Was Accountability For Team Cheney-- A Nest Of War Criminals-- Ever Taken Off The Table?
Darrell Issa's idea of a scandal for his House Oversight Committee to investigate is an entirely partisan witch hunt like "Benghazi!" Though the magnitude around 9-11 was a thousand times greater on any scale, there's never been a peep out of Issa or any of his right-wing colleagues about the dereliction of duty on the part of Cheney and his administration inherent in that catastrophe. In his brilliant book, Angler, Barton Gellman makes it perfectly clear that Cheney aggressively and vehemently dismissed every serious warning that the American security and intelligence agencies flagged regarding al-Qaeda.
When suicide bombers attacked the USS Cole shortly before the 2000 election, killing seventeen sailors and nearly sinking the Navy destroyer, candidate Cheney said, "Any would-be terrorist out there needs to know that if you're going to attack, , you'll be hit very hard and very quick. It's not time for diplomacy and debate. It's time for action. This was an essential point of comparison in the 2000 campaign: the strength and resolve of the Bush-Cheney team in contrast to the ditherings of Clinton and Gore.
At the time, the Cole bombing looked like al Qaeda's doing, but U.S. intelligence lacked proof. Bush and Cheney, on the campaign trail, vowed to retaliate once the perpetrators became clear. Soon after they took office, the facts were in.
Cheney told his authorized biographer, "I don't recall it cropping up." That is surprising. At 4 p.m. on February 9, 2001, less than 3 weeks after arriving in the White House, Cheney received a briefing that featured this slide: "Al Qaeda responsible for Nairobi, Dar el Salaam, Tirana, Kampala, Yemen, WTC, NYC tunnels, Jordan millennium, Boston, LA, Washington State bomb materials, USS Cole." … Six days later, in a memo sent directly to Cheney, a senior director on the National Security Council staff suggested that the CIA should be ready to "definitively conclude that al Qaeda was responsible for the Cole. Richard Clarke and others in his counter-terrorism directorate peppered Chaney, Condi Rice, and Steve Hadley with additional evidence-- and recommendations for a military response-- at least 5 more times in writing during the spring.
The vice president, like his colleagues, had other priorities.
Three months before September 11, 2001, when the armed Predator became available, Osama bin Laden had not yet reached the pinnacle of villainy in the American public mind. But he was well known inside the U.S. government. In an annual review of global threats, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet said for three years running-- in 1999, 2000 and 2001-- that al Qaeda topped the list of most dangerous and immediate adversaries, at home and abroad. By the summer of 2001, Tenet and Clarke "had their hair on fire' with warnings that a large scale al Qaeda terrorist attack appeared to be imminent. On August 6, Bush and Cheney received the now-famous Presidential Daily Brief titled "Bin Laden determined to Strike in US," the thirty-sixth time in less than eight months that the CIA drew their attention to bin Laden. John McLaughlin, Tenet's deputy, expressed frustration that "some policy-makers, who had not lived through such threat surges before, questioned the validity of the intelligence or wondered if it was disinformation." An authoritative source said he was referring primarily to Cheney and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. The CIA responded with a briefing titled "Bin Ladin Threats Are Real." Though far from specific about the time, place, or manner of an attack, the briefing did allude to terrorist discussions of hijacking aircraft and to surveillance of targets in New York City. Cheney later downplayed the summer warnings, describing them as "noise in the system" and saying he was not especially alarmed.The CIA and Air Force wanted to go after bin Laden with a Predator drone and wanted to take out al Qaeda bases in Afghanistan. Cheney showed zero interest and the Predator drone was grounded. Cheney maintained an attitude all summer that all these warnings were on no interest to him, even though Bush had put him in over-all charge of the intelligence and terrorism portfolios at the White House. One participant in the briefings said, "Nobody gave a crap about this. It was theoretical." No resources were assigned to fighting al Qaeda.When the Senate Armed Services Committee recommended putting $600 million more into the military's counter-terrorism priorities Don Rumsfield urged a veto and Bush duly sent out a veto threat-- on September 9.
The ferocity of the response to 9/11 can be directly seen as a reaction by the Bush security team-- particularly Cheney-- to their malfeasance in protecting the country before the fact. We'll deal with Cheney's and his closest aides' enthusiasm for torture and for a dictatorial usurpation of power at another time. I just want to say that at every step of the way, Cheney's team was aware-- and extremely worried-- that they were guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity and that they could be tried and punished for their actions. From the first moment, Cheney, well aware of his own guilt in allowing 9/11 to happen, over-reacted. He immediately and without legal authority ordered the Air Force to shoot down civilian aircraft. Hours after the World Tours went down he told Rumsfield "it's my understanding they've already taken a couple of aircraft out." He quickly moved to assert dictatorial powers for the White House and to shred as much of the Constitution as he could. He was especially eager to assert the power of ex ante pardons which his team insisted would make all war criminals in the Administration immune from prosecution. There was a constant fear that one day Bush and Cheney themselves would face trial as war criminals.
