Goodbye to International Law

Though the World War II victors promised that the Nuremberg principles would apply not just to the Nazis but to everyone, today’s reality is that international law follows two standards: a lenient one for the West and its friends and a stringent variant for adversaries. This hypocrisy is now being institutionalized, Lawrence Davidson notes.

By Lawrence Davidson

Back in February, I wrote an analysis on the subject of Universal Jurisdiction, which began:

“One of the really progressive acts that followed the end of World War II was the establishment of the principle of universal jurisdiction (UJ). UJ is a legal process that allows states that are signatories to various international treaties and conventions (such as the Geneva conventions) to prosecute alleged violators of these treaties, even when these violations are committed outside the country’s borders.

“This is particularly so if it can be demonstrated that the home government of the accused has no intention of bringing them to trial for the alleged offense. The assumption behind this principle is that the crime committed is so egregious as to be seen as a crime against humanity at large.

“In the wake of the Nazi Holocaust and other such crimes against humanity, UJ was accepted as a necessary and positive legal step by almost all Western nations.”
It has been 66 years since the end of World War II and the memory of the concentration camps has faded (except when invoked as a political tool by Zionists). Nor has the subsequent holocausts such as those in Cambodia, Rwanda and Bosnia been sufficient to keep the issue of crimes against humanity front and center in the governmental minds of the great powers.

The historical fact is that such truly horrible crimes committed at the edges of the European world or beyond have never been seen as symbolically important in the same way the Nazi holocaust was. And so we cease to pay attention. That allows for the erosion of the safeguards against these crimes such as UJ.

Now we have proof of this process of erosion. On Sept. 15, Great Britain changed its UJ law to allow the government, in the person of the Director of Public Prosecutions, to veto any arrest warrant referencing universal jurisdiction issued by a British judge.

What that means is that when crimes against humanity are committed by representatives of a power friendly to Britain, the government can negate any risk of arrest for those persons while visiting British soil. This happens to be the British government’s response to warrants issued for the arrest of Israeli personages such as former foreign minister Lzipi Livni in 2009.

The British UJ law exists by virtue of Great Britain being a signatory to the Fourth Geneva Convention but that does not seem to matter. For the sake of friendly relations with Israel, the British government is willing to render its obligations under international law moot.
Of course, the British government does not explain its actions that way. Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke insists that the government is “clear about our international obligations.” This change in the law is simply designed to “ensure … that universal jurisdiction cases are only proceeded with on the basis of solid evidence that is likely to lead to successful prosecution.”

The fact that Israeli crimes against the Palestinians are among the best documented seems not to be part of Clarke’s judicial world. Indeed, according to Matthew Gould, Britain’s ambassador to Israel, warrants issued against Israelis for war crimes and crimes against humanity are only “abuses” of Britain’s judicial system carried out “for political reasons.”
Double Standards
In truth, what the British government has done is institutionalize double standards.

Just imagine what would happen if the head of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassem Brigades (Hamas’s military wing) flew into Heathrow to see some sick friend. The British Zionists would have a judge issue a warrant within the hour and the British government would enforce it without question.

Now imagine that at about the same time Israeli Major General Yoav Galant arrived. Galant was Israel’s Chief of Staff during Operation Cast Lead and publicly stated that the operation turned Gaza into an “ideal training zone” to test new weapons that were often themselves banned under international law.

With this new qualification of the UJ law, nothing at all would happen to Galant. And that double standard is absolutely in place “for political reasons.”
This is a disastrous precedent because other countries will almost certainly follow the British example. However, it is not the only case of erosion of international law.

The international law referencing behavior on the high seas has recently been called into question and guess who forced that issue. Israel again. This is function of the fact that all the major powers, and the UN as well, proved willing to let the Israelis off the hook for attacking an unarmed Turkish vessel in international waters and killing nine passengers.

Only Turkey has taken a stand for international law.

Then there is the U.S. corruption of the International Criminal Court (see my analysis “International Law and the Problem of Enforcement” posted on June 4) and finally the repeated use of a U.S. veto at the Security Council to protect its ally again Israel when that country violates international law by moving its own population into occupied territory and commits daily crimes against the Palestinians.
Generally speaking, if it is a great power or allied to one, a state can do just about any horrible thing it wants as long as it does it to its own citizens and within its own borders. Thus, if Hitler, as chancellor of a great power, had just stuck to killing every last German Jew, communist, retarded person, etc. he almost certainly would have gotten away with it.

That is the power of sovereignty.

If Saddam Hussein, as a U.S. ally, had confined himself to killing Iraqi Kurds and Shiites by the tens of thousands, no one would have intervened. But in both of these cases the dictators made the mistake of incurring the wrath of great powers by crossing a border for reasons other than blatant self-defense.

Now the Israelis have shown that this criterion (sticking to your own territory when you do your killing) to be an arbitrary one. They cross borders all the time (as does their great power patron). My guess is that, unlike Iraq, the Israelis could have invaded Kuwait and gotten away with it!

That is because they are more than just protected by the United States. Washington does not control its ally, its ally controls Washington.

Israeli front organizations such as AIPAC control the information flow and dictate relevant Middle East foreign policy to the government of the “greatest power on earth.” That is why joint resolutions, standing ovations for the likes of Netanyahu, and such stupid proclamations as “Israel has the right to annex the West Bank” flow uninterrupted from the halls of Congress.
It is odd. The only thing that stands between all of us and the next holocaust is international law and treaty provisions such as universal jurisdiction.

But who cares? Not the U.S. or British governments and not the Zionists. No. Memory fades and double standards are, after all, a universal human failing.

So it is just a matter of time before it happens all over again. Not in some faraway place like the Balkans or Africa or the Far East, but once more right here in the West. Just as if the primary civilian disaster of World War II never happened.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Offical Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism

‘Pro-Life’ Government Kills Troy Davis

People around the world were gripped by the grim drama of Troy Davis’s execution by authorities in Georgia, after the state clemency board brushed aside grave doubts about his murder conviction and the U.S. Supreme Court rebuffed his final appeal. American peace activist David Swanson followed the ups and downs of those final hours.

By David Swanson

Wednesday evening, when the news was mistakenly announced that Troy Davis would not be killed, the crowd that I was with erupted with joy and with the enthusiastic realization that we all were capable of believing that something good had been done by our government.

I was at the dedication of the Howard Zinn room in the new Busboys and Poets restaurant in Hyattsville, Maryland.

Some of us had been assigned to read selections from the late Zinn’s “Voices of a People’s History of the United States.” I was asked to read John Brown’s courtroom speech in which he said:

“Now if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children, and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I submit: so let it be done!”

Brown had used violence. I condemn it. Brown was not submitting. He’d been captured. But he also said this:

“[H]ad I so interfered in behalf of the rich, the powerful, the intelligent, the so-called great, or in behalf of any of their friends, either father, mother, brother, sister, wife, or children, or any of that class, and suffered and sacrificed what I have in this interference, it would have been all right, and every man in this Court would have deemed it an act worthy of reward rather than punishment.”

Had Troy Davis been able to afford an expensive lawyer. Had Troy Davis been white. Had Troy Davis lived in a different state or a different nation.

Davis was again told he would be killed. He was again told that he might not be. He was again told that he would be killed. And finally, he was killed by chemical injection while strapped down to prevent writhing.

Observers observed. And those of us who had left the restaurant to go and protest in front of the U.S. Supreme Court wailed in pain, while the world reacted as it reacted to the killing of Sacco and Vanzetti, and as it has reacted to each of our governments’ million acts of barbarism down through the years.

Over in Texas another man was governmentally killed, thus creating the possibility for even louder applause when that state’s governor’s total scalp-count is next announced.

Meanwhile, large numbers of people are killed in our wars, wars our President announced Wednesday morning are waged on behalf of peace. Where is Amnesty International? Where is the NAACP? Are those people killed in wars less human?

What about those our government has tortured to death? Does the manner in which they are killed make them more lamentable than those killed with bombs, just as chemical injection is deemed less lamentable than electrocution?

Our government now kills, as a rule, rather than taking prisoners. And it kills with unmanned drones. It also kicks in doors at night and disappears people.

We know a little about assassination teams that have operated in Afghanistan in recent years, teams including Special Forces, CIA, and mercenaries. I have good reason to believe — although I cannot now say why — that such teams have also operated on U.S. soil.

But isn’t killing, even on Afghan soil, just as evil? Should it matter where, or who, or why, or how?

Aren’t the lost opportunities to save lives when our money all goes to wars and Wall Street just as murderous? Medicare cuts kill. Unclean air kills. Pretending Social Security is in trouble kills. Pushing our elders into the poor house kills. Polluting our environment kills.

Our government’s status as pro-life is in grave doubt. Its title as the greatest purveyor of violence in the world remains in place.

We can’t prosecute Supreme Court justices because we have no Justice Department. We can’t impeach Supreme Court justices, because we have no Congress. What can we do?

One thing that I think we can and must do is recognize that, if for that one moment we believed Troy Davis might be spared, then we believe in our hearts that victory is possible. And because we believe that, we have a responsibility to work for it.

We can do that by building as large a presence as possible to occupy Washington, D.C., beginning October 6th

David Swanson is the author of War Is A Lie. (This story originally appeared at

Running from Right-Wing Clowns

By the late 1970s, there was a serious national debate about the blood-soaked Vietnam War, but then came Ronald Reagan rebranding it a “noble cause” and right-wing accusations against critics who “blame America first,” followed by the panicked retreat of everyone wanting to be part of the mainstream, as Phil Rockstroh observes.

By Phil Rockstroh

Why is it that self-termed progressives are in full retreat (and have been for decades) from the witless army of angry clowns and hack illusionists of the U.S. right-wing?  

One contributing factor involves the sterile cultivation of the persona of the “reasonable liberal,” a type favored and rewarded by the status quo-protective power brokers of the Democratic Party and by corporate media organizations that find useful his trait of rendering himself feckless (e.g., the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue) by the passion-annihilating (but self-serving) device of his preening amiability?

But in so doing, the self-gelded liberal has sacrificed libido and discarded sacred vehemence for careerist privilege. Worse, the rest of us are advised to follow suit that, in order to gain credibility, one must slouch towards center-hugging irrelevance.

We are counseled that in order to navigate this age of corporate dominance that one’s irascible apprehensions and unruly aspirations must be suppressed, for such passions are deemed too radical for mainstream sensibilities, and are therefore regarded as impractical as they are untoward by the crackpot realists of the corporate bottom line whose dictates dominate the political discourse and economic arrangements of our time.

“Prune down [a human being’s] extravagance, sober him, and you undo him.”
–William James

Yet these self-termed “realists,” by means of their ad hoc machinations and hidden-in-plain-sight schemes, are responsible for the creation, promotion and maintenance of a financial system (and its attendant economic, political and ecological consequences) that is as sound as the flight plan of Icarus.

When a nation displays this degree of a noxious mixture of mass ignorance and official mendacity, an age of peace and plenty becomes as possible as holding a tea dance in a tsunami.

Yet facing folly is difficult. Stunned by the implications of one’s mistakes and misapprehensions, initially, one will reel in the direction of a familiar road — or be seized by an impulse to retreat from the casuistry-sundering fury of the larger world.

Yet, as Thomas Paine averred, “A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right.” And as Albert Camus counseled, “Freedom is the right not to lie.”

With this in mind, shall we blunder off-road into the landscape of unquestioned narratives?

For example, the following is a topic, when broached, that rarely fails to incur the manipulative rage of the perpetually adrenaline intoxicated right and causes liberals to drop to their knees in penance for sins never committed:

The questioning of this culture’s reverential, unflagging “support of our troops” blunderbuss and attendant comic book hero-level palaver, such as, “all good Americans stand firm in our support of our troops and our war against the forces of international terrorism.”

A bit of personal perspective as to why I demur: Forty-eight years ago, this month, four young girls were murdered in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham Alabama. At the time of the tragedy, I was a child living in Birmingham.

I remember the event to this day. My father, freelancing as a photojournalist at the time, arrived on the scene not long after the blast. I remember him coming home shaken and pale. The event is seared into my memory … how the blind hatred of the vicious can erupt into daily life and inflict irreparable harm and abiding sorrow.

Accordingly, this is why I cannot abide U.S. wars of imperium e.g., its Shock and Awe bombing campaigns the same modus operandi of those despicable, redneck bombers .

The dead of Iraq, Central Asia and Libya were no more responsible for committing acts of terrorism against the people of the U.S. than those little girls, readying for a choir performance in the basement of that church in Alabama, were guilty of any crime perpetrated against the “white race.”

Moreover, the attacks staged on 9/11/2001 did not “change everything.” The event merely sped up the trajectory of the national security state/military industrial complex towards the landfill of history.

For more than a century, whether the propagandists of U.S. Empire promulgate the subterfuge of fighting “to make the world safe for democracy” or defending against “the evil empire,” or waging a “war on terror” — the objective remains, to secure resources for the U.S. homeland.

And that is what we, the populace of empire, can “thank a veteran” for providing.

From the Blue Coats at Wounded Knee to the baby-faced tools of imperium at My Lai and Fallujah to the predator drones scouring Central Asia, the U.S. is the single largest perpetrator of terrorism worldwide.

As all the while, guilty by their complicity citizens of the U.S. sit on their sofas, oblivious or unmoved by any event transpiring beyond their self-circumscribed field of reference.

There should be a monument erected to the tragic legacy wrought by the acts of terrorism at “Ground Zero” — and it should be a statue representing a willfully ignorant fat-ass sitting on his couch, TV remote in hand, Cheetos crumbs stippled in the folds of his mouth.

Granted, Lower Manhattan took a tragic hit, a decade ago, and many people suffered as a result (I know I live a couple of neighborhoods upwind) but none worse than the people of Iraq and Central Asia.

Somehow, I suspected (and was proven sadly correct) that their experiences would not be evoked, as part of the 9/11 hagiography foisted and verbal monuments cast to sacred victimhood, as part of the official ceremony commemorating the event.

Moreover, not long after 9/11, an attack was launched from Lower Manhattan that collapsed the global economy. I, for one, would like to hear a bit more about that.

By parroting the self-serving hagiography of 9/11/01, as well as, “I support the warrior, but not the war” type fallacies, liberals continue to play right into the sustaining narratives of the national security state.

Case in point, the empty, oft-heard, liberal pundit assertion, “My idea for a 9/11 tribute would involve bringing our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan home, with proper benefits.”

Nonsense. Worse than nonsense: Precious, cloying, self-congratulatory piffle. The statement is axiomatic of the feckless calls and specious cries common to that species of walking cliché known as “troop-supporting” liberals.

As far as I’m concerned, “our troops” human delivery systems of U.S. government sanctified terrorism can walk home that way, maybe, they might learn something about the larger world, other than their mission to kill the people they happen upon without question, and then share with their fellow belligerently ignorant countrymen what they learned about life (its sacred quality) on their long, Odysseusian journey home.

 Apropos, reasonable liberals counsel such declarations serve as “bad public relation” tactics. “Don’t you realize that you risk alienating Middle America? Remember, the reactionary fallout created by the radicalism of the 1960s?”

The fact is: The passionate questioning of the entire war effort in Southeast Asia, the role of soldiers included, helped to bring an end to the war and factored into the soldiers’ rebellion at the later stages of the protracted conflict.

In increasing numbers, the conscripts began to refuse to kill and die for a dubious cause … they went hippie on the ass of the military state.

The activist Left ended the war; self-serving liberals blew the peace.

The “bad PR” involving “spitting on the troops” was after the fact, rightwing confabulation promulgated to intimidate liberals into shamed silence, and, of course, liberals being liberals, it worked.

True to form, they “distanced” themselves from the “troop-demoralizing radicals of the irrational left.” In reality, they fled in fear from arrays of rightwing created straw men.

PR itself is the dubious craft of professional lying corporate-era legerdemain. In fact, the craft is the opposite of the resonate truth carried by deepening poetry, poignant prose and challenging political speech the near exclusive domain of the Left in the 1960s.

You ask what makes me sigh, old friend
What makes me shudder so
I shudder and I sigh to think
That even Cicero
And many-minded Homer were
Mad as the mist and snow.
–William Bulter Yeats, except from Mad As The Mist And Snow

The inspired, enduring (very threatening to some) art, music and political action of the era were not the result of liberal accommodation and compromise. Antithetically, the cause of peace and justice (briefly) made some headway despite liberals not because of them.

