The commission investigating the September 11 attacks has been told “a very prominent member” of al Qaeda served as an officer in Saddam Hussein’s militia, a panel member says.
Republican commissioner John Lehman told NBC’s “Meet the Press” program that the new intelligence, if proven true, buttresses claims by the Bush administration of ties between Iraq and the militant network believed responsible for the September 11, 2001, attacks on America.
“We are now in the process of getting this latest intelligence,” Lehman said on Sunday.
Commission Chairman Thomas Kean urged the administration to make any such information available to the panel quickly.
“Obviously, if there is any information (that) has to do with the subject of the report, we need it, and we need it pretty fast,” Kean said on ABC’s “This Week” program. “We’ll ask for it and see.”
He said the final report would be modified to take any new intelligence into account.
Lehman said the information, contained in “captured documents,” was obtained after the commission report was written that stated there was no evidence of a “collaborative relationship” between Iraq and al Qaeda.
“Some of these documents indicate that (there was) at least one officer of Saddam’s Fedayeen, a lieutenant colonel, who was a very prominent member of al Qaeda,” Lehman said.
“That still has to be confirmed, but the vice president (Dick Cheney) was right when he said that he may have things that we don’t yet have,” said Lehman, a former Navy secretary.
Cheney and U.S. President George W. Bush continued to insist that Iraq had ties to al Qaeda after the commission report issued last week found no evidence that Iraq collaborated with al Qaeda.
Lehman did not say whether the additional information was given to the commission in response to demands from Kean and commission vice chairman, Lee Hamilton.
On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Senator John McCain said the White House should comply. “I see no reason why not,” the Arizona Republican said.
Democratic commission member Richard Ben-Veniste told NBC he hoped Cheney would provide information “on a current basis … with respect to the individual that John Lehman has talked about.”
The Bush administration has been accused by critics of using faulty intelligence about alleged weapons of mass destruction and Iraqi links to al Qaeda to push the nation to war.
Lehman said there was no evidence Saddam was involved in the September 11, 2001, attacks on America. But he said the recent information about the Fedayeen officer “demonstrates the difficulty that we’ve had in this commission.”
“We’re under tremendous political pressures — everything we come out with, one side or the other seizes on in this election year,” Lehman said.
The conclusion of the commission staff report, released last Wednesday, contradicted Bush administration contentions before and after the U.S.-led war on Iraq. The president argued a connection with al Qaeda constituted an unacceptable threat to the United States.
Some officials, including Cheney, suggested an Iraqi role in the September 11 attacks. Bush later ruled out that possibility, but many Americans still believe it and critics have accused the administration of misleading the public.
Bush’s Democratic challenger, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, said the president owed the American public “a fundamental explanation about why he rushed to war for a purpose it now turns out is not supported by the facts.”