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Context of 'January 2004: Staffers Appalled at Zelikow’s Rewrite of 9/11 Commission Statement to Imply Connections between Iraq and Al-Qaeda'

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Philip Zelikow, who will later be appointed director of the 9/11 Commission (see Shortly Before January 27, 2003), makes public comments supporting the forthcoming invasion of Iraq. Zelikow says that “we’re now beginning to understand that we can’t wait for these folks to deliver the weapons of mass destruction and see what they do with them before we act.” He adds, “We’re beginning to understand that we might not want to give people like Saddam Hussein advance warning that we’re going to strike.” Zelikow will later help draft a policy paper used as justification for the invasion (see September 20, 2002) and will attempt to link Iraq to 9/11 when appointed to head the commission’s staff (see July 9, 2003, January 2004 and January 2004). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 128-129, 429]

Entity Tags: Philip Zelikow

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, 9/11 Timeline

The Bush administration submits to Congress a 31-page document entitled “The National Security Strategy of the United States.”
Preemptive War - The National Security Strategy (NSS) openly advocates the necessity for the US to engage in “preemptive war” against nations it believes are likely to become a threat to the US’s security. It declares: “In an age where the enemies of civilization openly and actively seek the world’s most destructive technologies, the United States cannot remain idle. The United States will, if necessary, act preemptively.” The declaration that the US will engage in preemptive war with other nations reverses decades of American military and foreign policy stances; until now, the US has held that it would only launch an attack against another nation if it had been attacked first, or if American lives were in imminent danger. President Bush had first mentioned the new policy in a speech in June 2002 (see June 1, 2002), and it echoes policies proposed by Paul Wolfowitz during the George H. W. Bush administration (see March 8, 1992). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 128]
US Must Maintain Military 'Beyond Challenge' - The National Security Strategy states that the ultimate objective of US national security policy is to “dissuade future military competition.” The US must therefore “build and maintain our defenses beyond challenge. Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States.” [London Times, 9/21/2002]
Ignoring the International Criminal Court - The NSS also states, “We will take the actions necessary to ensure that our efforts to meet our global security commitments and protect Americans are not impaired by the potential for investigations, inquiry, or prosecution by the International Criminal Court (ICC), whose jurisdiction does not extend to Americans and which we do not accept.” [US President, 9/2002]
Declaring War on Terrorism Itself - It states: “The enemy is not a single political regime or person or religion or ideology. The enemy is terrorism—premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against innocents.” Journalism professor Mark Danner will later comment in the New York Times: “Not Islamic terrorism or Middle Eastern terrorism or even terrorism directed against the United States: terrorism itself. ‘Declaring war on “terror,”’ as one military strategist later remarked to me, ‘is like declaring war on air power.’” [New York Times Magazine, 9/11/2005]
Fundamental Reversal of Containment, Deterrence Principles - Washington Post reporter Tim Reich later describes the NSS as “revers[ing] the fundamental principles that have guided successive presidents for more than 50 years: containment and deterrence.” Foreign policy professor Andrew Bacevich will write that the NSS is a “fusion of breathtaking utopianism [and] barely disguised machtpolitik.” Bacevich continues, “It reads as if it were the product not of sober, ostensibly conservative Republicans but of an unlikely collaboration between Woodrow Wilson and the elder Field Marshal von Moltke.” [American Conservative, 3/24/2003]
Written by Future Executive Director of 9/11 Commission - The document is released under George W. Bush’s signature, but was written by Philip D. Zelikow, formerly a member of the previous Bush administration’s National Security Council, and currently a history professor at the University of Virginia and a member of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. Zelikow produced the document at the behest of his longtime colleague National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see June 1, 2002). His authorship of the document will not be revealed until well after he is appointed executive director of the 9/11 commission (see Mid-December 2002-March 2003). Many on the Commission will consider Zelikow’s authorship of the document a prima facie conflict of interest, and fear that Zelikow’s position on the Commission will be used to further the Bush administration’s doctrine of preemptive war (see March 21, 2004). [US Department of State, 8/5/2005; Shenon, 2008, pp. 128]

Entity Tags: Tim Reich, University of Virginia, National Security Council, Bush administration (43), Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, 9/11 Commission, Andrew Bacevich, Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush, Philip Zelikow

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US International Relations, 9/11 Timeline

The 9/11 Commission hires Philip Zelikow for the key position of executive director, the person actually in charge of the commission’s day-to-day affairs. Zelikow was recommended by Commissioner Slade Gorton, who had worked with Zelikow on an electoral reform commission after the disputed presidential election in 2000. Zelikow, the director of that commission, has powerful friends in Washington; even former president Jimmy Carter praises him. However, according to author Philip Shenon, the staff on the electoral reform commission think he is “arrogant and secretive,” and believe his success as commission director rested on “his ability to serve the needs—and stroke the egos” of the commissioners.
Plans for Commission - Zelikow impresses commission Chairman Tom Kean by saying that he wants the panel’s final report to be written for the general public, in a more readable style than most government documents. After about 20 candidates have been considered, Kean decides that Zelikow is the best choice for the position.
Conflict of Interests - Zelikow has a conflict of interests, as he co-authored a book with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see 1995) and also served on a special White House intelligence advisory board. Both these facts are listed on his résumé. Zelikow will say that he also mentioned his work with Rice, whom he served on the Bush administration transition team (see January 2001), to Kean and Vice-chairman Lee Hamilton in telephone conversations with them. However, Kean will later say he “wasn’t sure” if he knew of Zelikow’s work on the transition team at the time he was hired, and Hamilton will say that he thought he knew Zelikow had worked on the transition, but did not know the details of what he did. White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card will be extremely surprised by Zelikow’s appointment, because of his personality and the conflicts of interest, or at least the appearance of them.
Omissions from Press Release - Zelikow’s hiring is announced in a press release issued on January 27. Shenon will later point out that the release, written based on information provided by Zelikow and reviewed by him before publication, is “notable for what it did not say.” It does not mention his work for the National Security Council in the 1980s, the book with Rice, his role on the White House transition team, or the fact he has just written a policy paper that is going to be used to justify the invasion of Iraq (see September 20, 2002). In fact, the Bush administration transition team had downgraded the position of counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, and Zelikow had played a key role in this decision (see January 3, 2001). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 58-62, 65-67]

