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Revisiting History

Former Vice President Dick Cheney keeps trying to rewrite history in a way that will reflect kindly on the Bush-Cheney administration's counter-terrorism efforts.

But history struck back as former White House counter-terrorism director Richard Clarke, writing in a Washington Post opinion piece, reminded us of what really happened after Sept. 11.

What motivated Cheney and others to advocate such extraordinarily excessive and counterproductive measures? Clarke writes:

[W]hen Bush's inner circle first really came to grips with the threat of terrorism, they did so in a state of shock -- a bad state in which to develop a coherent response. Fearful of new attacks, they authorized the most extreme measures available, without assessing whether they were really a good idea.

I believe this zeal stemmed in part from concerns about the 2004 presidential election. Many in the White House feared that their inaction prior to the attacks would be publicly detailed before the next vote -- which is why they resisted the 9/11 commission -- and that a second attack would eliminate any chance of a second Bush term. So they decided to leave no doubt that they had done everything imaginable.

And, I would add, unimaginable.

Bush ultimately ducked a bullet when the 9/11 Commission he had opposed came out with a report in July 2004 that didn't excessively blame the administration for what had happened. As I wrote last year, that may have been at least partially thanks to the fact that the commission's executive director was close to Condoleezza Rice and exchanged frequent calls with the White House.

Clarke's piece also reminded me of investigative journalist Murray Waas's compelling and insufficiently appreciated reporting on how the Bush White House manipulated the release of intelligence and took other extreme measures to keep allegations of deception in the campaign for war in Iraq from becoming a major issue in the 2004 election. Karl Rove apparently understood that if American voters found out how Bush had intentionally misled them, the election might be lost.

Meanwhile, Frank Rich wrote in the New York Times on Sunday that Cheney "and his cohort" were once again:

using lies and fear to try to gain political advantage — this time to rewrite history and escape accountability for the failed Bush presidency rather than to drum up a new war. Once again Democrats in Congress were cowed. And once again too much of the so-called liberal news media parroted the right’s scare tactics, putting America’s real security interests at risk by failing to challenge any Washington politician carrying a big stick...

The harrowing truth remains unchanged from what it was before Cheney emerged from his bunker to set Washington atwitter. The Bush administration did not make us safer either before or after 9/11. Obama is not making us less safe. If there’s another terrorist attack, it will be because the mess the Bush administration ignored in Pakistan and Afghanistan spun beyond anyone’s control well before Americans could throw the bums out.

And the Rev. Jim Wallis writes in Sojourners:

I will leave the judgment of Dick Cheney’s soul to God, who alone is in the position to render that judgment on all of us. But I will say the vision of America that Cheney offers is decidedly evil, and has helped to spread even more evil around the world. Cheney represents the dark side of America, a view of the world dominated by fear and self-righteousness—always a deadly combination. It accepts no real reflection or self-examination; the evil in the world is always external, and the threat ever present. There is only certainty, and never humility. And, when the dark side goes unchecked, what it leads to is a state of permanent warfare, which will only be won by using any means necessary, and where the ends always justify the means. At the end of his breathtaking speech, the former vice president was so full of admiration and praise for those who used “enhanced interrogation” against America’s suspected enemies that you got the impression he would happily preside over those brutal sessions himself.

Wallis, according to the New York Times, is one of the "handful of evangelical pastors" Obama consults "for private prayer sessions on the telephone and for discussions on the role of religion in politics."

By Dan Froomkin  |  June 1, 2009; 1:26 PM ET
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Still waiting for the fact that Cheney is a liar to appear outside a few columnists' writing. Been waiting a long time now.

Posted by: chrisfox8 | June 1, 2009 2:08 PM | Report abuse

I'm surprised that no one has really picked up on what seems to have happened after 9-11: Bush and the White House team was successfully terrorized. The terrorists accomplished their goal, based on what Condi Rice and Darth Cheney have said. When the American public needed our national leadership to be calm and clear in the face of a terrible event, they failed us and we are still living with the disastrous consequences. I have to think that, because of their overreaction and panic in the White House after 9-11, those hoping to sew terror into the hearts and minds of Americans are more motivated to try again because they've seen that it works. I hope we have learned and, next time, our national leaders refuse to let horrible events terrorize them into such profound failures of leadership, and that they help the American people sustain our character and our values.

