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Lifting The Star-Spangled Shroud of Silence
19 May 2002
The picture that has emerged from the chaos of Washington over the past several days is a gruesome one. While evidence steadily grows of a gross failure to prepare, despite overwhelming reason to do so, for the possibility of terrorist attacks, the Bush administration has been shameless in its frenzied efforts to evade responsibility and prevent the American public from seeking the truth.
While National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice approached the press with a thirty-seven minute spiel that repeated the word 'general' or 'generalized' nineteen times in reference to prior warnings of terrorist threats, Vice President Dick Cheney laid down a thinly-veiled threat to "my democratic friends in Congress," warning that "they need to be very cautious not to seek political advantage by making incendiary suggestions" that the White House had information which could have prevented the tragedy of September 11.
A chorus of administration apologists were quick to respond that calls for investigation were, as Cheney suggested, "thoroughly irresponsible and totally unworthy of national leaders in times of war." Trent Lott accused dissidents of "talking like our enemy is George W. Bush and not Osama bin Laden," while Senator Christopher S. Bond explained that "the real story here is a bunch of Democrats stumbling for anything to put a dent in the president's popularity."
However, these words ring suspiciously hollow to those who, rightfully frightened of further terrorist attacks, expect the Bush administration to learn from its mistakes instead of hiding them -- and these mistakes are becoming more glaring every day.
An intelligence summary given to Condoleeza Rice on June 28 stated "it is highly likely that a significant al Qaeda attack is in the near future, within several weeks." On July 5, a month and a day before President Bush's now-infamous briefing on possible al Qaeda hijacking, Richard Clarke, the government's top counterterrorism official, warned that "something spectacular is going to happen here, and it's going to happen soon." Unlike the July 10 FBI memo about suspicious activity in Arizona flight schools, all this was common knowledge within the White House -- and raises the question of why, when the President received the report of August 6, he was on a "working vacation" at his ranch in Texas.
"I knew [Osama bin Laden] was a menace and I knew he was a problem," Bush later said in a Washington Post interview. "But I didn't feel that sense of urgency."
The indifference of our President in the face of such clear warning seems inexplicable. So does his assertion that "never did we realize that the enemy was so well organized," that al Qaeda "struck in a way that was unimaginable." Rice verified this, saying that "I don't think anyone could have predicted that . . . they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile." But the organization of al Qaeda had been demonstrated numerous times, and the use of airplanes as bombs imagined. Exactly two years before the September 11 attacks, a federal report warned that "suicide bombers belonging to al-Qaida's martyrdom battalion could crash-land an aircraft packed with high explosives . . . into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the CIA, the White House."
Given all this, it is unlikely that any amount of Administration resistance will stop the investigations, and it is only a matter of time before the press seizes on an FBI budget submitted by Attorney General John Ashcroft on September 10.
Coming one day after Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld threatened presidential veto of the Senate's proposed diversion of $600 million to counterterrorism from ballistic missile defense, Ashcroft's budget was decidedly cavalier about the prospect of terrorism. According to a February 28 New York Times article, Ashcroft identified over one dozen objectives more important than fighting terrorism, and rejected an FBI request of $58 million for counterterrorism field agents, intelligence analysts, and translators. In fact, he proposed cuts in fourteen programs, including a $65 million cut for state and local counterterrorism programs. By contrast, counterterrorism spending under Janet Reno increased by over 25% from 1999 to 2001.
The September 10 FBI budget is a perfect symbol of the Bush administration's failure to prepare for a wave of terrorism that even then was accepted as inevitable and imminent. Their repeated denials of specific foreknowledge of September 11 are misleading -- the real issue is an irresponsibility bordering on the criminal, akin to a landlord who knew his building was going to burn yet failed to buy fire extinguishers. Administration backpedaling suddenly looks an attempt to cover their tracks.
This, along with a practical appreciation for the value of a dissent-free atmosphere in carrying out policies and retaining power, has been the Bush administration's guiding mentality, and it is making itself obvious in their rabid attempts to stifle the latest debates. It is more than investigation of possible counterterrorism oversight that they are resisting. They are resisting the erosion of the dissent-free culture of political orthodoxy that has dominated this nation's for the last eight months -- and it comes not a moment too soon.
The President who couldn't even name the leader of Pakistan has embarked on a foreign-policy nightmare. America has allied itself with a number of flagrantly undemocratic nations, from Uzbekistan to Malaysia. Evidence emerges almost daily of our probable role in an aborted coup in Venezuela, while our support of a brutal civil war in Columbia resembles the early years of Vietnam. One and a half million troops are massed at the India-Pakistan border, ready to plunge the Indian subcontinent into chaos. War with Iraq looms. The situation in Israel and Palestine threatens to destabilize the entire region, and our policies in the Holy Land risk birthing a new generation of anti-American terrorists.
Meanwhile, the Bush administration has revived talk of using nuclear weapons on a first-strike basis, overturned the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, declined to sign a biological weapons treaty, hid our own production of biological weapons, refused to recognize International Criminal Court, held up the World Council on Children, and -- after rejecting the Kyoto Accords -- replaced the head of the International Panel on Climate Change. Domestically, we have an energy policy written by the same people responsible for staging an energy 'crisis' that cost the state of California $30 billion. The denial of public inquiry into the matter was justified with an invocation of, more or less, the divine right of kings -- fitting, perhaps, given the administration's disregard of the Constitution in the name of fighting terrorism.
To top it all off, contrary to Bush's campaign promises, our budget deficit is at least $121 billion -- and, according to a note from Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill in our government's 2001 financial report, it may actually run to half a trillion dollars.
The time has come to lift the star-spangled shroud of silence that has hidden the affairs of our nation.