(Graphic by Tengrain. Thanks to Blue Gal for spreading the word again this year.)
Last year, in "8-6-01: A Date That Should Live in Infamy," I opened by writing:
While the Bush administration rattles sabers once again and insists on more unchecked surveillance power and fewer civil rights for Americans, and Democrats seem set to capitulate for no good reason, it's worth taking stock of the Bush administration's actual record on terrorism.
Boy, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose and all that. But let's look at what we knew and some new developments.
Last year, we spent some time on Condoleezza Rice's lies, evasions and obfuscations about the 8-6-01 Presidential Daily Brief, "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside U.S." (alas, a video we linked is no longer available). Since attacking someone's patriotism seems to be all the rage again among conservatives – well, more so than usual - let me just say that anyone who puts covering their ass and that of their colleagues above the well-being of the United States is no patriot. The same goes for smear merchants and apologists such as Glenn Reynolds.
Last year, we also looked at a passage from Ron Suskind's The One Percent Doctrine about that crucial PDB, delivered in person by a CIA briefer flown to Crawford to make sure Bush (who's not much of a reader) heard it. The kicker from that longer passage was Bush's reaction:
He looked hard at the panicked CIA briefer.
"All right," he said. "You've covered your ass, now."
Rice never volunteered that information. No one in the Bush administration did to the 9/11 Commission. The White House never denied that account, yet the press remained relatively silent about the revelation, and others in Suskind's book, such as how the Bush administration tried to browbeat the CIA into saying there was a Al Qaeda-Iraq connection, when of course there wasn't. Seymour Hersh, Jane Mayer and several CIA insiders had told similar tales before. And the Bush administration's monumental incompetence has been pretty obvious to all those willing to look. Let's turn to Suskind again, who has a new book out:
Jonathan Schwarz points out two important angles on Suskind's reporting, "George Tenet And White House Admit Iraq's Intelligence Chief Told Them Iraq Had No WMD" and "CIA Agent Allegedly Involved In Forged Iraq Letter Ran Previous Operation To Create Pretext For War." Put those together with Hersh's recent tale about Cheney's plot to manufacture a casus belli for war with Iran, reminiscent of Bush's discussions with Tony Blair about manufacturing a casus belli with Iraq. It's shameful anything the Bushies and their pals say is trusted at all. It's shameful they haven't been investigated. It's shameful so few in our press corps seem to acknowledge that these are impeachable, criminal, damning offenses.
As for whether we're safer, well, as Joby Warrick reports for The Washington Post (via Froomkin):
The Bush administration's terrorism-fighting strategy has not significantly undermined al-Qaeda's capabilities, according to a major new study that argues the struggle against terrorism is better waged by law enforcement agencies than by armies.
The study by the nonpartisan Rand Corp. also contends that the administration committed a fundamental error in portraying the conflict with al-Qaeda as a "war on terrorism." The phrase falsely suggests that there can be a battlefield solution to terrorism, and symbolically conveys warrior status on terrorists, it said.
"Terrorists should be perceived and described as criminals, not holy warriors," authors Seth Jones and Martin Libicki write in "How Terrorist Groups End: Lessons for Countering al-Qaeda," a 200-page volume released yesterday.
"In most cases, military force isn't the best instrument," said Jones, a terrorism expert and the report's lead author...
In Muslim countries in particular, there should be a "light U.S. military footprint or none at all," the report contends.
"The U.S. military can play a critical role in building indigenous capacity," it said, "but should generally resist being drawn into combat operations in Muslim societies, since its presence is likely to increase terrorist recruitment."
None of that should be shocking. And the Bush administration was told all that before it embarked on its reckless course of action. As for the Bush legacy, Dan Froomkin recently provided a good roundup:
Jane Mayer writes in the New York Review of Books: "Seven years after al-Qaeda's attacks on America, as the Bush administration slips into history, it is clear that what began on September 11, 2001, as a battle for America's security became, and continues to be, a battle for the country's soul.
"In looking back, one of the most remarkable features of this struggle is that almost from the start, and at almost every turn along the way, the Bush administration was warned that whatever the short-term benefits of its extralegal approach to fighting terrorism, it would have tragically destructive long-term consequences both for the rule of law and America's interests in the world. . . .
