...An independent, bipartisan commission was set to report on the "circumstances surrounding the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, including preparedness for and the immediate response to the attacks."
The White House had a lot to lose from an unfettered, authoritative examination of those issues. The last thing Bush needed during a hotly contested reelection campaign was a reminder of his inattention to the threat of terrorism before 9/11, or of his initial paralysis when he heard the news, or of his misbegotten attempts to pin the blame on Iraq.
Bush originally fought the establishment of such a commission. Even after he bowed to congressional pressure, he still only went along grudgingly. For instance, he famously refused to face the panel alone or in public, insisting instead on a private, unrecorded interview with Vice President Cheney at his side.
But when the report finally came out, it was clear Bush had dodged another bullet. The commission spread the blame for 9/11 far and wide and emphasized needed structural changes over accountability.
Now, it seems the White House may not have needed to be too apprehensive about the commission's report. It had an inside man. And he was one of the guys in charge.
Hope Yen writes for the Associated Press: "The Sept. 11 commission's executive director had closer ties with the White House than publicly disclosed and tried to influence the final report in ways that the staff often perceived as limiting the Bush administration's responsibility, a new book says.
"Philip Zelikow, a friend of then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, spoke with her several times during the 20-month investigation that closely examined her role in assessing the al-Qaida threat. He also exchanged frequent calls with the White House, including at least four from Bush's chief political adviser at the time, Karl Rove.
"Zelikow once tried to push through wording in a draft report that suggested a greater tie between al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and Iraq, in line with White House claims but not with the commission staff's viewpoint, according to Philip Shenon's 'The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation.'. . ."
Michael Isikoff writes in Newsweek: "In the summer of 2003, Warren Bass, an investigator for the 9/11 Commission, was digging through highly classified National Security Council documents when he came across a trove of material that startled him. Buried in the files of former White House counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke, the documents seemed to confirm charges that the Bush White House had ignored repeated warnings about the threat posed by Osama bin Laden. Clarke, it turned out, had bombarded national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice in the summer of 2001 with impassioned e-mails and memos warning of an Al Qaeda attack--and urging a more forceful U.S. government response. One e-mail jumped out: it pleaded with officials to imagine how they would feel after a tragedy where 'hundreds of Americans lay dead in several countries, including the U.S.,' adding that 'that future day could happen at any time.' The memo was written on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2001 -- just one week before the attacks on New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon...
"But when Bass tried to impress the significance of what he had discovered upon the panel, he ran into what he thought was a roadblock -- his boss. Philip Zelikow, a respected University of Virginia historian hired to be the 9/11 Commission's executive director, had long been friendly with Rice. The two had coauthored a book. Rice had later placed him on a Bush transition team that reorganized the NSC (and ended up diminishing Clarke's role). At Rice's request, Zelikow had also anonymously drafted a new Bush national-security paper in September 2002 that laid out the case for preventive war.
"In commission staff meetings, Zelikow disparaged Clarke as an egomaniac and braggart who was unjustly slandering his friend Rice, according to [Shenon's] new book. . . .
"Rove himself, according to Shenon, always feared that a report which laid the blame for 9/11 at the president's doorstep was the one development that could most jeopardize Bush's 2004 re-election. That's one reason why White House lawyers tried to stonewall the commission from the outset. When Clarke finally did testify about his warnings to Rice, Shenon reports, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and his aides feverishly drafted tough questions and phoned them in to GOP commissioners to undermine Clarke's credibility. Later, when Attorney General John Ashcroft unveiled a memo that seemed to cast the antiterror record of the Clinton Justice Department in an unflattering light, Gonzales and his aides high-fived each other."
...This isn't the first time it's turned out that the 9/11 Commission wasn't getting the full picture. It's not even the second.
As I wrote in my Oct. 2, 2006 column, Bob Woodward disclosed in his book "State of Denial" that commission investigators weren't told about a July 2001 meeting, in which Rice waved off warnings that should have put the government on high alert for an al-Qaeda attack.
In an excerpt from his book, Woodward wrote: "On July 10, 2001, two months before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, then-CIA Director George J. Tenet met with his counterterrorism chief, J. Cofer Black, at CIA headquarters to review the latest on Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda terrorist organization...
"Tenet hoped his abrupt request for an immediate meeting would shake Rice. He and Black, a veteran covert operator, had two main points when they met with her. First, al-Qaeda was going to attack American interests, possibly in the United States itself. Black emphasized that this amounted to a strategic warning, meaning the problem was so serious that it required an overall plan and strategy. Second, this was a major foreign policy problem that needed to be addressed immediately. They needed to take action that moment -- covert, military, whatever -- to thwart bin Laden. . . .
"Tenet and Black felt they were not getting through to Rice...
"Around the time of that July meeting, Rice and Bush were more focused on their pet issue: missile defense. And Bush wasn't interested in 'swatting flies' -- he was already looking for a reason to attack Iraq.
"And a month later, as Ron Suskind reported in his book, 'The One Percent Doctrine,' an unnamed CIA briefer flew to Bush's Texas ranch to call the president's attention personally to the now-famous Aug. 6, 2001, memo titled ' Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.' According to Suskind, Bush heard the briefer out and replied: 'All right. You've covered your ass, now.'"
...And just a few weeks ago, Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, who served as chairman and vice chairman, respectively, of the 9/11 commission, wrote in a New York Times op-ed that "the recent revelations that the C.I.A. destroyed videotaped interrogations of Qaeda operatives leads us to conclude that the agency failed to respond to our lawful requests for information about the 9/11 plot. Those who knew about those videotapes -- and did not tell us about them -- obstructed our investigation.
"There could have been absolutely no doubt in the mind of anyone at the C.I.A. -- or the White House -- of the commission's interest in any and all information related to Qaeda detainees involved in the 9/11 plot. Yet no one in the administration ever told the commission of the existence of videotapes of detainee interrogations."
Many of us have spent the last seven years defining just how deep the rabbit hole is.
This is the source of our outrage at Hillary for supporting the war.
This is the source of our mistrust of Obama for moving to the right of Hillary after initially opposing the war.
This is not an election. This is a beauty contest for carefully chosen proxies of different business interests. The ultimate policies of these interests are not projected to be substantially different. The Endless War will not end with Obama.
The only question is whether the iron triangle will be content with a holding action in Iraq and Afghanistan, or whether it will expand the front of war to Iran and beyond.
And whether the other powers will tolerate it.