Exploiting tragedy

The White House is making political hay out of 9/11 -- even while it's stonewalling a full investigation of the national tragedy.

Topics: 2004 Elections,

How perfect the irony, how sordid the scam. The president, who ignored the al-Qaida threat before 9/11, who diverted public attention in that horror’s aftermath to the nonexistent threat from Iraq, and who has stonewalled the investigation of 9/11, now seeks to exploit that tragedy as a reelection gimmick.

George W. Bush avoids being photographed with the dead and injured from his folly in Iraq, but hey, those flag-draped coffins of 9/11 victims make great TV ads. What a grisly low in political exploitation.

That’s why the ads were condemned by a firefighters union and many of the 9/11 victims’ relatives, whose various Web sites contain an impressive list of the unanswered questions concerning the tragedy. As Bob McIlvaine, whose son was killed in the Twin Towers disaster, put it: “Instead of playing on people’s emotions with images of that day, the president would do right to cooperate more with the independent commission investigating the 9/11 attacks so we can learn the truth about what happened on that day and why.”

But uncovering the truth about 9/11 has never been Bush’s intention. Instead, the president has used that tragedy for his own political ambitions — to draw attention away from his lies about Iraq, the unprecedented national debt, the disappointing jobless recovery, and the attacks on civil liberty. What’s mind-boggling is the cynicism of Bush’s electoral ploy when one considers that he never showed any interest in terrorism before 9/11. He had focused instead on the war on drugs and trying to one-up his father on Iraq. His abysmal failure to heed the Clinton administration’s warnings regarding the threat posed by Osama bin Laden may be one reason for Bush’s extreme reluctance to permit an unimpeded bipartisan public investigation of 9/11.

Never before in our national history has such a major event been so unexamined by the government while being so effectively hyped for political advantage. The obfuscation has been deliberate and executed with a passion that suggests Bush may have some dreadful truth to hide. Why else would he initially oppose the formation of a bipartisan commission to investigate the origins and lessons of 9/11?

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Bush allowed the commission to form only after the enormous public pressure initiated by the victims’ families, who demanded an accounting of what had led to the loss of their loved ones. Bush then sought to undermine an honest investigation by appointing Henry Kissinger, international grand master of mendacity, to be chairman. That gambit failed when Kissinger refused to make public his murky financial entanglements with the very regimes most likely to have links to the 9/11 terrorists.

After a more independent commission finally was allowed to form, Bush set about to systematically undermine its work by refusing to turn over documents essential to the investigation or permit the full committee to interview the top officials in his administration, from himself on down.

This is a president whose immediate response to 9/11 was to protect the al-Qaida terrorists’ known sponsors in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan while planning a sideshow war against bin Laden’s sworn enemy in Baghdad, Saddam Hussein. In the immediate aftermath of the World Trade Center disaster, a Saudi plane was allowed to land in the United States and whisk bin Laden relatives and certain Saudis out of the country before intelligence agencies could fully question them, despite the fact that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals who had been allowed to enter the U.S. under suspicious circumstances, suggesting the connivance of the Saudi government.

Bush turned his sights on Iraq’s illusory weapons of mass destruction while lifting the sanctions imposed on Pakistan, a known possessor and proliferator of nuclear weapons. Nor have any of those sanctions been restored even now, when Pakistan admits that its top scientific institute was the source of nuclear weapons technology sold to North Korea, Libya and Iran. Bush defends his exploitation of 9/11 with these words: “How this administration handled that day, as well as the war on terror, is worthy of discussion.” Yes indeed, but it is an administration that delights in discussions in which it monopolizes all of the crucial information and cherry-picks, fabricates and otherwise distorts evidence, mocking the sacred notion of representative democracy.

Robert Scheer is a syndicated columnist.

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