As a famous literary drunk once quipped, “Rome wasn’t burned in a day.” Change will not come with a victim-centered view of the world … including viewing the nation’s toxically innocent, economic conscripts as mere victims of circumstance.

Yes, young people make stupid choices but treating them as victims does not serve them or the nation well.

“Liberal compassion” should not be extended to countenancing acts of mass murderer. Time and time again, liberals play into rightist propaganda, by allowing the discussion of U.S. militarism to be framed as exclusively pertaining to the sacrifices of individual soldiers, whose fates, in the larger context of events, have been appropriated a device of imperial plunder.

By truckling to this narrative, liberals play into the propaganda of those who prosper by the homicidal designs of the present day U.S. military state.

Instead, let us endeavor to disabuse the culture of the delusion that there exists noble sacrifice in the act of killing and dying for the agendas of empire.

When an individual U.S. soldier begins to stagger in the direction of his own humanity (renouncing his complicity in the death-sustained system, as many did during the Vietnam era) then we should open our arms and embrace him with a fierce compassion.

On a personal basis, my family had little money. And I made many self-destructive choices, but I also had tenacious mentors who challenged me … called me on my destructive nonsense pointing out the bulwark of denial and hubris that sustained its shabby, ad hoc structure.

Making a home in being lost, I took up residence in the enduring structure of poetry, literature and music Whitman, Kerouac, Rilke, Dylan, the Allman Brothers, Leonard Cohen, Iggy Pop, Joe Strummer, and others too numerous to name taught me to question, as the expression went, “everything.”

This is not rocket science; this is far more important; this is the essential subject matter that informs the propulsion and guidance systems of the human heart. Withal, instruct the young how to build and inhabit the structure of a cogent argument and to navigate a soul-suffused landscape of poignant verse, lyric, and insight.

To do so, one must not shy away from confrontation. During the Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam War era, before the Left was manipulated into fearing the libido borne of sacred vehemence, stupid opinions were not coddled; they were challenged.

Feelings were hurt. Egos were bruised. But an illegal war was shortened and a number of (long-overdue) rights were granted.

[]Having come
the bitter way to better prayer, we have
the sweetness of ripening. How sweet
to know you by the signs of this world!
 –Wendel Berry, excerpt from “Ripening”

At present, among the things we can ill afford are fantasy-prone kids, duped into believing modern soldiering bestows nobility and involves heroic sacrifice.

Instead, the times call for brave misfits, encouraged to embrace rejection by a dysfunctional society and primed to endure the inherent bumps and buffeting inflicted from a culture that has gathered into the formation of a flying wedge of self-destructive, crash-fated crazy. 

Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. He may be contacted at:  Visit Phil’s website / And at FaceBook:…

Afghan Raids Target Taliban Families

As the Afghan War drags on and surviving Taliban commanders prove elusive U.S. forces are targeting friends and families, according to a new study, Gareth Porter reports for Inter Press Service.

By Gareth Porter

U.S. Special Operations Forces have been increasingly aiming their night-time raids, which have been the primary cause of Afghan anger at the U.S. military presence, at civilian non-combatants in order to exploit their possible intelligence value, according to a new study published by the Open Society Foundation and The Liaison Office.

The study provides new evidence of the degree to which the criteria used for targeting of individuals in night raids and for seizing them during raids have been loosened to include people who have not been identified as insurgents.

Based on interviews with current and former U.S. military officials with knowledge of the strategic thinking behind the raids, as well as Afghans who have been caught up in the raids, the authors of the study write that large numbers of civilians are being detained for brief periods of time merely to find out what they know about local insurgents a practice the authors suggest may violate the Geneva Conventions on warfare.

A military officer who had approved night raids told one of the authors that targeting individuals believed to know one of the insurgents is a key factor in planning the raids. “If you can’t get the guy you want,” said the officer, “you get the guy who knows him.”

Even when people who are known to be civilians have not been targeted in a given raid, they have been detained when found on the compound of the target, on the ground that a person’s involvement in the insurgency “is not always clear until questioned,” according to military officer who has been involved in operational questions surrounding the raids interviewed for the report.

Raids prompted by the desire for intelligence can result in the deaths of civilians. The Afghan Analysts Network, a group of independent researchers based in Kabul, investigated a series of night raids in Nangarhar province in October-November 2010, and found that the raids were all targeting people who had met with a local religious cleric who was believed to be the Taliban shadow province governor.

Two civilians were killed in those raids when family members came to the defense of their relatives.

The report notes that many Afghans interviewed said night-time operations had targeted a number of compounds simultaneously, in some cases covering entire villages.

In a village in Qui Tapa district of Konduz province, SOF units, accompanied by Afghan army troops, conducted a raid that detained 80 to 100 people, according to the report. The interviewees said a masked informant pointed out those people to be taken a U.S. base to be interrogated.

The idea of using military operations to round up civilians to exploit their presumed knowledge of the insurgency has a long history in the U.S.-NATO war in Afghanistan.

The Pentagon official in charge of detainee affairs until the end of 2005 told IPS that concerns about “over-broad detention” in Afghanistan – meaning the practice of sweeping up large numbers of civilians – were countered by pressures for “more aggressive detention operations.”

As then head of NATO intelligence in Afghanistan, Canadian Brig. Gen. Jim Ferron, explained in a newspaper interview in May 2007, “The detainees are detained for a reason. They have information we need.”

It is not clear that civilians actually provide important intelligence on insurgents, however. The civilian victims of night raids are family and friends of Taliban fighters and commanders, who have no incentive to provide information that would make it easier for SOF units to track them down.

But another factor inclines the Special Operations Forces commanders in Afghanistan to focus more on people for whom the evidence of involvement in the insurgency is weak or nonexistent, according to the new report.

After taking heavy losses, in 2010, Taliban commanders at district level and above are increasingly residing in Pakistan rather than in towns in Afghanistan where they can be more easily targeted.

Without those targets on their lists, SOF units in Afghanistan may have had to choose between going after more civilians or reducing the number of operations. And the growth in the number of operations and the statistics on alleged insurgents killed or captured are a key measure of the relevance of SOF units.

An average of 19 raids per night were conducted during the period from December 2010 through February 2011, according to data published by Reuters last February. But a senior U.S. military adviser interviewed for the report in April 2011 said that as many as 40 raids were taking place in a single night.

A military officer involved in the night raids told an author of the study that there were no longer enough mid- to high-level commanders still active in Afghanistan to justify the present high rate of raids, and many raids were now likely to be targeting people who are known not to be insurgents but who might know something about specific insurgents.

Other officers interviewed for the report denied that contention, however, claiming there were still plenty of commanders left to target.

The report suggests that it is dangerous to detain family members in particular in order to exploit their knowledge of relatives in the insurgency, because it further inflames an already angry population across the country.

“If that is the criteria, they might as well arrest all southerners,” said one Afghan journalist living in Kandahar. “The person who is an active Taliban is either my uncle, cousin (or) nephew”

Based on interviews with residents in villages where raids have taken place in the past several months, the report concludes that communities “see raids as deliberately targeting and harassing civilians, in order to discourage communities from providing food and shelter to insurgents, or to pressure them to supply intelligence on the insurgency.”

Most of those civilians targeted or swept up in night raids are released within a few days, according to the report.

That assessment is consistent with the revelation, reported by IPS in September 2010, that roughly 90 percent of the individuals who were said by ISAF in August 2010 to have been “captured insurgents” were in fact released either within two weeks of initial detention or within a few months after being sent to Parwan detention facility.

The authors of the report conclude that deliberately targeting and rounding up civilians who are not suspected of being insurgents merely to exploit possible intelligence value “may constitute an arbitrary deprivation of liberty” and thus “inhumane treatment” in violation of Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

The report suggests there is “anecdotal” evidence that the targeting for the raids has become more accurate. But that anecdotal evidence appears to be contradicted by other anecdotal evidence that the targeting has become more indiscriminate in deliberately targeting civilians.

Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specializing in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was published in 2006.

A Death-Row Drama in Georgia

Georgia’s planned execution of Troy Davis, set for Wednesday, is drawing protests from around the world because of grave doubts that he actually committed the murder of an off-duty policeman 22 years ago. Dennis Bernstein explores the case in an interview with the NAACP’s Benjamin Todd Jealous.

By Dennis Bernstein

Georgia’s planned execution of Troy Davis, set for Wednesday, is drawing protests from around the world because of grave doubts that he actually committed the murder of an off-duty policeman 22 years ago. Dennis Bernstein explores the case in an interview with the NAACP’s Benjamin Todd Jealous.

If the State of Georgia has it way, Troy Anthony Davis with be executed for a murder that a growing mountain of evidence suggests he did not commit. Davis is set to be executed on Wednesday unless the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole votes to commute his sentence.

The Georgia Board heard testimony from the government and the defense on Monday during a formal clemency hearing, and will announce the results on Tuesday.

Davis was convicted on the basis of witness testimony in which seven of the nine original witnesses have recanted or made major changes in their testimony. Other witnesses have also come forward casting doubt on Davis’s guilt. Davis has faced down three previous execution dates.

At last count, over 800,000 people have signed a petition calling for Davis’s death sentence to be commuted.

The following is an interview I conducted last Thursday with Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, about the potential Georgia state slaying of a man who appears to be innocent.Jealous has also served as president of the Rosenberg Foundation, and Director of the U.S. Human Rights Program at Amnesty International.

DB:  You said recently, after reviewing the evidence that you were convinced that Troy Davis is an innocent man. You said: “It is appalling to me that with so much doubt surrounding the case, Mr. Davis is set to be executed.” Well, Troy Davis is set to be murdered by the state, in a few days, and there remains very little time. You say you are appalled by the situation. What do you find most appalling, why do you believe that the state is about to murder an innocent man?

BTJ:  Twenty-two years ago, there was a tragedy in the state of Georgia. An off duty officer, trying to do his duty and keep the community safe was killed as he tried to protect a homeless man. 

There were multiple suspects, but eventually nine people came forward and said that one man did it. They said that Troy Davis did it. And those nine voices put him on death row. There was no physical evidence. Troy maintained his innocence, as he has for over two decades. There were lots of rumors in the community. But the nine folks who came forward all pointed to Troy. 

Fast forward to where we are today, seven of those folks now say that they lied. The folks who were there, of those seven the ones who were actually there, who weren’t just coerced into saying what they said by the cops as three of them claim to have been, or just lied outright. 

But the ones amongst those seven who actually said that they saw the killer, they said that the killer is one of the two suspects who have not recanted. Some of the seven say that they lied because they were afraid of him. This man’s named is Sylvester Coles.

And so here we are, twenty years later, Troy has had three execution dates, this is now his fourth. This one appears to be his final. It goes to the Board of Pardons and Parole on Monday. 

In front of them are letters from not just Archbishop Tutu, or the Pope himself, or from former President Jimmy Carter, sort of favorite son of Georgia, but also from Bill Sessions, former head of the FBI, Roy Thompson, number two in the Department of Justice, under George W. Bush, Tim Lewis, former U.S. court of appeals judge appointed by President Bush one, and so forth. 

And so this is not about sort of what’s left or right, it’s about what’s correct. And what’s correct is that when it appears that our justice system is about to execute somebody who is innocent, we all stand up and say “No.”

DB: Let’s go back to the seven out of nine witnesses that recanted. You said Mr. Sylvester Coles was one of the two witnesses that did not recant, and tried to intimidate others into silence

BTJ:  Yes.

DB: Now how does a prosecution tolerate a situation where you have a witness intimating other witnesses? What do we know about the prosecution’s process here in terms of how a witness, who may well have been the murderer, can get away with intimating other witnesses in a state murder case. Help us understand more about that.

BTJ:  Let’s go to the psychology of the moment. In cases like this where an officer has been killed there is often a lot of pressure to find the killer quickly, at any cost. And so once a mindset developed, it was very quickly, within a day amongst Savannah P.D. that Troy Davis was it.. 

They quickly made the facts fit that conclusion, rather than make the conclusion fit the facts. And so you see a very kind of, powerful rush to judgment.

When you listen to the witnesses who have come forward, recanted their testimony, or folks who were silent at the time, some of them minors still in their parent’s house, and the parents wouldn’t let them talk.  They say that people were afraid of Sylvester Coles. 

You know that it was very clear to people that they needed to lie on his behalf, and they say that they did because they feared him. Or in some cases, they did, like in three cases, they said they lied because the cops coerced them. 

All in all, that’s Savannah of that era, it’s that is and really today is a very problematic law enforcement culture. Savannah is one of 159 counties in Georgia. And yet about three out of ten death row exonerations in the state come from that county. All of them black men. This is a county in which it seems, that in some instances, any black man will do. 

And that’s why this is such an urgent case for justice. It’s why its got such wide spread attention. It is why it has caused so much doubt, again from the former head of the FBI to the Pope, and we at the NWACP who have been involved in this case for years are very clear, this is an exceptional case, and therefore we’re calling the people you go to our web site, sign the petition. 

Or simply pull out your cell phone and dial 62227, type the word “troy” and that will sign you on. And you know, right now we’re about 600,000 people, we’re trying to get up to over one million. We’re working with Amnesty, ACLU, a bunch of other groups,

 But the easiest thing you can do is pull out your cell phone, just dial 62227 type the word “troy”that will sign you on, and make sure your voice is heard. When our country is stumbling towards executing an innocent person it is incumbent on every citizen to stand up and let their voice be heard.

DB: Now I don’t want to belabor the point Mr. Jealous, but if you have a witness who is able to intimidate other witnesses, in the context of a murder prosecution, it seems to pollute the process. I’d like to understand more about how this process could be allowed to go forward and how the prosecutors and the police wouldn’t know that this other guy is a potential suspect.  

BTJ: What is more difficult to understand is how now that it’s all out there, the D.A. standing silently, signing the death warrant, even though the federal court said that the case against Mr. Troy is far from iron clad. 

Even though, you know, we have reason to believe that if it came in front of the D.A. today he himself has come to the conclusion that he would not bring it to a death penalty case; why he isn’t reopening the case, why he isn’t saying to the judge “Vacate the death warrant, let’s reopen the case and make sure we have the right person behind bars.” 

The reality is, those of us who are interested in justice aren’t just interested in making sure the wrong person doesn’t get executed. We also have to be interested in making sure that the right person is behind bars. 

Too many of our poor communities are not just are far from murder free zones, they become free to murder zones. Where it’s very easy for the actual killer to get away with the crime. And this is just one more of those cases, the tragic thing is in this case, we actually put somebody in for the crime. 

It was the wrong person, and now he may be killed by our state and, therefore, by all of us as taxpayers, if you will, next Wednesday. 

DB:  And also, if in fact he is not the murderer, the murderer goes free. 

BTJ:  The murderer has been free for 22 years. 

DB:  Now in his statement to the NWACP this year, Barack Obama said “The causes that you champion are the ones that drew me to public office in the first place, and they are the ones that sustain me every day in this office.” I haven’t heard the President speaking out on this issue, trying to save the life of this innocent man. Has the NWACP reached out to him, why the silence?

BTJ: You know, there is nothing the President of the United States can do in a state court case. If it was federal courts, we’d be focused on him, like we’re focused on the state of Georgia and the Board of Pardons and Paroles. But it’s not a federal case, it’s a state case. 

President Obama gets these issues; one the reasons why so many people in the human rights community became fans of his when he was in the state legislature is that he championed legislation to make it illegal, and basically impossible for cops to torture witnesses and violently abuse witnesses, and put cameras into interrogation rooms. 

Make sure that every interrogation entered into court had to be videotaped, and so forth. And so we have a president who gets it and we have a Department of Justice that gets it.

DB:  Alright, finally for you sir, what is at the core of this case? What does it mean, what will it mean if the United States of America, and the state of Georgia executes an innocent man. What does that say about the system and about what’s happening here in this country?

BTJ: If Troy Davis is executed, no one should be ever able to lie again and say that our country does not execute innocent people. We saw it with Odell in Virginia, we saw it with Graham in Texas. We know mathematically that there have to have been many more given all of the exonerations; there is a wave of DNA, releasing people from prison and from death row that’s been going on for the last decade or more.

And so, the reality is that we as a country have to come to terms with the fact that we are the only country in the West that still does this. And that we do it, quite frankly, with an unexpectedly high degree of error 

DB:  And poor people, and people of color, are the ones who end upyou know, when you go into the prisons, when you look at death row, it’s like white people don’t do these kinds of things.

BTJ: Well, I mean when you go into, what you see is a disproportionate of black, you see that it’s almost exclusively poor, you do see a lot of white people on death row. They are all poor white people. And the reality is that when you actually look at the exonerations they are even more disproportionately black men. 