Entity Tags: Philip Zelikow, Thomas Kean, 9/11 Commission, Philip Shenon, Lee Hamilton

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Abraham Sofaer of the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank, becomes the first expert witness to testify before the 9/11 Commission. He uses this opportunity to express his support for the war in Iraq. Sofaer, a former federal judge and State Department legal adviser, will later say that he was pleased to testify before the Commission and that he knew what an honor it was to be the first expert witness. According to author Philip Shenon, the witness list was drawn up by Philip Zelikow, the Commission’s executive director, who appears to be a supporter of the Iraq war (see June 14, 2002). Despite Sofaer’s experience, Shenon will think it “odd” that he is the first expert witness, as he has “no special expertise on the events of September 11.” Instead, he advocates the recent US invasion of Iraq and champions the concept of “preemptive defense” or “preemptive war,” even against a country that poses no imminent military threat. “The president’s principles are strategically necessary, morally sound, and legally defensible,” Sofaer says. He also criticizes the perceived policy of former President Bill Clinton, saying, “The notion that criminal prosecution could bring a terrorist group like al-Qaeda to justice is absurd.” In the future, he says, when an enemy “rises up to kill you,” the US should “rise up and kill him first.” He calls on the Commission to endorse the preemptive war concept, and, in effect, the invasion of Iraq. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 103-104]

Entity Tags: Philip Zelikow, Abraham Sofaer, 9/11 Commission, Philip Shenon

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Members and staff of the 9/11 Commission are skeptical about testimony to the commission by Laurie Mylroie on this day. Mylroie is a scholar with the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute and is considered by many to be one of the academic architects of the recent Iraq invasion (see April 27, 1987 and October 2000).
Support from Zelikow - Mylroie’s testimony is arranged by the commission’s executive director, Philip Zelikow, who places her in a prominent place at the witness table for the day’s testimony at a public hearing. Mylroie expounds her theory that Iraq was secretly behind 9/11 and other al-Qaeda attacks. Some commission staffers are surprised that she is testifying at all, as they think her testimony will work in concert with the White House’s efforts to convince the public that Iraq and al-Qaeda are, in essence, one and the same, which they strongly doubt. Zelikow will later say he had never met Mylroie before the hearings, and was skeptical of her theories himself, but because at least one unnamed commissioner wanted her testimony aired before the commission, he felt impelled to grant her a place in the hearings. Zelikow must have been aware of Mylroie’s popularity with, and her access to, the highest levels of the Bush administration and the Pentagon. Most of the commissioners do not fully understand the full import of Mylroie’s testimony, or that by allowing her to testify so early in the proceedings, the commission may appear to endorse her views.
"Batty" - If Mylroie’s testimony is an attempt to influence the commission, it falls flat; after her testimony, several see her as “batty,” if not entirely disconnected from reality. Several members of the commission and its staff are dubious about Mylroie’s claims (see July 9, 2003). Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste, one of those who believes her appearance is part of the administration’s efforts to justify the war with Iraq, forces her to admit that “95 percent” of Middle East experts do not accept her theories about a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Testimony later the same day by Judith Yaphe, a CIA expert on Iraq, further discredits Mylroie’s theories (see July 9, 2003). Both Yaphe and Ben-Veniste feel that Mylroie’s theories are shown to be little more than wild speculation with no evidence to bolster them, but the media coverage of her testimony is far different. She is given great credence by almost all of the mainstream media reports of her appearance before the commission. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 130-134] Additionally, many of those who lost family members in the attacks are angered by Mylroie’s testimony (see July 9, 2003). Shortly after her testimony, Mylroie’s new book Bush vs. the Beltway will be published, expounding further on her theories. [Washington Monthly, 12/2003]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Philip Zelikow, American Enterprise Institute, Al-Qaeda, 9/11 Commission, Laurie Mylroie, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Members of the 9/11 Commission’s team focusing on counterterrorism issues are appalled at a rewrite of a report by executive director Philip Zelikow. Zelikow rewrote the report, about the history of US efforts to contain al-Qaeda during the Clinton years, to imply that direct links exist between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see January 2004). Staffer Scott Allan, who wrote the original report, thinks that if the report is allowed to stand, it will become an important propaganda tool for the White House and its neoconservative backers in justifying the Iraq war, with headlines trumpeting the commission’s “discovery” of evidence linking al-Qaeda and Iraq. Many of Allan’s colleagues are equally disturbed, especially senior staffer Les Hawley. Hawley, a retired colonel, is a veteran of the military and civilian bureaucracies in Washington, and was a senior official in the State Department under Bill Clinton. Hawley, Allan, and the rest of the team directly challenge Zelikow’s rewrite. In author Philip Shenon’s words: “It would be remembered as an all-important showdown for the staff, the moment where they would make it clear that Zelikow could take his partisanship only so far. The staff would not allow him to trade on their credibility to promote the goals of the Bush White House—not in these interim reports, nor in the commission’s final report later that year.” The staff soon confronts Zelikow on the issue (see January 2004). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 317-324]

Entity Tags: Philip Shenon, 9/11 Commission, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Clinton administration, Les Hawley, US Department of State, Scott Allan, Philip Zelikow

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, 9/11 Timeline

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