to leave no doubt…

Posted on Sunday 31 May 2009

The Trauma of 9/11 Is No Excuse
Washington Post Op-Ed
By Richard A. Clarke
May 31, 2009

Top officials from the Bush administration have hit upon a revealing new theme as they retrospectively justify their national security policies. Call it the White House 9/11 trauma defense… I have little sympathy for this argument… Cheney’s admission that 9/11 caused him to reassess the threats to the nation only underscores how, for months, top officials had ignored warnings from the CIA and the NSC staff that urgent action was needed to preempt a major al-Qaeda attack…

The first response they discussed was invading Iraq. While the Pentagon was still burning, Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld was in the White House suggesting an attack against Baghdad. Somehow the administration’s leaders could not believe that al-Qaeda could have mounted such a devastating operation, so Iraqi involvement became the convenient explanation. Despite being told repeatedly that Iraq was not involved in 9/11, some, like Cheney, could not abandon the idea…

On detention, the Bush team leaped to the assumption that U.S. courts and prisons would not work. Before the terrorist attacks, the U.S. counterterrorism program of the 1990s had arrested al-Qaeda terrorists and others around the world and had a 100 percent conviction rate in the U.S. justice system. Yet the American system was abandoned, again as part of a pattern of immediately adopting the most extreme response available…

Similarly, with regard to interrogation, administration officials conducted no meaningful professional analysis of which techniques worked and which did not. The FBI, which had successfully questioned al-Qaeda terrorists, was effectively excluded from interrogations. Instead, there was the immediate and unwarranted assumption that extreme measures – such as waterboarding one detainee 183 times – would be the most effective.

Finally, on wiretapping, rather than beef up the procedures available under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act [FISA], the administration again moved to the extreme, listening in on communications here at home without legal process. FISA did need some modification, but it also allowed for the quick issuance of court orders, as when President Clinton took stepped-up defensive measures in late 1999 under the heightened threat of the new millennium.

Yes, Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice may have been surprised by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 – but it was because they had not listened. And their surprise led them to adopt extreme counterterrorism techniques – but it was because they rejected, without analysis, the tactics the Clinton administration had used. The measures they uncritically adopted, which they simply assumed were the best available, were in fact unnecessary and counterproductive.

"I’ll freely admit that watching a coordinated, devastating attack on our country from an underground bunker at the White House can affect how you view your responsibilities," Cheney said in his recent speech. But this defense does not stand up. The Bush administration’s response actually undermined the principles and values America has always stood for in the world, values that should have survived this traumatic event. The White House thought that 9/11 changed everything. It may have changed many things, but it did not change the Constitution, which the vice president, the national security adviser and all of us who were in the White House that tragic day had pledged to protect and preserve.
Richard Clarke greeted the new Administration with a memo [click on the image for the whole thing]  in their first week – laying out the clear and present danger of al Qaeda. He was ignored by George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Condoleeza Rice. He retired in January 2003 and wrote Against all Enemies, the first book I know of that began to expose the truth about our invasion of Iraq and our ignoring the al Qaeda threat prior to 9/11. He was heavily criticized by the Administration. Over the last six years, he has continued to tell anyone who would listen about his experience with the Bush Administration – a marginalized expert who could have changed the course of our history had he been listened to. He knew what he was talking about. In this Op-Ed, he says:
    "Thus, when Bush’s inner circle first really came to grips with the threat of terrorism, they did so in a state of shock — a bad state in which to develop a coherent response. Fearful of new attacks, they authorized the most extreme measures available, without assessing whether they were really a good idea. I believe this zeal stemmed in part from concerns about the 2004 presidential election. Many in the White House feared that their inaction prior to the attacks would be publicly detailed before the next vote – which is why they resisted the 9/11 commission – and that a second attack would eliminate any chance of a second Bush term. So they decided to leave no doubt that they had done everything imaginable."

Thinking about the misguided motives that lead us into the Iraq War has become a national past-time. Did they go for oil? Were they out to avenge the Iraqi plot against Bush’s father? Were they in cahoots with Israel? Was this to be the blueprint for the "New American Century?" Did they pick someone they knew we could beat to win support? The reasons swirl around like the fall leaves, but don’t include "because it was a good idea." Because it wasn’t anything like a good idea. Clarke’s suggestion that it had something to do with a fear that their lassitude in preparing for an al Qaeda attack and concern that exposure would lose them the 2004 election isn’t one that usually makes the short list of reasons, but coming from Clarke, it has to be moved up several notches. He was there. He ought to know.

While it can’t be the only reason since we know those plans about Iraq had been in the works for some time, but it does have a ring of truth. It fits the Bush Administration style. We know from every quarter that manipulation of public opinion was at the top of every list. It may explain some of their recklessness in fabricating the prewar "intelligence." It might also explain the colossal stunt of Bush flying a jet onto an aircraft carrier in his infamous "Mission Accomplished" grandstanding. Likewise, the current behavior of the Republican Party would fit the mold. They might be accused of many things, but thinking about the current state of our country isn’t one of them. Clarke is proposing that the Bush Administration way over-did things in every area to make up for letting us down so badly in the months before the 9/11 attack. It’s a strong thought to add to the growing list of distorted motives over their tenure. They decided "to leave no doubt that they had done everything imaginable." But what they succeeded in doing was leaving us with more doubt than we could have ever imagined…

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