In other words, the bar that this country sets for convicting a black man seems to be much lower than it is, even for a poor white person. 

And so in reality, yeah absolutely, you know, who gets executed in this country has less to do with what they did, and more to do with where they live, which side of the tracks they were born on, what color they are, even what gender they are. We are much more reluctant to execute women even when they commit the same crime.

So yeah, it’s grossly unfair, but the reality is that today, and for the next several days, what we are focused on, really it doesn’t matter whether you support the death penalty or not.

Everybody in this country, no matter what they feel about the issue, should be completely opposed to us executing somebody when there is such a wide shadow of doubt as there is in the Troy Davis case. That’s why if you text “troy” to 62227 you are not saying how you feel about the issue, it’s just saying don’t execute a man who didn’t do the crime. 

Dennis Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network. You can access the audio archives at You can get in touch with the author at

A Christian Reflection on 9/11

The tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks stirred up some powerful and painful memories of that day and the 3,000 victims. But the Rev. Howard Bess says his Christian faith has compelled him to think also about the carnage that followed and whether any war is “just.”

By the Rev. Howard Bess 

I too looked at the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2011, with horror. No one needs to remind me of what happened on that day.

We received a phone call from our daughter about the plane that crashed into the first tower of the Trade Center. Quickly I turned on the television in time to watch in live time another plane assaulting the second tower. I could not believe what my eyes were reporting. 

Over the next few hours the magnitude of the terrorist attack unfolded. The Pentagon! Yet another plane, apparently headed for the White House, crashed in Pennsylvania. The estimates of the people killed kept climbing, taking several days for the count to become accurate.

I live more than 3,000 miles from the crime scenes. There is no way that I can claim to  understand fully the pain and anger of those who lived near the crime scenes and who had family members, loved ones and neighbors who were killed.  

However, I and every other American who loves our country were horrified, angered, bewildered, and left wondering what might and should come next.

My religious convictions kicked into gear. Jesus from Nazareth, the one I call Lord and the Christ of God, made some very plain and clear statements:

“You have heard it said ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ but I say to you ‘do not resist an evil doer. If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well.’ ” 

Jesus also said we are to love our enemies.

This standard became embedded in the early Christian churches. Paul wrote, “Bless those who persecute you. Bless them and do not curse them. repay no one evil for evil.”

While dying on the cross, Jesus made a simple request of God, “Forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”

The words that Jesus spoke about vengeance and his plea while being murdered are so plain that the follower of Jesus cannot sidestep them or deny them. Does the person who identifies himself/herself as Christian set aside the plain teachings of Jesus when placed in a difficult and trying position?

In response to the 9/11 attacks, the leadership of the United States made decisions about who was responsible and what action should be taken. Now ten years later the United States armed forces have killed far more than were killed by terrorists on 9/11. 

The 9/11 attacks left a small section of New York City and the Pentagon in Washington DC in shambles. The United States armed forces have left two whole nations in the Middle East in destructive chaos. 

At the tenth anniversary of 9/11, I sorrowed once again for the 3,000 lives lost and the destruction that was vented on my country. I sorrowed both as an American and as a Christian. 

Then I reflected on the past 10 years and the path that my country chose. Through my American eyes, I saw poor decisions and unwise actions. Through my eyes as a devout Christian, I saw the disaster of returning evil for evil.

Christians have faced this dilemma for centuries. For the first three centuries of Christian church history, our path was reasonably clear. Christians, for the most part, chose the clear teachings of Jesus about war and violence. 

Then Christians found favor with the Roman Emperor, Constantine in the Fourth Century A.D. The embrace of Constantine produced a different kind of Christian and Christians found the corruption of power.

For 1,700 years, Christians have scandalized the Gospel of Christ with a love affair with power. Christians have pursued the role of ruler rather than the role of servant.

Christians have rationalized their involvement with violence, war and destruction. They exchanged return no one evil for evil for a mess of pottage called evil must be stopped. 

The most sophisticated rationalization was the Just War Theory developed by Augustine, who died in 430 A.D. For a period of time I embraced Augustine’s rules that replaced clear teaching by Jesus. But I have observed that Augustine’s Just War rules have been used to justify every war that Christians have decided to pursue for centuries.

As a matter of conscience, I have parted ways with Augustine. I do not believe there is such a thing as a just war.

My reflections on 9/11 have intensified my commitment to Jesus Christ as my unquestioned first commitment. I am a follower of Jesus first. I am an American second. That does not mean that I seek to make America a Christian nation. But I do embrace my responsibility to be a witness about a better way to my beloved country. 

Every person killed on 9/11, every American soldier who has died or been  wounded in the Middle East, every terrorist, every combatant in this long war, and every innocent person who has died as collateral damage are equally loved and valued by the God I seek to serve.

My heart aches for the victims of 9/11, but the ache extends much further.

The Rev. Howard Bess is a retired American Baptist minister, who lives in Palmer, Alaska.  His email address is    

The Lost Innocence of 9/11

Perhaps it was inevitable in America’s self-absorbed culture that the tragedy of 9/11 would be politicized and counter-politicized, forged into a weapon by ideological forces to wield against their enemies in the never-ending “culture wars.” But Michael Winship laments how that process has tarnished the memories and heroism of those who died.

By Michael Winship

A long time ago, I helped produce for public television an annual year’s end interview with New York City Mayor Ed Koch. We always shot it in a private room at Windows on the World, the restaurant on top of the north tower of the World Trade Center, with a spectacular view toward the Empire State Building.

From that height, at the end of a sunny winter’s day you could see the lengthened shadows of the two towers stretch diagonally all the way across lower Manhattan, up and east to Stuyvesant Town.

One time, we were taken up to the roof, where the big transmitting antenna was. Around the perimeter was a gutter, some two to three feet wide and three feet deep or so — for the window cleaning apparatus that went up and down the sides of the building, I think.

Some of our production crew got into that well, knelt down, held onto the inner lip of the gutter and had their pictures taken. From a still camera’s perspective, you could make it appear as if you were hanging from the edge of the tower. It seemed funny at the time.

Two decades later, on that awful morning in 2001, I threw on a pair of shorts and a tee shirt and ran to the corner after my then-wife buzzed from downstairs that the World Trade Center was on fire. We stood on the corner looking down Greenwich Street. She left for her newsroom, I watched for a few more minutes, and as I turned to return home, the second plane hit.

The flames, the blizzard of paper, the sounds of sirens and church bells, the flyers taped to every wall looking for missing loved ones, and finally, of course, the overpowering smells that lingered in our air for weeks — I have so many memories and stories, many of which I’ve recounted before, all of them so puny in comparison to the accounts of heroism, bravery and tragedy that over the last week or two once again have filled the media.

But I remember a week later, when television microwave trucks from around the world still stretched down the West Side Highway as far as you could see.

At one corner was a French anchorman, who I gathered was something of a superstar back home. Excited French tourists were bunched around, thrusting their cameras, waiting their turns for a Kodak moment with him.

Three and four at a time, he spread his arms around the visitors, grinning broadly and carefully posing everyone to make sure billows of smoke from the wreckage would be prominent in the background. With apologies to France, and thank you for the Statue of Liberty, but I really felt like giving him a punch.

For so long after 9/11, we gazed southward and the sky was empty where the original Trade Center once stood. I used to think there should be some vast chalk outline in the sky, showing where the twin towers had been, like the silhouette TV detectives draw of the spot where the murder victim fell.

These days, when I walk across my Manhattan intersection and look down Seventh Avenue, I can see One World Trade Center going up. As you’ve seen during the coverage of this week’s tenth anniversary, they’ve reached 80 plus stories; its glass sheathing rises part of the way to the top, construction lights twinkle at night on the unfinished floors above.

Eventually, the structure will be 108 stories with an illuminated mast that will lift it to a height of, yes, 1776 feet, but along the way they’ve abandoned the title Freedom Tower for fear of scaring away renters and provoking terrorists. I think of the ten years that have passed, remember other 9/11 anniversaries and wonder what else has been abandoned as well.

On the first anniversary, I made the rounds: the tributes at Ground Zero, then a memorial service at the Episcopalian Church of St. Luke in the Fields on Hudson Street, where the weeping of victims’ families and friends pierced the heart. I attended a ceremony in Washington Square for the flight crews; doves were released for each of their lost lives.

The second year I was working and didn’t plan a visit, but as a friend from out of town and I sat on my roof that night, staring downtown at the twin shafts of light that shine each year in tribute, he asked if we could go.

We strolled around the banks of searchlights that created the two bright columns pointing into the sky and as we walked, a woman ran by, smudging the site with burning sage, trying to cleanse it of the evil that had happened there.

The next three years, I went to Ground Zero or attended other memorials, but on the fifth anniversary, when I arrived downtown the scene seemed, sadly, more circus-like.

The families of the victims were largely protected from it but those of us just outside were subjected to pitchmen and hangers-on, a man dressed in a bird suit urging passersby to “Have a Kind Day,” and everywhere, the “truthers” in their black tee-shirts, thrusting in your face brochures and DVD’s pitching every sinister conspiracy they believe caused the towers to fall, except, of course, the one that actually brought them down.

Last year, on a train home from Boston, where the two flights that hit the towers originated, I watched the Tribute in Light from a distance, its shafts of illumination piercing the dark above the faraway Manhattan skyline. And this year I stayed at home and watched on television as the official memorial was opened, songs were sung and the 2,750 names were read aloud once again.

I did go down to Ground Zero on Wednesday, walking through the rain and mist to Church and Vesey Streets, the intersection at which One World Trade Center is rising. The majority of the sidewalk traffic seemed equally divided among groups of business people, construction workers and tourists.

I stopped by St. Paul’s Chapel, where ten years ago first responders and other emergency personnel slept, exhausted, in the church’s pews between hours of recovery work on the smoldering mountain of death and debris.

The wooden pews are gone now, stored — just temporarily, I hope — and replaced with folding chairs where visitors come to view mementos of 9/11 and listen to choirs and chamber music.

Instead of the tributes of flowers and stuffed animals that once crowded St. Paul’s iron fence, now white ribbons were tied, each marked “Remember to Love.” Anyone could add a message to them — in black ink, slightly running from the damp, people had written “RIP to All,” “Peace,” “Keep on rocking in the free world,” or just their names.

I had come downtown for a discussion at the New York County Lawyer’s Association, sponsored with the New York Neighbors for American Values. Its subject was “9/11: Refuting Stereotypes and Challenging the Common Wisdom.”

Eight panelists and moderator Tom Robbins discussed whether the public had been sufficiently involved in the plans for rebuilding lower Manhattan post-9/11 (no), if officials had recklessly downplayed the health hazards around the site (yes), if the mainstream media adequately reported those dangers (no) and whether post-attack security concerns had escalated intolerance and violated civil liberties (oh yes, indeed).

In fact, a new Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board originally called for by the 9/11 commission report in 2004, its powers even strengthened by Congress in 2007, has yet to meet.

We seem to have squandered the solidarity and goodwill amongst ourselves that briefly blossomed after the tragic events of 9/11 — not to mention global support — just as unthinkingly as we’ve spent $1.2 trillion dollars, according to the National Priorities Project (a nonpartisan, progressive think tank), on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — money that could have generated thousands of college scholarships; hired firefighters, police officers and teachers; provided low-cost health care for millions.

The renewed patriotism and commitment we felt a decade ago has decayed, sullied by jingoism, xenophobia and paranoid fantasies about race and religion. At the panel, Linda Sarsour of the Arab American Association of New York observed, “What stops another 9/11 is not profiling, but all New Yorkers becoming partners and friends.”

We actually had that for a while in those first days and weeks of smoke and ash, those days when the smell of vaporized metal and electrical cable and God knows what else filled our air; so pungent you could taste it.

We lived through those days, and in a decade of memorials we still see flashes of the unity, strength and dedication so necessary for democracy to survive.

But how horrible if the ultimate memorial to 9/11 is not waterfalls and names engraved on bronze or marble but the financial, moral and societal bankruptcy Osama bin Laden and 19 followers armed with box cutters hoped would be our fate.

Michael Winship is senior writing fellow at Demos, president of the Writers Guild of America, East, and former senior writer of “Bill Moyers Journal” on PBS.  

Surrendering Liberties After 9/11

After the 9/11 attacks, many Americans were ready to surrender constitutional liberties for an extra measure of security and the Bush administration was more than willing to accept that deal. But the Independent Institute’s Ivan Eland says the trade-offs haven’t changed much under President Barack Obama.

By Ivan Eland

Documents found in the files of Muammar Gaddafi’s intelligence services in Libya, which indicated that the now overthrown dictator cooperated closely with U.S. rendition of terrorist suspects to his torture chambers, should prompt questions about how much President Barack Obama has improved civil liberties from the bad old days of George W. Bush. Answer: not much.

Obama’s first promise in office was to close the infamous and torture-tainted U.S. military prison at Guantanamo within a year, which he abysmally failed to do. Granted, the Republican Congress has blocked the transfer of prisoners from the offshore facility to mainland civilian courts, but Obama, despite his prominent pledge, has failed to make the issue a top priority.

The main reason he hasn’t is because politicians of all political stripes read public opinion polls indicating that the American people would rather be safe than free. The politicians should not be surprised by this outcome, because it is they who have scared Americans into preferring “security” at the expense of civil liberties.

So “cleaned up,” but still kangaroo, military tribunals will continue to be held at Guantanamo for terrorism suspects. And those are the lucky prisoners; others will be held behind bars without a trial or other rights indefinitely in the perpetual “war on terror” (regardless of whether Obama calls it that or not), a violation of the constitutionally guaranteed doctrine of habeas corpus.

Also, Obama dramatically ended the torture of U.S.-held prisoners but left a loophole for rendering such prisoners to foreign lands under special circumstances.

Since Obama has been reluctant to investigate the horrendous torture and abuse during the Bush administration, a skeptic might wonder whether he is afraid of similar future investigations of his administration for torture in foreign lands under the rendition loophole.

Although assassinations by the CIA are still prohibited by executive order, this has allowed the U.S. military to gobble up the hamstrung intelligence agency’s turf. The military’s Joint Special Operations Command can carry out targeted killings of even U.S. citizens on the mere suspicion that they might be involved in terrorism.

This is even wider latitude than the government is given to spy on U.S. citizens, which itself has been much loosened by Congress after 9/11. More generally, unconstitutional warrantless government searches have been expanded.

And a U.S. resident was recently charged using the now much more widely used and abused “provision of material support for a terrorist group.” His alleged crime: making a video advertising the Pakistani-based group Lashkar-e-Taiba and showing photos of a detainee at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and a naked U.S. prisoner in a defensive position before American soldiers.

Although Lashkar-e-Taiba is on the U.S. terrorism list, like many of the groups on that list, it doesn’t focus attacks on the United States.

Lastly, U.S. law enforcement agencies have misused the detention of “material witnesses” provision by turning it into a scheme of preventive detention, which Congress has rejected. The law was set up to prevent key witnesses from fleeing before a trial, but in the war on terror, it has morphed into a way to hold alleged terrorists that the authorities have insufficient evidence to charge with a crime.

But haven’t all of these measures made us safer from terrorism? After all, many people point out that we have not had another cataclysmic terrorist attack since 9/11.

Then again, terrorism was very rare in North America before 9/11. North America, of all continents in the world, because of its political stability, regularly had the fewest attacks.

So saying that we’ve returned to normalcy after an abnormally lucky (for the terrorists, not for the victims) and sneaky attack says nothing about the effectiveness of the aforementioned liberty-robbing government muscle-flexing.

In fact, even after 9/11, the calculated chance of an American ever being killed by an international terrorist is very remote, one in 80,000 (even this may be high). Thus, perhaps citizens should be more scared of the certainty of their government’s unnecessarily draconian measures to “prevent” any such attacks.

And if Americans want to improve those odds, instead of being scared into allowing politicians to take away their liberties, they should pressure them to remove the source of the anti-U.S. terrorists’ fury: constant meddling and military interventions in Islamic lands.

Some U.S. interventions may even be popular in a particular Muslim country, such as Libya, but polls indicate that U.S. foreign policy is even less popular in Islamic countries than it was at the end of the Bush administration, continuing to provide a rich incubator for anti-U.S. terrorism.

Thus, Obama’s war on terror, expanded from even the aggressive Bush efforts, may in the long run be as counterproductive to the republic as his Bush Lite usurpation of civil liberties.

Ivan Eland is Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland has spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. His books include The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed, and Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy.