"Instead of heeding this well-intentioned dissent, however, the Bush administration invoked the fear flowing from the attacks on September 11 to institute a policy of deliberate cruelty that would have been unthinkable on September 10. . . .
"When warned that these policies were unlawful and counterproductive, they ignored the experts and made decisions outside of ordinary bureaucratic channels, and often outside of the public's view. . . . Far from tempering these policies over time, they marginalized and penalized those who challenged their idées fixes."
As for Bush's claim that he deserves credit for having averted further terrorist attacks, Mayer writes: "In the absence of government transparency and independent analysis, the public has been asked to simply take the President's word on faith that inhumane treatment has been necessary to stop attacks and save lives.
"Increasingly, however, those with access to the inner workings of the Bush administration's counterterrorism program have begun to question those claims. . . .
"In 2006, a scientific advisory group to the US intelligence agencies produced an exhaustive report on interrogation called 'Educing Information,' which concluded that there was no scientific proof whatsoever that harsh techniques worked. In fact, several of the experts involved in the study described the infliction of physical and psychological cruelty as outmoded, amateurish, and unreliable.
"In confidential interviews, several of those with inside information about the NSA's controversial Terrorist Surveillance Program have expressed similar disenchantment. As one of these former officials says of the ultrasecret program so furiously defended by David Addington, chief of staff and former counsel to Vice President Cheney, 'It's produced nothing.'"
Alan Brinkley sums up Mayer's new book in a New York Times book review: "Within hours of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, Dick Cheney in effect took command of the national security operations of the federal government. Quickly and instinctively, he began to act in response to two longstanding beliefs: that the great dangers facing the United States justified almost any response, whether or not legal; and that the presidency needed vastly to enhance its authority, which had been unjustifiably and dangerously weakened in the post-Vietnam, post-Watergate years. George Bush was an eager enabler, but not often an active architect, of the government's response to terror.
Here, too, it's the details and confirmations, not the broad strokes, that are news. For every major disaster perpetrated by the Bush administration, they were warned beforehand, including by people within their own administration. It happened for 9/11, the invasion of Iraq, reconstruction, Katrina, spying on Americans, fiscal mismanagement, torture, you name it. As we've often noted, it's not as if the Bushies have made mistakes because no one warned them, or because (contrary to the desperate cognitive dissonances of David Broder and his ilk) they weren't warned politely enough. If they ever were, they long ago ceased to be men and women of good faith and honor. It's also no coincidence that bullies unconcerned with facts, who deliberately set up a bad decision-making process, made bad decisions. As Digby often says, the corruption and incompetence are features, not bugs. It's really impossible to overstate how fearful, vengeful and arrogant they have been. They knew what they were doing was radical – that's why they've lied about so much, to the American public, to the media, to Congress, and to conscientious members of their own administration. Compared to the key players of the Bush gang, Narcissus suffered from poor self-esteem, King Lear was as introspective as Hamlet, Othello was overly cautious, and Macbeth lacked ambition.
In his play Stuff Happens, British playwright David Hare depicts an impassive Bush who is consistently warned of the consequences of his actions, most of all by Tony Blair and Colin Powell. If Bush were the tragic hero, his flaws would be his unwillingness to listen and his utter disinterest in trying to act wisely. Hare actually casts Powell as more of the tragic hero, although in retrospect he was far too generous. And while the Bush administration's failures on and leading up to 9/11 were shameful, sadly there were many more shames to come.
A teacher of mine in Moscow, Tolya Smeliansky, told us harrowing, moving tales of life in the theater and other arts in the Soviet era, with Stalin's reign of course the most cruel. One of the most important things Tolya drove home was how, in the face of wrongdoing, honest memory can be an act of conscience. As horrible as the Bush administration has been for the United States, the majority of Americans haven't faced woes of that magnitude. But all those unnecessarily killed, tortured, displaced or otherwise made miserable due to the Bush administration might feel differently (if they all could speak). Because it's sadly unlikely most of the Bush administration will face prosecution, and they will never stop voluntarily, it's especially vital that they at least be prosecuted in the court of public opinion and permanently discredited. Honest memory is essential to that, and this anniversary it's important to recall the colossal failures and craven cover-ups centering on 8-6-01.
(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)