Deliberate negligence?

Published : Nov 07, 2003 00:00 IST

If the Bush administration has nothing to hide about 9/11, why was information repeatedly denied to the Congress intelligence panel? And why was a good part of its report made classified?

TODAY, two years after 9/11, it is necessary to pause and reflect on what has happened to the world and the United States during this continuing `war on terror'. Anarchy prevails in Afghanistan, with the U.S. and its corporate President Hamid Karzai controlling no more than Kabul. The infrastructure of the country remains in ruin and it is unsafe for even aid workers, who have gradually left the country. Opium cultivation has increased more than tenfold since the Taliban was driven out. Osama bin Laden, who provided the entire justification for the obliterating attack on Afghanistan, remains at large.

And what of Iraq? More than 20,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed and many more are injured. More than one U.S. soldier is being killed, and many more injured, every day. Complete anarchy prevails on the streets. The Iraqi infrastructure, which was working well before the attack, is a shambles. There is no supply of water or electricity to the majority of Iraqi citizens. No weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), which were the stated justification for the attack, have been found or are likely to be found. The Chief United Nations weapons inspector Hans Blix says that the Iraqi declaration that they had none was probably true. Hordes of foreign terrorists are now streaming into the country, and more are being born in Iraq every day, in response to the destruction and occupation of the country by the U.S.. Thus, a country, which was free of terrorists and Islamic fundamentalists, has become a magnet and breeding ground for them.

And all this, at what cost to the U.S.? Apart from the loss of life and limb of its soldiers, the direct financial costs to the U.S. economy have been more than $300 billion, which will continue to add up by more than $100 billion a year. And the brunt of all this is being borne by the poor in terms of a greater budget deficit, and cuts in education, health and social security. But far more significant than this has been the damage inflicted to the international image and credibility of the U.S. Even more significant, however, has been the cost to U.S. democracy in terms of the erosion of civil liberties and the subjugation of the American people with the relentless propaganda of the `perpetual war on terror'. The Patriot Act and the several executive decrees passed along with it (using the hysteria created by the 9/11 attacks) have left non-U.S. citizens with no rights, not even the right to access U.S. courts or lawyers, if they are branded as suspected terrorists by the administration. And even U.S. citizens have no right to privacy left, with the administration assuming the authority to tap phones, examine mails and scrutinise even personal medical and library records at will. And along with all this, the administration has also acquired the power to deny information about the use of these powers to even the Congress and the courts.

But, while all this has immensely hurt the democracy and the common people of the U.S., it has (or at least was calculated to have) helped the agenda of the neo-conservatives who run the Bush administration. Using this "continuing war on terror", they have amassed enormous draconian powers and have reduced Congress to a rubber stamp, which was willing in advance to cede to Bush its authorisation to attack Iraq . Multi-billion dollar contracts to reconstruct (what they destroyed in Afghanistan and Iraq) have been given to large corporations like Halliburton and Bechtel, which are associated with key members of the Bush administration. Thanks to the munitions used to destroy Iraq and Afghanistan, the arms industry, in which several key members of the administration have large financial stakes, is booming in a collapsing economy. As is the corporate media, which have thrived on the hysteria generated by 9/11 and the continuing war on terror. This media, almost completely owned by five mega corporations, have pushed along the Bush agenda by aggressively supporting the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq. It is with this constant barrage of propaganda by the media, that U.S. citizens have been inebriated to support the war and the erosion of their own liberties.

And thus the Bush administration managed to kick-start its agenda of making a global empire by use of military force, the blueprint for which had already been laid out in September 2000, by Bush's men in a document called "Rebuilding America's Defences", drafted by a think tank called the "Project for the New American Century" or PNAC. A good deal of this agenda has already been implemented. The PNAC recommended an increase in arms spending by $48 billion so that the U.S. could "fight and win multiple, simultaneous major theatre wars". This has happened. It said the U.S. should develop "bunker-buster" nuclear weapons and make "star wars" a national priority. This is being implemented. It said that, in the event of Bush taking power, Iraq should be a target. It has been.

It is quite another matter that the proponents of this doctrine did not realise that the existing U.S. empire was already in dangerous overstretch, as brilliantly analysed by Chalmers Johnson in his prophetic book Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire published before 9/11 (Metropolitan Books, 2000). These dreams of Empire are now coming unstuck in the Iraq quagmire that gets deeper by the day.

A great deal of circumstantial evidence now exists to suggest that the Bush administration not only had sufficient intelligence information about the hijackers and their plans to fly planes into buildings, which if acted upon could have prevented the attacks, showing top officials in the intelligence agencies and the administration guilty of negligence, but that there may have existed a conspiracy to allow deliberately the attacks to take place. This, so that the "catastrophic and catalysing event" could be used to put into effect the plan for building a global American empire, on the blueprint already laid out.

IRAQ had been marked out for attack by key men in Bush's administration even before Bush was sworn into office (PNAC document, September 2000). Another report prepared for the U.S. government, and submitted to Dick Cheney's energy task group, by the Bacon Institute of Public Policy, stated in April 2001 (before 9/11) that "the U.S. remains a prisoner of its energy dilemma. Iraq remains a destabilising force to the flow of oil to international markets from the Middle East". The report recommended that military intervention was necessary since this was an unacceptable risk to the U.S.

By August 2002, Bush began his drumbeat for war on Iraq by repeatedly stressing in speech after speech, either directly or by the innuendo, that, a) Saddam Hussein had links to Al Qaeda and was responsible for the 9/11 attacks; b) Saddam had a large and current stockpile of WMDs, which included chemical, biological and nuclear weapons; and c) He had the capability to attack the U.S. with these weapons.