Who Are These People?

Exclusive: When President George W. Bush took aim at Iraq in 2002-03, the smart career play in the U.S. news media was to jump on the pro-war bandwagon and cheer on propaganda about WMD and other excuses for war. Belatedly, the New York Times’ Bill Keller admits that mistakes were made, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

In commemoration of 9/11, former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller penned a handwringing article in the Sunday magazine explaining why he supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq, while admitting that Iraq “had in the literal sense, almost nothing to do with 9/11” and recognizing that the war has resulted in untold death and misery of its own.

The article, “My Unfinished 9/11 Business,” is filled with rationalizations about his post-9/11 feelings and those of other members of what Keller dubbed the “I-Can’t-Believe-I’m-a-Hawk Club,” pundits and intellectuals who rallied to President George W. Bush’s conquest of Iraq as a more fitting response to 9/11 than simply occupying Afghanistan or hunting down al-Qaeda.

Yet what is perhaps most striking about Keller’s article is what’s not in it. There is not a single reference to international law, or to the fact that Bush undertook the invasion in defiance of a majority on the United Nations Security Council and in violation of longstanding U.S.-enunciated principles against aggressive war.

At the Nuremberg Tribunals after World War II, the chief U.S. prosecutor, Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, called a war of aggression “not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

Jackson also promised that the tribunals, in condemning Nazi officials and their propagandists for engaging in aggressive war and other crimes, were not simply acting out victor’s justice but that the same rules would apply to the nations sitting in judgment.

That, however, has turned out not to be the case. Though Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair undertook the invasion of Iraq without UN approval and under false pretenses, there has been no serious attempt to hold the invaders and their subordinates accountable.

Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other former U.S. officials have even admitted to ordering acts of torture (such as water-boarding prisoners), again in violation of international law, with little or no expectation that they will be punished. Nor presumably do Keller and other pro-invasion pundits foresee any adverse consequences from their own propagandistic support for the war.

If the Nuremberg principles were to be fully applied to the United States and Great Britain, the propagandists would share the dock with the political and military leaders. But Keller and his fellow “club” members apparently believe their worst punishment should be writing self-obsessed articles about how distraught they are over the war’s unintended consequences.

Many Excuses

For Keller’s part, his article offers excuses for his war support ranging from his desire to protect his daughter who was born “almost exactly nine months after the attacks” on 9/11 to his accompaniment in his pro-war propaganda by “a large and estimable” group of fellow liberal hawks.

His list included “among others, Thomas Friedman of The Times; Fareed Zakaria, of Newsweek; George Packer and Jeffrey Goldberg of The New Yorker; Richard Cohen of The Washington Post; the blogger Andrew Sullivan; Paul Berman of Dissent; Christopher Hitchens of just about everywhere; and Kenneth Pollack, the former C.I.A. analyst whose book, The Threatening Storm, became the liberal manual on the Iraqi threat.”

These “club” members expressed various caveats and concerns about their hawkishness, but their broad support for invading Iraq provided a powerful argument for the Bush administration which, as Keller noted, “was clearly pleased to cite the liberal hawks as evidence that invading Iraq was not just the impetuous act of cowboy neocons.”

Indeed, this “liberal-hawk” consensus further marginalized the few skeptics who tried to warn the American people that the WMD evidence was thin to non-existent and that occupying a hostile Arab nation was a fool’s errand that would start a new cycle of violence.

As the Iraq invasion was unleashed in March 2003 with all its “shock and awe” and the killing of young Iraqi soldiers and many civilians, Keller recalled his satisfaction in having taken the side of American military might.

When Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was driven from power three weeks later, Keller said he and nearly all other “club” members were “a little drugged by testosterone. And maybe a little too pleased with ourselves for standing up to evil and defying the caricature of liberals as, to borrow a phrase from those days, brie-eating surrender monkeys.”

Keller does allow that he and his “club” under-estimated the difficulties of installing “democracy” in Iraq and over-estimated the competence of Bush’s team. In retrospect, given the costs in blood and treasure among Americans and Iraqis, he acknowledges that “Operation Iraqi Freedom was a monumental blunder.”

But Keller seems to think that his engagement in this self-aggrandizing self-criticism is punishment enough, not only for him and his fellow “liberal hawks” but apparently for Bush, Cheney, Blair and others who waged this war of aggression.

The fact that Keller doesn’t even mention international law let alone the harsh penalties set aside for those who engage in war crimes like aggressive war suggests that he remains a member in good standing of the “We’re-So-Special-We-Can-Do-Anything Club.”

You may note that most of the “estimable” members of Keller’s hawk club remain highly regarded opinion leaders and some like Friedman, Zakaria and Cohen retain big-dollar perches in the major news media. Keller even got promoted to Times executive editor, arguably the top job in American journalism, after the case for war in Iraq was debunked.

Double Standards

Given that many worthy journalists have seen their careers ruined simply because they are accused of failing to meet some perfect standard of journalism for instance, the late Gary Webb and his heroic reporting on Nicaraguan Contra drug trafficking it is striking that almost none of Keller’s club members have suffered professionally at all.

It seems that if you offend the Establishment as Webb did you are held to the most rigorous rules and suffer humiliation and disgrace, deprived of your livelihood and denied employment. (Unable to find work in journalism, Webb eventually committed suicide.)

However, if you go with the flow and are surrounded by enough “estimable” fellow-travelers you are protected from serious consequences for making grievous mistakes, like falling for lies from ideologues and letting your personal feelings dominate your judgment.

In the months before and after the Iraq invasion, the major U.S. news media, including the New York Times and the Washington Post, were little more than conveyor belts for Bush’s pro-war propaganda. In his half-hearted mea culpa on Sunday, Keller admits that some of the Times’ pre-war reporting on Iraq’s WMD was “notoriously credulous.”

But Keller and the Times were essentially part of a bigger propaganda machine that did its best to first justify and then sanitize the war, at least in the early days.

Rather than troubling Americans with gruesome images of mangled and dismembered Iraqi bodies, including many children, the TV networks, in particular, edited the war in ways that helped avoid negativity and gave advertisers the feel-good content that plays best around their products.

Fox News may have pioneered this concept of casting the war in the gauzy light of heroic imagery, where Iraqi soldiers were “goons” and interviews with Americans at war were packaged with “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” as the soundtrack.

But MSNBC carried the idea to even greater lengths with Madison-Avenue-style montages of the Iraq War. One showed U.S. troops in heroic postures moving through Iraq. The segment ended with an American boy surrounded by yellow ribbons for his father at war, and the concluding slogan, “Home of the Brave.”

Another MSNBC montage showed happy Iraqis welcoming U.S. troops as liberators and rejoicing at the toppling of Saddam Hussein. These stirring pictures ended with the slogan, “Let Freedom Ring.” Left out of these “news” montages were any images of Iraqi death, destruction and despair.

Civilian Deaths

In the conflict’s first days, the haste to kill Hussein led Bush to approve the bombing of a restaurant where Hussein was thought to be eating. Though Hussein wasn’t there, the restaurant was obliterated and the bodies of more than a dozen civilians, including young children, were pulled from the rubble.

“When the broken body of the 20-year-old woman was brought out torso first, then her head,” the Associated Press reported, “her mother started crying uncontrollably, then collapsed.” The London Independent cited this restaurant attack as one that represented “a clear breach” of the Geneva Conventions ban on bombing civilian targets.

But the civilian deaths were of little interest to the U.S. news media. “American talking heads, playing the what-if game about Saddam’s whereabouts, never seemed to give the issue any thought,” wrote Eric Boehlert for  “Certainly they did not linger on images of the hellacious human carnage left in the aftermath.”

Hundreds of other civilian deaths were equally horrific. Saad Abbas, 34, was wounded in an American bombing raid, but his family sought to shield him from the greater horror. The bombing had killed his three daughters Marwa, 11; Tabarek, 8; and Safia, 5 who had been the center of his life.

“It wasn’t just ordinary love,” his wife said. “He was crazy about them. It wasn’t like other fathers.” [NYT, April 14, 2003]

The horror of the war was captured, too, in the fate of 12-year-old Ali Ismaeel Abbas, who lost his two arms when a U.S. missile struck his Baghdad home. Ali’s father, his pregnant mother and his siblings were all killed. As he was evacuated to a Kuwaiti hospital, becoming a symbol of U.S. compassion for injured Iraqi civilians, Ali said he would rather die than live without his hands.

For its part, the Bush administration announced that it had no intention of tallying the number of Iraqi civilians who were killed in the war. That has allowed Keller and other war supporters to use low-ball figures for the total he wrote “at least 100,000” in his article although other estimates of excess deaths attributable to the war run into the hundreds of thousands, if not one million or more.

The horrors that have been inflicted and continue to be inflicted on Iraq represent what Justice Jackson meant when he talked about the crime of aggressive war, the unpacking of all the other evils of war.

In that context, a belated half-apology from the likes of Bill Keller for what he calls the “monumental blunder” of the Iraq War rings hollow indeed.

[For more on these topics, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege and Neck Deep, now available in a two-book set for the discount price of only $19. For details, click here.]

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book,Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.

Chronicling America’s 9/11 Descent

The terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, sent the United States into a 10-year downward spiral, not because of the attacks themselves but because of disastrous political judgments that followed. In recognition of the tenth anniversary, we have compiled six articles by Robert Parry, chronicling this decade of descent, starting just two weeks after 9/11.

By Robert Parry

Bush’s ‘Crusade’

Sept. 25, 2001

In retaliation for the terror attacks on Sept. 11, George W. Bush is vowing to strike at a shadowy network of international terrorists reaching into 60 countries. He has called this coming war a “crusade” and has led his friends to believe that he views his new duty as a mission from God.

“I think, in [Bush’s] frame, this is what God has asked him to do,” a close acquaintance told the New York Times. “It offers him enormous clarity.” According to this acquaintance, Bush believes “he has encountered his reason for being, a conviction informed and shaped by the president’s own strain of Christianity,” the Times reported. [NYT, Sept. 22, 2001]

Few Americans would disagree that violent retribution should be inflicted on the masterminds of the mass murders at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and on those who aided and abetted this crime that killed thousands of people. The unsettling question, which so far few have been willing to voice, is whether Bush is up to this delicate, complex and dangerous job.

Two weeks after the terrorist attacks, it appears that Bush still has little grasp of the long history of frustration that has met previous anti-terrorism campaigns. It’s also unclear whether he recognizes the risks in the geopolitical tradeoffs involved in building an international coalition and the potential costs of an open-ended war.

Bush’s limited sense of the history goes beyond his use of the word “crusade,” which has a European connotation of chivalrous knights in shining armor driving the infidels out of the Holy Lands, but conjures up very different memories in the Islamic world, of a bloody Christian holy war against Arabs. In 1099, for instance, the Crusaders massacred many of the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

Already, Osama bin Laden has seized on Bush’s gaffe to rally Islamic fundamentalists. A typed statement attributed to bin Laden called the coming war “the new Christian-Jewish crusade led by the big crusader Bush under the flag of the cross.”

Wars on Terrorism

Bush’s short-term knowledge of history seems sketchy, too.

Repeatedly, he has called this war on terrorism a new kind of conflict, the first war of the 21st Century. Yet, his father was vice president in the administration of Ronald Reagan that made combating terrorism a top priority of U.S. foreign policy, replacing the Carter administration’s hallmark of human rights.

Reagan committed his administration to the war on terrorism in the wake of the Islamic revolution in Iran and the radical Arab nationalism of Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi. The Reagan era’s war on terrorism met some success but also failure.

Reagan created special counter-terrorism task forces and authorized the CIA to hunt down suspected terrorists in preemptive attacks that bordered on assassinations. Some administration hard-liners, such as CIA Director William J. Casey, sought to trace virtually all terrorism back to the Soviet Union, combining anti-communism with anti-terrorism.

In Central America, the wars between right-wing governments and left-wing guerrillas also were squeezed under the umbrella of counter-terrorism, with Fidel Castro’s Cuba listed as a chief sponsor of the terrorism. To wage a joint war against “terrorism” and “communism” in Central America, the Reagan administration armed and backed military repression in El Salvador, Guatemala and other countries.

Tens of thousands of Central American civilians were slaughtered in army sweeps of areas considered sympathetic to guerrillas, including massacres of Mayan Indians in Guatemala that a truth commission later deemed a genocide. The U.S.-backed armies also were linked to paramilitary “death squads” that murdered political dissidents, including labor leaders, academics, priests and nuns.

The war on terrorism even led the Reagan administration to engage in terrorism itself, both in Central America and the Middle East. To punish Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista government for aiding insurgents elsewhere in the region, the Reagan administration supported the Nicaraguan contra rebels, who earned a reputation for torture, rape and murder as they swept through towns in northern Nicaragua.

One former contra director, Edgar Chamorro, described the contras’ practice of dragging captured government officials into town squares and executing them in front of the residents. American news outlets also reported on larger contra massacres of peasants picking coffee, presumably to discourage economic activity. [For details, see Robert Parry’s Lost History]

To counter disclosures of these atrocities, the administration created special propaganda teams that engaged in “public diplomacy” to persuade editors, producers and bureau chiefs to stop these kinds of stories and to remove journalists who filed the reports.

Administration insiders called these largely successful public relations efforts “perception management.” Today’s influential conservative news media is, in part, an outgrowth of those Reagan-era efforts.

In George W. Bush’s new war on terrorism, the nation can expect a similar strategy for shaping public opinion. In the 1980s, the head of State Department’s “public diplomacy” office, Otto Reich, is now Bush’s nominee to be assistant secretary of state for Latin America.

Seeds of Violence

In the Middle East, the counter-terrorism campaigns of the 1980s also veered into terrorism itself, with some of the central players of that era still holding center stage today.

Under the leadership of then-Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982. The goal was to crush Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization, which was then widely regarded as a terrorist organization.

Allied with right-wing Lebanese forces, Israeli troops forced the PLO to flee Lebanon. But Israel’s Lebanese allies then massacred Palestinian refugees at the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps, drawing U.S. Marines into Lebanon on what was initially a peacekeeping mission.

Gradually, U.S. forces began siding with the right-wing Lebanese army as it mounted paramilitary attacks on suspected Muslim terrorists. The loss of neutrality worsened when the Reagan administration ordered the U.S.S. New Jersey to begin shelling Muslim villages in the mountains. Irate Muslims countered by launching a suicide bombing attack against the U.S. Marine barracks outside Beirut, killing 241 Marines.

Though the surviving U.S. forces withdrew from Lebanon, the war of terror and counter-terror continued. In a 1985 strike against Hizbollah leader Sheikh Fadlallah, Casey helped finance an operation that included the hiring of operatives who detonated a car bomb outside the Beirut apartment building where Fadlallah lived.

As described by Bob Woodward in Veil, “the car exploded, killing 80 people and wounding 200, leaving devastation, fires and collapsed buildings. Anyone who had happened to be in the immediate neighborhood was killed, hurt or terrorized, but Fadlallah escaped without injury. His followers strung a huge ‘Made in the USA’ banner in front of a building that had been blown out.”

The mixed experiences of the 1980s and the efforts to contain terrorism that continued through the 1990s should be both a guide and a warning as America seeks retribution against the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 mass murders.

Tough Rhetoric

To date, Bush has opted for tough rhetoric but relatively modest action, such as beefing up U.S. military forces near Afghanistan and tightening financial restrictions on money flows to groups considered friendly to bin Laden’s organization.

The initial military phase of the retaliation appears likely to be special operations attacks aimed at bin Laden and his top lieutenants at their Afghan base camps, combined with aerial attacks against his Taliban allies who rule most of Afghanistan.

As Bush moves forward, one of the few institutions that has applied some brakes to any rush toward war has been Wall Street. While joining in patriotic demonstrations, such as singing God Bless America before the start of trading on Sept. 17, institutional investors voted with their dollars when it came to showing confidence in the future U.S. economy.

With war looming, the stock markets went into free-fall. From Sept. 17 through Sept. 21, the Dow Jones industrial average plunged 14.3 percent, its biggest percentage weekly drop since the Great Depression. The sell-off reversed somewhat on Monday as the expectation of a hasty U.S. military action faded and investors moved in to pick up some stocks at bargain prices.

A longer-term problem to big investors, however, is that the world that beckoned during the Clinton administration one of rapidly advancing international cooperation with U.S. industry ideally positioned to profit from the growth had receded since Bush’s inauguration.

President Clinton pushed multilateral strategies around the world, including peace initiatives in the Middle East. In so doing, he presented the prospect of a world transforming into a single market. New technologies, such as the Internet, also created a sense that communication could transcend traditional national boundaries and bridge cultural divides.

