WASHINGTON, July 25 (UPI) -- A member of the independent commission set up to investigate the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks has accused the Bush administration of deliberately delaying publication of an earlier congressional inquiry into the attacks.
Former Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., told United Press International that the White House did not want the report made public before launching military action in Iraq. He said the administration feared publication might undermine the administration's case for war, which was based in part on the allegation that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had supported Osama bin Laden -- and the attendant possibility that Iraq might supply al-Qaida with weapons of mass destruction.
"The administration sold the connection (between Iraq and al-Qaida) to scare the pants off the American people and justify the war," said Cleland. "There's no connection, and that's been confirmed by some of bin Laden's terrorist followers ... What you've seen here is the manipulation of intelligence for political ends."
Cleland accused the administration of deliberately delaying the report's release to avoid having its case for war undercut.
"The reason this report was delayed for so long -- deliberately opposed at first, then slow-walked after it was created -- is that the administration wanted to get the war in Iraq in and over ... before (it) came out," he said.
"Had this report come out in January like it should have done, we would have known these things before the war in Iraq, which would not have suited the administration."
The congressional inquiry, by members of both the House and Senate intelligence committees, was launched in February 2002 amid growing concerns that failures by U.S. intelligence had allowed 19 al-Qaida members to enter the United States, hijack four airliners and kill almost 3,000 people.
Although the committee completed its work at the end of last year, publication of the report has been delayed by what one committee staffer called "vigorous discussion" with administration officials over which parts of it could be declassified.
The 800-page report -- 50 pages of which were censored to protect still-classified information -- was published Thursday.
It is a litany of poor management, bad communication and flawed policy that enabled the 19 hijackers to carry out their deadly plan. Failures by the CIA, the FBI and the super-secret National Security Agency are catalogued.
Many of the censored pages concern the question of support for al-Qaida from foreign countries. Anonymous officials have told news organizations that much of the still-classified material concerns Saudi Arabia, and the question of whether Saudi officials -- perhaps acting as rogue agents -- assisted the 19 men, 15 of whom were Saudis.
Inquiry staff would not comment to UPI about the issue, but one did say that the section contained references to "more one country."
Prior to the report's publication, a person who had read it told UPI that it showed U.S. intelligence agencies had no evidence linking Iraq to the 9-11 attacks or to al-Qaida. In fact, the issue is not addressed in the declassified sections of the report.
One other person who has seen the classified version of the document told UPI subsequently that the Iraq issue is not addressed in the still-classified section, either. "They didn't ask that question," the person said.