Posted by: posull1 | June 1, 2009 2:20 PM | Report abuse

posull1: I'm pretty sure you meant "sow terror" instead of "sew terror" into American hearts and minds.

Then again, maybe somewhere in the dark recesses of Dick Cheney's fevered imagination there's a image of Osama bin Laden with a needle and thread cross-stitching "TERROR" into the chest of Uncle Sam. It would, on several levels, explain a good deal of both his and his minions' behavior.

Posted by: Gallenod | June 1, 2009 2:37 PM | Report abuse

The Bushies were so involved with other skullduggery before 9-11, that they did not care about the signs pointing to an imminent attack and ignored them.

With what were the Bushies so obsessed before 9-11 that they became the direct enablers of the twin-towers attack?

Could it be the Bushies were directly or obliquely involved?

Posted by: MrZ2 | June 1, 2009 3:33 PM | Report abuse

Not that I would give any credit to the Bush administration criminals for having consciences or being self-reflective, but might there not be a seepage of guilt for deliberately ignoring early warnings about attacks on the US and for ignoring Clinton administration warning that bin Laden would be Bush's biggest problem.

Posted by: bushisawarcriminal1 | June 1, 2009 4:07 PM | Report abuse

The Bushies absolutely were not directly or indirectly involved. If you are looking for someone to blame, look at the person(s) at the CIA who kept the name of at least one known terrorist who had a multi-entry visa to the US from the FBI until it was too late. Also, it is possible/likely that the NSA failed to do what they could/should have done - they may have had the phone number that was used to communicate to/with the 9/11 terrorists.

Posted by: dickdata | June 1, 2009 4:12 PM | Report abuse

For a generation of voters raised on Republicans complaining that constitutional rights = high crime rates, and that "getting tough" solves all problems, it is not surprising that the Bush Administration violated their collective oaths to defend and uphold the Constitution of the United States. Waterboarding may not work for generating useful information, but it sure works for extracting politically useful (false) confessions from prisoners.

(Were Bart Starr and the rest of the Green Bay Packer offensive line really John McCain's squadron mates in Vietnam?)

Posted by: Common_Sense_Not_Common | June 1, 2009 4:12 PM | Report abuse

Both Cheney and Bush are war criminals, along with the vast majority of their administration. They WEREN'T qualified to assume the presidency in 2000, and the Supreme Court decision demonstrates exactly how corrupt THAT branch of government is also. This economic crisis was created by rich criminals that had figured out how to get even more money and manipulated the laws to make it "legal". So what we have for our democratic government is just a bunch of criminals in EVERY branch.

When Obama was elected, I had some hope but I still haven't gotten to the point that I can say that I'm once again proud to be an American.

Posted by: sailorflat | June 1, 2009 4:13 PM | Report abuse

I think most of the posters here are projecting what we know now into the past. At the time of Sept. 11th we had no way of knowing how effective Al Quaeda was. If you lived in either Washington or NY clearly there was a feeling of fear for everyone. Unless of course you were simply too dimwitted or uninformed to understand the huge number of awfull things that might happen next.

I know someone is going to pop in and say: 'I was in DC and saw clearly that noting else would happen, and was not afraid.' Frankly I think you are either 1, lying, or 2, a dimwit or 3, both.

I do agree that the intellectual climate of the time is immaterial however. The point is that we did not really know at the time what the capabilities of Al Quaeda were. Given that we did not know it was rational to assume the worst and assume another attack was imminent.

If you are mad about something why not be mad about the present. After all we have a President that is only dropping one of the five ethically dangerous actions our government is engaging in. I.e. 1, assasination, 2, extraordinary rendition to a third country, 3, suspension of habeus corpus for accused terrorists, and 4, waterboarding, and 5, domestic eavesdropping. Of these 5 techniques the administration is only dropping number 4. This is clearly a political bandaid designed to allow business as usual. A violation of 3 btw is inherent in number 2. Personally I think this shows Obama is in fact a pragmatist and not an idealog. Frankly if you expected Obama to reverse the ship on these issues you must be pretty disappointed. From my perspective I applaud the current administration for 1, doing what is necessary, and 2, making sure what is done is and will stay secret. So thank you Mr. Obama, keep up the good work.

Posted by: DCDave11 | June 1, 2009 4:46 PM | Report abuse

I say again that Cheney's focus on post 9/11 is a clever distraction to divert attention from what they did not do PRIOR TO 9/11.

