Published in The People’s Civic Record, a monthly, Wilmington, NC based progressive magazine.
A Political Whitewash?
The Official Investigations into 9-11
Dateline – New Utrecht High School in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, 09-06-01: Antoinette DiLorenzo, English teacher to Pakistani immigrants, questions a student who is staring out of the window, “What are you looking at?” Pointing out of the window to the World Trade Center, the student responds, “Do you see those two buildings? They won’t be standing there next week.” [MSNBC, 10/12/01]
Dateline – Undisclosed elementary school, Dallas, Texas, 09-10-01: A fifth grade student “casually” tells his teacher, “Tomorrow, World War III will begin. It will begin in the United States, and the United States will lose.” [Houston Chronicle, 9/19/01]
Dateline – Martin Luther King Elementary School in Jersey City, New Jersey, 09-10-01: A sixth grade student of Middle Eastern descent warns his teacher to stay away from lower Manhattan because something bad was going to happen. [Insight, 9/10/02]
What did these elementary schoolchildren know that we didn’t know?
Dateline – A prison in Germany, early September 2001: Ali S., an Iranian awaiting deportation repeatedly calls U.S. law enforcement to warn of an imminent attack on the WTC that will “change the world.” He also calls the White House 14 times and tries to fax Bush. Warnings also came from a Morroccan man being held in a Brazilian jail. [Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 9/13/01, Ottawa Citizen, 9/17/01, Ananova, 9/14/01]
Dateline – New York, New York, early September 2001: members of a mosque are warned to stay out of lower Manhattan on 9/11. [New York Daily News, 10/12/01]
Dateline – New York, New York, early September 2001: the New York Stock Exchange sees “unusually heavy trading in airline and related stocks several days before the attacks.” [AP, 10/02/01, San Francisco Chronicle, 10/03/01]
What did these prisoners, mosque members, and stock traders know that we didn’t know?
Dateline – Dept. of Justice, Washington D. C., 07/26/01: Attorney General John Ashcroft stops taking commercial airline flights. [CBS, 07/26/01]
Dateline – London, England, 09/03/01: Author Salman Rushdie is banned from taking internal U.S. flights by the FAA. Authorities tell his publisher it is because of “intelligence of something about to happen.” (Rushdie is a known target of death threats from radical Muslims for years.) [London Times, 9/27/01]
Dateline – Pentagon, Washington, D.C., 09/10/01: Pentagon brass suddenly cancel a trip scheduled for the next morning. [Newsweek, 9/13/01, Newsweek, 9/17/01]
What did our government know that we didn’t know?
On September 11th, 2001, terrorists struck America. Hijacking commercial aircraft, they managed to bring down the World Trade Center buildings and a section of the Pentagon. One hijacked airliner apparently did not reach its target and crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. The total death toll is estimated at 3,026.
How did this happen? Who was responsible? What were the reasons and motivations behind the attacks? Could this disastrous failure in national security have been prevented? Who might have known and when did they know it?
These are just some of the questions that should be answered in order to develop a plan to prevent such future occurrences.
A CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATION
Although President Bush showed no interest in establishing a commission to investigate 9-11, an attempt by Congress to do so was inevitable. Democrat Bob Graham of Florida soon became the Senate committee chairman, and Republican Porter J. Goss, also of Florida, became the House committee chair in the joint congressional investigation. The former federal prosecutor and Pentagon inspector general, Eleanor Hill sat in on the hearings.
Running into a myriad of roadblocks, it took nine months for the joint congressional intelligence committees to effectively get started. Even then, half the hearings were closed, and of the final 900-plus page report, only twenty-four pages have been released to the public. Bush and Cheney both sought a restricted probe of the matter. Key administration members were never interviewed (national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State Colin Powell, or Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, for example), and requests for additional funds to hire more staff members to sift through the mountains of information were blocked by then Senate Minority leader Trent Lott.
Additionally, no information was given regarding President Bush. Aside from a few brief observations in the press, whatever knowledge Bush may have had about the events leading up to 9-11 has to this day remained classified.
Throughout the congressional hearings, committee members made it clear that they had no intention to “point fingers.”
Yet, during the hearings, someone leaked classified information to the press that “alarmingly specific” communications regarding the attack were received on the day before it occurred. Though it was claimed that these communications were not translated in time to make a difference, the leak prompted an investigation of the committee itself by the intelligence community, the very people who were the main object of the investigation. Ultimately, no charges were made regarding the leak, but the committee had been effectively neutralized.
The summary conclusion of this limited congressional investigation, released in December 2002, was that the intelligence community was fully aware of the possibility that aircraft could be used to carry out an attack, that there were lapses in communication, and that the intelligence community “failed to capitalize on both the individual and collective significance of available information that appears relevant to the events of September 11.”
