Friday's must-reads


Geraldine Sealey
June 18, 2004 5:50PM (UTC)

Why Bush didn't want a 9/11 panel
The White House tried to prevent the formation of the 9/11 commission and slowed the panel's progress along the way by stonewalling the release of documents and appearances of key witnesses -- like Condi Rice, President Bush and Dick Cheney. The New York Times reports that 19 months later, "in 17 preliminary staff reports, that panel has called into question nearly every aspect of the administration's response to terror, including the idea that Iraq and Al Qaeda were somehow the same foe."

"Far from a bolt from the blue, the commission has demonstrated over the last 19 months that the Sept. 11 attacks were foreseen, at least in general terms, and might well have been prevented, had it not been for misjudgments, mistakes and glitches, some within the White House."

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" ... With its historic access to government secrets, the panel was able to shed new light on old accountings, demonstrating, for example, that Mr. Bush himself, in the weeks before the attack, had received more detailed warnings about Al Qaeda's intentions than the White House had acknowledged."

" ... In the studies, Mr. Bush in particular has come off as less certain and decisive than he has portrayed himself. The final report, issued on Wednesday, reminded Americans that Mr. Bush remained in a classroom in Florida for at least five minutes after the second jet struck the World Trade Center, in what he told the panel was an effort 'to project calm' for a worried nation."

Grasping at straws
On the Today show this morning, Dick Cheney fired away again at the press for, in his view, making too much of the 9/11 commission's staff report that disputes the administration's claims about the relationship between Iraq and al-Qaida. Some members of the press are "often lazy, often report what someone else in the press said without doing their homework," Cheney said.

There are lots of lazy people out there who don't do their homework, it seems, including leading experts on al-Qaida. In an Australian radio interview, transcript here, author Peter Bergen of Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden, said the administration is "grasping at straws."

"One of the striking things about al-Qaeda is how few Iraqis there are in the organisation. A lot of Saudis, a lot of Algerians, a lot of Yemenis, but no Iraqis. There are probably more American members of al-Qaeda than Iraqis, and stronger ties to Brooklyn than Baghdad, if al-Qaeda had an office in Brooklyn.

"But I mean the larger point is there were no substantive dealings between al-Qaeda and Iraq. I mean, they met in Sudan on a number of occasions. We know from the United Nations you can have meetings without results, and that was the case you can't point to any outcomes."

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Q: So when President Bush says there are numerous contacts between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein...

PETER BERGEN: "Well, it's an interesting kind of construct, isn't it? Because, I mean, I have contacts with all sorts of people, I met with bin Laden it's doesn't mean I did business with him. You know, I think this is grasping at straws at this point ... The point is that there's no there there, there's just nothing... I mean, some of the things that were supposed to have been true aren't true, for example, a meeting between the hijacker Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence agent, well, it just never happened."

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Kerry's secret search
The Washington Post brings us up to date on how John Kerry is handling one of the most important decisions he'll have to make in his campaign: Who else will be on the ticket.

"John F. Kerry has been phoning friends at all hours and reviewing vice presidential choices dating to 1932 ... While Kerry is tight-lipped about the pick, these Democrats said the process is revealing much about how the senator from Massachusetts views his strengths, his leadership style and the role of a vice president. Kerry has privately expressed confidence that voters see him as sufficiently strong on national security, they say, but wonders whether he needs a moderate or conservative Democrat on the ticket to improve his centrist credentials. Still, Kerry is skeptical a running mate can make a decisive difference in the election's outcome, these sources said, and is much more concerned with finding a ready-made president, though one who will not try to steal the show."

The U.S.' secret prisons
Human Rights First, formerly known as the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, says the United States is holding terrorism suspects in more than two dozen detention centers worldwide and about half of these operate in total secrecy, the Toronto Star reports. "The secrecy around these places made 'inappropriate detention and abuse not only likely but inevitable,' according to the report."

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"In the current scandal over prisoner abuse, a CIA contractor yesterday became the first civilian to face criminal charges related to U.S. treatment of overseas prisoners. Former U.S. Army Ranger David Passaro, 38, is accused of using his hands, feet and a flashlight to beat a detainee who later died at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan."

"'The abuses at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib cannot be addressed in isolation,' said Deborah Pearlstein, director of the rights group's U.S. Law and Security program, referring to the U.S. naval base prison in Cuba and the Iraqi prison where abuses are being investigated. 'This is all about secrecy, accountability and the law,' Pearlstein told a news conference."

'Dumb-ass thing to do'
The Washington Post reports that Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee "blocked a move by Democrats to subpoena Justice Department memos on the use of torture, intimidation and other abusive tactics in interrogation of suspected terrorists."

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"But several GOP senators, including the committee chairman, Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), called on the Bush administration to give Congress the documents and warned that they might support a subpoena at some point, just not now. Hatch said he asked Attorney General John D. Ashcroft and White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales to turn over the 23 memos -- some of which suggested legal justification for abuse of prisoners -- and believed they would do so."

"He described the Democrats' subpoena request as a 'dumb-ass thing to do' and a 'fishing expedition . . . to make a political point' but added that 'I think the White House should comply' with the committee's earlier requests for the documents."


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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