Faced with these new opportunities for growth, U.S. business prospered. Along with the expectations of rapid growth went the stock markets. During the Clinton administration, the Dow more than tripled, from about 3,200 to above 10,000. The technology-heavy Nasdaq more than quadrupled, even counting the dot-com losses last year.

A Declining Economy

Over the past eight months, that rosy future has darkened and the stock market has fallen.

Instead of innovative technologies and alternative energy sources leading the way toward solutions to the world’s energy and environmental problems, the Bush administration has advocated drilling more oil and digging more coal. Instead of international strategies for addressing global problems, the Bush administration favored a go-it-alone approach, at least prior to Sept. 11.

In 1999, the Seattle demonstrations against the World Trade Organization prompted the Clinton administration to begin addressing the inequities that came with the global economy. Clinton’s team began work on international standards for environmental protections and labor rules.

By contrast, the Bush administration has taken a staunchly free-market approach to free trade. Bush’s economists maintain that trade organizations should confine their attentions to trade issues and stay away from worldwide regulatory standards.

Bush also repudiated the Kyoto global warming agreement in defiance of the European nations and Japan. Further offending longtime U.S. allies, Bush vowed to scrap the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, in favor of implementing Ronald Reagan’s dream of a missile shield.

On the sensitive issue of the Middle East, Bush pulled U.S. diplomats away from negotiations seeking to stop the spiral of violence in Israel and the West Bank. He alienated pro-U.S. Arab states by directing his toughest criticism about the violence at Palestinian leader Arafat.

On Sept. 3, U.S. representatives walked out on a United Nations anti-racism conference because a proposal was under discussion equating Israeli treatment of Palestinians with racism.

Bush appeared to be implementing a foreign policy drawn from the most conservative commentators on the Op-Ed pages.

The economic consequences of the Bush policies also have not been good. The economy teetered on the brink of recession, hundreds of thousands of jobs were eliminated, the non-Social Security budget surplus disappeared. Millions of Americans lost big chunks of their savings and retirement plans in the stock market drop.

Even Bush’s wealthy backers have not been spared from economic misfortune. For instance, members of the wealthy Bass family of Texas which built a fortune in oil and invested heavily in Bush’s political career were forced to sell a 6.4 percent stake of the Disney Company in what Wall Street insiders called a distress sale. [NYT, Sept. 21, 2001]

If Bush’s war on terrorism expands over the next several months, economists agree a full-scale recession could follow. Some estimates see unemployment soaring from the 4.5 percent range of the late Clinton years to about 7 or 8 percent.

Though American investors had come to see the Dow 10,000 as a launching pad for higher growth, it may actually represent a level that was realistic only if the world continued coming together as a single marketplace. With that future fading, the Dow and other indexes might be expected to retreat as well, though probably not all the way back to the Dow 3200 of George H.W. Bush’s administration.

Open Societies

Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan made a similar point about the value of world cooperation in congressional testimony on Sept. 20. He stressed the importance of the free flow of goods and ideas to future growth.

“We have developed a really major and, in many respects, extraordinary economic system on a global basis in the last 10, 15 years, resting on technology and the free movement of people, capital goods. And most interesting enough, during the period we’ve seen increasing evidence that the interaction between economies has enhanced global growth, and, indeed, the growth of everybody,” Greenspan said.

“The openness of societies, the openness of economies are very crucial for economic growth, and they can be open only if they are not hampered by violence,” the Fed chairman continued. “Violence is complete destruction of the institutions of free markets and of global economic systems.”

So, the inexperienced president now is faced with a two-pronged challenge: how to live up to his strong words about an unrelenting war on terrorism and how to do so without tanking the economy and creating deeper divisions in the world.

Bush also must recognize that some of the tradeoffs in fighting terrorism can create potentially worse dangers. To gain support for isolating Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, for instance, Bush waived sanctions that had been placed on Pakistan and India for developing and testing nuclear weapons.

The nightmare scenario is that one of those nuclear weapons or one from the old Soviet stockpiles will end up in the hands of a terrorist group intent on an even more dramatic attack on a major U.S. city.

To date, Bush has drawn strength from the unity of the American people horrified by the mass murders of Sept. 11. He also has shown restraint in avoiding a rash retaliation that might have satisfied a thirst for revenge while killing innocent civilians in Afghanistan and enflaming anti-American passions in the Middle East.

But Bush’s challenge now is to implement a measured and effective response to the Sept. 11 attacks. To do that, Bush must recognize the shades of gray that have marked the path behind and surely will mark the struggle ahead.


Missed Opportunities of Sept. 11

Jan. 13, 2002

The ouster of the Taliban and the disruption of Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network may have bought the U.S. public some added safety four months after the Sept. 11 attacks. But those gains could prove illusory because George W. Bush has ignored the root causes of the violence.

Some of those root causes, such as the world’s unequal economic development, may require long-term attention. But others could have been addressed in the aftermath of Sept. 11 as fitting responses to the atrocities.

Missed, for instance, was the opportunity to call on the American people to commit themselves to serious energy conservation and thus to free the hand of U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East. Bush also missed a unique opportunity to demand a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And he has been silent about the danger of mixing politics with religious fundamentalism.

In each case, Bush displayed a lack of presidential vision or was frozen by the political and economic entanglements of his supporters.

Perhaps most significantly, at a time when Americans were eager to do something meaningful as a way to pay tribute to the 3,000 people who died in the terrorist attacks, Bush most memorably urged the U.S. public to go shopping and take vacations, a call made in a national address to Congress and now featured in tourist industry TV commercials.

The White House could have explained how the nation’s over-dependence on fossil fuels prevents the U.S. government from pressuring Arab states, especially the Saudi Arabians, to reform corrupt and authoritarian governments, one of most immediate causes for Islamic terrorism. But Bush has close ties to the oil industry, both in the United States and the Middle East.

The Saudi royal family and other undemocratic Arab regimes have long understood the leverage that oil gives them over the United States. The implicit deal was expressed bluntly in one State Department cable dated July 5, 1979.  “The basis of this relationship our need for oil and the Saudi need for security will continue,” predicted the cable. [For details, see Robert Parry’s Trick or Treason.]

To fulfill the U.S. side of the relationship, the CIA has collaborated with Saudi security forces by training palace guards and disrupting political opposition. The United States adopted similar relationships with other undemocratic leaders throughout the Middle East from the Shah of Iran, before the 1979 Iranian revolution, to the Emir of Kuwait, who was reinstalled by a U.S.-led military force that reversed the Iraqi invasion in 1991.

In return for U.S.-supplied security, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf sheikdoms have kept the oil flowing. But they also paid what amounts to protection money to Islamic fundamentalist leaders who share bin Laden’s hostility to the West. In effect, these “allies” subsidized bin Laden’s attacks on Americans.

Home Video

In December, when a home-made videotape was released of bin Laden speaking to guests, some Saudi clerics mentioned on the tape were “fairly influential and well-known,” according to Saudi experts quoted in The Wall Street Journal.

One Saudi religious leader, Suleiman al-Ulwan, who had been considered a moderate, is described on the tape as having issued a fatwa, or religious decree, that endorsed the Sept. 11 attacks and judged the dead Americans as not innocent. [WSJ, Dec. 19, 2001]

U.S. intelligence has been aware of the growing Saudi danger for years, at least since the 1990s when the Saudis frustrated U.S. efforts to investigate acts of terrorism emanating from Saudi soil.

In 1995, when a U.S.-run military school in Riyadh was bombed and five Americans were killed, the FBI rushed in agents to question four suspects. Before the questioning could begin, the Saudi government beheaded the suspects.

A similar lack of Saudi cooperation frustrated the investigation into the Khobar Towers bombing that killed 19 American soldiers stationed in Saudi Arabia in 1998. [For a detailed account, see The New Yorker’s Jan. 14, 2002, article on former FBI counter-terrorist specialist John O’Neill, who died at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.]

Bin Laden himself is a Saudi whose family grew rich from construction contracts awarded by the Saudi king. He saw up close the decadence and corruption of the Saudi princes. These men preside over a system of strict Islamic law, even executing women who commit adultery, while the princes have wild parties during frequent trips to Europe and with Western women flown into the kingdom.

Fifteen of the 19 hijackers who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks also were Saudis. Yet U.S. diplomats still tiptoe around the issue of official Saudi complicity because the U.S. remains dependent on foreign oil and Saudi Arabia sits atop about a quarter of the world’s proven supply.

Curbing U.S. energy use would give U.S. diplomacy crucial maneuvering room to confront the Saudi royal family. By raising fuel-efficiency standards for motor vehicles and investing in alternative energy sources, the U.S. government also could improve relations with Western allies concerned about U.S. inaction on global warming.

The American people were ready to make the sacrifice after Sept. 11 if Bush had asked. Instead, Bush made no conservation appeal to the public and continued to oppose legislation that would require better gas mileage in cars.

In his new budget, he moves to cut government spending on alternative fuels and scraps a program to introduce high-mileage cars over the next few years. Instead, Bush will propose long-range research on fuel-cell technology whose promise is a decade or more down the road.

“They’re letting Detroit off the hook on delivering real fuel-economy breakthroughs in the next few years,” said Dan Reicher, assistant energy secretary in the Clinton administration. “This is in exchange for potential improvements that are more than a decade off.” [Washington Post, Jan. 10, 2002]

Oil Pals

Besides giving car manufacturers a pass, Bush’s decision means oil consumption will remain high, a boon to Bush’s political backers from the Texas oil fields and their Arab business pals.

“Many of the same American corporate executives who have reaped millions of dollars from arms and oil deals with the Saudi monarchy have served or currently serve at the highest levels of U.S. government,” the Boston Herald reported in an investigative series.

“Those lucrative financial relationships call into question the ability of America’s political elite to make tough foreign policy decisions about the kingdom that produced Osama bin Laden and is perhaps the biggest incubator for anti-Western Islamic terrorists,” the Herald article said. “Nowhere is the revolving U.S.-Saudi money wheel more evident than within President Bush’s own coterie of foreign policy advisers, starting with the president’s father, George H.W. Bush.”

The former president has served as a senior adviser at the Carlyle Group, an investment house which employed other key Bush aides. One Carlyle consultant was James A. Baker III, George W. Bush’s chief lawyer in the Florida recount battle and his father’s secretary of state. Another was Colin Powell, the younger Bush’s secretary of state.

One of the deals between the Carlyle Group and the Saudi monarchy was an “Economic Offset Program,” a kind of kickback scheme in which U.S. arms manufacturers selling weapons to Saudi Arabia return some money as contracts to Saudi businesses, most with links to the royal family. The Carlyle Group served as an adviser on this program, the Herald article reported. [Boston Herald, Dec. 11, 2001]

Bush Oil-igarchy

The Bush family itself has built its wealth through the oil industry, going back more than half a century when a young George H.W. Bush moved his family from Connecticut to the oil fields of Midland, Texas. [For details, see “The Bush Family Oil-igarchy” at]

George W. Bush has never forgotten the interests of those oil friends. During the first months of his administration, one of the few foreign policy initiatives that attracted his personal interest was the border conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, a dispute that jeopardized the development of oil fields around the Caspian Sea.

The law firm representing the oil companies trying to extract that oil and build a pipeline was headed by James Baker, who had directed the bare-knuckled strategy for nailing down the Florida electoral votes that put Bush in the White House. The Bush administration’s coziness with the energy industry has been underscored again in the scandal surrounding the now-bankrupt Enron Corp.

Between the U.S. public’s dependence on foreign oil and the profits going to the U.S. economic elite in cahoots with oil-rich Arab sheiks, it may not be surprising that U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East has propped up a variety of anti-democratic and unsavory regimes.

This expedient view of democracy that it is an important principle elsewhere but can’t be allowed to destabilize oil production has given traction to anti-American charges in the Middle East that Washington is hypocritical about its most cherished principles or is simply prejudiced against Arabs.

Bush has avoided any public discussion of these thorny political realities in the Middle East. Instead, he has framed the post-Sept. 11 debate in the quasi-Christian language of a “crusade” to eradicate “evil,” with bin Laden as the “evil one.”

Politics & Religion

Another missed opportunity of Sept. 11 has come in Bush’s failure to explain the danger of mixing politics and religious fundamentalism.

Bush has urged Americans to avoid blaming all believers in Islam for the violence of some extremists. But Bush’s own close political ties to Christian fundamentalists are an obstacle for him in championing the American constitutional principle of the separation of church and state.

The Founding Fathers devised this principle out of a close historical understanding of the bloody religious wars of Europe’s Dark Ages, the Inquisitions and the clashes among Christian faiths, as well as between Christians and Muslims. The principle recognized that the government should allow all to worship as they choose without the government promoting one religion over others.

By building a wall between religion and government, the Founders enabled the United States to avoid the worst of the internecine conflicts that have marred other societies with diverse populations. The Founders’ genius has fresh relevance today as a blueprint for how to function successfully as a society of differing religious beliefs.

Bush, however, cannot espouse this important principle without offending many of his Christian Right backers who view the separation of church and state as a “myth” that must be overturned. They demand the imposition of “Christian law,” much as Islamic fundamentalists do when they insist that only the words of the Koran can form the basis of government.

So Bush fudged on the discussion of Islamic fundamentalism, confining his critique to charges that bin Laden had “hijacked” the religion. Bush failed to delve more deeply into the complicated problem of fundamentalism, which does not arise only in Islam.

Other Fundamentalisms 

Islamic fundamentalism is mirrored by Jewish and Christian fundamentalism, movements that profess similar though contradictory certainties about God’s choice of them as the guardians of all that is right and just.

One of the major sore points between the West and the Islamic world has been the activism of Jewish fundamentalists in Israel. By placing settlements in Palestinian areas of the West Bank and denying Palestinians basic human dignity, these fundamentalists claim they are exercising a divine right to the land.

Bush appears incapable of drawing a line against this fundamentalism, partly because the Israeli Right and the American Christian Right have been closely allied since the late 1970s and 1980s. Sharing an interest in advancing conservative power in the United States, the leaders of Israel’s Likud Party, such as Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon, threw in their lot with Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.

The alliance changed the political reality in both countries. A new harsh tone, driven by the certainty of religious fundamentalism, entered the politics of both the United States and Israel.

“Liberal Jewish peace activists, both in Israel and America, were denounced as traitors, and new alliances were forged with the Christian Evangelical right in the United States,” wrote journalist Robert I. Friedman in his 1992 book, Zealots for Zion. “Israel’s popular TV advertising slogan, ‘Come to Israel, stay with friends,’ was drowned out by Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s cry, ‘We don’t care what the goyim think!’”

Theocratic Agendas

In the U.S., Christian fundamentalists also escalated their political activism in opposition to America’s secular political traditions. Falwell’s Moral Majority and other Christian Right groups led campaigns to demonize feminists, homosexuals, “secular humanists” and liberals in general.

A key figure in supplying a mysterious flow of capital for this undertaking was the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, a South Korean theocrat who espouses a totalitarian form of Christianity that would eradicate American democracy and place the world under his authority. While publicly avowing love for America, Moon privately tells his followers that America is “Satanic” and represents “Satan’s harvest.”

In one speech to his believers, Moon said his eventual dominance over the United States would be followed by the liquidation of American individualism.

“Americans who continue to maintain their privacy and extreme individualism are foolish people,” Moon declared. “The world will reject Americans who continue to be so foolish. Once you have this great power of love, which is big enough to swallow entire America, there may be some individuals who complain inside your stomach. However, they will be digested.”

Since 1982, Moon has financed one of the conservative movement’s most influential media outlets, The Washington Times, as a way to build popular support for conservative politicians and undermine liberals and centrists. Moon also subsidized conservative direct-mail operations and sponsored conferences that paid money to influential politicians.

The Reagan-Bush administration worked closely with Moon’s apparatus. Ronald Reagan called Moon’s Times his “favorite” newspaper. After leaving office, George H.W. Bush gave paid speeches in support of Moon, including an appearance in Argentina where Bush hailed Moon’s Washington Times for bringing “sanity” to Washington and called Moon “the man with the vision.” [For details, see “The Dark Side of Rev. Moon” series at]

With devastating effect, Moon and more traditional Christian fundamentalists have targeted political leaders associated with “liberalism.” For instance, President Clinton was pursued for eight years in a relentless campaign to destroy him and his political influence.

