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President Bush holding the fake turkey. [Source: AP / Anja Niedringhaus]President Bush makes a surprise visit to Iraq to have a carefully staged “Thanksgiving dinner with the troops” at the Baghdad International Airport. [White House, 11/27/2003] Most of the 600 or so troops present for the meal are from the Army’s 1st Armored Division and 82nd Airborne units. For security reasons, Bush never leaves the airport, and leaves shortly after the meal. Bush’s entrance is carefully choreographed, with Coalition Provisional Authority head Paul Bremer telling the gathered troops that the most senior official present should read Bush’s Thanksgiving proclamation. Then, turning to a curtained-off area and asking, “Is there anybody back there who’s more senior than us?” Bush enters the area wearing military fatigues. [USA Today, 11/27/2003]
Fake Turkey - Bush poses with a lovely, huge, golden-brown turkey. The turkey is not real, but merely a prop prepared by the food service arm of Kellogg, Brown and Root. The troops actually eat turkey and vegetables from a cafeteria-style steam tray. White House officials later claim not to have known about the enormous decorative bird, and say that Bush’s memorable photo-op of him holding the fake turkey was an impromptu moment that was not planned in advance. Military sources later say that such decorative turkeys are standard features of holiday “chow lines.” [CBS News, 11/27/2003]
Some Soldiers Denied Dinner - Not all the soldiers at the airport are able to eat with the president, or in fact are able to eat at all. In December, Sergeant Loren Russell writes in a letter to Stars & Stripes that soldiers from his unit were denied entrance to the Bob Hope Dining Facility, where Thanksgiving dinner was being served, “because they were in the wrong unit.” Russell writes that his soldiers “understand that President Bush ate there and that upgraded security was required. But why were only certain units turned away? Why wasn’t there a special meal for President Bush and that unit in the new dance hall adjoining the 1st Armored Division’s band building? And all of this happened on Thanksgiving, the best meal of the year when soldiers get a taste of home cooking.” [Stars and Stripes, 1/27/2007]
Secret Flight - The trip to Iraq is conducted under conditions of extreme secrecy; only Laura Bush and a very few top officials are told of the planned visit. Had word leaked of the trip, it would have been canceled. Most White House officials and reporters are told that Bush would spend the holiday at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Instead, Bush, accompanied by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, is driven away in an unmarked vehicle. At a nearby airport, he boards Air Force One from the back stairs instead of the usual front entrance. After stopping at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, where the entourage picks up a few aides, and four reporters and one camera crew sworn to secrecy, the aircraft departs for Iraq. In all, the press corps traveling with the president totals five reporters, five photographers, a TV producer, and a two-person camera crew. All the media members in the group had agreed to surrender their cell phones and wireless e-mail devices beforehand in order to keep them from surreptitiously reporting on the impending trip. [USA Today, 11/27/2003; PressThink, 12/3/2003; Associated Press, 6/14/2006]
Public Relations Effort - According to New York Times columnist and media reporter Frank Rich, the trip was set in motion by the White House’s public relations team and its desire to chase the Chinook tragedy (see November 2, 2003 and November 2, 2003) off the front pages. [Rich, 2006, pp. 110] White House officials say that Bush had been talking about such a visit for weeks, and the final decision to go was reached the day before in a conference call between Bush and Vice President Cheney. [USA Today, 11/27/2003] Journalism professor Jay Rosen later observes that the willing participation of reporters in this kind of event destroys the boundaries between reporters and the subjects they cover. Rosen will write: “The whole notion of the trip as an independently existing thing that could be ‘covered’ is transparently false, as the White House warning to journalists demonstrates. If word leaked out, the trip was to be canceled—it would no longer exist—and the airplane would turn around and head back to Washington. That does not mean the trip was illegitimate to undertake or to treat as news; but it does mean that its potential legitimacy as news event lies outside the logic of ‘things happen and we cover them’ or ‘the president took decisive action and the press reported it.’ Here, the press took action and it was equally decisive. It agreed, first, to go along and record the scene and then to keep the flight a secret; and these decisions by journalists were not incidental to Bush’s decision to go but integral to it. Would the trip have made sense, would the danger have been justified, if reporters and camera crews were not taken along? The answer is clearly no. But this means the press is part of the presidency, an observation that, while true enough, makes it harder to cover the presidency as an independently existing thing.” [PressThink, 12/3/2003]
Negative Reactions - An Army nurse at the American hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, which receives and treats wounded US troops coming from Iraq and Afghanistan, has a different take on Bush’s visit. In an e-mail to the Boston Globe, the nurse, who does not wish her name made public, will write: “My ‘Bush Thanksgiving’ was a little different.… I spent it at the hospital taking care of a young West Point lieutenant wounded in Iraq. He had stabilization of his injuries in Iraq and then two long surgeries here for multiple injuries; he’s just now stable enough to send back to the USA. After a few bites of dinner I let him sleep, and then cried with him as he woke up from a nightmare. When he pressed his fists into his eyes and rocked his head back and forth he looked like a little boy. They all do, all 19 on the ward that day, some missing limbs, eyes, or worse.… It’s too bad Mr. Bush didn’t add us to his holiday agenda. The men said the same, but you’ll never read that in the paper. Mr. President would rather lift fake turkeys for photo ops, it seems. Maybe because my patients wouldn’t make very pleasant photos… most don’t look all that great, and the ones with facial wounds and external fixation devices look downright scary. And a heck of a lot of them can’t talk, anyway, and some never will talk again.… Well, this is probably more than you want to know, but there’s no spin on this one. It’s pure carnage.… Like all wars, the ‘shock and awe’ eventually trickles down to blood and death. But you won’t see that. I do, every single day.” Globe columnist Joan Vennochi will add: “How much of this is enough for the president of the United States? It depends whether the goal is public relations for a presidential campaign or public acknowledgment of the consequences of war—the human consequences. They are convalescing in places like Landstuhl.” [Boston Globe, 12/11/2003] In 2007, author Annia Ciezadlo will recall her Thanksgiving in Baghdad during the same time. Ciezadlo, who spent the holiday with an Iraqi family, will write: “We saw pictures of him later, serving Thanksgiving dinner to American soldiers, posing like a waiter with a great big [turkey] on a tray. He never left the base. ‘You are defeating the terrorists here in Iraq,’ he told the troops, ‘so we don’t have to face them in our own country.’ An Iraqi friend once told me it was that line about fighting in Iraq to make America safer that turned his adoration of Mr. Bush into hatred.” [New York Times, 11/27/2007]
Entity Tags: Dan Bartlett, Frank Rich, George W. Bush, Annia Ciezadlo, Kellogg, Brown and Root, Condoleezza Rice, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of the Army, Loren Russell, Laura Bush, Jay Rosen, L. Paul Bremer
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda, 2004 Elections
New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman predicts, “The next six months in Iraq—which will determine the prospects for democracy-building there—are the most important six months in US foreign policy in a long, long time.” Friedman will continue predicting a resolution of the Iraq situation in “the next six months” until at least May 2006 (see May 6-11, 2006). [New York Times, 11/30/2003; Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, 5/16/2006]
David Frum. [Source: PBS]Two prominent neoconservatives, Richard Perle and David Frum, publish a book titled An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror. Both are fellows at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute. In the book, they suggest mobilizing Shi’ites living in eastern Saudi Arabia, where most of the Saudi oil is. They note that the Saudi government has long feared “that the Shi’ites might someday seek independence for the Eastern Province—and its oil.… Independence for the Eastern Province would obviously be a catastrophic outcome for the Saudi state. But it might be a very good outcome for the United States. Certainly it’s an outcome to ponder. Even more certainly, we would want the Saudis to know we are pondering it.” [Dreyfuss, 2005, pp. 337-338] At the time, Perle is head of the Defense Policy Board, which advises the Defense Department. In 2002, a Defense Policy Board briefing argued that the US should work to split Saudi Arabia apart so the US can effectively control its oil (see July 10, 2002). Other neoconservatives like Michael Ledeen express similar views. In early 2003, James Akins, former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, mentioned the possibility that Osama bin Laden could take over Saudi Arabia if the US invaded Iraq. “I’m now convinced that that’s exactly what [the neoconservatives] want to happen. And then we take it over.” [Dreyfuss, 2005, pp. 338]
Peter Bergen. [Source: Peter Bergen]Author and former war correspondent Peter Bergen writes that in the run-up to the Iraq war, most Americans believed wholeheartedly that Saddam Hussein and Iraq were behind the 9/11 attacks. Bergen writes: “[T]he belief that Saddam posed an imminent threat to the United States amounted to a theological conviction within the administration, a conviction successfully sold to the American public. So it’s fair to ask: Where did this faith come from?” One source is the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a neoconservative think tank who has placed many of its fellows in the Bush administration, including Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, and John Bolton. But, Bergen notes, none of the AEI analysts and writers are experts on either Iraq or the Middle East. None have ever served in the region. And most actual Middle East experts both in and out of government don’t believe that Iraq had any connection to the 9/11 attacks. The impetus for the belief in a 9/11-Iraq connection in part comes from neoconservative academic Laurie Mylroie.
Mylroie Supplies Neoconservatives with Desired Rationale - A noted author with an impressive academic resume, Mylroie, Bergen writes, “was an apologist for Saddam’s regime, but reversed her position upon his invasion of Kuwait in 1990, and, with the zeal of the academic spurned, became rabidly anti-Saddam.” In 1993, Mylroie decided that Saddam Hussein was behind the World Trade Center bombings, and made her case in a 2000 AEI-published book, Study of Revenge: Saddam Hussein’s Unfinished War Against America (see October 2000). Mylroie’s message was evidently quite popular with AEI’s neoconservatives. In her book, Mylroie blamed every terrorist event of the decade on Hussein, from the 1993 WTC bombings (a theory Bergen calls “risible”) to the 1996 crash of TWA Flight 800 into Long Island Sound (see July 17, 1996-September 1996), the 1998 embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), the 2000 attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000), and even the 1995 Oklahoma City bombings (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). Bergen calls her a “crackpot,” and notes that it “would not be significant if she were merely advising say, [conservative conspiracy theorist] Lyndon LaRouche. But her neocon friends who went on to run the war in Iraq believed her theories, bringing her on as a consultant at the Pentagon, and they seem to continue to entertain her eccentric belief that Saddam is the fount of the entire shadow war against America.”
Complete Discrediting - Bergen, after detailing how Mylroie ignored conclusive evidence that both the 1993 and 9/11 attacks were planned by al-Qaeda terrorists and not Saddam Hussein, quotes former CIA counterterrorism chief Vincent Cannistraro, who says Mylroie “has an obsession with Iraq and trying to link Saddam to global terrorism.” Cannistraro is joined by author and former CIA analyst Ken Pollack; Mary Jo White, the US attorney who prosecuted the 1993 WTC bombings and 1998 embassy attacks; and Neil Herman, the FBI official who headed the 1993 WTC investigation, who all dismiss Mylroie’s theories as absolutely baseless and thoroughly disproven by the evidence.
Belief or Convenience? - Apparently such thorough debunking did not matter to the AEI neoconservatives. Bergen writes that they were “formulating an alternative vision of US foreign policy to challenge what they saw as the feckless and weak policies of the Clinton administration. Mylroie’s research and expertise on Iraq complemented the big-think strategizing of the neocons, and a symbiotic relationship developed between them.” Whether the neoconservatives actually believed Mylroie’s work, or if “her findings simply fit conveniently into their own desire to overthrow Saddam,” Bergen isn’t sure. Perle later backed off of supporting Mylroie’s theories, calling them less than convincing and downplaying her role in developing arguments for overthrowing Hussein even as he suggests she should be placed in a position of power at the CIA. It is known that after 9/11, former CIA Director James Woolsey, a prominent neoconservative, went to Britain to investigate some of Mylroie’s claims (see Mid-September-October 2001). And in September 2003, Vice President Cheney called Iraq “the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault for many years, but most especially on 9/11,” an echoing of Mylroie’s own theories. Mylroie’s latest book, Bush vs. the Beltway: How the CIA and the State Department Tried to Stop the War on Terror, accuses those agencies of suppressing information about Iraq’s role in 9/11, again contradicting all known intelligence and plain common sense (see July 2003).
Zeitgeist - Bergen concludes that in part because of Mylroie’s theories and their promulgation by Bush, Cheney, and prominent neoconservatives in and out of the administration, the US has been led into a disastrous war while 70 percent of Americans believe that Hussein had a role in the 9/11 attacks. “[H]er specious theories of Iraq’s involvement in anti-American terrorism have now become part of the American zeitgeist.” Perhaps the most telling statement from Mylroie comes from a recent interview in Newsweek, where she said: “I take satisfaction that we went to war with Iraq and got rid of Saddam Hussein. The rest is details.” Bergen retorts sourly, “Now she tells us.” [Washington Monthly, 12/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 216]
Entity Tags: Kenneth Pollack, John R. Bolton, Clinton administration, Bush administration (43), American Enterprise Institute, Al-Qaeda, Vincent Cannistraro, Saddam Hussein, Neil Herman, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, James Woolsey, Mary Jo White, Lyndon LaRouche, Peter Bergen, Laurie Mylroie, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle
Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence
The single source for the controversial claim that Iraq could launch a strike with its weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes (see September 28, 2002 and March 12, 2007) is identified as “Lieutenant Colonel al-Dabbagh,” an Iraqi who has allegedly spied on Saddam Hussein’s government for British and US intelligence for over seven years. Al-Dabbagh, who does not allow his first name to be used or his photograph taken, is interviewed in Baghdad by journalist and author Con Coughlin. Al-Dabbagh, identified as an adviser to the Iraqi Governing Council, is later revealed to be an Iraqi defector who was brought to US and British attention by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress. Coughlin is apparently unaware of this. He portrays al-Dabbagh as a heroic risk-taker, “not a man who is easily frightened,” he writes. “[D]eath threats from Saddam’s loyalists” do not deter him from “revealing details of the former Iraqi dictator’s deployment of weapons of mass destruction”; his determination “remain[s] undiminished.”
WMD Remain Hidden - These selfsame loyalists are the reason why US forces cannot find the weapons of mass destruction, al-Dabbagh tells Coughlin. “Saddam’s people are doing this all the time,” he says. “That is why it is so difficult to find the weapons of mass destruction. I am sure the weapons are hidden in Iraq just like I see you now. I am concerned that the chemical and biological weapons are there.” Al-Dabbagh says he is proud to risk his life in divulging Hussein’s secrets: “If Saddam’s people kill me for saying this, I do not mind. I have done my duty to my country and we have got rid of Saddam. And if the British government wants me to come to London to tell the truth about Saddam’s secret weapons program, I am ready to help in any way I can.”
Claim '200 Percent Accurate' - The 45-minute claim is “200 percent accurate!” al-Dabbagh exclaims. “And forget 45 minutes. We could have fired them within half an hour.” Is he the original source of the intelligence? Coughlin asks. Al-Dabbagh replies, “I am the one responsible for providing this information.” A member of the Iraqi Governing Council, General A. J. M. Muhie, al-Dabbagh’s supposed brother-in-law, confirms that al-Dabbagh is the sole source of the claim: “We only had one source for this information and that was Dabbagh,” says the general. Fellow council member Iyad Allawi says he was the one who funnelled al-Dabbagh’s reports to Western intelligence agencies. Muhie is the one who set up the meeting between Coughlin and al-Dabbagh.