Yesterday, in her column, A Mad Tea Party, Maureen Dowd invoked Cheney's name in terms of most Americans now considering "the G.O.P.’s imperialistic unilaterists less loco than the narcissistic anarchists."
But before you start thinking Dick Cheney is temperate by comparison, consider the Commentary roast of the former vice president on Monday night at the Plaza Hotel in New York.
Cheney made a joke about waterboarding an antelope that he borrowed from Jay Leno. Donald Rumsfeld quasi-jested that he knew Dick “back when the president of the United States still led our foreign policy, instead of Putin.”
Ben Smith of BuzzFeed reported that the roast sponsored by Rupert Murdoch and others featured Rumsfeld, Joe Lieberman and Scooter Libby, known as “Cheney’s Cheney” until he was convicted of lying during a federal leak probe.
Lieberman, a guest told BuzzFeed, said it was nicer to be at the Plaza than in cages after a war crimes trial. There were pardon jokes about W., whose relationship with Cheney was shattered over not giving Libby one. Libby said W. sent a note: “Pardon me, I can’t make it.”
The acrid legacy of Cheney and Rummy lives on as they carp from the sidelines about the “so-called commander in chief.” In December, The Unknown Known, an Errol Morris documentary about the man who was the youngest and oldest secretary of defense, hits theaters.
Morris won an Oscar in 2004 for Fog of War, his documentary about another dangerous, delusional defense secretary with wire-rimmed glasses, Robert McNamara; in his acceptance speech, Morris warned that, with Iraq, America might be going down another “rabbit hole.”
But the cocky Rummy talked to him for 33 hours anyway. Unlike McNamara, however, Rumsfeld does not admit his historic blunders, but maintains his “Stuff happens” brio.
“You make a movie with the secretary of defense you have,” Morris told me dryly, “not with the secretary of defense you want to have.”
Still, the filmmaker was smart to bookend the men, opposite ends of the same warmongering problem: McNamara was so droning and unemotive that he lulled listeners into thinking that nothing bad could be happening, while Rumsfeld was so energetic and blithe that it was hard to believe that people were dying and the war was being lost. Morris’s wife and collaborator, Julia Sheehan, said that McNamara was “The Flying Dutchman” wandering the earth looking for redemption, while Rumsfeld is the Cheshire cat.
“All we’re left with at the very end is this infernal grin,” Morris said. “Everybody wants this smoking gun. The entire Bush administration is a smoking gun.
“In his memos and homilies, Rumsfeld will say things that are just contradictory, as though by saying everything, you’ve covered all your bases,” Morris continued. “It’s deeply anti-rational, as if there’s no deep reflection or thought. You have no evidence? Well, ‘the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,’ as Rumsfeld said about W.M.D. in Iraq. Taken to some crazy conclusion, you can justify anything that way.
“At times in his language, he descends into some strange insanity, as though he’s trying to convince himself.”
Asked the lesson of Vietnam-- Rumsfeld was the chief of staff to Gerald Ford when Saigon was evacuated-- Rumsfeld briskly replies: “Some things work out, some things don’t. That didn’t.”
When Morris presses Rumsfeld about the Justice Department’s “torture memos,” the former defense chief said they did not come out of “the Bush administration, per se; they came out of the U.S. Department of Justice.” That parsing would be beyond Bill Clinton.
About the memos that led to what Morris considers “one of the great stains in American history,” Rumsfeld says he never read them. When asked why, he replies, “I’m not a lawyer. What would I know?”
When Morris asks Rumsfeld about the “confusion” that linked Saddam to 9/11, he answers brightly, “I don’t think the American people were confused about that,” adding, “I don’t remember anyone in the Bush administration saying anything like that, nor do I recall anyone believing that.”
Holy mushroom cloud.
Rumsfeld doesn’t even seem to understand his signature phrase. Reading from a 2004 memo, he says, “There are known knowns. There are known unknowns. There are unknown unknowns.” He tells Morris that there are also unknown knowns. Things that you possibly may know that you don’t know you know.
Morris challenges him: “But the memo doesn’t say that. It says that we know less, not more, than we think we do."
Rumsfeld finally admits a boo-boo: “Yeah, I think that memo is backwards.” Then he chastises the filmmaker for “chasing the wrong rabbit.”
Right down the rabbit hole.