Paula Jones

One of the Christian fundamentalist groups joining in the anti-Clinton assaults was the Rutherford Institute, which was inspired by the teachings of Rousas John Rushdoony, an advocate of Christian Reconstructionism, a movement that would replace democracy with “Biblical law.”

The Rutherford Institute financed the Paula Jones sexual harassment suit against Clinton. Rutherford’s leader John Whitehead, who appeared on cable news shows on behalf of Jones, has advocated the reorganization of the United States as a “Christian Nation.”

In his book, The Separation Illusion, Whitehead opposes religious pluralism and argues that the doctrine of separation of church and state causes “the true God” to be an “outcast” and a “criminal.”  [See Frederick Clarkson’s “Paula’s Onward-Marching Christian Soldiers” at]

In his political rise, George W. Bush cultivated Christian fundamentalists by wearing his born-again religious fervor on his sleeve.

Bush courted Christian Right leaders with speeches at leading fundamentalist institutions such as Bob Jones University in South Carolina. He won Robertson’s key backing in defeating Sen. John McCain’s primary challenge.

Bush also enjoyed the strong support of Moon’s Washington Times, which aggressively promoted stories questioning Al Gore’s mental stability and his supposed tendency toward “delusions.” [See “Al Gore vs. the Media” at]

Since taking power in January, Bush has rewarded his Christian Right followers. He has chipped away at the church-state separation by touting his “faith-based” initiative to put government money into religious organizations engaged in social services.

Bush imposed strict limits on federally funded stem-cell research. He named fundamentalist-favorite John Ashcroft to be attorney general. And Bush has vowed to appoint conservative anti-abortion justices to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Separation of church and state may be a principle that shines with new relevance today amid the bloodshed that stretches from Jerusalem to Kabul to New York City. But Bush has failed to explain the principle’s practical logic to the world.


Bush also has failed on a third front, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, again letting politics and ideology obscure a possible route to a solution.

During his first months in office, Bush repudiated Clinton’s Middle East policy of pressing for a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and Palestine. Clinton’s policy had been staunchly opposed by right-wing commentators, such as the Washington Post’s Charles Krauthammer, a neoconservative supporter of Israel.

Bush chose to follow the hard-line strategy against the Palestinians charted by Krauthammer and others. Some foreign-policy sources say Bush picked that route out of a belief that his father lost in 1992, in part, because of Israel’s suspicion that the elder Bush privately favored the oil-rich Arab countries and couldn’t be trusted.

Possibly with 2004 in mind, Bush cast aside any appearance of balance in the first several months of his presidency. Bush singled out Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat for primary blame for the continued Israeli-Palestinian violence and essentially let Likud leader Ariel Sharon off the hook.

Bush voiced no public sympathy for the worsening conditions of Palestinians living in the squalor of Gaza and other fenced-in areas. In early September, Bush ordered U.S. diplomats to walk out of a United Nations racism conference because of draft language criticizing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

The tragedy of Sept. 11 did not alter Bush’s basic strategy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Many Americans might have favored a stern demand to both sides to accept a reasonable compromise that protected Israel’s security while granting the Palestinians an economically viable homeland or perhaps a solution that forged a single secular state with constitutional protections for all religions.

But Bush made no such move. His emissaries continued to insist that cease-fires of specific lengths were necessary before more substantive negotiations. However, the time limits turned into deadlines for Islamic suicide bombers to inflict bloody outrages against Israeli civilians. The Israeli government then responded with helicopter attacks and targeted killings of Palestinian leaders.

Four months after the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush seems clueless about how to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Meanwhile, the post-Sept. 11 public pressure for action has dissipated and the tit-for-tat killings have taken on a grim look of business as usual.

Missed Warnings

Not only has Bush failed to address the larger threats that continue to give rise to terrorism, he did not protect the United States from the Sept. 11 attacks themselves.

Though columnist Andrew Sullivan and other conservative writers have gone to great lengths to blame former President Clinton for failing to stop the Sept. 11 attacks, the reality is that the Clinton administration did thwart previous attacks, including the millennium bombers, and waged covert campaigns to disrupt and kill leaders of al Qaeda.

While Clinton and his predecessors can be faulted for not doing more about terrorism, George W. Bush deserves blame for ignoring the more immediate dangers. It wasn’t as if there were no warnings.

On Jan. 31, 2001, just 11 days after Bush’s inauguration, former Sens. Gary Hart and Warren Rudman unveiled the final report of a blue-ribbon commission on terrorism that bluntly warned that urgent steps were needed to prevent an attack on U.S. cities.

“States, terrorists and other disaffected groups will acquire weapons of mass destruction, and some will use them,” the report said. “Americans will likely die on American soil, possibly in large numbers.”

Hart specifically noted that the nation was vulnerable to “a weapon of mass destruction in a high-rise building.”

Little, however, was done. Between a news media that still obsessed over “Clinton scandals,” such as the later debunked stories of his aides “trashing” the White House, and a new Bush administration focused on domestic concerns, such as tax cuts, the warning drew scant attention.

When congressional hearings on the findings were set for early May, the Bush administration intervened to stop them, an article in the Columbia Journalism Review reported. Presumably, Bush did not want to seem behind the curve.

So, instead of embracing the Hart-Rudman findings and getting to work on the recommendations, Bush set up a White House committee, headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, to examine the issue again and submit a report in the fall.

Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who had joined President Clinton in creating the Hart-Rudman panel, acknowledged that Bush’s actions delayed progress. “The administration actually slowed down response to Hart-Rudman when momentum was building in the spring,” said Gingrich in an interview cited by the CJR study of press coverage of the terrorism issue.

Alarm Bells

By late spring 2001, other alarm bells were ringing.

Credible evidence of what became the World Trade Center/Pentagon attacks began pouring in to U.S. intelligence agencies. “It all came together in the third week of June,” said Richard Clarke, who was the White House coordinator for counter-terrorism. “The CIA’s view was that a major terrorist attack was coming in the next several weeks.” [See The New Yorker, Jan. 14, 2002]

The intelligence community also learned that two suspected terrorists had penetrated the United States, but the FBI could not find them.

As these dangers grew, Bush focused not on terrorism but on stem-cell research and other domestic issues that played well with his Christian Right allies. Bush took off the month of August for a working vacation that interspersed relaxation on his Texas ranch with his speech on stem-cell policy and trips to non-coastal cities to praise “heartland” values.

Former Sen. Hart tried to rekindle interest in what he viewed as the pressing threat of terrorism. On Sept, 6, he went to the White House for a meeting with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and urged the White House to move faster. Rice agreed to pass on Hart’s concerns to higher-ups.

Five days later, despite all the warnings, Bush and his administration were caught flatfooted. Two of America’s greatest landmarks were leveled, with thousands of people killed. For the first time in history, the Pentagon was attacked and partially destroyed.

After the attacks, however, the nation rallied around Bush. He won praise for unleashing the U.S. military against Afghanistan and pulling together a coalition that backed the war. Ironically, the attacks that his administration had done nothing to stop boosted Bush’s approval ratings to historically high levels.

God’s Will

The news media’s praise for Bush was unbridled. On Dec. 23, 2001, for instance, NBC’s Tim Russert joined New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and First Lady Laura Bush in ruminating about whether divine intervention had put Bush in the White House to handle this crisis.

Russert asked Mrs. Bush if “in an extraordinary way, this is why he was elected.” Mrs. Bush disagreed with Russert’s suggestion that “God picks the president, which he doesn’t.”

Giuliani thought otherwise. “I do think, Mrs. Bush, that there was some divine guidance in the president being elected. I do,” the mayor said.

McCarrick also saw some larger purpose. “I think I don’t thoroughly agree with the first lady. I think that the president really, he was where he was when we needed him,” the cardinal said.

Theologically speaking, it was less clear why God didn’t simply let Bush actually be elected, rather than having him get a U.S. Supreme Court ruling to stop the vote count in Florida or why God didn’t give Bush the foresight to act on the Hart-Rudman warnings so he could thwart the terrorist attacks altogether.

More mundane realities can explain Bush’s subsequent failure in squandering an unparalleled opportunity to take decisive action against some of the root causes that have fed and will continue to feed terrorism. The hard fact is that Bush, weighed down with political and ideological baggage, missed the moment.


Bush’s New War Lies

Sept. 10, 2003

In a healthy democracy, the grave act of going to war wouldn’t be justified under false pretenses and false impressions. Plus, government officials responsible for spreading false rationales wouldn’t be allowed to slide away from the first batch of lies and distortions to begin offering a new set of slippery excuses.

But the United States is not a healthy democracy at this time. It is dominated by a politician who chooses to manipulate rather than lead; who would rather trick the people into following him than engage them in a meaningful debate; who has demonstrated such a shallow regard for democracy that he took office despite losing the national popular vote and then only by blocking a full counting of ballots in one key state.

A healthy democracy wouldn’t put up with this trifling of the people’s will. But in today’s United States, there appears to be little shame in gullibility. Indeed, for some, it is a mark of patriotism. Others just act oblivious to their duties as citizens to be informed about even basic facts, even when the consequences are as severe as those of wartime.

This sad state of affairs was highlighted in a new Washington Post poll, which found that seven in 10 Americans still believe that Iraq’s ousted leader Saddam Hussein was involved in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks although U.S. investigators have found no evidence of a connection.

As the Post notes, this widely held public misperception explains why many Americans continue to support the U.S. occupation of Iraq even as the other principal casus belli trigger-ready weapons of mass destruction has collapsed. [Washington Post, Sept. 6, 2003.]

Bush’s Speech

The search for Iraq’s WMD apparently has become such a farce that George W. Bush barely mentioned it during his nationally televised speech on Sunday.

He slipped into the past tense in saying the former regime “possessed and used weapons of mass destruction,” without attaching a year or a decade to his statement. Iraq’s alleged use of chemical weapons dates back to the 1980s and its possession of effective WMD may have ended in the 1990s, according to some information that U.S. intelligence has received from former senior Iraqi officials.

While downplaying the WMD case, however, Bush continued to work the subliminal connection between the 9/11 murders and Iraq.

Indeed, after listening to Bush on Sunday juxtapose references to the 9/11 murders, their al-Qaeda perpetrators and Iraq, it shouldn’t be surprising how seven out of 10 Americans got the wrong idea. It’s pretty clear that Bush intended them to get the wrong idea. In speech after speech, Bush has sought to create public confusion over these connections.

Though no Iraqis were involved in the terror attacks two years ago and though Osama bin Laden and most of the attackers were Saudis Bush and his top aides routinely have inserted references about Iraq and the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the same paragraphs. They often used unsubstantiated assertions that Iraq was sharing or planning to share WMD with Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda as the connection.

That practice of blending Sept. 11 with Iraq continued into Bush’s speech Sunday night defending the U.S. occupation of Iraq and asking for $87 billion more to pay for it. “Since America put out the fires of September the 11th, and mourned our dead, and went to war, history has taken a different turn,” Bush said. “We have carried the fight to the enemy.”

Given that Iraq was the context of the speech, a casual listener would assume that Iraq attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, and the United States was simply hitting back. An average American, who wasn’t steeped in the facts of the Middle East, would be left with the impression that Saddam Hussein’s government and Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda were allies.

The reality is that Hussein and bin Laden were bitter rivals. Hussein ran a secular state that brutally suppressed the Islamic fundamentalism that drives al-Qaeda. Indeed, many of the atrocities committed by Hussein’s government were done to suppress Islamic fundamentalists, particularly from Iraq’s large Shia population.

Bin Laden despised Hussein as an “infidel” who was repressing bin Laden’s supporters and corrupting the Islamic world with Western ways.

Bush History

Other inconvenient facts that Bush has left out of all his speeches about Iraq include that his father, George H.W. Bush, was one of the U.S. officials in the 1980s who was assisting and encouraging Hussein in his bloody war with Iran to contain the spread of Islamic fundamentalism.

The younger Bush also doesn’t mention that the CIA and its allies in Pakistani intelligence not Iraqis were involved in training al-Qaeda fundamentalists in the arts of explosives and other skills useful to terrorists. That was part of the U.S. covert operation against Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Bush also trusts that the American people will have forgotten that other little embarrassment of the Iran-Contra Affair, when the elder Bush and President Reagan were involved in a secret policy of shipping missiles to Iran’s government. At the time, Iran’s Islamic fundamentalist regime was designated a terrorist state by the U.S. government.

Nor does the public hear much about how the U.S. government taught the dictators of Saudi Arabia techniques of suppressing political dissent to keep that oil-rich kingdom in pro-U.S. hands. Saudi leaders also financed Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East as part of the Saudi strategy for buying protection for their dictatorial powers.

Out of this mix of repression and corruption emerged an embittered Osama bin Laden, a scion of a leading Saudi family who turned against his former patrons.

If Americans knew more about this convoluted history, they might draw a very different conclusion than the one George W. Bush wants them to draw. Rather than seeing black-hatted villains who need a taste of Bush’s Western-style justice, the American people might conclude that Bush’s father and other top U.S. officials were at least as implicated in supporting Osama bin Laden and other international terrorists as Saddam Hussein was.

Indeed, if the full history were known, Hussein might appear less like a rogue leader than a U.S. client who was useful during his violent rise to power but then went awry. Not only did the CIA collaborate with Hussein’s Baathist Party as a bulwark against communism in the 1960s and 1970s, but Hussein personally sought U.S. advice at key moments from the 1980s to as late as 1990.

In ordering invasions of two neighboring countries Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990 Hussein may well have believed he had received “green lights” from the United States. [For details, see’s “Missing U.S.-Iraq History.”]

U.S. intelligence also understood the implausibility of Hussein sharing WMD with his arch Islamic fundamentalist rivals. A year ago, a CIA assessment was released acknowledging this reality.

 The CIA told Congress that Hussein would not share weapons of mass destruction with Islamic terrorists unless he saw a U.S. invasion as inevitable. [For details, see’s “Misleading the Nation to War.”]

In seeking to manipulate U.S. public opinion now, however, the Bush administration has done all it can to “lose” this history and these nuances. With a few exceptions, the U.S. news media has gone along, as journalists appear more interested in proving their “patriotism” and keeping their high-paying jobs than telling the full story.

The American people have been fed a steady diet of false impressions and misleading arguments.

New Half Truths

Now, as the bloody reality of conquering Iraq intrudes on the pre-war fantasies of happy Iraqis showering U.S. troops with rose petals, the administration’s misleading rhetoric has switched from exaggerating the danger posed by Saddam Hussein’s government to exaggerating the gains attributable to the invasion.

New half-truths and lies are quickly replacing the old ones, lest Americans begin to wonder how they got fooled by the earlier bogus rationales. In Bush’s speech Sunday night, he highlighted two of these new arguments for a long-term military occupation of Iraq.

One of the new reasons is that the resistance to the U.S. occupation can be attributed to two groups die-hard Hussein loyalists and foreign terrorists slipping into Iraq.

“Some of the attackers are members of the old Saddam regime who fled the battlefield and now fight in the shadows,” Bush said. “Some of the attackers are foreign terrorists who have come to Iraq to pursue their war on America and other free nations.”

But what Bush leaves out is that there is a third force in Iraq: nationalist Iraqis who resent foreign occupation of their country. Many of them had no fondness for Hussein and may have welcomed the overthrow of the brutal dictator.

Some of these nationalists may have served in Iraq’s army while others appear to be young Iraqis who have begun fighting the U.S. occupation of Iraq much as young Palestinians have battled the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Other Iraqi fighters may be driven by revenge for the thousands of Iraqis killed in the U.S. invasion.

This likelihood of widespread resistance was known by Bush and his advisers before the war. “U.S. intelligence agencies warned Bush administration policymakers before the war in Iraq that there would be significant armed opposition to a U.S.-led occupation, according to administration and congressional sources familiar with the reports,” the Washington Post reported on Sept. 9, 2003.

But this information shared the fate of other facts that didn’t support Bush’s propaganda themes. It disappeared. The American people now are supposed to believe that the resistance is only a mixture of Saddam “dead-enders” and “foreign terrorists.”

The second new myth is that by killing “terrorists” in Iraq and elsewhere, the U.S. homeland will be made safer. “The surest way to avoid attacks on our own people is to engage the enemy where he lives and plans,” Bush said Sunday night. “We are fighting that enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan today so that we do not meet him again on our own streets, in our own cities.”

While this argument is another not-so-subtle appeal to the residual fears from Sept. 11, 2001, and America’s hunger for revenge, it is not a logical formulation. Indeed, there is no reason to believe that killing Iraqis and other Middle Easterners in Iraq won’t incite other people to attack Americans in the United States or elsewhere. Indeed, many savvy U.S. military analysts expect just such a response as revenge for the deaths inflicted by Bush’s invasion of Iraq.