Plans to Use WMD against US Invading Forces - Al-Dabbagh tells a detailed story of how the weapons were to be deployed against the American invaders, saying that he and other officers were ordered to use specially designated four-wheel drive Isuzus and only to deploy them if Iraqi forces were in danger of being overrun. Al-Dabbagh and others were then to drive the Isuzus towards American troop emplacements and fire the weapons, presumably chemical and biological weapons tipping hand-held rockets. But the weapons were never deployed, al-Dabbagh claims, because the majority of Iraqi soldiers refused to fight against the Americans. “The West should thank God that the Iraqi army decided not to fight,” he says. “If the army had fought for Saddam, and used these weapons, there would have been terrible consequences.” Whatever became of those fearsome weapons, al-Dabbagh does not know. He believes they were hidden away by Hussein’s Fedayeen loyalists. The weapons will be found, al-Dabbagh predicts, when Hussein is caught or killed: “Only when Saddam is captured will these people talk openly about these weapons. Then they will reveal where they are.” [Sunday Telegraph, 12/7/2003]
Claims Proven False - Weeks after Coughlin’s interview, al-Dabbagh’s claims will be proven entirely false, and both al-Dabbagh and Allawi will deny any responsibility for their claims (see January 27, 2004).
The London Daily Telegraph reports that it has obtained a copy of a memo purportedly written to Saddam Hussein by Tahir Jalil Habbush al-Tikriti, the former head of the Iraqi Intelligence Service, describing a three-day “work program” Atta participated in at Abu Nidal’s base in Baghdad. The memo, dated July 1, 2001, also includes a report about a shipment sent to Iraq by way of Libya and Syria. The Telegraph asserts that the shipment is “believed to be uranium.” Future Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi backs the validity of the document. [Daily Telegraph, 12/14/2003] But Newsweek quickly reports that the document is probably a fabrication, citing both the FBI’s detailed Atta timeline and a document expert who, amongst other things, distrusts an unrelated second “item” on the same document, which supports a discredited claim that Iraq sought uranium from Niger. [Newsweek, 12/17/2003] Very few media outlets pick up the Telegraph’s story. It will later be revealed that many forged documents purporting a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda were left in places for US troops to find (see Shortly After April 9, 2003).
One US lawmaker, Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA), believes that the story surrounding the capture of Saddam Hussein (see December 14, 2003 and December 17, 2003) is false. Instead, McDermott alleges, the capture was stage-managed for President Bush’s political benefit. “There’s too much by happenstance for it [Hussein’s capture] to be just a coincidental thing,” he tells a Seattle radio interviewer. When asked if he believed the timing was planned to help Bush, McDermott replies: “Yeah. Oh, yeah.” McDermott notes that the US had “been in contact with people all along who knew basically where he was.” He adds that the timing of a recent move by the Iraqi Governing Council to hastily enact legislation for a war crimes court to try former regime members is suspicious. Bush supporters will accuse McDermott of spreading “paranoid conspiracy theories” and “crazy talk.” [Asia Times, 4/17/2004] Subsequent evidence will bear out some of McDermott’s skepticism (see January 2004).
Conflicting stories surround the capture of former Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein (see December 14, 2003). Several different military sources say that Hussein was captured through the auspices of an informant, later identified as Mohammed Ibrahim Omar al-Muslit, but stories differ as to how the information was garnered from that informant. “This guy was in interrogation. He wasn’t willingly giving stuff up,” says an officer involved in the capture, leading to speculation that the informant may have been put through harsh interrogation methods to give up Hussein’s location. Religion professor and columnist Ira Chernus writes, “It is hard to avoid thinking about the the dirty word that everyone is too polite to mention, the ‘T-word’: torture.” But the commander of the capture operation, Colonel James Hickey, tells a different version of events, saying: “Once in our custody the informant was cooperative, and he did provide the crucial information. But will he receive the $25 million [bounty for Hussein’s capture offered by the US]? I seriously doubt it.” According to CNN, “It is unclear whether anyone will receive the $25 million bounty because the information leading to his capture came under duress.” Another “senior administration official” says the informant “didn’t provide any information willingly.” Hickey says the informant first gave false information, and “there was three or four hours of questioning before he blurted Saddam’s location.” US officials insist that the informant was not tortured, but merely “interrogated.” News reports also note that weeks before Hussein’s capture, “US forces decided to identify anyone who might have current knowledge of where Hussein was, including former bodyguards, and then to go after them with a vengeance, rounding up their families and friends—women, children, grandparents, everyone. Many of the key clues came in involuntary interrogations of informants.” A US official tells a reporter: “Some people were impossible to find, but we’d find their relatives. One interrogation led to another raid, which led to another interrogation.” And another official says: “You’d squeeze them: ‘Where is Saddam?’ They’d say, ‘I don’t know, but my cousin knows somebody who knows somebody else who might know.’” [CommonDreams, 12/17/2003; Asia Times, 4/17/2004]
Diane Sawyer with President Bush. [Source: USA Today]President Bush gives a rare one-on-one interview to ABC’s Diane Sawyer. Among other topics addressed, he reaffirms his belief that terrorists operated in Iraq before the March 2003 invasion (citing Ansar al-Islam, “a al-Qaeda affiliate, I would call them al-Qaeda, was active in Iraq before the war, hence—a terrorist tie with Iraq…”) and that his insistence that Iraq had an active and threatening WMD program was based on “good solid intelligence[, t]he same intelligence that my predecessor [Bill Clinton] operated on.” [ABC News, 12/17/2003] In 2004, former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will respond, “His predecessor, however, never claimed that Saddam [Hussein] had imminent… nuclear capacity, nor did his predecessor say that Iraq had ties to al-Qaeda.” [Dean, 2004, pp. 153]
Iraq Had WMD Program, Bush Insists - Bush insists that weapons inspector David Kay proved Iraq did have a burgeoning and active WMD program (see October 2, 2003), and implies that it is just a matter of time before the actual weapons are found. Sawyer says, “But stated as a hard fact, that there were weapons of mass destruction as opposed to the possibility that he could move to acquire those weapons still,” to which Bush replies, “So what’s the difference?” Sawyer appears taken aback by the answer, and Bush continues that since it was possible Hussein would acquire WMDs, it was necessary to “get rid of him” to make “the world a safer, freer place.” Sawyer presses the point home: “What would it take to convince you he didn’t have weapons of mass destruction?” and Bush responds: “Saddam Hussein was a threat. And the fact that he is gone means America is a safer country.” Sawyer asks, “And if he doesn’t have weapons of mass destruction?” and Bush replies tartly: “Diane, you can keep asking the question. I’m telling you, I made the right decision for America. Because Saddam Hussein used weapons of mass destruction, invaded Kuwait (see August 2, 1990). But the fact that he is not there is, means America’s a more secure country.” [ABC News, 12/17/2003] White House press secretary Scott McClellan will later write, “Bush’s response was telling, much more so than I stopped to contemplate at the time.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 200]
Why Read the News? - Sawyer asks Bush about his reported penchant for not reading the news for himself. Bush confirms that he gets his news from National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and White House chief of staff Andrew Card, who, Sawyer says, “give you a flavor of what’s in the news.” Bush agrees that this is the case, and says: “Yeah. I get my news from people who don’t editorialize. They give me the actual news. And it makes it easier to digest, on a daily basis, the facts.” Sawyer asks, “Is it just harder to read constant criticism or to read?” to which Bush replies: “Why even put up with it when you can get the facts elsewhere? I’m a lucky man. I’ve got, it’s not just Condi and Andy. It’s all kinds of people in my administration who are charged with different responsibilities. And they come in and say, ‘this is what’s happening, this isn’t what’s happening.’” Laura Bush, who joins her husband halfway through the interview, says she reads the newspapers, including the opinion columns, but says: “I agree with him that we can actually get what is really happening from the people who really know what’s happening. And that isn’t always what you get in the newspapers.… There are certain columnists I won’t read. I mean, what, you know, why would I?” [ABC News, 12/17/2003]
Wilson: Bush 'Systematically Deceived' US, 'Betrayed' Military - Months later, former ambassador Joseph Wilson will write: “It was clear, from this one statement, […] that the administration, from the president on down, had systematically deceived the American people, Congress, and the world. Most of all, the president had betrayed the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who so bravely march out when ordered into war to defend our country against immiment threats, or even from grave and gathering dangers. Iraq had posed neither. The difference, Mr. President, I thought, is that war was not the only option, or even the best one. We had gone to war over capacity, not stockpiles, not mushroom clouds (see September 4, 2002), not intent, or, as John Bolton had earlier said more directly, because scientists were on Saddam’s payroll. Our troops had died—and were continuing to die—in vain. I came away from this sad revelation resolved that, unlike the other bitterly divisive war debate of my lifetime, over the war in Vietnam, we should admit this terrible fact sooner, rather than later, and thereby revise our national policies accordingly.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 414-415]
Entity Tags: Laura Bush, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Scott McClellan, Joseph C. Wilson, David Kay, Diane Sawyer, Al-Qaeda, George W. Bush, Andrew Card, Condoleezza Rice, Ansar al-Islam, Saddam Hussein
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation
Two reports of alleged terrorist activity trigger fear in the US. White powder is discovered on Pennsylvania Avenue, just outside the White House. A section of central Washington DC is subsequently cordoned off by police and an all-points terror alert is issued. After this large-scale reaction, the powder is found to be harmless and a Homeland Security spokesman declares the powder to be “benign.” Later, ABC News cites an anonymous intelligence source who warned of an “imminent credible threat” in Manhattan from a “woman suicide bomber.” This news causes the stock exchange to dip, despite a rapid denial by police. [London Times, 12/18/2003]
Libya announces that it is giving up its unconventional weapons and ballistic missile programs in response to recent negotiations with the US and Britain. Thousands of nuclear reactor components are taken from a site in Tripoli and shipped to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. Later examination shows that the Libyans had made little progress towards developing any sort of nuclear program. Nevertheless, it is a significant breakthrough in the Bush administration’s relations with Muslim nations considered to be inimical to Western interests.
'Scared Straight'? - Bush administration officials declare that the Libyan government “caved” under American pressure and because of the US-led invasion of Iraq; because Libyan leader Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi had approached the US shortly before the invasion of Iraq, it is plain that al-Qadhafi had been “scared straight” by the belligerent US approach to Middle Eastern affairs. In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will call that characterization “useful, if wishful.” The threat of a Libyan WMD program was sketchy at best, regardless of Bush officials’ insistence that the US had forced the disarmament of a dangerous foe. But, Scoblic will write, the Libyan agreement serves as “a retroactive justification of an invasion whose original rationale had become increasingly dubious.” The Libyan agreement also “seemed to prove that conservatives could solve rogue state problems in a morally pure but nonmilitary way—that they did not have to settle for containment or the distasteful quid pro quo that had characterized deals like Clinton’s 1994 Agreed Framework with North Korea (see October 21, 1994). They could simply demand disarmament.”
Negotiating Disarmament Since 1999 - The reality of the Libyan agreement is far different from the Bush interpretation. Al-Qadhafi’s government has for years wanted to get out from under UN sanctions imposed after Libyan hijackers bombed a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988. Since 1999, the US and Britain have been negotiating with Libya, with the ultimate aim of lifting sanctions and normalizing relations. President Clinton’s chief negotiator, Martin Indyk, said that “Libya’s representatives were ready to put everything on the table” during that time. Bush officials, after an initial reluctance to resume negotiations, were reassured by Libya’s offer of support and assistance after the 9/11 attacks, and resumed discussions in October 2001. Al-Qadhafi himself offered to discuss disarmamement with the British in August 2002. Negotiations opened in October 2002. With the Iraq invasion looming, the Libyans held up further negotiations until March 2003; meanwhile, Vice President Cheney warned against striking any deals with the Libyans, saying that the US did not “want to reward bad behavior.” The negotiations resumed in March, with efforts made to deliberately keep State Department and Pentagon neoconservatives such as John Bolton and Paul Wolfowitz in the dark “so that,” Scoblic will write, “administration conservatives could not sabotage a potential deal.” The negotiations were led by the CIA and MI6. (Bolton attempted to intervene in the negotiations, insisting that “regime change” in Libya was the US’s only negotiating plank, but high-level British officials had Bolton removed from the process and gave al-Qadhafi reassurances that Bolton’s stance was not reflective of either the US or Britain’s negotiating position.)
Pretending that Libya 'Surrendered' - After the deal is struck, administration conservatives attempt to put a brave face on the deal, with Cheney saying: “President Bush does not deal in empty threats and half measures, and his determination has sent a clear message. Just five days after Saddam [Hussein] was captured (see December 14, 2003), the government of Libya agreed to abandon its nuclear weapons program and turn the materials over to the United States.” Administration officials insist that there had been no negotiations whatsoever, and Libya had merely capitulated before the American display of military puissance. “It’s ‘engagement’ like we engaged the Japanese on the deck of the Missouri in Tokyo Bay in 1945,” one administration official boasts. “The only engagement with Libya was the terms of its surrender.” And Bush officials claim that the Libyans gave up their weapons with no terms whatsoever being granted them except for a promise “only that Libya’s good faith, if shown, would be reciprocated.” That is not true. Bush officials indeed made significant offers—that the US would not foment regime change in Libya, and that other “quid pro quo” terms would be observed.