Each one of the above statements was made in different ways, using a different basis each time, but repeated ad nauseum, till the vast majority of Americans came to believe this propaganda. Each one of these assertions and every basis on which the statements were made have been found and demonstrated to be not only false, but based on cooked-up and fabricated evidence. The claim that Iraq was trying to buy weapons-grade uranium from Niger, made by Bush in his State of the Union address to Congress, turned out to be based on documents which were known by the Bush administration to be fabricated.

Just a couple of examples would suffice to demonstrate the brazenness with which the case for the attack on Iraq was fabricated. On September 7, 2002, Bush cited the report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which he said proved that the Iraqis were on the brink of developing nuclear weapons. In fact, no such report existed. The IAEA's report in 1998, about the time weapons inspectors were denied access to Iraq, said exactly the opposite.

In a September 12, 2002, address to the U.N., Bush spoke ominously of Iraq's "continued appetite" for nuclear bombs, pointing to the regime's purchase of thousands of high-strength aluminum tubes, which he said "could be used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons". In fact, the IAEA conclusively debunked this claim in a January 2003 assessment. Nevertheless, Colin Powell repeated the aluminium tubes charge in his speech to the U.N. on February 5.

Bush and his people repeatedly claimed that they had clinching evidence of Iraq possessing thousands of tonnes of chemical and biological agents. However, despite five months of the most intensive search by a large special team from the U.S., not even an ounce of such chemical and biological agents has turned up in Iraq.

But all this fabrication and false propaganda to justify the attack on Iraq would not have been credible in the absence of the 9/11 attacks and the manner in which they were used to terrify the American people into believing that the security of America was under imminent threat from overseas terrorists.

In a recent article titled "Who knew? The unanswered questions of 9/11", published on September 4 by In These Times, the author, Seth Ackerman, based on the declassified portion of the report of Congress' joint intelligence panel on the intelligence failure of 9/11, lists an amazing series of information received by the intelligence agencies before 9/11, which if pursued, would have led to the hijackers and their plans.

HOWEVER, despite such monumental intelligence failure to prevent the 9/11 attacks, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was able to put together a detailed profile of the terrorists within days of the attacks. And while the Bush administration claimed from day one that the attacks were the handiwork of Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda, a number of close relatives of bin Laden living in the U.S. at that time were escorted out of the U.S. by the FBI, with the explicit permission of the White House.

Writing in Los Angeles Times, the military analyst William Arkin describes a secret army set up by Donald Rumsfeld, similar to those run by Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger and which Congress outlawed. This "super-intelligence support activity" will bring together the "CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] and military covert action, information warfare, and deception". According to a classified document prepared for Rumsfeld, the new organisation, known by its Orwellian euphemism as the Proactive Pre-emptive Operations Group, or P2OG, will provoke terrorist attacks which would then require "counter-attack" by the U.S. on countries "harbouring the terrorists". Scary?

It is thus not surprising that a respectable mainstream insider, Michael Meacher, Blair's Minister for Environment till June this year and one of the senior-most British Member of Parliament, wrote recently in The Guardian (September 2) suggesting that the intelligence failure of 9/11 was deliberate. In an article titled "This war on terrorism is bogus", Meacher cites a great deal of evidence to make his case. He asserts: "It is known that at least 11 countries provided advance warning to the U.S. of the 9/11 attacks. Two senior Mossad (Israeli intelligence) experts were sent to Washington in August 2001 to alert the CIA and the FBI to a cell of 200 terrorists said to be preparing a big operation. The list provided included the names of four of the 9/11 hijackers, none of whom were arrested."

Meacher goes on to say:"Given this background, it is not surprising that some have seen the U.S. failure to ward off the 9/11 attacks as creating an invaluable pretext for bombing Afghanistan in a war that had clearly already been well-planned in advance. There is a possible precedent for this. The U.S. National Archives reveal that President Roosevelt used exactly this approach in relation to Pearl Harbour on December 7, 1941. Some advance warning of the attacks was received, but the information never reached the U.S. fleet. The ensuing national outrage persuaded a reluctant U.S. public to join the Second World War. Similarly, the PNAC blueprint of September 2000 states that the process of transforming the U.S. into `tomorrow's dominant force' is likely to be a long one in the absence of `some catastrophic and catalysing event - like a new Pearl Harbour'. The 9/11 attacks allowed the U.S. to press the `go' button for a strategy in accordance with the PNAC agenda, which would otherwise have been politically impossible to implement."

Meacher's article prompted a predictably angry response from the U.S. embassy in London, which issued a statement, calling Meacher's suggestion "monstrous and monstrously offensive". But if the Bush administration has nothing to hide, why was information asked for repeatedly denied to the Congress intelligence panel? Why were they not allowed to interview the persons that they sought to interview? And why was a good part of their report classified?

These are not the acts of a government that has nothing to hide. While the failure to prevent 9/11 may just be a case of monumental negligence and intelligence failure, the above facts and circumstances would clearly warrant a full-fledged independent investigation with full access to all material and all persons. The circumstances are too many and the implications too serious for the matter to be left at this. The Bush administration must accept such an investigation, if it wants this cloud to be lifted. It owes a lot more to Iraq and Afghanistan. But it owes at least this to the American people.

Prashant Bhushan is a lawyer practising in the Supreme Court.

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