As long as we focus where Cheney leads us, we don't peek just a bit farther back into his presidency. I'm sort of surprised Clarke didn't mention it.

Posted by: tbartlett2 | June 1, 2009 4:53 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps now would be a good time for the Obama administration to declassify the public speech on national security threats Condi Rice was supposed to give on 9/11. That will probably shed some light on what the Bush administration was thinking prior to 9/11. Why was a speech that was supposed to be given publicly classified unless it revealed something embarrassing about our national security priorities? Many conservatives at the time believed the terrorist threat was overstated. Did Condi's 9/11 speech explicitly say that?

Posted by: troyd2009 | June 1, 2009 5:01 PM | Report abuse

Please consider the following:

Being afraid of Al Queda had nothing to do with our intervention in Iraq, other than providing a convenient pretext to do what many in the Bush administration (Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, etc. who were ideological soulmates of the "Progress for a New American Century") considered as the unfinished business of the Gulf War, while ignoring the warning signs of 9/11 for eight months.

Being afraid is no excuse for abandoning clear headed thinking in the face of adversity.

Being afraid is no excuse for dismissing Constitutional protections and violating laws of the land, including Geneva Conventions with respect to treatment of captives.

Being afraid is no excuse for abandoning the moral high ground that this nation occupied after 9/11.

Being afraid is no excuse for misleading the American people with untruths and selective release of classified information to justify false and unlawful actions.

Being afraid does not justify a paternalistic attitude toward the American people, requiring no mature sacrifice in an ambiguous "war without end" (just keep on spending folks, it's the patriotic thing to do).

Being afraid does not logically lead to overblowing a law enforcement issue into an interminable "War on Terror". In fact, it demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of what terrorism represents - the few attempting to manipulate the many (Terrorists cannot possibly kill all of us).

Ultimately, being afraid as a modus operandi, while in a position of high responsibility, is an indictment of unsuitability for executive office.

Posted by: MillPond2 | June 1, 2009 7:27 PM | Report abuse

Defending the indefensible, seemingly an impossible task, becomes possible, even easy, when you get to make up your own facts. If you think that's not an option, you don't know Dick.

The real question is why Dick, who wouldn't say much while in office, now won't shut up. The answer is: he realizes his legacy of brutality and stupidity won't smell good, and he desperately hopes he can improve his image by writing history. Unfortunately for him, there's no question what happened, how brutal and stupid it was, and who authorized it, Dick.

Posted by: jpk1 | June 1, 2009 8:22 PM | Report abuse

DCDave11, not to be argumentative, but there is a broad distinction between being alert or terrorized.

I traveled to Boston, NYC and DC on a business trip in mid October 2001. I'd lost a major client in the WTC. I thought a friend was on flight 93.

Upon taking our seats on the plane in SFO, my seat mates, strangers until that moment, and I made a pact that we weren't going to be victims. It wasn't false bravado, it was a conscious decision that we were officially on the front line. We weren't terrorized, we were galvanized.

Later I saw how the Bush administration was using the media to terrorize us.

I remember crossing the Golden Gate Bridge just after August 11, 2002 when a "terrorist alert" was issued proclaiming it a "target of terrorists." A news crew was shooting a live standup at the south end view point.

It was a typical cold, foggy summer night in the gate, with most of the bridge obscured (aside from cars appearing from the north end, you could have claimed the bridge had disappeared already).

When they finished their broadcast, I politely asked the reporter why she was doing a live feed, was she hoping the bridge would be hit while standing there?

I tried to convey to the reporter the counter intuitive concept that scaring people by promoting such a rumor was terrorism, making her a terrorist. She was obviously doing the bidding of her news director. At that moment they were much more effective terrorists than some guy on the other side of the world fantasizing about destroying the Golden Gate Bridge. (this was long before we learned about al Libi's torture)

If she had stood before the camera defiant in the face of a rumor, it would have been different. But instead, she (and her news director) wanted us to be fearful.

That's what Cheney wanted us to be.

Posted by: boscobobb | June 1, 2009 9:25 PM | Report abuse

Dick Cheney would have fit in well as a sadistic Nazi guard at a Nazi death camp.

Posted by: wizard2000 | June 1, 2009 10:20 PM | Report abuse

Yes, wizard2000, Cheney wears brown well.