Thwarting Conservative Ideology - Scoblic will conclude: “Left unchecked, the administration’s ideological impulses would have scuttled the negotiations. In other words, for its Libya policy to bear fruit, the administration had to give up its notion that dealing with an evil regime was anathema; it had to accept coexistence even though al-Qadhafi continued to violate human rights. Libya is thus the exception that proves the rule.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 251-255]
Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, John R. Bolton, J. Peter Scoblic, Clinton administration, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Martin Indyk, US Department of State, Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6)
Timeline Tags: US International Relations
Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge raises the nationwide terror alert level to orange. He states that “These strategic indicators, including al-Qaeda’s continued desire to carry out attacks against our homeland, are perhaps greater now than at any point since Sept. 11.” In his announcement, Ridge cites further reports that al-Qaeda is planning further operations, and that “extremists abroad” are anticipating attacks on the scale of those on September 11, 2001. He states that “credible sources suggest the possibility of attacks against the homeland around the holiday season and beyond.” Officials repeatedly warn about threats to the aviation sector. [CBC News, 12/21/2003] The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) says it has reliable and corroborated information from several sources indicating that a plot, similar to 9/11, is in an advanced stage. US officials focus their investigation on the “informed belief” that six men on Air France Flight 68, which arrives in Los Angeles daily at 4:05 p.m., are planning to hijack the jet and crash it near Los Angeles or Las Vegas. Officials say some names on the passenger manifest match those of known Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorists, with one of them being a trained pilot with a commercial license. Six Air France flights between Paris and Los Angeles are canceled by French Prime Minister Jean Pierre Raffarin. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 12/24/2003] The terror alert turns out to be baseless. The names identified as terrorists turn out to be a five-year-old boy, whose name had been mistaken for an alleged Tunisian terrorist, an elderly Chinese lady who used to run a restaurant in Paris, a Welsh insurance salesman, and three French nationals. [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 ] Further investigation of the Tunisian man reveals that he has no plans to leave the country, no criminal record, and no links to extremism. [Red Orbit, 12/25/2003] Despite criticism of the investigation, French authorities praise the level of cooperation between intelligence agencies. A spokesman for the prime minister says “What is important is that the evaluation of threats continues, and they are undertaken between the Americans and the French in a framework of intense cooperation. Franco-American cooperation in this domain is exemplary.” [Red Orbit, 12/25/2003] This alert comes in the wake of the comments of the chair of the 9/11 Commission, Tom Kean, suggesting that the 9/11 attacks could have been prevented. President Bush is criticized in the press for the continuing failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 ]
Justice Department spokesman Mark Corallo says: “This country has become a battlefield, and [terrorists] will kill us anywhere they can. All you have to do is go to lower Manhattan and see the hole in the ground.” [Knight Ridder, 12/29/2003]
Posse Comitatus and Aryan Nations leader James Wickstrom (see 1969, 1975 - 1978, 1984, and 2003) tells a reporter in a videotaped interview: “I’d like to see these Jews all be brought to the VA [Veterans Administration Hospital] and wooden chairs be put down on the lawn. Tie the Jews in. Bring these veterans down who have been mutilated… and give them baseball bats and let them beat these Jews to death! Every one of them! Take these chairs and Jews after they’re beaten to death, throw ‘em in the wood chipper! And from the wood chipper let the remains go into a big incinerary [sic] truck, which is right behind the wood chipper, and give them the holocaust they rightly deserve!” [Southern Poverty Law Center, 2010]
Judith Regan (left) and Roger Ailes. [Source: Business Insider]Roger Ailes, a powerful Republican campaign consultant (see 1968, January 25, 1988, and September 21 - October 4, 1988) and the founder and chairman of Fox News (see October 7, 1996), becomes embroiled in a legal conflict involving former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik and his mistress, Judith Regan, a book editor for another arm of Fox News’s parent company News Corporation (NewsCorp). Ailes learns that Kerik has commandeered an apartment overlooking the site of the devastated World Trade Center, intended for the use of rescue and recovery workers, as a “love nest” for his trysts with Regan. Ailes is a close friend and political ally of former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who recommended Kerik to head the Department of Homeland Security. Kerik is already being pilloried in the press for a number of other ethical and perhaps even criminal activities, and is being vetted for the DHS slot. Ailes and Giuliani do not want the Kerik-Regan affair, and the commandeered apartment, to come to the public’s notice. Court documents later say that Ailes “told Regan that he believed she had information about Kerik that, if disclosed, would harm Giuliani’s presidential campaign.” Ailes “advised Regan to lie to, and to withhold information from, [federal] investigators concerning Kerik.” The attempted cover-up will later be brought to light when NewsCorp fires Regan in 2006, and she brings a wrongful-termination suit that secures a $10.75 million settlement. Regan will not identify Ailes by name, only as a “senior executive” for NewsCorp, but other documents accidentally made public will reveal Ailes’s identity. Reportedly, Regan has her telephone conversations with Ailes on tape. NewsCorp will later claim that Regan has sent it a letter stating that “Mr. Ailes did not intend to influence her with respect to a government investigation.” Regan’s lawyer will say that NewsCorp’s claim does not reflect the entirety of Regan’s letter. Kerik himself will withdraw his name from consideration, and will later be sentenced to four years in prison for tax fraud. [New Republic, 2/24/2011; New York Daily News, 2/24/2011; New York Times, 2/25/2011; New York Magazine, 5/22/2011]
Noam Chomsky, noted linguist and and “anti-imperialism” activist. [Source: Convencion Bautista (.com)]Pat Tillman (see May 23-June 1, 2002) enlists a friend, MIT graduate student Jared Schrieber, to email MIT linguistics and philosophy professor Noam Chomsky. Tillman wants to set up a meeting with Chomsky, an opponent of the Bush administration’s war on terror and someone Tillman has long admired. Later, Tillman’s mother, Mary Tillman, will say that Tillman and Chomsky were to meet after her son completed his military tour of duty in July 2005, a meeting later confirmed by Chomsky. [ESPN (.com), 4/2006] After Tillman’s death (see April 23, 2004), it will emerge that, like his brother Kevin, a philosophy major, he read widely and was known to family and friends as a deep and independent thinker. Russell Baer, a fellow Ranger who served with the brothers in Iraq and Afghanistan, will recall Tillman saying of the Iraq war, “this war is so f_cking illegal.” His mother will state that, while feeling that the Afghan war was “justified by the September 11 attacks,” her son was against “the whole Iraq war.” Further, a soldier who requests anonymity will say that Tillman “urged him to vote for Bush’s Democratic opponent in the 2004 election, Senator John Kerry.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/25/2005; Sports Illustrated, 9/11/2006] Ann Coulter, conservative political commentator, and Sean Hannity, co-host of the Fox News show Hannity & Colmes, will dispute reports that say Tillman respected Chomsky, endorsed Senator John Kerry, or opposed Bush. “I don’t believe it,” Coulter will say. “I don’t believe it either,” Hannity will agree. [Media Matters, 9/24/2005; Nation, 10/24/2005]
Rep. Curt Weldon.
[Source: House of Representatives]Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA) is not yet familiar with Able Danger, though he will help bring information about the program to light in 2005. However, he is familiar with the closely related Land Information Warfare Activity (LIWA) program, having had dealings with it before 9/11. He says he is frustrated at the apparent lack of understanding about programs like LIWA based on the lines of questioning at public 9/11 Commission hearings in early 2004, so, “On at least four occasions, I personally tried to brief the 9/11 Commissioners on: NOAH [Weldon’s pre-9/11 suggestion to have a National Operations and Analysis Hub]; integrative data collaboration capabilities; my frustration with intelligence stovepipes; and al-Qaeda analysis. However, I was never able to achieve more than a five-minute telephone conversation with Commissioner Thomas Kean. On March 24, 2004, I also had my Chief of Staff personally hand deliver a document about LIWA, along [with] questions for George Tenet to the Commission, but neither was ever used.” [US Congress. Senate. Committee on Judiciary, 9/21/2005] He says: “The next week, they sent a staffer over to pick up some additional materials about the NIWA, about the concept, and about information I had briefed them on. They never followed up and invited me to come in and meet with them. So they can’t say that I didn’t try.” [Office of Congressman Curt Weldon, 9/17/2005]
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
After 9/11 Commission executive director Philip Zelikow rewrites a staff report to allege links between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see January 2004), the staff confront Zelikow over the rewrite (see January 2004). The meeting between Zelikow and the staffers becomes somewhat heated, but Zelikow capitulates in the end, replacing the allegations of a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda with far more neutral language, and agreeing to let the entire issue lay until a later staff report. Author Philip Shenon will later write: “The staff suspected that Zelikow realized at the meeting that he had been caught in a clear-cut act of helping his friends in the Bush White House—that he had tried to twist the wording of the report to serve the needs of the Bush administration and its stumbling military campaign. Zelikow said later it was nothing of the sort.” Zelikow will deny allegations that he is a “White House mole,” and insist that all he wanted to do was help the commission keep “an open mind” on the subject. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 317-324]
9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow rewrites a commission staff statement to imply there are ties between al-Qaeda and Iraq. Zelikow often rewrites many of the staff statements, but usually mainly to improve the style (see January 2004), and the addition of the Iraq-related material is unusual. The statement dealing with Iraq was originally compiled by international law expert Scott Allan, a member of the 9/11 Commission’s counterterrorism investigation, which is a strong focus of Zelikow’s attention. Allan writes the statement on the history of US diplomatic efforts to monitor and counteract al-Qaeda during the Clinton years, and the difficulties encountered by the government in working with “friendly” Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia to keep al-Qaeda at bay. Allan and other members of Team 3 are horrified at Zelikow’s rewrite of this report. Zelikow inserts sentences that allege direct ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see July 9, 2003), suggest that al-Qaeda officials were in systematic contact with Iraqi government officials in the years before 9/11, and even allege that Osama bin Laden had seriously considered moving to Iraq after the Clinton administration pressured the Taliban to oust him from Afghanistan (see April 4, 2000 and December 29, 2000). Zelikow’s additions are subtle and never directly state that Iraq and al-Qaeda had any sort of working relationship, but the import is clear. The effect of Zelikow’s rewrite would be to put the commission on record as strongly suggesting that such a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda—long a White House argument to justify the war in Iraq—existed before 9/11, and therefore Iraq bore some of the responsibility for the attacks. Allan never made any such allegations in his original draft. Moreover, he knows from his colleagues who have pored over the archives at the CIA that no evidence of such a connection exists. Allan and the other Team 3 staffers confront Zelikow on the rewrite (see January 2004), and Zelikow eventually backs down (see January 2004). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 317-324]
New information shows that Saddam Hussein was not captured (see December 14, 2003) by US forces through the auspices of an informant, as previously reported (see December 17, 2003), but was apparently captured by Kurdish paramilitary forces and turned over to the US. The day of Hussein’s capture, Kurdish media reported that a “special intelligence unit led by Mr. Kosrat Rassul” had captured Hussein. The source of the reports was Jalal Talabani, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Iranian news services picked up and expanded on the reports. The next day, a member of Iraq’s Governing Council, Dr. Mahmoud Othman, confirmed the Kurdish claims, as did other independent observers. Subsequent Arab news reports indicated that Mohammed Ibrahim Omar al-Muslit, the so-called informant, actually drugged Hussein and told US forces where to find him. But this story, too, is quickly disputed, with experts believing that Kurdish forces intervened, first acting as negotiators for the US, then bypassing the al-Muslit family and seizing Hussein on their own. Once the Kurds had Hussein, they negotiated with the US to stage his “capture.” It is likely that Hussein was drugged, but by the Kurds and not by al-Muslit. One photo of US troops in front of Hussein’s “spider hole” features ripe dates and drying sausage in the background, which usually exist only in late summer, not December as was the announced date of Hussein’s capture.
'Dragnet' - In July, the US Army captured Adnan Abdullah Abid al-Muslit, identified as “one of Saddam Hussein’s closest bodyguards and collaborators.” The al-Muslit family was apparently helping to hide and protect Hussein; later, one of the family members, Mohammed al-Muslit, was identified as the informant who gave up Hussein’s location to US interrogators. In August, another al-Muslit family member, later identified as Adnan al-Muslit’s brother, was arrested by Iraqi police and given over to US forces. The brother was picked up as part of a larger “dragnet” for anyone with possible knowledge of Hussein’s whereabouts.
