Jewish World Review June 22, 2004/ 3 Tamuz, 5764

Wesley Pruden

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A little whitewash for pesky facts | That's egg on toast, or maybe boiled sheep's eyes on pita, all over certain faces over at the September 11 commission.

The commission's vague and fuzzy conclusion that it can find "no credible evidence" of a link between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden enabled John F. Kerry, the New York Times, The Washington Post and even the Associated Press to apply what looks a lot like whitewash to certain pesky facts.

The panic among the Democrats, yearning to reprise Ronald Reagan's "morning in America" campaign but saddled with a candidate and his theme of "dark and stormy night in America," is plain to see. There's a natural temptation to ascribe political motives to the whitewashers, but we mustn't do that.

Nevertheless, Monsieur Kerry and the acolytes, in their eagerness to tar George W. Bush with everything black and sticky, are determined to establish as settled fact the notion that Saddam was innocent of complicity in September 11, and thus taking the war to Iraq was either unjustified, or criminal, or both. There's a heap of difference between "no credible evidence" and "no evidence," as any district attorney and defense lawyer would tell you, and any hack can build a headline and even a front-page story on flimsier stuff than you can build a criminal case on.

When Dick Cheney blew the whistle, noting that the commission report went far beyond such evidence as the commission could find, the two chairmen of the commission, Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton, couldn't disavow the sloppiness of the staff work fast enough. "Were there contacts between al Qaeda and Iraq," asked Mr. Kean, a Republican. "Yes ... no question." Said Mr. Hamilton, a Democrat: "The vice president is saying, I think, that there were connections [between Saddam and bin Laden] ... we don't disagree with that." There was just "no credible evidence" of Iraqi cooperation in the planning and execution of the September 11 attacks on America. Neither George W. nor Dick Cheney ever said there was, but this was either lost or ignored in the inside-the-Beltway hysteria following the release of the commission's early findings.

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The commission obviously needs help in getting to the bottom of things, because pesky facts are struggling to be recognized. John Lehman, the secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration and a member of the commission, told television interviewers Sunday that a lieutenant colonel in Saddam's Fedayeen, one Ahmed Hikmat Shakir, was actually a prominent member of al Qaeda who has been identified in published accounts as having attended a meeting in Malaysia to plot the September 11 attacks. So did two of the September 11 hijackers, as well as senior al Qaeda members. It's a shame that the commission and its staff of crack investigators don't have time to read the newspapers. This was all laid out in an editorial in the Wall Street Journal on May 27.

The defenders of the commission report are scrambling now to find believable quibbles and cavils. "Shakir is a pretty common name," one of them said in the wake of Mr. Lehman's remarks. "And even if the two names refer to the same person, there might be a number of other explanations." Col. Shakir might be a rug salesman. He might be a mango peddler, or a famous imam. He might even have been an al Qaeda operative, cooperating with Saddam, but this is a possibility too embarrassing to consider.

Two senior bin Laden associates, the commission says in its interim report, "adamantly denied any ties existed between al Qaeda and Iraq." This should wrap it up. Would two senior associates of the man responsible for killing 3,000 Americans tell a lie? Would senior associates of Osama bin Laden spin these crack investigators by telling them exactly what they wanted to hear?

It's what the gentlemen from the New York Times and The Washington Post wanted to hear, too. When Dick Cheney all but spluttered with outrage at the phony interpretation of the commission's interim report, the coverage was mostly of his outrage, not what he was outraged about. Winning the war in Iraq is important, but it's the election, stupid.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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