone with more questions.”
The commission has a July 26 deadline for completing its final report.