Allegations, Speculations of Torture - Many were taken into US custody and interrogated. Amnesty International raised questions as to whether some of the detainees might have been tortured; the human rights organization alleged circumstances that “would amount to torture as defined by UN standards.” [Asia Times, 4/17/2004]
German intelligence sources claim that the CIA misinformed them about an alleged terror plot due to take place at a Hamburg hospital on December 30, 2003, and allegedly fear that the information was planted. According to information provided to TV 2 Nettavisen, a German TV station, German intelligence has yet to find any evidence for the plot, which is alleged to be the work of the radical Kurdish group Ansar al-Islam. A German intelligence officer known only as Vahldiecker says, “We have not found any proof that the terror alarm was genuine, but we haven’t found any evidence that states it was not. It is of course possible that it was fake, but we do not know that for certain yet.… It is possible that [the CIA] gave us the wrong information, but it is not likely that they did it on purpose.” However, German intelligence has indicated that it believes the information was planted on purpose and is surprised at the handling of the case and the leaks to the media; the story appeared on Der Spiegel Online within hours of the CIA tip. [Information Clearing House, 1/7/2004]
Vice President Dick Cheney seems to embrace the characterization of him as an enigmatic backroom operator. “Am I the evil genius in the corner that nobody ever sees come out of his hole?” he asks a reporter rhetorically. “It’s a nice way to operate, actually.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 314]
George W. Bush gives the third state of the union address of his presidency. He states that the Iraq Survey Group found “weapons of mass destruction-related program activities” in Iraq and claims that had his administration “failed to act, the dictator’s weapons of mass destruction program would continue to this day.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005] Throughout his address, Bush plays down the WMD issue, which had driven his rhetoric before the invasion (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). Now he focuses on the “liberation” of Iraq. He also challenges those who, like Democratic presidential frontrunner John Kerry (D-MA), advocate using law enforcement methodologies over military methods to combat terrorism. “I know that some people question if America is really in a war at all,” he says. “After the chaos and carnage of September the 11th, it is not enough to serve our enemies with legal papers.” Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write that this speech is the opening salvo in the Republicans’ strategy of “characterizing political opponents as less manly than the Top Gun president.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 114]
The New York Times later reports that in private discussions with the 9/11 Commission in January 2002, National Security Adviser Condoleeza “Rice [is] asked about statements she made in 2001 and 2002 [(see May 16, 2002)] that ‘we could not have imagined’ that terrorists would use aircraft as weapons by piloting them into buildings. She [tells] the commission that she regret[s] those comments, because at the time she was not aware of intelligence, developed in the late 1990s, that some terrorists were thinking of using airplanes as guided missiles. She told the commission in the private session that she should have said, ‘I could not have imagined,’ according to one official familiar with the testimony, making it clear that some in the intelligence community knew about those threats but that she did not.” [New York Times, 4/6/2004] However, in a March 22, 2004 op-ed for the Washington Post entitled “For the Record,” she essentially repeats her 2002 comments, claiming, “Despite what some have suggested, we received no intelligence that terrorists were preparing to attack the homeland using airplanes as missiles, though some analysts speculated that terrorists might hijack airplanes to try to free US-held terrorists.” [Washington Post, 3/22/2004]
Mary Matalin, the former press secretary to Vice President Dick Cheney (see July 10, 2003), testifies before the federal grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak. Sources involved in the investigation will say that Matalin, who is not suspected of leaking Plame Wilson’s identity to the press, is asked about White House public relations strategies. [Washington Post, 2/10/2004] Other sources later state that Matalin testified on January 21. [Think Progress, 10/17/2005]
Two government officials testify that they asked conservative columnist Robert Novak not to publish the name of covert CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson in his column (see Before July 14, 2003 and July 14, 2003). The officials’ names are not made public. Testifying before the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson leak (see January 2004), the officials say that before Novak printed his column, they warned him that by publishing her name and CIA affiliation, he risked jeopardizing her ability to engage in covert work, damaging ongoing intelligence operations, and hurting sensitive overseas intelligence assets. Novak has claimed that CIA officials told him that Plame Wilson was nothing more than an analyst, and, as reporter Murray Waas writes, “the only potential consequences of her exposure as a CIA officer would be that she might be inconvenienced in her foreign travels.” The statements of the two government officials contradict Novak’s version of events, and the two officials call his characterizations false and misleading. According to the officials, Novak was told that Plame Wilson’s work for the CIA “went much further than her being an analyst,” and that publishing her name would be “hurtful,” could stymie ongoing intelligence operations, and jeopardize her overseas sources. “When [Novak] says that he was not told that he was ‘endangering’ someone, that statement might be technically true,” says one of the officials. “Nobody directly told him that she was going to be physically hurt. But that was implicit in that he was told what she did for a living.” The other official says: “At best, he is parsing words. At worst, he is lying to his readers and the public. Journalists should not lie, I would think.” Notes from one of the officials from his conversation with Novak bolster the officials’ testimony. The officials also contradict Novak’s claim that CIA officials told him Plame Wilson was part of the agency decision to send her husband to Niger to investigate the Iraq-Niger uranium allegations (see July 6, 2003). One of them says that the CIA at first refused to comment, and later told Novak that Plame Wilson played no part in the selection of her husband (see February 13, 2002). “He was told it just wasn’t true—period,” the official testifies. “But he just went with the story anyway. He just didn’t seemed to care very much whether the information was true or not.” [American Prospect, 2/12/2004]
White House political adviser Karl Rove testifies before the grand jury investigating the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see December 30, 2003). Rove acknowledges discussing Plame Wilson with columnist Robert Novak, who publicly identified her as a CIA agent (see July 14, 2003), but does not tell the jury that he also disclosed her CIA status to Time reporter Matthew Cooper (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). [New York Times, 2006] He tells the grand jury that he indeed confirmed Plame Wilson’s CIA identity for Novak, but he knew very little about her at the time. Rove says that Novak knew more about her than he did, and that he believes he learned more about Plame Wilson and her husband, Joseph Wilson, from Novak than Novak learned from him. Rove tells jurors that he may have learned Plame Wilson’s identity from a journalist or someone else outside the White House, but cannot recall that person’s name or anything about their conversation. [National Journal, 11/12/2005]
An email sent to the press secretaries of all Republican congressional representatives offers advice on how to deal with questions about the environment. It recommends telling constituents that “global warming is not a fact”, air quality is “getting better,” the planet’s forests are “spreading, not deadening,” reported “links between air quality and asthma in children remain cloudy,” the “world’s water is cleaner and reaching more people,” and that the Environmental Protection Agency was exaggerating when it warned that at least 40 percent of streams, rivers, and lakes are unsafe for drinking, fishing, or swimming. The memo insists that “the environment is actually seeing a new and better day.” Sources cited in the memo include a report from the Pacific Research Institute, which since 1998 has received $130,000 from Exxon Mobil; the book The Skeptical Environmentalist by Bjorn Lomborg; and scientist Richard Lindzen, whose work has been partially funded by the fossil fuel industry. [Guardian, 4/4/2003]
Former Vice President Al Gore gives a keynote address to a conference at the New School of New York City on the topic, “The Politics of Fear.” [Social Research: An International Quarterly of the Social Sciences, 2/2004] In his address, Gore notes the success that the Bush administration has had in preying on the fears of the American public. “Fear was activated on September 11 in all of us to a greater or lesser degree,” he says. “And because it was difficult to modulate or to change in particular specifics, it was exploitable for a variety of purposes unrelated to the initial cause of the fear. When the president of the United States stood before the people of this nation—in the same speech in which he used the forged document (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003)—he asked the nation to ‘imagine’ how fearful it would feel if Saddam Hussein gave a nuclear weapon to terrorists who then exploded it in our country. Because the nation had been subjected to the fearful, tragic, cruel attack of 9/11, when our president asked us to imagine with him a new fear, it was easy enough to bypass the reasoning process, and short-circuit the normal discourse that takes place in a healthy democracy with a give-and-take among people who could say, ‘Wait a minute, Mr. President. Where’s your evidence? There is no connection between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.’ At one point, President Bush actually said, ‘You can’t distinguish between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden’ (see September 25, 2002). He actually said that.” Gore says that for a time even he had trusted Bush to do the right thing, but Bush had abused the trust he and the American people had in him. In 2006, author and former White House counsel John Dean will write in conjunction with Gore’s address: “In short, fear takes reasoning out of the decision-making process, which our history has shown us often enough can have dangerous and long-lasting consequences. If Americans cannot engage in analytical thinking as a result of Republicans’ using fear for their own political purposes, we are all in serious trouble.” [Social Research: An International Quarterly of the Social Sciences, 2/2004; Dean, 2006, pp. 178-179]
President Bush gives a rare interview to a television show, NBC’s Meet the Press. Bush holds the interview, conducted by Tim Russert, in the Oval Office. [CNN, 2/9/2004]
Admits Iraq Had No WMD - Bush concedes that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction, but defends his decision to invade it, saying, “Saddam Hussein was dangerous, and I’m not just going to leave him in power and trust a madman.” He admits, “I expected to find the weapons.” He continues, “I’m sitting behind this desk, making a very difficult decision of war and peace, and I based my decision on the best intelligence possible, intelligence that had been gathered over the years, intelligence that not only our analysts thought was valid but analysts from other countries thought were valid.” And Iraq “had the ability to make weapons at the very minimum.” But even without proof of Iraqi WMD, Bush says the stakes were so high that “it is essential that when we see a threat, we deal with those threats before they become imminent.” Inaction in Iraq “would have emboldened Saddam Hussein. He could have developed a nuclear weapon over time.” Bush seems surprised when Russert asks if American soldiers had in fact been welcomed as “liberators” in Iraq, as some in his administration had predicted. “I think we are welcomed in Iraq,” he says. “I’m not exactly sure, given the tone of your questions, we’re not.” Resistance there is not surprising, Bush says, because “there are people who desperately want to stop the advance of freedom and democracy.” [NBC News, 2/8/2004; McClellan, 2008, pp. 202-203]
'War of Choice or War of Necessity?' - Russert continues to ask about the choice to invade Iraq, and at one point asks Bush whether it was a “war of choice or a war of necessity?” Bush responds: “That’s an interesting question. Please elaborate on that a little bit. A war of choice or a war of necessity? It’s a war of necessity. In my judgment, we had no choice, when we look at the intelligence I looked at, that says the man was a threat.” In 2008, current White House press secretary Scott McClellan will write that Bush asks him about the question after the interview, and that Bush was “puzzled” by the question. “This, too, puzzled me,” McClellan will write. “Surely this distinction between a necessary, unavoidable war and a war that the United States could have avoided but chose to wage, was an obvious one that Bush must have thought about a lot in the months before the invasion. Evidently it wasn’t obvious to the president, nor did his national security team make sure it was. He set the policy early on and then his team focused his attention on how to sell it. It strikes me today as an indication of his lack of inquisitiveness and his detrimental resistance to reflection, something his advisers needed to compensate for better than they did. Most objective observers today would say that in 2003 there was no urgent need to address the threat posed by Saddam with a large-scale invasion, and therefore the war was not necessary. But this is a question President Bush seems not to want to grapple with.” [NBC News, 2/8/2004; McClellan, 2008, pp. 202-203]
Bush Says Congress Saw Same Intelligence He Did - Asked whether Congress would have authorized the invasion (see October 10, 2002) if he had explained that, while Iraq may not have possessed WMD, Hussein should be removed because he was a threat to his people, Bush replies, “I went to Congress with the same intelligence Congress saw—the same intelligence I had, and they looked at exactly what I looked at, and they made an informed judgment based upon the information that I had.” Two of Bush’s presidential rivals dispute Bush’s assertion. Senator John Edwards (D-NC) says Bush’s statement that Congress saw the same intelligence information as he did is a “big leap.” Edwards adds: “I’m not certain that’s true. I know the president of the United States receives a different set of information than we receive on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and he receives more information, which he should.” And front-runner Senator John Kerry (D-MA) accuses Bush of backpedaling on the messages he gave Americans to justify going to war. “George Bush needs to take responsibility for his actions and set the record straight,” he says. “That’s the very least that Americans should be able to expect. Either he believed Saddam Hussein had chemical weapons, or he didn’t. Americans need to be able to trust their president, and they deserve the truth.” [New York Times, 2/8/2004; NBC News, 2/8/2004; CNN, 2/9/2004]
Confident of Winning Re-Election - Bush tells Russert that he is confident he will win re-election: “I don’t intend to lose.… I know exactly where I want to lead the country. I have shown the American people I can lead.… I want to lead this world to more peace and freedom.” [New York Times, 2/8/2004; NBC News, 2/8/2004; CNN, 2/9/2004]
Defends Economic Policies - Bush defends his economic policies, and says that even though under his watch the US has run up a $521 billion deficit and lost 2.2 million jobs, his administration’s policies are more restrained and fiscally sound than those of his predecessor. “I have been the president during a time of tremendous stress on our economy and made the decisions necessary to lead that would enhance recovery,” he says. “The stock market started to decline in March of 2000. That was the first sign that things were troubled. The recession started upon my arrival.” Conservative critics of his administration’s spending, including the Heritage Foundation and radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, are “wrong,” he says. “If you look at the appropriations bills that were passed under my watch, in the last year of President Clinton, discretionary spending was up 15 percent, and ours have steadily declined. The other thing that I think it’s important for people who watch the expenditures side of the equation is to understand we are at war… and any time you commit your troops into harm’s way, they must have the best equipment, the best training, and the best possible pay.” [NBC News, 2/8/2004; CNN, 2/9/2004]
Dexter Filkins. [Source: New York Times]The New York Times publishes a front page story blaming Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the supposed leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, for many troubles in the Iraq war. However, it will later be revealed that the contents in the article were a hoax or exaggeration by a US military propaganda operation. The article, written by Dexter Filkins, claims that in January 2004, US forces in Iraq intercepted a letter written by al-Zarqawi to the “inner circle” of al-Qaeda, claiming that the best way to defeat the US in Iraq is to, in essence, begin a “sectarian war” in that country. The letter reportedly states that al-Qaeda, a Sunni network, should attack the Shi’a population of Iraq: “It is the only way to prolong the duration of the fight between the infidels and us. If we succeed in dragging them into a sectarian war, this will awaken the sleepy Sunnis.” In the letter, al-Zarqawi boasts of his role in many suicide bombings in Iraq. The article also notes that this letter would “constitute the strongest evidence to date of contacts between extremists in Iraq and al-Qaeda.” [New York Times, 2/9/2004; Independent, 2/11/2008] US General Mark Kimmitt says later the same day: “We believe the report and the document is credible, and we take the report seriously.… It is clearly a plan on the part of outsiders to come in to this country and spark civil war, create sectarian violence, try to expose fissures in this society.” The story is quickly published around the world. [Independent, 2/11/2008]
Reporter Skeptical; Article Does Not Reflect Doubts - Filkins will later say he was skeptical about the document’s authenticity when he wrote the story and remains skeptical of it. [Washington Post, 4/10/2006] However, the article and follow up articles in the New York Times cast no doubt on the letter’s authenticity, except for one sentence in the original article mentioning the possibility the letter could have been “written by some other insurgent.”
Skepticism from Other News Outlets - However, some scattered accounts elsewhere at the time are more critical. For instance, a few days later, Newsweek writes: “Given the Bush administration’s record peddling bad intelligence and worse innuendo, you’ve got to wonder if this letter is a total fake. How do we know the text is genuine? How was it obtained? By whom? And when? And how do we know it’s from al-Zarqawi? We don’t.” [Editor & Publisher, 4/10/2006] In the letter, al-Zarqawi says that if success does not come soon: “We can pack up and leave and look for another land, just like what has happened in so many lands of jihad. Our enemy is growing stronger day after day, and its intelligence information increases. By god, this is suffocation!” Counterpunch notes this and skeptically comments, “If you were Karl Rove, you couldn’t design a better scenario to validate the administration’s slant on the war than this.” It is also noted that this article follows a dubious pattern of New York Times reporting on Iraq: “cultivate a ‘highly placed inside source,’ take whatever this person says and report it verbatim on the front page above the fold.” [CounterPunch, 2/26/2004]
Systematic Propaganda Campaign - Later in 2004, the Telegraph will report, “Senior diplomats in Baghdad claim that the letter was almost certainly a hoax” and that the US is systematically buying extremely dubious intelligence that exaggerates al-Zarqawi’s role in Iraq (see October 4, 2004). [Daily Telegraph, 10/4/2004] In 2006, a number of classified documents will be leaked to the Washington Post, showing the US military has a propaganda campaign to exaggerate the role of al-Zarqawi in Iraq (see April 10, 2006). One document mentions the “selective leak” of this letter to Filkins as part of this campaign. [Washington Post, 4/10/2006]
Media Unquestioning in its Acceptance - Editor and Publisher will later examine the media coverage of this letter, and note that most publications reported on it unquestioningly, “So clearly, the leak to Filkins worked.” Ironically, Reuters at the time quotes an “amazed” US official who says, “We couldn’t make this up if we tried.” [Editor & Publisher, 4/10/2006]
Joseph DiGenova. [Source: Life magazine]Former US Attorney Joseph DiGenova says that it will be almost impossible to prove that the person or persons who leaked Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA status to reporters violated the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. The leaker or leakers would have had to have received the information in their official capacity, got the information from someone with official clearance, and done so in defiance of agency efforts to keep the employee’s name a secret, DiGenova says. For someone to overhear the name of a covert agent and relate it to someone else is not a violation, he adds. Moreover, he claims that Plame Wilson’s CIA status was well known. “A lot of people knew that [Plame Wilson] worked for the CIA,” he tells a Fox News reporter. “People outside of the government knew that she worked at the agency. They did not know probably, that she worked in WMD—weapons of mass destruction—and was doing undercover work. But in order for it to be a crime, you must know that is what she did.” [Fox News, 2/11/2004] Plame Wilson’s covert CIA status (see Fall 1992 - 1996) has been described as highly classified and known to only a few (see September 30, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, and January 2004), and her exposure as a serious breach of national security (see Before July 14, 2003, July 14, 2003, October 3, 2003 and October 11, 2003).
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says he cannot remember anyone making the claim that Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes. British Prime Minister Tony Blair made the claim over six months before the US-British invasion of Iraq (see September 24, 2002). The claim was later revealed to have come from a single, anonymous, unverified source (see August 16, 2003 and December 7, 2003). Some British newspapers ran banner headlines saying that the claim meant British troops in Cyprus could be attacked with Iraqi WMD within 45 minutes. Rumsfeld tells reporters at a Pentagon briefing, “I don’t remember the statement being made, to be perfectly honest.” [Department of Defense, 2/10/2004; BBC, 2/11/2004] General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who accompanies Rumsfeld in the press conference, adds, “I don’t remember the statement, either.” [Department of Defense, 2/10/2004]
Paul Butler, chief of staff for Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, claims in a briefing that the prisoners being held in Guantanamo are “very dangerous people” who include “senior al-Qaeda operatives and leaders and Taliban leaders.” However, the New York Times will later report that “several senior officials with detailed knowledge of the Guantanamo detainees described Mr. Butler’s portrait of the camp as a work of verbal embroidery, saying none of the detainees at the camp could possibly be called a leader or senior operative of al-Qaeda.” [New York Times, 6/21/2004] Probably the closest to an al-Qaeda leader being held is one of bin Laden’s former bodyguards who nonetheless will be released later in 2004 (see Late November 2001). There were media reports as far back as August 2002 that no al-Qaeda leaders were being held at Guantanamo (see August 18, 2002). Some al-Qaeda leaders will be sent into the prison from secret CIA prisons in September 2006 (see September 2-3, 2006).