Posted by: whizbang9a | June 1, 2009 11:37 PM | Report abuse

While I think Cheney is well connected and sufficiently devious to make Machiavelli envious, the logistics connecting Bush/Cheney to Atta are too great for a logical syllogism.

I think Cheney's goal is to:

1) prevent his legacy from being tarnished
2) obscure what he DIDN'T do before 9/11.
3) avoid prosecution for war crimes
4) avoid becoming the punch line to a generation of bad jokes (eg.g. Nixon's "I am not a crook!")

I assert Cheney should be ridiculed, not feared. He should be the US version of GUY FAWKES, the treasonous bomber, forced to wander around DC at night with small children wearing torture masks.

Guy Fawkes is also apt because he was tortured to confess.

Posted by: boscobobb | June 2, 2009 12:05 AM | Report abuse

Is it possible that Condi's 9/11 speech read, "We don't think al Qaeda is deserving of our consideration, instead we're focusing on Anti Ballistic Missiles..."

Posted by: boscobobb | June 2, 2009 12:09 AM | Report abuse

Read Clarke's " Against All Enemies". A week after the inaugeration he tried pushing for meetings to alert the Bush WH of the high threat of Al Qaeda. When he finally got a meeting four months later, Feith was skeptical about Al Qaeda, wanting to focus on terrorism coming from Iraq, of which CTC, the FBI, and the CIA all told him there wasn't any threat from Iraq. Seven days before 9/11, Clarke finally got another meeting and told Rice and others that there will be a day coming when you will wish you had done more at this meeting, when there are hundreds of Americans dead, and you ignored the warnings. A week before 9/11, and his warnings were ignored. With so much testimony of the Bush Administrations unecessary focus on Iraq, it makes the case for prosecuting Bush for the murder of dead US military in Iraq all the easier, as laid out in "The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder" by former prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, of Helter Skelter fame. Cheney will save his own skin and testify against Bush.

Posted by: katem1 | June 2, 2009 9:53 AM | Report abuse

bosscobbob, I actually agree with you, the mood in DC at least and on airplanes in the next few months were tense, but proud and confident also. We didn't shut down and head for the hill lols. I was just saying that people were scared. I don't think Bush and company got terrorized into making decisions they would not have otherwise made.

I still don't get posters arguing that Bush somehow violated our American morality. To me this is a joke based on a childish and completely false understanding of both American history and the actions of the current administration. The US from the time we were thrust upon the International scene with the collapse of Europe following World War II, has murdered, tortured, imprisoned countless people. This has been done by every American President including President Obama.

So my point is why not blame all of them including Obama if you expect things to change and expect the government to live up to your moral standards. Certainly Obama supports all but one of the Torquemadan techniques routinely used, and also supports the one most likely to undermine the Constitution and our Democratic processes in FISA.

Frankly I think blaming Bush is a way to avoid changing anything, because it assumes that somehow Obama is operating in a different way. However he is not, so if you want to make the changes you seek you need to keep pushing.

Posted by: DCDave11 | June 2, 2009 12:14 PM | Report abuse

chrisfox8, you have a good point. A really good point. The number of news outlets that have checked out on a basic journalistic task of fact-checking is jaw-dropping.

When Cheney gets up and says things that are not the case, just try and find a single news item that reports that he said things that are not the case.

I remember when news and stenography were regarded as different tasks.

Posted by: jpk1 | June 2, 2009 12:36 PM | Report abuse


"Blame all of them" is a convenient moral relativism.

I not only expect change, I've been demanding it, lobbying my congressman and senators, standing up in district town hall meetings to voice it, walking precincts for it, voting for it and obviously writing about it.

I'm as upset with my congressman and senators for not volunteering to take Guantanamo prisoners into our district as I am with FISA ad infinitum.

If the US is going to talk about principles of democracy and our constitution, we need to act on it. There is no question egregious human rights abuses have been perpetrated in our name - the issue is did we own up to them and correct them with policies and procedures going forward? e.g. Lincoln acknowledged his errors as did FDR.

Just because I acquired a house with vermin doesn't mean it's my fault. Nor is it acceptable to make the excuse that other houses have vermin, or that all the previous owners have allowed vermin.

My responsibility is to eradicate them from my house. Perhaps not immediately, but to prioritize and set about a plan to promptly deal with them so that my legacy will be a house without vermin.

Posted by: boscobobb | June 2, 2009 11:20 PM | Report abuse

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