Posts Tagged ‘9/11’

The Bush administration followed a trail of wishful thinking into Iraq

July 2, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 2, 2013

Last year, journalist Kurt Eichenwald released a detailed history of the roughly 18-month period between the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and the start of the Iraq war. Among other things, Eichenwald’s book, 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars, reinforces just how shockingly quickly American officials began turning their attention from finding and punishing those responsible for 9/11 to deposing Saddam Hussein.

On the night of Sept. 11, the Central Intelligence Agency director, George Tenet, told President George W. Bush and his advisors that “Bin Laden’s fingerprints were all over this operation, but other actors may have played a supporting role. He wouldn’t be surprised, Tenet said, to find Iran or Iraq wrapped into this somehow.”

At that meeting, the officials recognized that their immediate response must involve both Afghanistan, which harbored al Qaeda under the aegis of its Taliban-controlled Islamic fundamentalist government, and Pakistan. Engaging the latter state would be tricky, those at the gathering knew, since Pakistan officials actively supported the Taliban.

No matter, Bush said. The United States was at war with a merciless enemy, and governments around the world would have to choose sides. “This is an opportunity beyond Afghanistan,” he said. “We have to shake terror loose in places like Syria, and Iran, and Iraq.”

He surveyed the room with calm eyes. “This is an opportunity to rout out terror wherever it might exist.”

One significant strand in 500 Days involves the British prime minister, Tony Blair, and his efforts to channel Bush administration anti-terror responses in productive ways. Almost from the beginning, Blair was troubled by what he heard out of the American president. He felt Bush’s lack of interest in building coalitions would ultimately hamper the global war on terror. He also was alarmed by the hostility Bush expressed toward Iraq.

“The evidence would have to be very compelling indeed to justify taking any action against Iraq,” Blair told Bush in a phone conversation just three days after the Twin Towers had fallen. Presciently, the prime minister added: “I would strongly advise dealing with Afghanistan very distinctively. To go after Iraq would be certain to lose Russia and France.”

Immediately after the conversation ended, Blair conferred with his cabinet. “Rumsfeld has been looking for reasons to hit Iraq,” said Geoff Hoon, the British defense secretary, referring to his American counterpart, Donald Rumsfeld. “They definitely want regime change, and that has been the channel of advice Bush has been getting since the election.”

“They would be mad to do Iraq without justification!” British foreign secretary Jack Straw said, Eichenwald reported. “They’ll lose world opinion.”  Read the rest of this entry »

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In their rush to protect America from terrorism, Bush administration officials employed counterproductive tactics that verged on torture

June 26, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 26, 2013

In many ways, the United States was unprepared for the battle against terrorists that was triggered by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The nation’s leaders had to implement new objectives and policies geared to fighting al Qaeda and its ilk. This enemy, unlike others faced and vanquished by America, did not control a nation; had no formal government; dispatched warriors who wore no uniform. Yet American soldiers and spies would have to capture, interrogate and possibly send to trial these new foes.

This is one of many threads tracked by Kurt Eichenwald in his 2012 book, 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars. As is now well known, officials in the administration of President George W. Bush took extremely expansive views of the powers that a wartime president and his delegates could wield legally. Unfortunately, Eichenwald’s book shows, that perspective was one of several factors that helped facilitate the torture of detainees by Americans and American allies.

Around the time the U.S. began invading Afghanistan, in October 2001, several lawyers met to lay groundwork for handling captives. Attending were John Yoo, a Justice Department lawyer from the group tasked with providing legal advice to the executive branch; Alberto Gonzales, the chief White House counsel; Gonzales’ deputy, Tim Flanigan; and David Addington, senior counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney. Yoo was shown a draft presidential order modeled on one President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had issued.

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In ‘500 Days,’ Kurt Eichenwald outlines critical decisions and events that followed 9/11

June 25, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 24, 2013

In 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars, veteran journalist Kurt Eichenwald sets out a history of the turmoil triggered by al Qaeda’s Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. This impressive 2012 book is focused on how the administration of President George W. Bush responded to the terrorist strike, although its scope is hardly limited to that.

Eichenwald retells many events that are both terrible and familiar. In the prologue, CIA and FBI officials find themselves frustrated as bureaucrats and Bush appointees, including Attorney General John Ashcroft, show little to no reaction to various signs that some kind of terrorist operation is in the works. (500 Days implies, and Eichenwald has explicitly argued elsewhere, that chances to foil the 9/11 attacks were squandered due to Bush administration inattention.) The first chapter begins with a spontaneous evacuation of the White House following the second collision between an airliner and the World Trade Center in New York City.

