On Aug. 6, 2001, President George W. Bush received a classified review of the threats posed by Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network, Al Qaeda. That morning’s “presidential daily brief” — the top-secret document prepared by America’s intelligence agencies — featured the now-infamous heading: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” A few weeks later, on 9/11, Al Qaeda accomplished that goal.
On April 10, 2004, the Bush White House declassified that daily brief — and only that daily brief — in response to pressure from the 9/11 Commission, which was investigating the events leading to the attack. Administration officials dismissed the document’s significance, saying that, despite the jaw-dropping headline, it was only an assessment of Al Qaeda’s history, not a warning of the impending attack. While some critics considered that claim absurd, a close reading of the brief showed that the argument had some validity.
That is, unless it was read in conjunction with the daily briefs preceding Aug. 6, the ones the Bush administration would not release. While those documents are still not public, I have read excerpts from many of them, along with other recently declassified records, and come to an inescapable conclusion: the administration’s reaction to what Mr. Bush was told in the weeks before that infamous briefing reflected significantly more negligence than has been disclosed. In other words, the Aug. 6 document, for all of the controversy it provoked, is not nearly as shocking as the briefs that came before it.
The direct warnings to Mr. Bush about the possibility of a Qaeda attack began in the spring of 2001. By May 1, the Central Intelligence Agency told the White House of a report that “a group presently in the United States” was planning a terrorist operation. Weeks later, on June 22, the daily brief reported that Qaeda strikes could be “imminent,” although intelligence suggested the time frame was flexible.
Head over to read the rest. You'll be absolutely shocked to discover that the neocons were complete idiots, even beyond their saber-rattling about Iraq and Saddam Hussein.
Many Americans were stunned by 9/11. While some were bent on vengeance, many showed a generous outlook – at least toward their fellow Americans, as well as government officials. Few people, if any, wanted a witch hunt. (Surely the Bush administration did all it could!)
I suspect, knowing right-wingers, that had Al Gore been president, there would have been far less forgiveness, and they would have been calling for his head. Of course, it's quite possible a Gore administration would have prevented 9/11 in the first place, given the much stronger focus the Clinton/Gore White House gave Al Qaeda. But it's impossible to know for sure.
Regardless, the Bush administration showed deadly incompetence in allowing 9/11 to occur, and its subsequent exploitation of 9/11 to wage an unnecessary war remains one of the most shameful episodes in our nation's history. It's also shameful that Bush officials have faced so few repercussions for it (in part because some many members of the press were culpable in selling the war, too).
I definitely don't begrudge anyone who still remembers 9/11 with grief, especially anyone who lost someone. The days after, and the first anniversary, were days of reflection for many people, and certainly were for me. But for the past few years, I've found it's been the exploitation that stands out – the still largely-unaddressed and certainly unpunished exploitation (the latter being less important than the former). Unfortunately, for America as a whole, that seems to be 9/11's enduring legacy. "Never Forget" only extends so far.
In related news, Human Rights Watch has a new report out, Delivered Into Enemy Hands, that "meticulously documents a George W. Bush–era CIA program of torture, including waterboarding, in careful collaboration with former Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi."
Meanwhile, The New York Times reports:
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced Thursday that no one would be prosecuted for the deaths of a prisoner in Afghanistan in 2002 and another in Iraq in 2003, eliminating the last possibility that any criminal charges will be brought as a result of the brutal interrogations carried out by the C.I.A.
Mr. Holder had already ruled out any charges related to the use of waterboarding and other methods that most human rights experts consider to be torture. His announcement closes a contentious three-year investigation by the Justice Department and brings to an end years of dispute over whether line intelligence or military personnel or their superiors would be held accountable for the abuse of prisoners in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The closing of the two cases means that the Obama administration’s limited effort to scrutinize the counterterrorism programs carried out under President George W. Bush has come to an end.
This comes via Scott Horton, who has more, as do emptywheel and Brad DeLong.
Sorry, this post has been awfully bleak; it's just that I don't think anything dismays me more as an American than the Bush-era torture program. The subsequent decisions not to prosecute, or even really to investigate, are hardly surprising at this point, but remain discouraging. But contrary to my pessimism about "Never Forget" above, DeLong passes on a sage comment from a reader:
I would urge people to think of accountability as a generational project – this is how it has worked out in Chile, Argentina, South Africa... the thing that can be done now is create opportunities for more participants to tell their stories, put on record what was done and who did it and how, so that the record gets fuller rather than thinner over time.
Amen. Well said. Many people (including me) have mentioned South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a possible model for dealing with America's torture programs. But since the government won't do it, it's up to the citizenry. Where the Justice Department was gutless and corrupt, the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other organizations and individuals can document, serve as witnesses, and remember.