"THERE WAS NO QUESTION in our minds that there was a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda."
Those are the words of Thomas Kean, the Republican co-chairman of the September 11 Commission. He made the statement on July 22, 2004, 10 days after a New York Times headline declared, "9/11 Report Is Said to Dismiss Iraq-Qaeda Alliance," and a month after another headline in the same paper blared, "Panel Finds No Qaeda-Iraq Tie."
The second of those stories came as part of the wide wave of media coverage that dismissed the Iraq-al Qaeda connection after a 9/11 Commission staff statement concluded that the available evidence did not suggest a "collaborative relationship." The staff statement was poorly worded and vague, and reporters long dubious of an Iraq-al Qaeda relationship trumpeted the findings as definitive proof that the Bush administration had exaggerated the connection. The Los Angeles Times reported that the staff statement was the "most complete and authoritative dismissal" of the Bush case on Iraq-al Qaeda.
But the commission's final report presents a much more complicated picture. It cites repeated "friendly contacts" and details numerous high-level meetings between the regime of Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda terrorists. It demolishes the claims of former White House counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke that there was "no evidence" of Iraqi support for al Qaeda--in part by publishing excerpts of internal White House emails in which Clarke himself directly makes an Iraq-al Qaeda connection. The final report also amends the staff statement in two important ways, finding only
no "collaborative operational relationship" and specifying that these not indicate "that Iraq cooperated with al Qaeda in developing or carrying out any attacks against the United States."