President Bush has taken over 9/11, to use whenever it serves his purposes. He seeks to own it all — except the acknowledgment that he and his war cabinet were accessories.
The 9/11 Report says, “The terrorists exploited deep institutional failings.” But, as Bill Moyers points out, “institutions are the lengthened influence of individuals — the system is the sum of the men and women who take an oath to make it work.”
Condoleezza Rice testified to the 9/11 Commission: “I don’t think anyone could have predicted that these people would slam planes into the World Trade Center.” But the commission reports that the administration had 12 separate warnings from intelligence agencies about planes as weapons.
In the first few weeks of his administration, Bush and/or other top officials were warned in the strongest terms by George Tenet, Richard Clarke, Sandy Berger and the Hart-Rudman Report that bin Laden was a major threat.
In the crescendo of warnings in the summer of 2001, there were over 40 references to bin Laden in the President’s Daily Briefings (PDBs). The CIA took pains to refer to aircraft in the Aug. 6 brief titled “Bin Laden Determined to Attack in the United States,” delivered at the ranch on the first day of the president’s vacation. Our commander in chief could have returned to Washington and mobilized a defense. He could have informed Congress and the public of a state of emergency. This would have alerted Norad and the airlines and crews, and might have energized the intelligence community to “connect the dots.” He chose instead to spend another 27 days cutting brush.
As a result of his inaction, “The defense of U.S. airspace on 9/11 … was improvised … there was no meaningful coordination by the White House, the Defense Department and the FAA” (9/11 Report).
Top administration officials showed, over a period of months, colossal indifference to a clear and present danger, and did nothing to prevent the 9/11 attacks. The attacks might have been averted or blunted had these officials applied their full authority and power to the challenge. Their negligence, regardless of its cause, appears consistent with the Constitution’s definition of high crimes and misdemeanors.
The mindset of these individuals included (a) an obsessive preoccupation with Iraq beginning at the first National Security Council meeting on 1/30/01; (b) an understanding of the political advantage of a war president; (c) a belief that the “virtue” of their ends justifies any means; and (d) a sense that they could out-maneuver any call for accountability.
They were right regarding the last assumption. The administration obstructed and stonewalled two major inquiries.
The White House fought against initiating the congressional Joint Intelligence Committees inquiry; made itself off-limits for investigation when the inquiry was finally established; censored the final report; and delayed its release for six months. Even now, two years after their request, the committees are still fighting to get release of an internal CIA inquiry.
Seeing the difficulties of the congressional investigation, 9/11 widows fought for and won the establishment of the “independent” 9/11 Commission. This was also hamstrung by the White House; for instance obtaining access to the PDBs was a protracted nightmare, and the president refused to testify under oath. But even so, Benjamin DeMott, who is highly critical of the 9/11 Report (“Whitewash As Public Service” in the October Harper’s), notes that it contains “brief glimpses [of] behavior on which fair judgments of character and intelligence could and should have been based.” Many of the incriminating facts described in the report cast doubt on the legitimacy of Bush’s right to govern for another four years.
The president testified to the commission that he knew that Al Qaeda wanted to attack America and that Al Qaeda was dangerous; but he denied that he had been specifically warned about possible domestic attacks. Given the facts cited above, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that either the president lied or he is mentally incompetent. The report’s failure to make such judgments leads DeMott to conclude that it “defrauds the nation.”
The 9/11 tragedy was the pivotal event on which the president hung his strategy for political ascendancy. Absent a widely publicized assessment of accountability, most citizens are unaware that there is incriminating evidence of criminal negligence on the part of the president and other high officers.
The electorate is thus put in the compromised position of having to vote, without relevant information, on a candidate who may be guilty of a “high crime” as defined in the impeachment article of the Constitution.
Probable criminal negligence by George Bush with regard to the 9/11 tragedy, with nearly 3,000 dead, is an issue which must be addressed. As long as the nation remains in a state of denial regarding accountability, it is acquiescing to an imperial leadership which puts the welfare of our citizens and the good name of our nation at risk.
David Leventhal is a science and mathematics educator. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.