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See No Evil, Hear No Evil

From the September 5 / September 12, 2005 issue: What the 9/11 Commission narrative left out: Iraqis.

Sep 5, 2005, Vol. 10, No. 47 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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AHMED HIKMAT SHAKIR IS A shadowy figure who provided logistical assistance to one, maybe two, of the 9/11 hijackers. Years before, he had received a phone call from the Jersey City, New Jersey, safehouse of the plotters who would soon, in February 1993, park a truck bomb in the basement of the World Trade Center. The safehouse was the apartment of Musab Yasin, brother of Abdul Rahman Yasin, who scorched his own leg while mixing the chemicals for the 1993 bomb.

When Shakir was arrested shortly after the 9/11 attacks, his "pocket litter," in the parlance of the investigators, included contact information for Musab Yasin and another 1993 plotter, a Kuwaiti native named Ibrahim Suleiman.

These facts alone, linking the 1993 and 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, would seem to cry out for additional scrutiny, no?

The Yasin brothers and Shakir have more in common. They are all Iraqis. And two of them--Abdul Rahman Yasin and Shakir--went free, despite their participation in attacks on the World Trade Center, at least partly because of efforts made on their behalf by the regime of Saddam Hussein. Both men returned to Iraq--Yasin fled there in 1993 with the active assistance of the Iraqi government. For ten years in Iraq, Abdul Rahman Yasin was provided safe haven and financing by the regime, support that ended only with the coalition intervention in March 2003.

Readers of The Weekly Standard may be familiar with the stories of Abdul Rahman Yasin, Musab Yasin, and Ahmed Hikmat Shakir. Readers of the 9/11 Commission's final report are not. Those three individuals are nowhere mentioned in the 428 pages that comprise the body of the 9/11 Commission report. Their names do not appear among the 172 listed in Appendix B of the report, a table of individuals who are mentioned in the text. Two brief footnotes mention Shakir.

Why? Why would the 9/11 Commission fail to mention Abdul Rahman Yasin, who admitted his role in the first World Trade Center attack, which killed 6 people, injured more than 1,000, and blew a hole seven stories deep in the North Tower? It's an odd omission, especially since the commission named no fewer than five of his accomplices.

Why would the 9/11 Commission neglect Ahmed Hikmat Shakir, a man who was photographed assisting a 9/11 hijacker and attended perhaps the most important 9/11 planning meeting?

And why would the 9/11 Commission fail to mention the overlap between the two successful plots to attack the World Trade Center?

The answer is simple: The Iraqi link didn't fit the commission's narrative.

AS THE TWO SIDES in the current flap over Able Danger, a Pentagon intelligence unit tracking al Qaeda before 9/11, exchange claims and counterclaims in the news media, the work of the 9/11 Commission is receiving long overdue scrutiny. It may be the case, as three individuals associated with the Pentagon unit claim, that Able Danger had identified Mohammed Atta in January or February 2000 and that the 9/11 Commission simply ignored this information because it clashed with the commission's predetermined storyline. We should soon know more. Whatever the outcome of that debate, the 9/11 Commission's deliberate exclusion of the Iraqis from its analysis is indefensible.

The investigation into the 9/11 attacks began with an article of faith among those who had conducted U.S. counterterrorism efforts throughout the 1990s: Saddam Hussein's Iraq was not--could not have been--involved in any way. On September 12, 2001, the day after the attacks, George W. Bush asked Richard Clarke to investigate the attacks and possible Iraqi involvement in them. Clarke, as he relates in his bestselling book, was offended even to be asked. He knew better.

Philip Zelikow, executive director of the 9/11 Commission, started from the same assumption. So did Douglas MacEachin, a former deputy director of the CIA for intelligence who led the commission's study of al Qaeda and was responsible for the commission's conclusion that there was "no collaborative operational relationship" between Iraq and al Qaeda. (Over the course of the commission's life, MacEachin refused several interviews with The Weekly Standard because, we were told, he disagreed with our understanding of the relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda.)

From the evidence now available, it seems clear that Saddam Hussein did not direct the 9/11 attacks. Few people have ever claimed he did. But some four years after the attacks of September 11, 2001, and one year after the 9/11 Commission released its final report, there is much we do not know. The determination of these officials to write out of the history any Iraqi involvement in terrorism against America has contributed mightily to public misperceptions about the former Iraqi regime and the war on terror.