Well as the saying goes, if you want something done right you have to do it yourself and thankfully now Richard Clarke has spoken out in an op ed in the Washington Post. And the man goes hard!
"Unless you were there, in a position of responsibility after September 11, you cannot possibly imagine the dilemmas that you faced in trying to protect Americans," Condoleezza Rice said last month as she admonished a Stanford University student who questioned the Bush-era interrogation program. And in his May 21 speech on national security, Dick Cheney called the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, a "defining" experience that "caused everyone to take a serious second look" at the threats to America. Critics of the administration have become more intense as memories of the attacks have faded, he argued. "Part of our responsibility, as we saw it," Cheney said, "was not to forget the terrible harm that had been done to America."
I remember that morning, too. Shortly after the second World Trade Center tower was hit, I burst in on Rice (then the president's national security adviser) and Cheney in the vice president's office and remember glimpsing horror on his face. Once in the bomb shelter, Cheney assembled his team while the crisis managers on the National Security Council staff coordinated the government response by video conference from the Situation Room. Many of us thought that we might not leave the White House alive. I remember the next day, too, when smoke still rose from the Pentagon as I sat in my office in the White House compound, a gas mask on my desk. The streets of Washington were empty, except for the armored vehicles, and the skies were clear, except for the F-15s on patrol. Every scene from those days is seared into my memory. I understand how it was a defining moment for Cheney, as it was for so many Americans.
Yet listening to Cheney and Rice, it seems that they want to be excused for the measures they authorized after the attacks on the grounds that 9/11 was traumatic. "If you were there in a position of authority and watched Americans drop out of eighty-story buildings because these murderous tyrants went after innocent people," Rice said in her recent comments, "then you were determined to do anything that you could that was legal to prevent that from happening again."
I have little sympathy for this argument. Yes, we went for days with little sleep, and we all assumed that more attacks were coming. But the decisions that Bush officials made in the following months and years -- on Iraq, on detentions, on interrogations, on wiretapping -- were not appropriate. Careful analysis could have replaced the impulse to break all the rules, even more so because the Sept. 11 attacks, though horrifying, should not have surprised senior officials. Cheney's admission that 9/11 caused him to reassess the threats to the nation only underscores how, for months, top officials had ignored warnings from the CIA and the NSC staff that urgent action was needed to preempt a major al-Qaeda attack.
Thus, when 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.
Richard Clarke makes the point here that I believe every mainstream media pundit has failed to make. And that is that had the members of the Bush Administration been paying attention to what their own national security team was telling them we would have either been able to prevent 9-11 or at the least been a helluva lot more prepared for it when it actually happened. Now that is just a fact and has nothing to do with partisan politics. Its impossible to buy the argument that Cheney et al didn't have a clue who al qaeda was in the days after 9-11 when we all know that President Clinton attempted to kill Bin Ladin shortly before leaving office. And if they really didn't know about al qaeda then the only possible explanation for that is that they simply weren't listening.
But Mr. Clarke makes another point that I haven't seen expressed or explored either in the mainstream media. And that is that the Bush Administration having not listened to their national security team before 9-11 and then being caught in a state of shock, never asked around about what techniques were most efficient at extracting information. Instead of bringing in the best interrogators from all of our intelligence services and asking their opinion, they just assumed that torture worked and embarked on an effort to legally justify it.
On detention, the Bush team leaped to the assumption that U.S. courts and prisons would not work. Before the terrorist attacks, the U.S. counterterrorism program of the 1990s had arrested al-Qaeda terrorists and others around the world and had a 100 percent conviction rate in the U.S. justice system. Yet the American system was abandoned, again as part of a pattern of immediately adopting the most extreme response available. Camps were established around the world, notably in Guantanamo Bay, where prisoners were held without being charged or tried. They became symbols of American overreach, held up as proof that al-Qaeda's anti-American propaganda was right.
Similarly, with regard to interrogation, administration officials conducted no meaningful professional analysis of which techniques worked and which did not. The FBI, which had successfully questioned al-Qaeda terrorists, was effectively excluded from interrogations. Instead, there was the immediate and unwarranted assumption that extreme measures -- such as waterboarding one detainee 183 times -- would be the most effective.
You haven't heard Dick Cheney speak one word on how he decided that torture or his euphemistic Enhanced Interrogation Techniques were chosen to be used on detainees other than the process by which they were deemed legal. Where are the memos on meetings inside the Bush Administration to discuss what techniques were most efficient? Why haven't any of Cheney's most ferverent defenders ever brought up any such discussions that might have happened? We saw in the release of the OLC memo page after page of studies that were falsely presented as evidence that the torture techniques that were chosen didn't cause long term damage, but where are any other studies that the Bush Administration comissioned to determine why those techniques would work any better than say presenting a detainee with sugar free cookies?
We don't hear about it because they probably don't exist.
However out of all of these misguided discussions cable news stations engage in every single day about whether torture was effective or not, nobody questions how the Bush Administration came to the conclusion that they were most effective BEFOREHAND.
I would like to think that perhaps after people read Mr. Clarke's column tomorrow that this will end up being a part of the discussion but as anybody who reads my blog regularly knows I don't have a lot of faith in our mainstream media these days. So if they won't do it then its up to us as private citizens. The next time you are around any friends or family members who believe that you "do what you have to do" when it comes to preventing attacks, press them on the point about how Cheney determined that torture was most effective. Write letters to the editors of your local paper asking them the same question. Send emails to cable news anchors and ask them to ask any pro torturists who come on the show to answer that question. I know we sometimes feel like there is not a lot we can do to press for accountability from the people who ordered torture, but these are little things we CAN do to try to at least shape public opinion on the subect. If enough people start demanding accountability then President Obama and his administration will be forced to give it to us. We can not put this ugly chapter behind us as a nation until we do a little looking backward to hold peoples' feet to the fire.