It also is clear that Bush still is resisting the time-tested lessons of counterinsurgency — that blunt force is no more likely to achieve peace than is abject cowardice, that peace and security are achieved through a combination of factors: a measured application of force combined with a sensible strategy for achieving political justice and economic improvements.

History also teaches that there are limits of national power no matter how noble a cause might be, that in geopolitics as in personal lives, the road to hell is often paved with good intentions.

In Bush’s televised speech, however, he presented the ongoing war as a choice of weakness or strength, good or evil, with no sense of the subtleties of history or the gray areas of past diplomacy. “We have learned that terrorist attacks are not caused by the use of strength; they are invited by the perception of weakness,” Bush said.

P.R. Tricks

Beyond the speech, the Bush administration has issued reports that engage in such obvious P.R. tricks that they must assume the American people have the sophistication of pre-schoolers.

For instance, to commemorate Aug. 8, the 100th day since Bush donned his flight suit and celebrated “mission accomplished,” the White House released a report entitled “Results in Iraq: 100 Days Toward Security and Freedom.” The paper, which offered 10 reasons in 10 categories to support the thesis, declared “substantial progress is being made on all fronts.”

The artificial construct, requiring 10 reasons in each of the 10 categories, led to much stretching of facts and some repetition of examples. For instance, Reason No. 9 under “signs of cultural rebirth” used a quote from a member of Baghdad’s city council declaring that “if you want to civilize society, you must care about education.” The same trite-and-true quote crops up again three pages later as another example in another category.

But more significantly, the report repeats much of the elliptical reasoning and selective intelligence used before the war to exaggerate Iraq’s WMD threat and to connect Iraq with al-Qaeda.

“Saddam Hussein’s regime posed a threat to the security of the United States and the world,” the report asserts. “The old Iraqi regime defied the international community and 17 U.N. resolutions for 12 years and gave every indication that it would never disarm and never comply with the just demands of the world.”

There is no acknowledgment in the report that U.S. troops have failed to find any WMD. Nor is there any reference to the fact that U.N. weapons inspectors, such as Hans Blix, believed that Iraq was demonstrating greater compliance in the weeks before the U.S. invasion, or that the invasion was carried out in defiance of a majority on the U.N. Security Council.

The White House report also continues to use selective information to support the administration’s case, while leaving out contrary facts or a fuller context.

For instance, the report states that “a senior al-Qaeda terrorist, now detained, who had been responsible for al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, reports that al-Qaeda was intent on obtaining WMD assistance from Iraq.” The report leaves out the fact that nothing resulted from this overture.

The report also repeats the story that an al-Qaeda associate, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, went to Baghdad in May 2002 for medical treatment, but leaves out that no evidence has surfaced that the Iraqi government was aware of his presence or cooperated with him.

Similarly, the report notes that “a safe haven in Iraq belonging to Ansar al-Islam a terrorist group closely associated with Zarqawi and al-Qaeda was destroyed during Operation Iraqi Freedom.” Left out is that the Ansar al-Islam base was in a northern section of Iraq that was outside the control of the Baghdad government and under the protection of a U.S. no-fly zone.

But the report, like Bush’s Sunday speech, is just another indication that the administration never wanted a real debate about its war policy in Iraq. The goal has always been to tilt the evidence often with a dose of public abuse for anyone who asks too many questions so the American people can be herded like sheep into Bush’s desired direction.

Weakened Democracy

As the nation plunges deeper into a costly and bloody war, there is little about this process that resembles a healthy or even meaningful democracy. Though Bush claims that his goal is to bring democracy to Iraq, he apparently thinks very little of the process at home. Rather than invite a full debate, he tries to rig the process to manufacture consent.

Bush’s contempt for an informed electorate on the issue of war in the Middle East also doesn’t stand alone. In December 2000, his respect for democracy didn’t even extend to the basic principle that in a democracy, the candidate with the most votes wins.

Not only did Bush lose the popular vote to Al Gore by more than a half million ballots, Bush blocked a full and fair counting of votes in Florida for the simple reason that he was afraid of losing. Instead, he ran to his father’s powerful friends on the U.S. Supreme Court and got them to shut down the troublesome recount, which had been ordered by the state supreme court. [For details, see’s “So Bush Did Steal the White House.”]

But Bush is only partly to blame for this steep decline in American democratic traditions and for the nation’s stumble into the dangerous quicksand of a Middle East occupation.

As in any democracy even a troubled one it remains the ultimate responsibility of the people to shoulder the burden of citizenship, which includes getting the facts and acting on them. That responsibility also demands that the people hold politicians accountable when they lead the country to war with lies and distortions.

9/11’s Dark Window to the Future

Sept. 11, 2006

As the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks unfolds, it has come to look less like a sad remembrance of the past and more like a troubling glimpse into the future, a window to a new-age totalitarianism that looms before the United States, where a powerful right-wing government tells lies aided and abetted by friendly media corporations.

So, even as the CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee finally acknowledge some of the many Iraq War falsehoods told by George W. Bush and his senior advisers, Bush’s misfeasance and malfeasance are obscured by Disney’s ABC-TV “docu-drama” pinning most of the blame for the 9/11 catastrophe not on Bush, but on Democrats.

With Disney’s selection of a right-wing director and with the secrecy that surrounded the project that gave Democrats little time to react “The Path to 9/11” also had the sickening feel of a collaboration between a giant corporation and the Republican government in power.

So, less than two months before a pivotal national election, with Americans increasingly wondering how the nation got into the mess it faces today, this joint project of Disney and pro-Bush operatives provides a narrative that focuses not on Bush blowing off CIA warnings of an impending attacks in 2001 but on events dating back to 1993.

“The Path to 9/11,” which ABC touted as a public service shown “with no commercial interruptions,” makes some of its right-wing judgments with sneering asides from characters, such as wondering if Attorney General Janet Reno had “any balls,” and others by mixing real and fabricated events to put Democrats in the worst possible light.

When the mysterious project finally was unveiled to mainstream media reviewers and when Democrats started complaining about fabricated scenes, the right-wing media responded with a counter-attack accusing the protesting Democrats of threatening the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech.

In other words, at a time when Republicans control the White House, the Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court and increasingly the American media, the Democrats still get transformed into the ones threatening free speech, for protesting their harsh and at times false depiction in events that led to the deaths of almost 3,000 people.

Looking Forward

Media manipulation also appears likely to play a major part in the Republican strategy for beating back Democratic challenges in the Nov. 7 election. In the eight weeks ahead, Republicans can be expected to exploit their financial and media advantages to wage personal attacks against Democratic challengers, district by district, state by state.

About four months ago, a Republican political operative told me about this strategy to “disqualify” Democratic candidates through a combination of negative research, called “oppo,” and the timely dissemination of attack lines to conservative allies in the local and national media. [See’s “Why Democrats Lose.]

The pattern first surfaced in a special congressional election near San Diego, where Republican Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham had resigned over a lobbying-bribery scandal and gone to prison.

To succeed Cunningham, the Republicans boldly put up a professional lobbyist, Brian Bilbray, while Democrats chose Francine Busby, who was counseled by Democratic consultants to avoid controversial Democratic positions in a traditionally Republican district. Democrats felt that Cunningham’s disgrace would be enough to guarantee success.

Indeed, despite a lackluster campaign, Busby appeared headed for victory. But then she blurted out to a mostly Latino audience that “you don’t need papers for voting,” hastily clarifying her meaning to say “you don’t need to be a registered voter to help.”

Conservative radio and TV talk show hosts across southern California seized on Busby’s verbal slip and began accusing her of urging illegal immigrants to vote. Busby then spent the last several days of the campaign apologizing and backtracking before losing by about four percentage points. [Washington Post, June 7, 2006]

In explaining Busby’s defeat, some Democratic activists raised suspicions that the election had been stolen by Republican vote fraud (though no hard evidence materialized). National Democratic consultants also pointed to the fact that the Republican Congressional Committee pumped more than $4.5 million into the district.

But whatever the truth, the Republicans had tested out their 2006 model for victory and for continued one-party rule in Washington. They would exploit their advantages in finances, media and campaign tactics to prevent the Democrats from achieving a majority in either the House or Senate.

‘Defining’ Democrats

In a front-page article on Sept. 10, 2006, the Washington Post added more details about this Republican strategy: “Republicans are planning to spend the vast majority of their sizable financial war chest over the final 60 days of the campaign attacking Democratic House and Senate candidates over personal issues and local controversies, GOP officials said.”

The Post reported that the National Republican Congressional Committee had earmarked more than 90 percent of its $50 million-plus advertising budget to negative advertising that would disseminate the findings of researchers who have been combing through tax and legal records searching for exploitable themes against Democrats.

“The hope is that a vigorous effort to ‘define’ opponents, in the parlance of GOP operatives, can help Republicans shift the midterm debate away from Iraq and limit losses this fall,” the Post wrote.

An early example of the strategy has been a Republican ad directed against physician Steve Kagen, a Democratic congressional candidate in Wisconsin who is being labeled “Dr. Millionaire” because over the years his allergy clinic has sued 80 patients, mostly for unpaid bills.

Against inexperienced or little-known Democratic candidates, “it will take one or two punches to fold them up like a cheap suit,” Republican strategist Matt Keelen told the Post. [Washington Post, Sept. 19, 2006]

The Republicans also have a huge advantage because their negative themes reverberate through a giant right-wing media megaphone that extends from the national level down to the states and districts, where Republicans have identified specific hosts on local right-wing radio stations and friendly newspaper editors.

I was told that Republican operatives have an apparatus to electronically communicate instantaneous talking points to these local media outlets, promoting “bad votes” or exploitable quotes from individual Democratic candidates. Republicans will be putting negative spins on Democratic candidates before the Democrats can even reach a microphone.

The Left’s Failure

By contrast, the Democratic response mechanism concentrated mostly on personal Internet sites and under-funded Air America Radio stations is amateurish and relatively slow. Much of it depends on volunteers with day jobs finding time to do a little blogging.

While the Right has built up its media machinery over three decades, spending billions of dollars and integrating its media with its political operations, the Left has invested sparingly on media and focused mostly on “grassroots organizing.”

In effect, the Left counted on the mainstream news media to provide the necessary information and thus ceded control of the national narrative, while the Right created its own narrative and aggressively pressured the mainstream media to go along, labeling any out-of-step journalists as “liberal.”

The consequences of these two competing strategies cannot be overstated. Beyond enabling the Right to build a political following with consistent messages day in and day out, its media machine gives the Right enormous advantages at key moments, such as during a run-up to war or in the weeks before an election.

Increasingly, too, the mainstream media finds itself under the influence of the Right’s narrative and under pressure to accept the Right’s “facts.” Individual journalists may first bend their coverage to the Right to avoid the career-threatening “liberal” label but often even that doesn’t work.

Eventually, targeted news personalities, such as Dan Rather, get weeded out and replaced with unthreatening ciphers, like Katie Couric, who, in turn, put opinion segments on the CBS Evening News that range from Thomas L. Friedman, an Iraq War hawk with some second thoughts, to Rush Limbaugh, an Iraq War hawk with no second thoughts.

In another sign of the times, Disney, which has faced right-wing attacks for supposed tolerance of homosexuality and for some executives who have contributed to Democrats, turned to a Limbaugh friend, Cyrus Nowrasteh, to direct its docu-drama on 9/11.

Disney saw little downside in promoting a favorite right-wing theme blaming the 9/11 attacks on Democratic President Bill Clinton despite the evidence that Clinton took the al-Qaeda threat much more seriously than did Bush, who famously brushed aside warnings from the CIA and downplayed terrorism in his first eight months in office.

As another favor to the Right and as proof that the motive wasn’t financial Disney’s ABC-TV presented its anti-Clinton mini-series without commercial breaks. It is inconceivable that Disney or any media corporation would give similar treatment to a TV special that worked as hard to put Bush in an unfavorable light.

Fake Testimony

On a smaller scale but also instructive, right-wing operatives continue to spread a disinformation campaign that has doctored Iran-Contra testimony to have former White House aide Oliver North prophetically describing his concerns about terrorist Osama bin Laden in 1987 while Democrats, supposedly including then-Sen. Al Gore, behave cluelessly.

Over the past five years, I have been asked about this supposed North testimony at least a dozen times. Heading into the 9/11 anniversary, the North “testimony” was circulating again, distributed widely across the Internet as further “evidence” of Republican farsightedness and Democratic fecklessness.

But North did not cite concerns about bin Laden in 1987, when bin Laden was actually a U.S. ally receiving military assistance from the Reagan administration to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. North’s concerns were about another terrorist, named Abu Nidal. Sen. Gore also wasn’t on the Iran-Contra committee.

Yet, this bogus history much like the Disney docu-drama and Bush’s longstanding lies about Iraq are combining in big ways and small to create an Orwellian future for the American people.

Internationally, Bush has outlined an endless war against the vague concept of “Islamic fascists” with the underlying reality that the United States is committing itself to a bloody “World War III” against many of the world’s one billion Muslims.

At home, Karl Rove and other Republican strategists project what effectively will be a one-party state, with the Republicans controlling all branches of government, using the federal courts to redefine the Constitution and keeping Democrats around as foils and boogey men to stir up the conservative base with warnings about the enemy within.

On this fifth anniversary of 9/11, President Bush and his Republican supporters are trying hard to revive the lost sentimental unity that followed the attacks. But the saddest legacy of that tragic day may be that it marked the path toward the end of the noble American Republic and the start of a new totalitarianism.


Did al-Qaeda Succeed?

Sept. 11, 2008

Ten years after the neoconservatives laid out plans for permanent U.S. global dominance and seven years after the brutal 9/11 attacks gave them the opening to carry out those plans the neocons instead have guided the United States onto the shoals of a political/military disaster and the prospect of rapid decline.

 This grim result from the neocons’ overreach is an unstated subtext of the U.S. intelligence community’s project for assessing the world in 2025, a point 17 years into the future when the United States is likely to have lost its current world dominance, according to a preview offered by the government’s top intelligence analyst.

Speaking at a Sept. 4 conference in Orlando, Florida, Thomas Fingar, chairman of the National Intelligence Council, said the United States might still be “the preeminent power” in 2025, but that “American dominance will be much diminished.”

Further, Fingar projected that the United States would see the greatest declines in the most important areas of global influence, the economic and the cultural, while likely maintaining military supremacy, which would be of lesser importance.

“The overwhelming dominance that the United States has enjoyed in the international system in military, political, economic, and arguably, cultural arenas is eroding and will erode at an accelerating pace with the partial exception of military,” Fingar said.

“But part of the argument here is that by 15 years from now, the military dimension will remain the most preeminent [but] will be the least significant or much less significant than it is now.”

In other words, U.S. intelligence is looking toward a future in which the United States may serve as the world’s policeman, but without the more subtle and profitable influence that comes from economic, cultural and political strength known as “soft power.”

Though Fingar did not tie the “accelerating” erosion of American power to the policies of the neocons and the Bush administration, it is hard to avoid that conclusion.

In 1998, the neocons were unveiling their Project for the New American Century with its vision of never-ending U.S. global dominance. When potential threats did arise, the neocons argued, the United States must react with “preemptive wars,” striking before a rival could pose a serious threat.

After the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush embraced these neocon theories, vowing to not just exact revenge on the 9/11 perpetrators but to wage a “global war on terrorism” with the ultimate goal of eradicating “evil” itself.

Quick Pivot

So, after invading Afghanistan and blasting al-Qaeda base camps, Bush made a quick pivot toward Iraq to fulfill the neocon dream of eliminating Saddam Hussein, a longtime thorn in Washington’s side.

The U.S. occupation of Iraq also would establish an American military outpost “East of Suez,” projecting U.S. power into the region, guaranteeing access to its oil and protecting Israel from its Muslim neighbors.

However, the neocons’ neocolonial strategy foundered on the rocks of Iraq’s violent resistance and sectarian warfare. More than five years into the conflict, about 140,000 American troops are tied down in Iraq while a force of about 30,000 U.S. troops finds itself facing worsening security in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders not only survived the U.S. retaliatory strikes after 9/11 but exploited the Bush administration’s obsession with Iraq to reestablish themselves inside Pakistan, a nuclear-armed country.

The damage to U.S. interests also extends beyond the war zones. The military adventures are putting the U.S. government more than $1 trillion deeper into debt, drawing away resources that the United States desperately needs to retool its industries, develop alternative energy sources and improve its education, infrastructure and health care.

