How 9/11 Changed the Quest for Intelligence
After the Sept. 11 attacks, President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney "believed another attack was very likely imminent," says Barton Gellman, the author of the Cheney book, "Angler."
At the beginning, a fear of what could happen next permeated throughout Washington, Gellman says.
Bush and Cheney believed "that there were crucial things they didn't know and that something worse might be around the corner," he said.
Woodward, who authored four books on the Bush presidency, said Cheney became the "self-appointed examiner of worst-case scenarios."
Bush recalled the intensity of those days during his closing news conference Monday: "Do you remember what it was like right after Sept. 11 around here? People were saying, 'How come they didn't see it, how come they didn't connect the dots?' Do you remember what the environment was like in Washington? I do.
"When people were hauled up in front of Congress and members of Congress were asking questions about how come you didn't know this, that or the other ... and then we start putting policy in place -- legal policy in place to connect the dots, and all of a sudden people were saying, 'How come you're connecting the dots?' "
How far to go when gathering such intelligence has been a running controversy of the Bush presidency. Lawmakers, policy groups, government officials and activists battled over disclosures of harsh interrogation tactics that many called torture, wiretapping of domestic phone conversations and secret prisons to house suspected terrorists in Europe and elsewhere.
In November 2001, Bush drew fire from civil libertarians when he cited an "extraordinary emergency" in authorizing military trials for suspected international terrorists, bypassing the American criminal justice system entirely.
The presidential directive applied to non-U.S. citizens arrested in the United States or abroad and designated Bush as the arbiter of which terrorism suspects would be tried.
Bush said the tribunals were needed because "mass deaths, mass injuries and massive destruction of property" from future terrorism could "place at risk the continuity of the operations of the United States government." It is "not practicable," he said, to require the tribunals to abide by the "principles of law and the rules of evidence" that govern U.S. criminal prosecutions.
At the time, legal scholars called Bush's measure unusual, but not unprecedented.
In May 2004, pictures from an Army-run prison where Iraqi detainees were beaten and sexually abused were leaked, sparking condemnation around the world and a scramble by the Bush administration to assuage concerns among its allies.
"I shared a deep disgust that those prisoners were treated the way they were treated," Bush said of the scandal at Abu Ghraib.
That disclosure was followed by revelations in November 2005 that the CIA had used secret prisons in Eastern Europe and elsewhere as part of a covert system to interrogate top al-Qaeda captives.
But it wasn't until today that an administration official publicly acknowledged torture under the Bush's policies.
Susan J. Crawford, a retired judge and the convening authority of military commissions, said the U.S. government tortured Mohammed al-Qahtani, a Saudi national who allegedly planned to participate in the Sept. 11 attacks.
"His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that's why I did not refer the case" for prosecution, she said.
President-elect Barack Obama has already announced his intentions to permanently close Guantanamo Bay, representing a sharp shift in policy from his predecessor.
About 250 detainees remain at Guantanamo Bay but it's unclear what's next for them; Denis McDonough, an Obama foreign policy adviser, said in November that transition team members were still debating "about where and how to try the detainees."
In the Post roundtable discussion, Woodward suggested that if there had been other terrorist attacks after Sept. 11, the debate on the use of torture in interrogations might have changed.
By Derek Kravitz |
January 14, 2009; 2:51 PM ET
The Bush-Cheney Legacy
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