That impact triggered an immediate and massive response, setting in motion events that continue to have ramifications to the present day. We see this, for instance, in the reaction to recent revelations about the scope of data collection by the National Security Agency. As Eichenwald demonstrates, the NSA’s efforts were hastily and significantly expanded in the Stellar Wind initiative just weeks after the terrorist strikes.

One storyline in the book involves the largely ineffectual efforts by the British prime minister, Tony Blair, to channel the Bush administration’s preparations for war with Iraq in ways that will be acceptable to the British public and the international community. Tellingly, U.S. officials began considering Iraq involvement within hours of the tragedy.

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CIA officials walk viewers through the methodical, sometimes misguided ‘Manhunt’ that led to Osama bin Laden

April 7, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 7, 2013

When commercial jet planes struck the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, most Americans had not heard of al Qaeda or the rich Saudi Arabian who headed it.

That was not the case for the men and women of the Central Intelligence Agency unit that tracked al Qaeda’s leader. Alec Station, founded in 1995, knew that Osama bin Laden had declared war on America, and they had tied him to a number of terrorist operations around the world as the man who had either directly ordered or given other organizations funds to facilitate them. Al Qaeda itself had carried out deadly 1998 attacks against two U.S. embassies in Africa as well as one against the U.S.S. Cole.

Alec Station had been issuing warnings throughout 2001 that a large Qaeda operation, evidently targeting the United States, was in the works. Their inability to determine just what would happen, and where, would end up haunting many of the unit’s members; it also led, perhaps unfairly, to some blame for the 9/11 terror attacks being laid at their feet.

Prior to the Sept. 11 assault, the so-called Sisterhood that tracked Islamic terrorism was looked down upon by many others in the CIA. Analyst Cindy Storer tells documentary filmmaker Greg Barker in Manhunt, his new feature-length film, that she was counseled on one performance review that she was too passionate about finding bin Laden.

Once al Qaeda’s 19 hijackers brought down the Twin Towers and brought jihad to the headquarters of the world’s most powerful military, that all changed; resources poured into counterterrorism operations.

The attack on American soil prompted other modifications as well. “We changed the rule book a bit,” says former CIA field officer Marty Martin, who was brought back after 9/11 to lead the agency’s war on al Qaeda. “We were empowered more. We did get a bit more aggressive.

“My job is to kill al Qaeda,” Martin continues in the film. “Either get shoulder to shoulder with us or get out of the way.”

Yet even with these transformations, the bin Laden hunters spent nearly 10 years exploring dead ends and delving into dark places before they could find the world’s most-wanted terrorist.  Read the rest of this entry »

Navel-gazing: Ten years ago, on the eve of war

March 19, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 19, 2013

There have been plenty of navel-gazing columns by the pundit class lately. And with good reason: Ten years ago today, the United States was on the eve of launching a “war of choice” against Iraq and its ambitious, brutal dictator, Saddam Hussein.

I consider the war and subsequent occupation a colossal blunder. The exercise was grounded in lies and conducted in the main by laughably unprepared bunglers. Its consequences have been thoroughly lamentable for many, including our nation.

None of this, however, was apparent to me 10 years ago.

At the time, I was a master’s student at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in New York City. I had a cautiously positive outlook about attacking Iraq.

Although I hadn’t voted for President George W. Bush (and would not do so in 2004, either), I found administration assertions that Hussein was actively seeking to develop nuclear weapons fundamentally trustworthy. These assertions, and my assessment, turned out to be gravely mistaken.  Read the rest of this entry »

One Wondrous Sentence: War and politics

December 13, 2012

This one wondrous sentence, part of a novelist’s lengthy but fast-reading political memoir, succinctly expresses one contrarian liberal’s view of President George W. Bush’s foreign adventures.

At a social gathering following 9/11, I was dismayed that friends to the left of me condemned what I considered George W. Bush’s legitimate military action in Afghanistan, given the complicity of the Taliban in its alliance with al-Qaeda; the war against Iraq, on the other hand (having nothing to do with al-Qaeda or 9/11 or phantom weapons), made me angrier than anything that any American government has done.

Source: Steve Erickson, “I Was a Teenage Conservative,” The American Prospect, Dec. 5, 2012.

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