Plus, the neocon hubris about American dominance has alienated much of the world’s population, squandering goodwill built up since World War II. Instead of the nation that established the Nuremberg principles and wrote the United Nations Charter, the United States is seen as the country of Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and torture.

In almost every corner of the globe and especially in strategic regions such as Europe and the Middle East respect for the United States as a beacon of political freedom and international progress has fallen to historic lows.

While the rest of the world appears eager to get on with expanded commerce and technological competition, the United States looks like it can’t stop clumsily throwing its military weight around, amid chants of “USA, USA.”

So, as U.S. intelligence continues work on its projections for 2025, the nation finds itself at a crossroads. It can give the neocons around John McCain another four-year lease on the White House so they can keep doing what they’ve been doing or the country can take another direction.

As Fingar made clear in his Sept. 4 speech, the future of 2025 is not yet set in stone. It is only the intelligence community’s best estimate based on current dynamics. If those dynamics change, so can the future.

Still, it appears that if al-Qaeda’s motive in attacking New York and Washington on 9/11 was to bait the United States into self-destructive actions in the Middle East and thus undermine America’s position in the world, bin Laden and his associates may have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.


The Real Lessons of 9/11

Sept. 11, 2009

On this eighth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, it’s worth reflecting on how even a mildly competent U.S. President might have prevented the terror attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people and drove the United States into a spasm of revenge that has wasted untold blood and treasure. 

The evidence of George W. Bush’s incompetence has emerged from official investigations, court cases and memoirs from key insiders but often has attracted less attention than the speculative arguments from conspiracy theorists about the 9/11 attacks being “an inside job.”

Ironically, it was the evidence of Bush’s stunning incompetence that gave momentum to the so-called “9/11 truth movement,” which argued that the U.S. government couldn’t be that inept and that therefore the Bush administration must have been complicit in the attacks.

That assumption then gave rise to a cottage industry of bizarre theories such as “no plane hit the Pentagon” and “the Twin Towers were destroyed by controlled demolitions” claims that have invited debunking by scientists and engineers and thus obscured a more important truth: that by 2001 a dangerous confluence of political factors had carried the United States to a place where Bush’s swaggering bluster and neoconservative ideology were positioned to exploit the nation’s fear and anger with disastrous results.

The real lesson learned from 9/11 perhaps should be that rational behavior and competence matter and that their willful rejection by a major political party (in this case, the Republicans), a sizable portion of the U.S. news media, and a large chunk of the American electorate can have devastating consequences for the nation and the world.

That is a lesson which also remains relevant today as right-wing extremists continue their takeover of the Republican Party with the help of a powerful right-wing media machine.

Despite electoral reversals in 2006 and 2008, the Republicans seem bound to Bush’s true legacy the notion that words can reshape reality as long as you have a big enough media megaphone to shout out and repeat the distortions.

And, to a surprising degree, “the 9/11 truth movement” shared a common interest with the Bush administration both groups needed to dismiss the evidence of Bush’s incompetence, albeit for different reasons.

Bush’s backers understood that incompetence was the President’s Achilles’s heel as would be revealed in the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe in summer 2005 and from his inept management of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The “truthers” also had a stake in ignoring the evidence of Bush’s incompetence, since their theories were dependent on the notion that Bush and his team were evil masterminds who had pulled off and then concealed the most audacious conspiracy in world history.

An Arrogant Buffoon?

The acceptance of the alternative interpretation that Bush was an arrogant buffoon who rejected warnings about al-Qaeda terrorism in part because President Bill Clinton thought the issue was important would have undermined both the Bush administration’s bid for a second term and “the 9/11 truth movement.”

So the Bush team tried to conceal many of the embarrassing facts and went on the attack against insiders like ex-Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill and former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke who pulled aside the curtain on internal White House workings.

The administration’s foot-dragging and name-calling kept much of the strongest evidence of incompetence under wraps until after Election 2004. In the years that followed, however, more and more evidence spilled out.

For instance, during the penalty phase of al-Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui’s trial, it was revealed that FBI agent Harry Samit, who interrogated Moussaoui weeks before the Sept. 11 attacks, sent 70 warnings to his superiors about suspicions that Moussaoui had been taking flight training in Minnesota because he was planning to hijack a plane for a terrorist operation.

But FBI officials in Washington showed “criminal negligence” in blocking requests for a search warrant on Moussaoui’s computer or taking other preventive action, Samit testified at the court hearing on March 20, 2006.

Samit’s futile warnings matched the frustrations of other federal agents in Minnesota and Arizona who had gotten wind of al-Qaeda’s scheme to train pilots for operations in the United States.

For instance, FBI headquarters blew off a prescient memo from an FBI agent in the Phoenix field office. The July 2001 memo warned of the “possibility of a coordinated effort by Usama Bin Laden” to send student pilots to the United States. The agent noted “an inordinate number of individuals of investigative interest” attending American flight schools.

CIA Warnings

Separate from the FBI field agents, CIA analysts were piecing the same puzzle together from tips, intercepts and other scraps of information.

By July 10, senior CIA counterterrorism officials, including Cofer Black, had collected a body of intelligence that they presented to CIA Director George Tenet, as Tenet recounted in his 2007 memoir, At the Center of the Storm.

“The briefing [Black] gave me literally made my hair stand on end,” Tenet wrote. “When he was through, I picked up the big white secure phone on the left side of my desk the one with a direct line to [National Security Adviser] Condi Rice and told her that I needed to see her immediately to provide an update on the al-Qa’ida threat.”

After reaching the White House, a CIA briefer, identified in the book only as Rich B., started his presentation by saying: “There will be a significant terrorist attack in the coming weeks or months!”

Rich B. then displayed a chart showing “seven specific pieces of intelligence gathered over the past 24 hours, all of them predicting an imminent attack,” Tenet wrote. The briefer presented another chart with “the more chilling statements we had in our possession through intelligence.”

These comments included a mid-June statement by Osama bin Laden to trainees about an attack in the near future; talk about decisive acts and a “big event”; and fresh intelligence about predictions of “a stunning turn of events in the weeks ahead,” Tenet wrote.

Rich B. told Rice that the attack will be “spectacular” and designed to inflict heavy casualties against U.S. targets, Tenet wrote.

“Attack preparations have been made,” Rich B. said about al-Qaeda’s plans. “Multiple and simultaneous attacks are possible, and they will occur with little or no warning.”

When Rice asked what needed to be done, the CIA’s Black responded, “This country needs to go on a war footing now.”

The CIA officials sought approval for broad covert-action authority that had been languishing since March, Tenet wrote.

Despite the July 10 briefing, other senior Bush administration officials pooh-poohed the seriousness of the al-Qaeda threat. Two leading neoconservatives at the Pentagon Stephen Cambone and Paul Wolfowitz suggested that the CIA might be falling for a disinformation campaign, Tenet wrote.

But the evidence of an impending attack continued to pour in. At one CIA meeting in late July, Tenet wrote that Rich B. told senior officials bluntly, “they’re coming here,” a declaration that was followed by stunned silence.

Bush Warned

On Aug. 6, 2001, more than a month before the attacks, the CIA had enough evidence to send Bush a top-secret Presidential Daily Briefing paper, “Bin Laden Determined To Strike in US.” It was handed to Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, where he was on a month-long vacation after a half year on the job.

The CIA told Bush about “threat reporting” that indicated bin Laden wanted “to hijack a US aircraft.” The CIA also cited a call that had been made to the U.S. Embassy in the United Arab Emirates in May 2001 “saying that a group of Bin Laden supporters was in the US planning attacks with explosives.”

The PDB noted that “FBI information indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York. The FBI is conducting approximately 70 full field investigations throughout the US that it considers Bin Laden-related.”

Bush apparently was not pleased by the CIA’s intrusion on his vacation nor with the report’s lack of specific targets and dates. He glared at the CIA briefer and snapped, “All right, you’ve covered your ass,” according to an account in author Ron Suskind’s The One Percent Doctrine., which relied heavily on senior CIA officials.

“The system was blinking red,” Tenet later told the 9/11 Commission.

In his memoir, Tenet described a special trip he took to Crawford later in August 2001 to get Bush to focus on an imminent threat of a spectacular al-Qaeda attack.

 “A few weeks after the Aug. 6 PDB was delivered, I followed it to Crawford to make sure the President stayed current on events,” Tenet wrote. “This was my first visit to the ranch. I remember the President graciously driving me around the spread in his pickup and my trying to make small talk about the flora and the fauna, none of which were native to Queens,” where Tenet had grown up.

Tenet’s trip to Crawford like the July 10 meeting with Rice and the Aug. 6 briefing paper for Bush failed to shock the administration out of its lethargy. While Tenet and Bush made small talk about “the flora and the fauna,” al-Qaeda operatives put the finishing touches on their plans.

Bush’s Justice Department and FBI headquarters were in the loop on the CIA reporting, but still didn’t reach out to their agents around the country, some of whom, it turned out, were frantically trying to get the attention of their superiors in Washington.

Then-acting FBI Director Thomas Pickard told the 9/11 Commission that he discussed the intelligence threat reports with FBI special agents in a conference call on July 19, 2001. But Pickard said the focus was on having “evidence response teams” ready to respond quickly in the event of an attack.

Pickard “did not task field offices to try to determine whether any plots were being considered within the United States or to take any action to disrupt any such plots,” according to the 9/11 Commission’s report.

It wasn’t until Sept. 4 a week before 9/11 when senior Bush administration officials, including Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, “finally reconvened in the White House Situation Room” to discuss counterterrorism plans “that had been lingering unresolved all summer long,” Tenet wrote in his memoir.

Averting 9/11

While it will never be known conclusively whether a different reaction by Bush and his national security team could have disrupted the 9/11 attacks, a variety of options were available.

Counterterrorism coordinator Richard Clarke said the 9/11 attacks might have been averted if Bush had shown some initiative in “shaking the trees” by having high-level officials from the FBI, CIA, Customs and other federal agencies go back to their bureaucracies and demand any information about the terrorist threat.

If they had, they might well have found the memos from the FBI agents in Arizona and Minnesota. They also might have exploited the information that two known al-Qaeda operatives, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawar al-Hazmi, had entered the United States. On Sept. 11, they boarded American Airlines Flight 77 and helped fly it into the Pentagon.

In his book, Against All Enemies, Clarke contrasted President Bill Clinton’s urgency over the intelligence warnings that preceded the Millennium events with the lackadaisical approach of Bush and his national security team.

“In December 1999, we received intelligence reports that there were going to be major al-Qaeda attacks,” Clarke said in an interview about his book. “President Clinton asked his national security adviser Sandy Berger to hold daily meetings with the attorney general, the FBI director, the CIA director and stop the attacks.

“Every day they went back from the White House to the FBI, to the Justice Department, to the CIA and they shook the trees to find out if there was any information. You know, when you know the United States is going to be attacked, the top people in the United States government ought to be working hands-on to prevent it and working together.

”Now, contrast that with what happened in the summer of 2001, when we even had more clear indications that there was going to be an attack. Did the President ask for daily meetings of his team to try to stop the attack? Did Condi Rice hold meetings of her counterparts to try to stop the attack? No.” [CNN’s “Larry King Live,” March 24, 2004]

In a March 19, 2006, speech in Florida, former Vice President Al Gore also noted this contrast between how the Clinton administration reacted to terrorist threats and how the Bush administration did in the weeks before Sept. 11.

“In eight years in the White House, President Clinton and I, a few times, got a direct and really immediate statement like that [Aug. 6, 2001 warning], in one of those daily briefings,” Gore said.

“Every time, as you would want and expect, we had a fire drill, brought everybody in, [asked] what else do we know about this, what have we done to prepare for this, what else could we do, are we certain of the sources, get us more information on that, we want to know everything about this, and we want to make sure our country is prepared.

“In August of 2001,” Gore added, “such a clear warning was given and nothing nothing happened. When there is no vision, the people perish.”

Other Priorities

In his book, Clarke offered other examples of pre-9/11 mistakes by the Bush administration, including a downgrading in importance of the counterterrorism office, a shifting of budget priorities, an obsession with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and an emphasis on conservative ideological issues, such as Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars missile defense program.

A more hierarchical White House structure also insulated Bush from direct contact with mid-level national security officials who had specialized on the al-Qaeda issue.

The chairman and vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission New Jersey’s former Republican Gov. Thomas Kean and former Democratic Indiana Rep. Lee Hamilton agreed that the 9/11 attacks could have been prevented.

“The whole story might have been different,” Kean said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on April 4, 2004. Kean cited a string of law-enforcement blunders including the “lack of coordination within the FBI” and the FBI’s failure to understand the significance of Moussaoui’s arrest in August 2001 while training to fly passenger jets.

Though the 9/11 Commission steered away from overt criticism of policymakers, it did note that “no CSG [Counterterrorism Security Group] or other NSC [National Security Council] meeting was held to discuss the possible threat of a strike in the United States as a result of this [Aug. 6] report.”

As the clock ticked down to 9/11, the Bush administration continued to have other priorities.

On Aug. 9, 2001, Bush gave a nationally televised speech on stem cells, delivering his judgment permitting federal funding for research on 60 preexisting stem-cell lines, but barring government support for work on any other lines of stem cells derived from human embryos.

On side trips from his August vacation, Bush also made forays to Middle American cities that Bush said represented “heartland values” and the basic decency of Americans. Some residents living near the Atlantic and Pacific oceans viewed the hype about “heartland values” as a not-so-subtle snub at the so-called “blue” coastal states that favored Al Gore.

Despite the Sept. 4, 2001, meeting of senior Bush aides to review the counterterrorism initiatives that had been languishing since March, the administration still didn’t seem moved by the urgency of the moment.

On Sept. 6, 2001, Rumsfeld threatened a presidential veto of a proposal by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, seeking to transfer money from strategic missile defense to counterterrorism.

Also on Sept. 6, former Sen. Gary Hart, who had co-chaired a commission on terrorism, was again trying to galvanize the Bush administration into showing some urgency about the threat. Hart met with Rice and urged the White House to move faster. Rice agreed to pass on Hart’s concerns to higher-ups.

Leadership Vacuum

Yet, if President Bush had demanded action from on high, the ripple effect through the FBI might well have jarred loose enough of the pieces to make the overall picture suddenly clear, especially in view of the information already compiled by the CIA.

Ironically, that is almost the same argument that federal prosecutors made in unsuccessfully seeking Moussaoui’s execution, rather than life imprisonment. It’s not that he was directly involved in the Sept. 11 plot, the prosecutors said; it’s that the government might have been able to stop the attacks if he had immediately confessed what he was up to.

In effect, the Bush administration was demanding Moussaoui’s death on the notion that the failure to do something that might have prevented the tragedy of Sept. 11 should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

However, the Bush administration took almost the opposite position on its own negligence. Bush and other senior officials insisted they had nothing to apologize for.

Indeed, Bush made the 9/11 attacks and their aftermath the centerpiece of his presidency. Arguably, he rode the whirlwind from the attacks right through the war in Afghanistan to the invasion of Iraq to his second term.

Only in summer 2005 after another case of botched leadership during the Hurricane Katrina disaster did the air whoosh out of Bush’s cult-of-personality balloon. Add in the disastrous decisions around the Iraq War and many Americans began to see a pattern of arrogant, incompetent leadership that failed to heed evidence or pay attention to details.

For some Americans, however, the Bush incompetence explanation didn’t go nearly far enough to explain the breathtaking lapses that preceded 9/11.

Some 9/11 “truthers” argued that the destruction of the Twin Towers and the damage to the Pentagon must have been an “inside job” with some elements of the Bush administration conspiring with the attackers to create a modern-day Reichstag Fire that would justify invading Iraq and consolidating political power at home.

But the evidence from the Moussaoui case and other investigations as well as later admissions by al-Qaeda leaders and the absence of any first-hand witnesses describing the supposed “inside job” collaboration all tend to support the theory of Bush’s incompetence.

Without doubt, however, even as the Twin Towers and the Pentagon were still smoldering, Bush and his neoconservative advisers decided to exploit the nation’s anger and fear to implement a long-held desire for preemptive wars abroad and a crackdown on dissent at home.

And that might well be the ultimate lesson of 9/11: how unscrupulous political leaders, supported by a fawning or complicit media, can exploit a tragedy and stampede a population into disastrous miscalculations.

[For more on these topics, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege and Neck Deep, now available in a two-book set for the discount price of only $19. For details, click here.]

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book,Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.