Rich Levernier, a specialist with the Department of Energy (DOE) for 22 years who spent over six years before the 9/11 attacks running nuclear war games for the US government, says that the Bush administration has done little more than talk about securing the nation’s nuclear facilities from terrorist attacks. If Levernier and his team of experts (see February 15, 2004) are correct in their assessments, the administration is actually doing virtually nothing to protect the US’s nuclear weapons facilities, which certainly top any terrorist’s wish list of targets. Instead of addressing the enormous security problems at these facilities, it is persecuting whistleblowers like Levernier. Indeed, the administration denies a danger even exists. “Any implication that there is a 50 percent failure rate on security tests at our nuclear weapons sites is not true,” says Anson Franklin, a spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a DOE agency that oversees the US’s nuclear weapons complex. “Our facilities are not vulnerable.”
Too Strict Grading? - James Ford, who is retired, was Levernier’s direct DOE supervisor in the late 1990s. He says that while Levernier was a talented and committed employee, the results he claims from his mock terror attacks are skewed because of what Ford calls Levernier’s too-strict approach to grading the performance of the nuclear facilities’ security personnel. Ford says that Levernier liked to focus on one particular area, the Technical Area-18 facility, at the Los Alamos nuclear facility in New Mexico, though the site is essentially indefensible, located at the bottom of a canyon and surrounded on three sides by steep, wooded ridges that afforded potential attackers excellent cover and the advantage of high ground.
Complaints of 'Strict Grading' Baseless, Squad Commander Says - “My guys were licking their chops when they saw that terrain,” says Ronald Timms, who commanded mock terrorist squads under Levernier’s supervision. Timms, now the head of RETA Security, which participated in many DOE war games and designed the National Park Service’s security plans for Mount Rushmore, says Ford’s complaint is groundless: “To say it’s unfair to go after the weak link is so perverse, it’s ridiculous. Of course the bad guys are going to go after the weakest link. That’s why [DOE] isn’t supposed to have weak links at those facilities.” In one such attack Timms recalls, Levernier’s forces added insult to injury by hauling away the stolen weapons-grade nuclear material in a Home Depot garden cart. The then-Secretary of Energy, Bill Richardson, ordered the weapons-grade material at TA-18 to be removed to the Nevada Test Site by 2003. That has not happened yet, and is not expected to happen until 2006 at the earliest.
Rules of Engagement - The failure rates are even harder to understand considering the fact that the rules of engagement are heavily slanted in favor of the defense. A real terrorist attack would certainly be a surprise, but the dates of the war games were announced months in advance, within an eight-hour window. Attackers were not allowed to use grenades, body armor, or helicopters. They were not allowed to use publicly available radio jamming devices. “DOE wouldn’t let me use that stuff, because it doesn’t have a defense against it,” Levernier says. His teams were required, for safety reasons, to obey 25 MPH speed limits. Perhaps the biggest flaw in the DOE’s war games, Levernier says, is that they don’t allow for suicide bombers. The games required Levernier’s teams to steal weapons-grade nuclear material and escape. It is likely, though, that attackers would enter the facility, secure the materials, and detonate their own explosives. DOE did not order nuclear facilities to prepare for such attacks until May 2003, and the policy change does not take effect until 2009. Levernier notes that three of the nation’s nuclear weapons facilities did relatively well against mock attacks: the Argonne National Laboratory-West in Idaho, the Pantex plant in Texas, and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.
Bureaucratic, Political Resistance - So why, asks Vanity Fair journalist Mark Hertsgaard, doesn’t the Bush administration insist on similar vigilance throughout the entire nuclear complex? They “just don’t think [a catastrophic attack] will happen,” Levernier replies. “And nobody wants to say we can’t protect these nuclear weapons, because the political fallout would be so great that there would be no chance to keep the system running.” The DOE bureaucracy is more interested in the appearance of proper oversight than the reality, says Tom Devine, the lawyer who represents both Levernier and other whistleblowers. “Partly that’s about saving face. To admit that a whistleblower’s charges are right would reflect poorly on the bureaucracy’s competence. And fixing the problems that whistleblowers identify would often mean diverting funds that bureaucrats would rather use for other purposes, like empire building. But the main reason bureaucrats have no tolerance for dissent is that taking whistleblowers’ charges seriously would require them to stand up to the regulated industry, and that’s not in most bureaucrats’ nature, whether the industry is the nuclear weapons complex or the airlines.”
Stiff Resistance from Bush Administration - Devine acknowledges that both of his clients’ troubles began under the Clinton administration and continued under Bush, but, Devine says, the Bush administration is particularly unsympathetic to whistleblowers because it is ideologically disposed against government regulation in general. “I don’t think President Bush or other senior officials in this administration want another September 11th,” says Devine, “but their anti-government ideology gets in the way of fixing the problems Levenier and [others] are talking about. The security failures in the nuclear weapons complex and the civil aviation system are failures of government regulation. The Bush people don’t believe in government regulation in the first place, so they’re not inclined to expend the time and energy needed to take these problems seriously. And then they go around boasting that they’re winning the war on terrorism. The hypocrisy is pretty outrageous.” [Carter, 2004, pp. 17-18; Vanity Fair, 2/15/2004]
Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Rich Levernier, RETA Security, National Nuclear Security Administration, James Ford, Bill Richardson, Anson Franklin, National Park Service (NPS), Ronald Timms, Mark Hertsgaard, Tom Devine, Vanity Fair, US Department of Energy, Los Alamos National Laboratory
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
CIA Director George Tenet tells Congress regarding an alleged meeting between hijacker Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi government agent in Prague, “We can’t prove that one way or another.” [New York Times, 7/9/2004]
New York Times reporter Judith Miller is interviewed for an article in the New York Review of Books. Miller wrote a series of stories promoting intelligence that would justify an invasion of Iraq; all the content of these stories were later found to be false. Miller says: “The fact that the United States so far hasn’t found WMD in Iraq is deeply disturbing. It raises real questions about how good our intelligence was. To beat up on the messenger is to miss the point.” She says that as an investigative reporter dealing with intelligence: “[M]y job isn’t to assess the government’s information and be an independent intelligence analyst myself. My job is to tell readers of the New York Times what the government thought about Iraq’s arsenal.” Michael Massing, author of the New York Review of Books’ story, will comment, “Many journalists would disagree with this; instead, they would consider offering an independent evaluation of official claims one of their chief responsibilities.” [New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004]
Retired Admiral Bobby Ray Inman, formerly the deputy director of the CIA, head of the National Security Agency, and the former director of naval intelligence, says: “There was no tie between Iraq and 9/11, even though some people tried to postulate one.… Iraq did support terror in Israel, but I know of no instance in which Iraq funded direct, deliberate terrorist attacks on the United States.” [Texas Monthly, 3/2004; Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]
Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer, an Army intelligence officer who worked closely with a military intelligence unit called Able Danger, has his security clearance suspended for what his lawyer later describes as “petty and frivolous” reasons, including a dispute over mileage reimbursement and charges for personal calls on a work cell phone. [Fox News, 8/19/2005] According to Shaffer, allegations are made against him over $67 in phone charges, which he accumulated over 18 months. He says, “Even though when they told me about this issue, I offered to pay it back, they chose instead to spend in our estimation $400,000 to investigate all these issues simply to drum up this information.” No formal action is ever taken against Shaffer, and later in the year the Army promotes him to lieutenant colonel. [Fox News, 8/17/2005; Government Security News, 9/2005] A few months previous, Shaffer had met with staff from the 9/11 Commission, and allegedly informed them that Able Danger had, more than a year before the attacks, identified two of the three cells which conducted 9/11, including Mohamed Atta (see October 21, 2003). According to Shaffer’s lawyer, it is because of him having his security clearance suspended that he does not later have any documentation relating to Able Danger. [Fox News, 8/19/2005] Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA) will later comment: “In January of 2004 when [Shaffer] was twice rebuffed by the 9/11 Commission for a personal follow-up meeting, he was assigned back to Afghanistan to lead a special classified program. When he returned in March, he was called in and verbally his security clearance was temporarily lifted. By lifting his security clearance, he could not go back into DIA quarters where all the materials he had about Able Danger were, in fact, stored. He could not get access to memos that, in fact, he will tell you discussed the briefings he provided both to the previous administration and this administration.” [Fox News, 8/19/2005] These documents Shaffer are trying to reach are destroyed by the DIA roughly around this time (see Spring 2004). In September 2005, Shaffer has his security clearance revoked, just two days before he is scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee about Able Danger’s activities (see September 19, 2005).
Robert Luskin, the lawyer for White House political strategist Karl Rove, has his client search White House records immediately after speaking with reporter Viveca Novak (see March 1, 2004). Luskin wants Rove to find any potential documentation of a July 2003 conversation between himself and Cooper. Rove finds an e-mail message from himself to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley recounting the conversation between himself and Cooper (see After 11:07 a.m. July 11, 2003). Rove will later admit to the grand jury hearing evidence in the investigation that he had indeed spoken to Cooper about Plame Wilson (see October 15, 2004 and October 14, 2005). [New York Times, 12/2/2005; CounterPunch, 12/9/2005] (The Washington Post will later report that it was Luskin, not Rove, who actually found the e-mail, and that Luskin first shared it with Rove and then with special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald. [Washington Post, 12/3/2005] )
Sam Francis, a white supremacist and syndicated columnist (see September 1995), excoriates President Bush’s “pretense” of support for a constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriage. Bush, Francis writes, “fooled most conservatives once in 2000. What he is doing now is trying to fool them again.” Republicans will never force any such amendment through, Francis writes, nor do they truly wish to. “Why do conservatives propose them or endorse them?” he asks. “Republicans peddle this constant stream of amendments because they know very well they will never go anywhere, that they will never be called on to vote on them or work for them, and that in the meantime the grassroots constituents who demand them will be placated by the simple rhetoric that ‘endorses’ or supports them. Amending the Constitution to correct flaws conservative politicians are unwilling to confront in serious ways is a cheap and easy way to make everybody happy and make sure nothing is done.” Francis is staunchly in favor of such an amendment, writing: “In the case of homosexual ‘marriages,’ I have no problem in refusing to recognize them as real or legal. Persons of the same sex can no more marry each other than dogs and cats can become congressmen, but since the whole purpose of the movement for ‘gay marriage’ is to subvert cultural institutions and normalize the abnormal, there’s not much point in arguing about it. Either you get it and oppose ‘gay marriage’ or you don’t and support it.” Instead of trying and failing to amend the Constitution, Francis writes that Congress should use the Constitution to limit the powers of the federal courts and thereby “forbid the [Supreme] Court even to hear, much less rule on, let us say, cases involving the marriage of persons of the same sex. Or cases involving capital punishment. Or cases involving flag burning. Or cases involving whatever the Congress decides to forbid the Nameless Nine from spending their vast intellectual resources and spiritual energies upon. With a stroke of the Congressional pen, ‘judicial activism’ could be ended, and it could have been ended decades ago, had conservatives been at all serious about what they claim to be serious about. If Congress ever did use its powers to curtail judicial misrule, the judges would get the message, and those who didn’t would find themselves in trouble.” Francis’s columns are provided to a national audience by Creators Syndicate. [VDare (.com), 3/1/2004]
John Kerry speaks at a February 2004 town hall event. [Source: Jim Bourg / Reuters]At a town hall event in Florida, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry reportedly says, “I’ve met foreign leaders who can’t go out and say it all publicly, but boy, they look at you and say, you gotta win this, you gotta beat this guy [President Bush], we need a new policy, things like that.” White House officials and conservative pundits immediately attack Kerry for his remarks, with Secretary of State Colin Powell telling a Fox News audience: “I don’t know what foreign leaders Senator Kerry is talking about. It’s an easy charge, an easy assertion to make, but if he feels that’s [an] important assertion to make, he ought to list names. If he can’t list names, then perhaps he ought to find something else to talk about.” The White House issues a statement saying: “If Senator Kerry is going to say he has support from foreign leaders, he needs to be straightforward with the American people and state who they are.… Or the only conclusion one can draw is he’s making it up to attack the president.” Bush himself says, “If you’re going to make an accusation in the course of a presidential campaign, you ought to back it up with facts.” Over a week after Kerry’s remarks are published, the pool reporter who reported the original remark, Patrick Healey of the Boston Globe, reports that Kerry did not say “foreign leaders,” but “more leaders” (see March 15, 2004). The correction does little to blunt the criticism of Kerry, who does not directly challenge the assertion, but calls his choice of words “inartful.” In 2008, authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will note: “Had this journalistic blunder created a firestorm of controversy around a Republican Party nominee, the conservative opinion leaders would have minimized the damage to their candidate by crying ‘media bias.’ The Democrats didn’t have a comparable argument in their arsenal.” [Boston Globe, 3/15/2004; Associated Press, 3/15/2004; Fox News, 3/16/2004; Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 4-5]
Four Madrid trains were bombed on the morning of March 11, 2004 (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), and in the evening on the same day, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar calls the editors of Spain’s major newspapers and tells them that ETA, a Basque separatist group, is behind the attacks. In fact, so far there is no evidence suggesting ETA involvement in the bombings. However, investigators have found bomb detonators in a van near the sight of one of the bombings, and the van also has a cassette tape of the Koran in it, suggesting Islamist militants were behind the bombings (see 10:50 a.m.-Afternoon, March 11, 2004). At the same time, Spanish intelligence is wiretapping most of the top ETA leaders, and during the day they intercept calls between leaders expressing shock about the bombings. The bombings also do not fit with ETA’s modus operandi, which is to bomb government targets and avoid civilian casualties. Aznar is aware of all this, and even tells Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, leader of the opposition party, about the van evidence in a phone call that same evening. But Aznar nonetheless insists that “there is no doubt who did the attacks,” and that ETA is to blame. There are nationwide elections scheduled in just three days, and polls show that Aznar’s successor, Mariano Rajoy of the conservative Popular Party, is leading Zapatero of the Socialist party by about five points. ETA has a long history of bombings in Spain, and Aznar himself survived an ETA car bomb in 1995. He has made the elimination of ETA his top priority. In fact, Aznar has planned a series of raids against ETA on March 12 in hopes that will help boost his party’s chances in the elections. If ETA is responsible, it will vindicate Aznar’s campaign against them and presumably boost his party’s chances in the election. [New Yorker, 7/26/2004]
Massive demonstrations in Madrid on March 12, 2004. [Source: Associated Press]In the early morning of March 12, 2004, a police officer searching through the wreckage of the Madrid trains bombed the day before (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004) discovers a bag containing 22 pounds of explosives surrounded by nails and screws. Two wires run from a cell phone to a detonator. Police use the memory chip inside the phone to find who the owner of the phone has called recently. They quickly discover a network of Islamist militants, many of them already under surveillance. They hone in on Jamal Zougam, who owns a cell phone shop that is connected to the phone, and who had been under investigation for militant links since 2000 (see 2000-Early March 2004). He will be arrested a day later. But the ruling party has already blamed the bombings on ETA, a Basque separate group (see Evening, March 11, 2004). Interior Minister Angel Acebes had blamed ETA within hours of the attacks (see 10:50 a.m.-Afternoon, March 11, 2004), and again he publicly claims that ETA is the prime suspect, even though police are now sure that Islamist militants were behind the bombings instead. He even calls those who suggest otherwise “pathetic” and says their alternative theories are “poisonous”. But news that ETA is not to blame is already leaking to the media. That evening about 11 million Spaniards protest around the country—about one fourth of Spain’s population. They are protesting the violence of the bombings, but also, increasingly, growing evidence of a cover-up that attempts to falsely blame ETA. The New Yorker will later comment, “It was clear that the [national election on March 14] would swing on the question of whether Islamists or ETA terrorists were responsible for the bombings.” [Guardian, 3/15/2004; New Yorker, 7/26/2004]
