Vice President Mike Pence defended President Donald Trump’s decision to authorize a drone strike that killed Iran’s top intelligence commander, Maj. Gen. Qassim Soleimani, in a series of tweets that pushed a conspiracy theory that ties the Sept. 11, 2001 attack to Iran even though there is no proof to make that connection.
In a series of tweets, Pence called Soleimani “an evil man who was responsible for killings thousands of Americans.” The vice president went on to say that Soleimani “assisted in the clandestine travel to Afghanistan of 10 of the 12 terrorists who carried out the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.” It is far from clear how Pence made that conclusion that is not supported by what is publicly known about both Soleimani and those who carried out the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
First off, as many were quick to point out, 19 terrorists carried out the Sept. 11 attack, not 12. A spokeswoman for Pence said the vice president was referring to the 12 attackers who are known to have traveled through Afghanistan. Even with that explanation though it is unclear how Pence came to the conclusion that somehow Soleimani assisted only 10 of the 12.
Beyond those numbers, it is also unclear how Pence can assert that Soleimani assisted the attackers in the first place. Even though he was already a powerful military leader in 2001, Soleimani isn’t mentioned once in the 9/11 Commission Report. One thing the report does point out though is that “there is strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers.” But the report also says there is “no evidence” that Iran or Hezbollah were aware of plans for the attack. The Post explains what Pence’s tweet could be referring to and why it is misleading:
Basically, it boils down to this: Iran adopted a policy of not stamping visas on al-Qaeda members’ passports, in part to improve relations with al-Qaeda after the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole. “For example, Iranian border inspectors would be told not to place telltale stamps in the passports of these travelers,” the report says. “Such arrangements were particularly beneficial to Saudi members of al Qaeda.” The hijackers essentially exploited a known policy.
So it’s technically correct to say that Iran “assisted” in their travel, but the impression could be left that it was knowingly assisting in what became the 9/11 attack.
Even if you want to make an argument that somehow Iran assisted the attackers though, Pence went beyond that and specifically said it was Soleimani who gave that assistance. When Pence’s office was asked for clarification, it referred to a document that once again refers to the way the Sept. 11 attackers traveled to Iran, but fails to mention Soleimani at all.
There’s also a small detail that raises questions about Pence’s statement. Soleimani was a Shiite, so why on earth would he come to the aid of a Sunni extremist group that had clear ties to al-Qaida? Soleimani even cooperated with the U.S. government briefly after Sept. 11, 2001 to target the Taliban in Afghanistan.
So what was behind the statement? It could simply be a way for the vice president to justify the assassination in a way that could appeal to the American public. But some experts say it could go beyond that and may be an effort to make the argument that the killing of Soleimani falls under a 2001 authorization for the use of military force that was approved by Congress. That broad law authorizes the president “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.”