In the wake of the probe, even Republican Sen. John McCain acknowledged that the Bush administration “slow-walked and stonewalled” the proceeding. Republican Senator Richard Shelby also complained of lack of cooperation from the various intelligence agencies, observing, “You know we were told that there would be cooperation in this investigation, and I question that. I think that most of the information that our staff has been able to get that is real meaningful has had to be extracted piece by piece.”
Since the time of the investigation, some information previously released to the public (and available on the Internet) has been reclassified for security reasons and may not appear in the final report.
Committee chairman, Bob Graham, has pointed to delays and the restrictive classification of documents as attempts by the Bush administration to avoid embarrassing revelations for reasons having little to do with national security.
Graham has suggested that the report also reveals the continued existence of terrorist cells in the U.S., with ties to foreign governments that for some reason, American officials are afraid to pursue. And Graham has complained that the war on Iraq has enabled al-Qaeda to regroup and inspire new recruits for other terrorist organizations.
Recently speaking on CBS News’ Face The Nation, Graham said, “By continuing to classify that information . . . the American people have been denied important information for their own protection, for the protection of the communities.”
According to Graham, “the American people should be informed about what kind of capability terrorists have inside the United States. They should be informed about the prospect that foreign governments have been aiding the terrorists…”
AN INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATION
Prior to and in the wake of the committee hearings, numerous members of Congress and the press called for a full, frank, and completely independent commission to investigate the 9-11 attacks. But President Bush persistently opposed it until fierce lobbying by some of the families of 9-11 victims convinced him otherwise.
Although publicly agreeing to such an investigation, acting on it was another matter. Congressional authorization was delayed again and again and Bush insisted on certain restrictions before final acceptance.
One restriction was that any witness subpoenaed by the commission would have to be approved by six of the ten-member panel. With five Republicans serving, witnesses who might prove embarrassing to the administration could be effectively vetoed.
Another restriction was that Bush could appoint the chair, and soon Bush revealed his intentions by naming Henry Kissinger to this post. Kissinger, a well-known Washington insider from the Nixon era, remains notoriously linked to Vietnam era controversies, and has been accused and indicted for war crimes in South America. With the secret bombing of Cambodia and Laos in 1969, and the 1973 overthrow of the Allende government of Chile on his resume, it is hard to imagine a worse choice for this position.
Because of his reputation and because of his refusal to reveal the clients of his consulting firm for possible conflicts of interest, Kissinger created a grand uproar among the 9-11 families. When the controversy threatened to undermine the entire investigation, he resigned just seventeen days after his nomination.
Bush then selected former New Jersey governor Thomas Kean (R). Kean was found to have been director of the oil firm Amerada Hess, which had joined with Delta Oil in a drilling venture in Azerbaijan. Delta Oil is a Saudi company, whose backers include Khalid bin Mahfouz, Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law. According to Fortune magazine, Khalid bin Mahfouz does business with the Carlyle Group, the investment consortium in which George Bush Sr. is a paid consultant.
Many of the remaining nine panel members also have questionable conflict of interest issues. Former Democratic Congressman Lee Hamilton is an advisor to President Bush on homeland security, a member of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s National Security Study Group and a member of the CIA Economic Intelligence Advisory Council. Former deputy attorney general Jamie Gorelick, is now a director of Schlumberger, Ltd, an oil service company, and United Technologies, a major defense contractor and airline engine manufacturer. She is also on the CIA’s National Security Advisory Panel. Former Reagan legal counsel Fred Fielding does work for two top Bush fundraisers and five of the ten panelists have relationships with the airline industry, including American and United, working for law firms that represent them.
After the “independent” investigators were picked, there were further delays as they each had to pass through security clearance checks. The investigation also has a deadline of May 2004 to complete its work, so as not to interfere with the upcoming presidential election.
After numerous delays and restricting conditions, the independent investigation–named the “National Commission on Terror Attacks Upon the United States” – finally began one-and-one-half years after the attack of 9-11-01.
But the tone for this official probe soon became clear enough. Echoing the previous committee’s statements, Chairman Kean commented, “We are not going to try to go out of our way to assess blame.” The commission would focus on border control and money laundering instead of issues relating to the unanswered questions of the events leading up to the attacks.
A recent edition of Newsweek reported that Bush may invoke executive privilege to keep certain key documents from the commission. Apparently, some information from the first investigation will not be made available. And former House representative Tim Roemer, a member of both investigative committees, recently complained that he had been barred from reviewing transcripts of testimony from the previous investigation.
Roemer called the action “outrageous,” adding, “The White House is continuing a trend of presenting obstacles to us rather than cooperating with us…. There is a tight definition of what should be classified, and it does not include references to mistakes, missed communications or political embarrassments.”
What will be the result of the latest official probe of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States? Were the delays and roadblocks merely the result of politics as usual, the slow wheels of government bureaucracy, or something more? Is the stonewalling and secrecy the result of a legitimate concern with national security, or do they reflect a fear of political embarrassment resulting from administration failures? Will the roadblocks and stonewalling lead to a whitewash? How long will it take for the American people to find out the truth about 9-11?