A news release issued from the headquarters of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) in Florida heralds the start of a new offensive, Operation Mountain Storm (OMS), describing it as “the next in the continuing series of operations in the south, southeast, and eastern portions of Afghanistan designed to destroy terrorist organizations and their infrastructure while continuing to focus on national stability and support.” [GlobalSecurity (.org), 3/13/2004]
OMS to Go after Bin Laden, Or Not To? - Elsewhere, the objective of Operation Mountain Storm is reported to be to “flush out militants, including members of the al-Qaeda terror network” and “insurgents led by remnants of Afghanistan’s former Taliban regime.” Although military sources have indicated that US forces are closing in on Osama bin Laden, according to US military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty, speaking from Kabul, this new operation is “not aimed at hunting for individuals.” All coalition troops, 13,000-plus, are to join the US-led campaign. [GlobalSecurity (.org), 3/13/2004]
The Measure of Success: Numbers - CENTCOM’s news release touts the success of the previous campaign, Operation Blizzard, enumerating its results thusly: “[W]e conducted 1,731 patrols, 143 raids and cordons and searches, killing 22 enemy combatants and discovering caches with 3,648 rockets, 3,202 mortar rounds, 2,944 rocket propelled grenades, 3,000 recoils rifle rounds, 2,232 mines, and tens of thousands of small arm ammunitions.” The CENTCOM news release then ticks off several areas where Operation Blizzard’s successor, Mountain Storm, has already found weapons caches. Concluding, it reports that “just yesterday afternoon, an Afghan citizen turned in to coalition forces in the vicinity of Deh Rawood a recoiless rifle, an anti-aircraft gun, a mortar, and machine guns, along with ammunition.” [GlobalSecurity (.org), 3/13/2004]
The Numbers Game and Pat Tillman's Death - Later, Stan Goff, an analyst and critic of military culture, writing about Pat Tillman’s death while on patrol in OMS less than a month after its launch (See April 23, 2004 and Early April 2004), will cite “the Rumsfeldian ‘metrics’ of quantification” used to measure and then propagandize military progress, as driving the order to split Tillman’s platoon, a chain-of-command decision which many, including some in command, will later contend led to his death by friendly fire, or as some define it, fratricide (see April 22, 2004). [Huffington Post(.org), 8/2/2007; CounterPunch, 8/9/2007]
Angel Acebes. [Source: Luis Magan / El Pais]At 4:00 p.m. on March 13, 2004, the day before national elections in Spain, Interior Minister Angel Acebes announces on television that Jamal Zougam and two other Moroccans have been arrested for suspected roles in the Madrid train bombings two days before (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). A day earlier, evidence found at one of the bomb sites was linked to Zougam (see March 12, 2004), and he had long been monitored for his Islamist militant links (see 2000-Early March 2004). Nonetheless, Acebes continues to suggest that ETA, a Basque separatist group, was behind the bombing instead. The ruling party has staked its reputation on its assertion that ETA is to blame. [New Yorker, 7/26/2004] That evening, the national public television station even changes its regular television programming to show a movie about Basque terrorism. [Australian, 11/2/2007] But by now the opposition Socialist Party is publicly accusing the government of lying about the investigation in order to stay in power. [New Yorker, 7/26/2004] Zougam will later be sentenced to life in prison for his role in the Madrid bombings. [Daily Mail, 11/1/2007]
Youssef Belhadj. [Source: Public domain]At 7:30 p.m., on March 13, 2004, the night before national elections in Spain, an anonymous phone caller tells a Madrid television station that there is a videotape related to the Madrid train bombings two days earlier (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004) in a nearby trash can. The video is quickly found. It is not broadcast, but the government releases portions of its text to the media that evening. [Associated Press, 3/13/2004] A man on the tape identifies himself as Abu Dujan al-Afghani, and says he is the military spokesman for the “military wing of Ansar al-Qaeda” (ansar means partisan). [New York Times, 4/12/2004] Dressed in white burial robes and holding a submachine gun, he says: “We declare our responsibility for what happened in Madrid exactly two-and-a-half years after the attacks on New York and Washington. It is a response to your collaboration with the criminals Bush and his allies. This is a response to the crimes that you have caused in the world, and specifically in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there will be more, if God wills it.” [BBC, 3/14/2004; Irujo, 2005, pp. 327-342] Spanish Interior Minister Angel Acebes has been repeatedly blaming ETA, a Basque separatist group, for the bombings (see 10:50 a.m.-Afternoon, March 11, 2004 and March 12, 2004). He holds a press conference shortly after the videotape text is made public and encourages the public to be skeptical about the tape’s authenticity. [Observer, 3/14/2004] But more and more Spaniards doubt the official story. El Mundo, the largest newspaper in Madrid, criticizes “the more than dubious attitude of the government in relation to the lines of investigation.” The BBC publishes a story hours before the election is to begin and notes: “If ETA is to blame it would justify the [ruling Populist Party’s] hard line against the group and separatism in Spain. But if al-Qaeda is to blame, however, it would bring into question Spain’s decision to join the United States and Britain in the war on Iraq, something 90 percent of Spaniards opposed.” [BBC, 3/14/2004] The video actually was made by the bombers. A banner shown in the video is found in a safe house used by the bombers about a month later (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004), suggesting the video was shot there. [New York Times, 4/12/2004] The spokesman will later be revealed to be Youssef Belhadj. Belhadj will be arrested in Belgium in 2005, extradited to Spain, and sentenced to prison for a role in the Madrid bombings. [Irujo, 2005, pp. 327-342; MSNBC, 10/31/2007]
Boston Globe reporter Patrick Healey corrects his earlier report that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry claimed “foreign leaders” were privately backing his candidacy (see March 8, 2004 and After). Healey, after reviewing the audiotape of Kerry’s remarks, now reports that Kerry did not say “foreign leaders” but said “more leaders,” likely referring to members of Congress. Healey’s correction does little to quell the heavy criticism from the White House and conservative media pundits, who are excoriating Kerry for claiming the support of foreign heads of state without naming them. [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 5]
During a campaign stop, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry is questioned by Pennsylvania voter Cedric Brown, who demands that Kerry identify the “foreign leaders” he reportedly claimed support his candidacy (see March 8, 2004 and After). Kerry responds: “I’ve met with lots of foreign leaders, but let me just say something to you, sir. Just a minute. Just a minute,” gesturing to the audience to allow Brown to continue speaking. “I’m not going to betray a private conversation with anybody and get some leader—they have to deal with this administration” (see March 15, 2004). Brown then accuses Kerry of colluding with those unnamed foreign leaders to “overthrow” the Bush presidency. The exchange becomes somewhat heated, with Brown calling Kerry a “liar” and asks if he secretly met with the dictator of North Korea, Kim Jong Il, an assertion advanced by conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh (see March 17, 2004). The exchange lasts for about eight minutes. In 2008, authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will perform an in-depth analysis of the media coverage of the Kerry-Brown exchange, and determine that while the mainstream media (ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, among others) generally cover the exchange by reporting both sides fairly evenly (ABC’s coverage tilts towards favoring Kerry’s point of view while CBS’s gives Bush the advantage—see March 15, 2004), the conservative media they analyze (Limbaugh, Fox News, Fox’s Hannity & Colmes, and the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page) report the story from Brown’s viewpoint, and work to both denigrate Kerry and marginalize mainstream reporting. [Boston Globe, 3/15/2004; New York Times, 3/15/2004; Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 5-6]
A Wall Street Journal editorial, responding to reports that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has accepted private endorsements from unnamed foreign leaders (see March 8, 2004 and After), accuses Kerry of making private, secret deals with those leaders. “Who are these foreign leaders, and what is Mr. Kerry privately saying that makes them so enthusiastic about his candidacy?” it asks. “What ‘new policy’ is he sharing with them that he isn’t sharing with Americans?” [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 17]
ABC News and Fox News are the only major news networks to broadcast a “hard news” report on the day’s exchange between Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry and voter Cedric Brown (see March 15, 2004 and After).
CBS: Advantage Bush - CBS gives a brief synopsis of the exchange; neither NBC nor CNN devote much air time to the story. CBS anchor Dan Rather sums up the exchange by providing a brief overview of the controversy surrounding Kerry’s supposed claim of unnamed “foreign leaders” supporting his bid for the presidency (see March 8, 2004 and After and March 15, 2004) and the Bush campaign’s implication that Kerry is lying; the Kerry campaign’s response; and White House spokesman Scott McClellan’s insistence that Kerry either “name names” or admit to “making it up.” In 2008, authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will write, “By sandwiching the Kerry perspective between an opening and closing statement focused on the Bush perspective, the CBS piece creates a net advantage for the Republicans.”
ABC: Advantage Kerry - The ABC report, by reporter Linda Douglass, goes further in asking about the Bush campaign’s motives in attacking Kerry, and asks if the Bush campaign is not trying to deflect attention from reports about Bush administration misrepresentations about the true costs of its Medicare plan (see June 2003). ABC anchor Elizabeth Varga opens by noting the Bush campaign’s “extraordinary” attack on Kerry’s “credibility,” leading into Douglass’s report, which summarizes the “foreign leaders” controversy, reports the Kerry-Brown exchange, observes that the Kerry campaign is “sidestep[ping]” the accusations that he is lying about the foreign leaders claim, and notes that Kerry accuses the Bush campaign of trying to divert attention from the Medicare controversy. Douglass concludes, “Seven months before the election, the campaign seems to be all about credibility.”
Fox News: Heavy Attack against Kerry - Fox News anchor Brit Hume begins his report by saying, “John Kerry still won’t say who those foreign leaders were, whom he claims are back—who he claims are backing him for president.” The Fox report, by Carl Cameron, begins by claiming Kerry is being “[b]attered for refusing to name foreign leaders that he claims want President Bush defeated,” says Kerry is trying to “get back on offense” by attacking the Bush administration’s failure to fully fund firefighters (an attack “few Americans believe,” Cameron asserts), and notes that Bush defenders accuse Kerry of “voting against the troops” by opposing the $87 billion to stabilize and complete the post-Saddam Iraq occupation. Cameron then quotes unnamed Republicans as calling Kerry an “international man of mystery,” a disparaging comparison to the Austin Powers movie satire, “for his various un-backed-up charges” about the foreign leaders’ support. Cameron ends the report by playing a snippet from the Kerry-Brown exchange where Kerry demanded Brown identify himself as a “registered Republican” (he does not air Brown’s response where he admits to being a Bush supporter) and with the White House’s assertion that “Kerry is making it up to attack the president.” Fox twice has Brown appear as a guest on its news broadcasts. In one, Brown says Kerry “didn’t appear to be honest” during their conversation, says, “I think Senator Kerry betrayed our country,” and calls for a congressional investigation into Kerry’s supposed claim of having “secret” deals for foreign leaders’ backing.
Television Coverage Analysis - Authors Jamieson and Cappella will write: “The strategic frames of Fox and ABC differ. On Fox, Kerry is cast as ‘battered’ and on the strategic defensive (‘Kerry tried to get back on offense and tried to turn the tables on his inquisitors,’) [emphasis added by authors]. By contrasts, ABC situates Kerry as a contender who is ‘determined not to give ground on the war over who is more truthful.’ On Fox, Kerry’s attack is portrayed as an attempt to ‘get back on offense,’ whereas the Bush response is portrayed as motivated by outrage.” Fox “focuses on Kerry’s credibility, while ABC centers on charges and countercharges about the relative truthfulness of Bush and Kerry.” Douglass attributes claims of truth or falsity to the respective campaigns, but Cameron makes blanket assertions—unattributed value judgments—about Kerry’s supposed dishonesty.
Print Media - The print media shows much of the same dichotomy in covering the Kerry-Brown exchange as do ABC and Fox. The Washington Post gives Brown a chance to again accuse Kerry of lying, but calls him “a heckler… who interrupted Kerry’s comments on health care, education and the economy to raise questions about the assertion of foreign endorsements.” The Los Angeles Times describes Brown as “abruptly” shouting over Kerry, and, when the audience tries to shout Brown down, shows Kerry asking the audience to allow Brown to speak. In these and other accounts, Jamieson and Cappella will note, “Kerry’s questioning of the questioner is set in the context of Brown’s interruption, inflammatory charges… and verbal attacks on Kerry.” On the other hand, the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page joins Fox News in ignoring Brown’s initial interruption and verbal assault on Kerry (see March 15, 2004), and instead focuses on what the Journal’s James Taranto calls “Kerry’s thuggish interrogation of the voter.” Taranto also directs his readers to coverage by Fox News and Limbaugh, who himself accuses Kerry of “browbeating” Brown.
Media Strategies to Denigrate Kerry - Jamieson and Cappella will write, “Specifically taken together, [Rush] Limbaugh, [Sean] Hannity, and the Wall Street Journal’s opinion pages marshaled four strategies to marginalize Kerry and undercut his perceived acceptability as a candidate for president: extreme hypotheticals [i.e. Kerry’s supposed ‘secret meeting’ with North Korea’s Kim Jong-il—see March 17, 2004 ], ridicule, challenges to character, and association with strong negative emotion.” Fox News and the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, for example, characterize Kerry’s response to Brown as “yelling” and “thuggish,” while other media outlets report Kerry’s response as generally restrained and civil, and Brown as the one shouting and angry. [Boston Globe, 3/15/2004; Los Angeles Times, 3/15/2004; Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 5-17]
Entity Tags: Elizabeth Varga, Cedric Brown, CBS News, Brit Hume, ABC News, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Carl Cameron, Joseph N. Cappella, John Kerry, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Linda Douglass, James Taranto, Scott McClellan, Fox News
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2004 Elections
Clips of Thompson, Bush included in VNRs provided to local TV stations. [Source: New York Times]New York Times reporter Robert Pear discovers that the Bush administration has employed two fake “reporters,” Karen Ryan and Alberto Garcia, who have appeared in administration-produced television “news” segments—“video news releases,” or VNRs—designed to promote the administration’s new Medicare prescription-drug policies. (Garcia primarily appeared in Spanish-language Medicare VNRs.) HHS had budgeted $124 million for the fake news segments, more than most real news organizations can provide. The segments are under investigation by the General Accounting Office (GAO) for possible violation of government statutes prohibiting the use of federal money to produce propaganda or partisan presentations. The Secretary for Health and Human Services (HHS), Tommy Thompson, appears in one of the segments, saying, “This is going to be the same Medicare system only with new benefits, more choices, more opportunities for enhanced benefits.” Several others show a crowd giving President Bush a standing ovation as he signs the new Medicare bill into law. Another segment shows a pharmacist talking to an elderly customer. The pharmacist says the new law “helps you better afford your medications,” and the customer says, “It sounds like a good idea.” The pharmacist agrees, “A very good idea.” The segments, professionally produced and ending with tag lines such as “In Washington, I’m Karen Ryan reporting,” were regularly aired by at least 50 local television news broadcasts in 40 cities around the country. The government also provides scripts that can be used by local news anchors to introduce, or “walk up,” the VNRs. One script suggested that anchors read the following: “In December, President Bush signed into law the first-ever prescription drug benefit for people with Medicare. Since then, there have been a lot of questions about how the law will help older Americans and people with disabilities. Reporter Karen Ryan helps sort through the details.” A VNR is then broadcast explaining how the new law benefits Medicare recipients.
