That said, one Pence tweet in particular leaves plenty to be desired.
In the tweets laying out Soleimani’s sins, Pence said 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.”
The first issue with the tweet is that 19 terrorists carried out the attack, not 12. Pence spokeswoman Katie Waldman later clarified that Pence meant to refer specifically to hijackers who traveled through Afghanistan.
The second, though, is that Pence’s contention doesn’t quite track with the known evidence — and could easily be misconstrued.
The 9/11 Commission report says hijackers did travel through Iran. It concludes 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, “We have found no evidence that Iran or Hezbollah was aware of the planning for what later became the 9/11 attack.”
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.
But here’s the other thing: Pence’s tweet doesn’t just say Iran assisted them in their travel; it says Soleimani himself did. Pence’s string of tweets begins, after all, by stating that he will list “some of his” — referring to Soleimani’s — “worst atrocities.”
The 9/11 Commission report doesn’t mention Soleimani at all, much less say he was responsible for the passport practice. Soleimani was certainly a high-ranking official in Iran, leading the Quds Force’s operations outside Iran’s borders, but tying him to that decision is speculative.
Asked what supported Pence’s claim that Soleimani was personally involved in the practice, Waldman pointed to the State Department’s document on Trump’s decision in April to label Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization. The document, though, ties the travel of 9/11 terrorists to Iran as a country and not Soleimani or the Quds Force.
In addition, the idea that Soleimani would assist in 9/11 — knowingly or otherwise — doesn’t add up, given he was Shiite and the hijackers were Sunnis. In fact, after 9/11, Soleimani for a time actually cooperated with the U.S. government against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
So why would Pence say that, rather than just laying this at Iran’s feet more broadly? A pretty good guess is that he’s making the case that a use of force like such as that against Soleimani was approved by Congress in its 2001 authorization for the use of military force. The broad authorization states that the president can use “appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.” The word “aided” would seemingly be applied to Soleimani in this case.
It’s certainly an argument.