'Infoganda' - Ryan is a freelance journalist, the administration claims, and using her for such fake news segments is perfectly acceptable. But cursory investigation reveals that she was once a freelance reporter, but has for years worked as a public relations consultant. Her most recent assignments include appearing in marketing videos and “infomercials” promoting a variety of pharmaceutical products, including the popular drugs FloMist and Excedrin. Perhaps the most telling reaction is from Comedy Central’s comedy-news program The Daily Show, where host Jon Stewart can’t seem to decide whether to be outraged or flattered by what Rich calls “government propaganda imitating his satiric art.” (Daily Show member Rob Corddry calls the HHS videos “infoganda.”) Administration officials also insist that the VNRs are real, objective news releases, but the company that produced the segments, Home Front Communications, confirms that it had hired Ryan to read a script prepared by government officials. The VNRs give a toll-free phone number for beneficiaries to call. To obtain recorded information about prescription drug benefits, the caller must speak the words, “Medicare improvement.” The Columbia Journalism Review writes, “The ‘reports’ were nothing more than a free advertisement for the legislation, posing as news.”
Legal? - GAO lawyers say that their initial investigations found that other fliers and advertisements disseminated by HHS to promote the new Medicare policies are legal, though they display “notable omissions and other weaknesses.” Administration officials claim the VNRs are also a legal, effective way to educate Medicare beneficiaries. The GAO is still investigating the VNRs. GAO investigators believe that they might violate the law in at least one aspect: misleading viewers by concealing their government origins. Federal law expressly forbids the use of federal money for “publicity or propaganda purposes” not authorized by Congress. Earlier investigations have found government-disseminated editorials and newspaper articles illegal if they did not identify themselves as coming from government officials. The GAO will find that the VNRs break two federal laws forbidding the use of federal money to produce propaganda (see May 19, 2004).
'Common Practice' - HHS spokesman Kevin Keane says the VNRs are well within legal guidelines; their only purpose, he says, is to inform citizens about changes in Medicare. “The use of video news releases is a common, routine practice in government and the private sector,” he says. “Anyone who has questions about this practice needs to do some research on modern public information tools.” Congressional Democrats disagree with Keane. “These materials are even more disturbing than the Medicare flier and advertisements,” says Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ). “The distribution of these videos is a covert attempt to manipulate the press.” Lautenberg, fellow Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), and seven other members of Congress requested the GAO investigation. Keane is correct in one aspect: businesses have distributed VNRs to news stations as well as internally for years, and the pharmaceutical industry has been particularly successful in getting marketing videos that appear as “medical news” or “medical features” aired on local and even national news broadcasts. And government agencies have for years released informational films and videos on subjects such as teenage smoking and the dangers of using steroids. Bill Kovach, chairman of the Committee of Concerned Journalists, says HHS’s VNRs have gone far beyond what the government has previously provided. “Those to me are just the next thing to fraud,” he says. “It’s running a paid advertisement in the heart of a news program.” [New York Times, 3/15/2004; Columbia Journalism Review, 3/15/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 164]
Media Responsibility - The Columbia Journalism Review’s Bill McDermott writes: “[F]or our money, the villains here aren’t the clever flacks at HHS—they’re supposed to be masters of deception. Nope, the dunce hats go to the local TV station editors willing to slap onto the air any video that drops in over the transom.” [Columbia Journalism Review, 3/15/2004] Ryan is relatively insouciant about the controversy. “Stations are lazy,” she says. “If these things didn’t work, then the companies would stop putting them out.” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 3/20/2004]
Entity Tags: Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, US Department of Health and Human Services, Committee of Concerned Journalists, Bush administration (43), Bill McDermott, Bill Kovach, Alberto Garcia, Tommy G. Thompson, Columbia Journalism Review, Robert Pear, New York Times, Jon Stewart, Home Front Communications, George W. Bush, Karen Ryan, General Accounting Office, Kevin Keane, Frank R. Lautenberg, Rob Corddry
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Ron Synovitz, a correspondent for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFL/RL), reports on “how one commando team is contributing to the overall strategy” Operation Mountain Storm (OMS) employs in Afghanistan.
Report Relies upon Department of Defense Sources - Synovitz appears to base his observations of the “one commando team” solely on audio clips provided by a US Department of Defense (DoD) video; an undocumented description of same; the fact that an unidentified RFE/RFL correspondent “saw the team leave the Kandahar Air Field in camouflaged humvees,” bearing the DoD video cameramen; unnamed “US officials;” and a press conference in Kabul with the US military’s chief spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty. It is unclear if the eyewitness to the team’s departure is Synovitz himself or some other RFE/RFL reporter. What the article does clearly imply is 1) this OMS-participant team is representative of an overall well-coordinated and carefully planned strategy 2) the strategy, using “unconventional warfare” tactics, has the potential to prevail against any remaining “terrorist” threat in a wide-sweeping area 3) the strategy underlies a “new” operation, OMS, but continues the US Department of Defense’s military success, a success rooted in the effective strategy.
Article Highlights OMS Break with Tradition - Reporting on Hilferty’s description of the “counter-terrorism tactics designed to keep pressure on the Taliban and Al-Qaeda,” the article points out that, as distinguished from the use of “methods of conventional warfare,” in which units by the thousands amass “on the ground”—OMS combat forces—at times consisting of US Special Forces and Afghan National Army soldiers; at others, of US, Marines, Navy SEAL commandos, and CIA paramilitary officers—carry out “search and destroy” missions in small “commando teams,” operating along a large swath of Afghanistan’s interior as well as the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, to seek out enemy fighters and their weapons hidden in the mountains. For OMS, “there are no Bradley armored personnel carriers or Abrams tanks,” as used in the Iraq war, but rather, armored humvees and “fast-moving military trucks,” Special Forces employ all-terrain vehicles in desert regions.
Hilferty Touts Conventional Support for New Strategy - Still, Hilferty claims these departures from tradition are supported with the continuation of “patrols and vehicle checkpoints.” He also notes the “close air support” by “fighter jets, AC-130 Spectre gunships, and A-10 Warthog attack planes,” at the ready to intervene if OMS commandos run into problems. Hilferty touts this air support as available “24 hours a day circling overhead, ready to assist coalition forces.” In smaller airborne operations that military planners refer to as “heliborne insertion,” Chinook helicopters transport commando teams into the heart of the mountain posts guerrilla fighters claim. All of these tactics are custom-fitted to Afghanistan’s battlefield, primarily a mountainous terrain not well-served by a “heavy, mechanized force,” and are conducted simultaneously, so that the sum of the parts is what, mission by mission, adds up.
Article Echoes US Central Command's Focus on Quantity - Synovitz’s approach to reporting on the new offensive echoes that of US Central Command’s in its focus on discrete incidents, itemizing specific weapons recovered or enemy combatants killed. Synovitz contends that the unconventional nature of the conduct of warfare in Afghanistan calls for reporting “a stream of isolated incidents—like the announcement today by Hilferty that US-led soldiers had killed three suspected Taliban members this weekend while searching a cave in Qalat, in Zabul province.” [Radio Free Europe, 3/15/2004]
Pat Tillman Death Investigations Will Bolster Critics' View of OMS Strategy - Critics of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s reliance on what former solider and journalist Stan Goff will call “the metrics of quantification,” exemplified by OMS in its design and in reporting on it, will argue that, as with the “body counts” former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara boasted to claim success in Vietnam, much publicized hauls from “search and destroy” missions amount to little in terms of valid results. Further, promised support from conventional combat operations often does not materialize. For instance, Goff will point to a mission botched on several fronts as causing Pat Tillman’s death near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border (seeApril 23, 2004 and April 22, 2004). Regimental chain of command denied Tillman’s Ranger platoon the use of a helicopter to airlift a disabled humvee that became a link in a series of foul-ups leading to the “friendly fire” killing of Tillman and an Afghan Militia soldier while on patrol in OMS. In adddition, command denied the beleaguered Rangers air support in the “search and destroy” mission Tillman’s platoon was forced to conduct as night fell. Command’s urgency that there be “boots on the ground by dusk” stemmed from a need to fulfill the very sort of “checklist” Rumsfeld offered to document military progress. [FromTheWilderness, 6/23/2006; Associated Press, 11/9/2006; CounterPunch, 8/9/2007]
Entity Tags: Operation Mountain Storm, US Department of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, Bryan Hilferty, US Army Rangers, US Central Command, Stan Goff, Radio Free Europe, Pat Tillman, Ron Synovitz, Taliban
Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan
A top analyst with the International Crisis Group (ICG), an influential think tank with its headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, challenges the publicity campaign the US military appears to be waging for Operation Mountain Storm (OMS) in Afghanistan (see March 13, 2004 and March 15, 2004). [Time (Asia), 10/3/2005] Vikram Parekh, a top ICG analyst based in Kabul, comments: “I don’t understand… why they’ve been so public about it. I don’t see what it accomplishes.” Other experts contradict the US military’s central thesis—that it is keeping the new surge low-profile—and instead echo Parekh’s criticism. Reportedly: “As recently as late last month, Washington was playing up what officials there were touting as a spring offensive to catch bin Laden—leading to suggestions that US President George Bush’s administration hoped for an election-year gain out of the hunt and capture. But if the United states is now hot on the trail of bin Laden, some analysts question why US officials would signal so openly to the al-Quaeda leader to rethink his hiding place.” Parekh calls the publicity around OMS “tactically foolish.” [Radio Free Europe, 3/15/2004; Independent Online, 3/15/2004]
Vice President Dick Cheney weighs in on on the controversy surrounding Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry’s supposed acceptance of private endorsements from unnamed foreign leaders (see March 8, 2004 and After). At an Arizona fundraiser, Cheney says: “[I]t is our business when a candidate for president claims the political endorsement of foreign leaders. At the very least, we have a right to know what he is saying to them that makes them so supportive of his candidacy.” [Fox News, 3/16/2004; Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 18-19]
Conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh joins the Wall Street Journal in demanding that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry name the foreign leaders who have supposedly secretly endorsed his candidacy (see March 8, 2004 and After, March 15, 2004, and March 15, 2004). Limbaugh goes further than the Journal by stating that he believes Kerry’s foreign endorsers are enemy heads of state. “[L]et’s name some names,” he says. “Bashar Assad in Syria, Kim Jong Il in North Korea.” In 2008, authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will write: “The assertion was ridiculous on its face, and Limbaugh undoubtedly knew it was. Underlying Limbaugh’s trope is the assumption that any leader who would criticize US policy must be an enemy of the country.” Jamieson and Cappella will extend their argument by writing: “Importantly, introduction of the names of villainous foreign leaders exemplifies a rhetorical function that Limbaugh and the conservative opinion hosts serve for the Republican Party: expanding the range of attack by marking out extreme positions that by comparisons make the official position of the Republican candidate or party leaders seem moderate. At the same time, if some in Limbaugh’s audience take the allegation of actual talks with heads of outlaw states serious, as [conservative voter Cedric] Brown appeared to (see March 15, 2004 and After), then the association reinforces, if it does not actively shape, that person’s view that Kerry’s assumptions are extreme and disqualify him from serious consideration as a presidential contender.” [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 19]
As the US Defense Department launches Operation Mountain Storm (OMS—see March 13, 2004 and March 15, 2004), a major planner for the Afghan resistance reveals the insurgency’s counter-strategy in an “exclusive meeting” with Asia Times Online.
Coalition Vs. Resistance Plan - In his article, “Afghan offensive: Grand plans hits rugged reality,” Syed Saleem Shahzad, the Pakistan bureau chief of Asia Times Online, describes the plan behind OMS: “US-led coalition forces would drive from inside Afghanistan into the last real sanctuary of the insurgents, and meet the Pakistani military driving from the opposite direction.” If the widely publicized operation were to go according to plan, Shahzad writes, “There would then be no safe place left to hide for the Taliban and al-Qaeda remnants, or, presumably, for Osama bin Laden himself.” However, according to the unnamed insurgent, the resistance has a plan of its own: to waylay US-led forces with a series of small-scale, local skirmishes and to divert Pakistani allies from joining the coalition’s new surge.
Afghan Resistance Leverages Tribal Loyalty and Harsh Landscape - The insurgent claims that tribes people, familiar with the increasingly forbidding territory, can exhaust their much stronger opposition through “a classic guerrilla strategy” designed by “foreign resistance fighters of Bangladeshi, Pakistani, and Arab origin.” Hidden in a dizzying array of seemingly endless mountains, they can “regroup,” then emerge to carry out “hit and run” battles against coalition forces while under the protection of villagers loyal to their cause. In turn, according to Asia Times, these local tribes “are now the protectors of the Taliban and al-Quaeda fighters” ranged along and across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Pakistani Army De-Railed - Meanwhile, Pakistani troops are occupied in South Waziristan with Wazir tribes and their neighbors. And Asia Times reports that “the South Waziristan fighting has spread to other areas,” flaring up in North Waziristan, for instance, where recently an attack on the Pakistani army resulted in the death of an officer and his soldiers. Effectively, the insurgency has stopped Pakistan from helping the US clean out “remnants” of its opposition, while more guerrilla fighters join in. This, in only the first week of the official launch of OMS.
Based on his interview with the opposition strategist, Shahzad concludes that, thus far, “the operation that began as a hunt for Osama bin Laden has already degenerated into sideshows against rebel Pakistani tribes people.” [Asia Times Online, 3/20/2004]
Critics Point Finger at US Defense Secretary for Poor Planning - Later, critics of the US military strategy in Afghanistan will cite numerous problems in the design and conception of OMS. Some will blame the high-profile death of Pat Tillman while on patrol for OMS, or on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s flawed strategy, one designed to boast quick results so as to help re-elect President George Bush in the upcoming November 2004 elections (see March 15, 2004).
The State Department issues a terror alert, warning “that al-Qaeda continues to prepare to strike US interests abroad” and such attacks “could possibly involve non-conventional weapons such as chemical or biological agents as well as conventional weapons of terror.” More specific information is not provided. [Command Post, 3/21/2004] The same day, former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke gives an interview that is harshly critical of the Bush administration’s counterterrorism efforts (see March 24, 2004). [CBS News, 3/21/2004]
A media firestorm follows the previous day’s appearance by former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke on CBS’s 60 Minutes (see March 21, 2004). In that interview and in his upcoming book, Against All Enemies, Clarke is frank about the administration’s stubborn insistence on tying Iraq to the 9/11 attacks and using those attacks to justify a war it had already begun planning (see Between March 2001 and May 2001). Clarke also gives incendiary information about the repeated warnings Bush and other officials had received about the imminent attacks, warnings which were roundly ignored (see Between August 6 and September 11, 2001 and September 4, 2001). White House communications director Dan Bartlett calls Clarke’s charges “baseless,” and “politically motivated,” without giving any evidence of any such political loyalties or motivations Clarke may have. Clarke refuses to retreat, and reiterates his claims on today’s morning talk shows (see March 22, 2004); the White House sends National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice onto the same shows to refute Clarke. [Rich, 2006, pp. 114-119]
One of the slides in President Bush’s presentation during the evening’s entertainment. [Source: Nicholas Roberts / Getty Images]President Bush, the guest of honor at the annual Radio and Television News Correspondents Association black-tie dinner, shows a slide show for his portion of the evening’s entertainment. As is the tradition of the dinner, powerful lawmakers and media figures poke fun at themselves and the issues of the day, usually with little political fallout. But many are offended by Bush’s humor in the slide show. One picture shows Bush looking under a piece of furniture in the Oval Office, with his accompanying remark, “Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be here somewhere.” A second slide shows him looking in the corner of a room, and the voiceover says, “No, no weapons over there.” A third picture has him leaning over and saying, “Maybe under here?” While most participants at the dinner laugh appreciatively, many others are offended, seeing Bush as making light of the rationale for a war that has led to the death of almost 600 American soldiers by this time. [BBC, 3/26/2004; Associated Press, 3/26/2004] Bush’s humor draws an onslaught of criticism from Democrats, soldiers, and the families of US soldiers slain in Iraq (see March 25, 2004 and March 25, 2004).
NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw interviews National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Brokaw criticizes Rice’s refusal to appear publicly before the 9/11 Commission because of “national security concerns” while at the same time appearing on a plethora of news broadcasts to defend the administration’s actions surrounding the 9/11 attacks (see March 30, 2004). Brokaw says: “You’ve been meeting with the Commission in private, but you will not go before this very public meeting, citing separation of powers, executive privilege. But your predecessors have gone before Congress in the past. Even President Ford testified about his pardon of Richard Nixon (see Mid-October 1974). Executive privilege is really a flexible concept. Why not go to the president on this issue that is so profoundly important to America, and say, I should be testifying?” Rice defends her decision not to testify under oath and before the cameras, saying: “I would like nothing better than to be able to testify before the Commission. I have spent more than four hours with the Commission. I’m prepared to go and talk to them again, anywhere, any time, anyplace, privately. But I have to be responsible and to uphold the separation of powers between the executive and the legislature. It is a matter of whether the president can count on good confidential advice from his staff.” Brokaw replies: “Dr. Rice, with all due respect, I think a lot of people are watching this tonight saying, well, if she can appear on television, write commentaries, but she won’t appear before the Commission under oath. It just doesn’t seem to make sense.” Rice reiterates that she is defending “a constitutional principle,” and insists, “We’re not hiding anything.” Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write, “The White House, so often masterly in its TV management, particularly when it came to guarding its 9/11 franchise in an election year, was wildly off its game” during this period. Eventually Rice, unable to defend her refusal to testify in light of her frequent public pronouncements, will agree to testify before the Commission (see April 8, 2004). [Rich, 2006, pp. 114-119]
National Security Council spokesman Jim Wilkinson engages in rather unusual tactics against former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, in response to Clarke’s recent criticisms of the Bush administration’s lack of preparation for the 9/11 attacks (see March 22, 2004 and March 24, 2004). Wilkinson is abetted by CNN news anchor Wolf Blitzer.
'X-Files Stuff' - In the CNN studio, Wilkinson twists a passage from Clarke’s book Against All Enemies, saying: “He’s talking about how he sits back and visualizes chanting by bin Laden and how bin Laden has some sort of mind control over US officials. This is sort of ‘X-Files’ stuff.” [CNN, 3/30/2004] (The precise quote, as reported by the New York Times’s Paul Krugman, is: “Bush handed that enemy precisely what it wanted and needed.… It was as if Osama bin Laden, hidden in some high mountain redoubt, were engaging in long-range mind control of George Bush.” Krugman writes: “That’s not ‘X-Files stuff’: it’s a literary device, meant to emphasize just how ill conceived our policy is. Mr. Blitzer should be telling Mr. Wilkinson to apologize, not rerunning those comments in his own defense.”) [New York Times, 4/2/2004]
'Weird Aspects in His Life' - For his part, Blitzer later says in a question to CNN’s John King: “What administration officials have been saying since the weekend, basically that Richard Clarke from their vantage point was a disgruntled former government official, angry because he didn’t get a certain promotion. He’s got a hot new book out now that he wants to promote. He wants to make a few bucks, and that his own personal life, they’re also suggesting that there are some weird aspects in his life as well, that they don’t know what made this guy come forward and make these accusations against the president.”
CNN Clarification - Blitzer’s use of innuendo (“weird aspects in his life”) from unnamed administration sources causes enough of a backlash that Blitzer issues a “clarification” of his remarks: “I was not referring to anything charged by so-called unnamed White House officials.… I was simply seeking to flesh out what Bush National Security Council spokesman Jim Wilkinson had said on this program two days earlier.… Other than that… White House officials were not talking about Clarke’s personal life in any way.” As author and media critic Frank Rich will point out, Blitzer’s clarification is disingenuous in his implicit denial that his administration sources were anonymous, when in fact they were not. [CNN, 3/30/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 114-119] (Krugman, who blasted Blitzer in his column, responds to Blitzer’s clarification by writing, “Silly me: I ‘alleged’ that Mr. Blitzer said something because he actually said it, and described ‘so-called unnamed’ officials as unnamed because he didn’t name them.”) [New York Times, 4/2/2004] Blitzer eventually admits that his source was not multiple administration officials, but a single official (whom he refuses to name), and that the “weird aspects” of Clarke’s life were nothing more than his tendency to obsess over terrorist attack scenarios. [CNN, 3/30/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 114-119]
It is reported that the FBI has closed down their investigation into Saudis Omar al-Bayoumi and Osama Basnan. The Associated Press reports, “The FBI concluded at most the two Saudi men occasionally provided information to their kingdom or helped Saudi visitors settle into the United States, but did so in compliance with Muslim custom of being kind to strangers rather than out of some relationship with Saudi intelligence.” [Associated Press, 3/24/2004] Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL) had cochaired the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry that found considerable evidence tying these two men to two 9/11 hijackers and also to the Saudi government. When he sees this news report, he contacts the FBI and is told the report is not correct and that the investigation into the two men is still ongoing. A month later, FBI Director Robert Mueller tells Graham that the report was correct, and the case has been closed. Graham asks Mueller to speak to the two FBI agents who reached this conclusion and find out why they reached it. He asks that he should be allowed the same access to them that the Associated Press had been given. Both Mueller and Attorney General John Ashcroft refuse to give clearance for the agents to speak to Graham. Graham then writes a letter with Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), again asking for clarification and the right to meet with the agents. Their request is denied. Graham concludes that this is something it “seems that neither the FBI nor the Bush administration wants the American people to find out about.” [Graham and Nussbaum, 2004, pp. 224-227]
Some are shocked and outraged by President Bush’s jokes about missing WMD during a recent black-tie dinner thrown by the media industry (see March 24, 2004).
John Kerry - Bush’s challenger for the presidency, John Kerry (D-MA), calls Bush’s attitude towards the sacrifices made by the troops “stunningly cavalier,” and adds: “If George Bush thinks his deceptive rationale for going to war is a laughing matter, then he’s even more out of touch than we thought.… Unfortunately for the president, this is not a joke.… 585 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq in the last year, 3,354 have been wounded and there’s no end in sight. George Bush sold us on going to war with Iraq based on the threat of weapons of mass destruction. But we still haven’t found them, and now he thinks that’s funny?” [BBC, 3/26/2004; Guardian, 3/26/2004]
Al Sharpton - Another Democratic presidential candidate, the Reverend Al Sharpton (D-NY), says Bush’s joke is “one of the most despicable acts of a sitting president.” Sharpton continues: “Well, that’s not a joke to us, Mr. Bush. Five hundred soldiers lost their lives, looking for weapons that weren’t there. Billions of taxpayer dollars were spent looking for weapons that weren’t there.”
Veteran - Iraq war veteran Brad Owens says: “War is the single most serious event that a president or government can carry its people into. This cheapens the sacrifice that American soldiers and their families are dealing with every single day.” [BBC, 3/26/2004; Associated Press, 3/26/2004]
Jerrold Nadler - Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) calls Bush’s performance “out of line and in poor taste.… It’s disgusting that during his little performance on stage, the president seemed to forget that people are dying in Iraq because of weapons of mass destruction he lied about.” [New York Daily News, 3/25/2004]
Dead Soldier's Father - Jorge Medina, whose son Irving Medina was slain in Iraq, retorts: “This is disgraceful. He doesn’t think of all the families that are suffering.… I think this is very distasteful for all of the families who lost a child or parent or relative in Iraq. You know, these men—are liars, bold-faced liars—and I believe that he doesn’t care about the soldiers, and he doesn’t care about the lives who are lost there.… It’s wrong for the soldiers, we are not honoring the soldiers that way. We’re making fun of why they died.” [Democracy Now!, 3/26/2004]
DNC Chairman - Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe says: “This is a very serious issue. We’ve lost hundreds of troops, as you know, over there. Let’s not be laughing about not being able to find weapons of mass destruction.… They’re not there. That is the issue. We should not take it to a new step to make fun of the situation.”
Administration Response - The White House insists that Bush was merely poking fun at himself. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld refuses to comment on Bush’s presentation, noting that he was not in attendance. [BBC, 3/26/2004; Associated Press, 3/26/2004]
Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Jerrold Nadler, Brad Owens, John Kerry, Al Sharpton, Irving Medina, Terry McAuliffe, Jorge Medina
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
David Corn. [Source: The Nation]Progressive author and columnist David Corn writes of his reaction to President Bush’s jokes about missing WMD during a recent black-tie dinner thrown by the media industry (see March 24, 2004). Corn writes that he recoiled in shock at the humor of Bush’s slide show, which featured him looking for “those weapons of mass destruction” in the Oval Office. Corn notes that Bush, like earlier presidents, is expected to have some fun at his own expense, either in a speech or a skit or the like. Bush has entertained the assembled reporters, editors, and lawmakers with slide shows in the past, and he did the same again. Much of the presentation was what Corn called “standard fare humor,” with Bush preparing for a tough election fight while wearing a boxing robe, and poking fun at Vice President Cheney.
"I Wasn't Getting It" - But, Corn writes, when the first slide of Bush looking for WMD in the Oval Office is shown, “I grimaced.” Others laughed. The assemblage continued laughing at the second and third slides of the series. Corn did not. One of his tablemates said, “Come on, David, this is funny.” Corn writes: “I wanted to reply, Over 500 Americans and literally countless Iraqis are dead because of a war that was supposedly fought to find weapons of mass destruction, and Bush is joking about it. Instead, I took a long drink of the lovely white wine that had come with our dinner. It’s not as if I was in the middle of a talk-show debate and had to respond. This was certainly one of those occasions in which you either get it or don’t. And I wasn’t getting it. Or maybe my neighbor wasn’t.” Corn notes that the last two slides honored US soldiers, writing: “Bush was somber about the sacrifice being made by US troops overseas. But he obviously considered it fine to make fun of the reason he cited for sending Americans to war and to death. What an act of audacious spin.… As the crowd was digesting the delicious surf-and-turf meal, Bush was transforming serious scandal into rim-shot comedy.”
Too Sensitive? - Corn is equally shocked at the lack of reaction from his fellow media figures. “Was I being too sensitive?” he asks. He answers, “I wondered what the spouse, child or parent of a soldier killed in Iraq would have felt if they had been watching C-SPAN and saw the commander in chief mocking the supposed justification for the war that claimed their loved ones.” Corn concludes that Bush’s jokes made up a “callous and arrogant display,” and adds: “For Bush, the misinformation—or disinformation—he peddled before the war was no more than material for yucks. As the audience laughed along, he smiled. The false statements (or lies) that had launched a war had become merely another punchline in the nation’s capital.” [Nation, 3/25/2004]
Former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, lambasted by Bush administration supporters (see March 24, 2004) for his criticism of the administration’s foreign policies (see March 21, 2004 and March 24, 2004), counters some of that criticism by noting that when he resigned from the administration a year earlier, he was highly praised by President Bush (see January 31, 2003).
Differing Characterizations from Administration - On Meet the Press, Clarke reads aloud the handwritten note from Bush that lauds his service, telling host Tim Russert: “This is his writing. This is the president of the United States’ writing. And when they’re engaged in character assassination of me, let’s just remember that on January 31, 2003: ‘Dear Dick, you will be missed. You served our nation with distinction and honor. You have left a positive mark on our government.’ This is not the normal typewritten letter that everybody gets. This is the president’s handwriting. He thinks I served with distinction and honor. The rest of his staff is out there trying to destroy my professional life, trying to destroy my reputation, because I had the temerity to suggest that a policy issue should be discussed. What is the role of the war on terror vis-a-vis the war in Iraq? Did the war in Iraq really hurt the war on terror? Because I suggest we should have a debate on that, I am now being the victim of a taxpayer-paid—because all these people work for the government—character assassination campaign.”
Never Briefed Bush on Terrorism - Clarke also notes that the letter proves he never briefed Bush on terrorism because he was not allowed to provide such a briefing (see Early January 2001). He tells Russert: “You know, they’re saying now that when I was afforded the opportunity to talk to him about cybersecurity, it was my choice. I could have talked about terrorism or cybersecurity. That’s not true. I asked in January to brief him, the president, on terrorism, to give him the same briefing I had given Vice President Cheney, Colin Powell, and [Condoleezza] Rice. And I was told, ‘You can’t do that briefing, Dick, until after the policy development process.’” [MSNBC, 3/28/2004; Salon, 3/29/2004]
Administration Should Declassifiy August 2002 Briefing - Clarke also calls on the administration to declassify “all six hours” of the briefing he gave to top officials in August 2002 about the impending threat of a terrorist attack (see August 22, 2002). The administration has selectively declassified material from that briefing to impugn Clarke’s honesty and integrity. “I would welcome it being declassified,” Clarke says. “But not just a little line here and there—let’s declassify all six hours of my testimony.” He also asks that the administration declassify the strategy reports from 2001 that he authored, and all of his e-mails between January 2001 and September 2001, to prove that the charges laid against him by the administration are false. He calls on the White House to end what he calls the “vicious personal attacks” and “character assassination,” and focus on issues. “The issue is not about me,” he tells a CNN reporter. “The issue is about the president’s performance in the war on terrorism.” [MSNBC, 3/28/2004; CNN, 3/28/2004]
The FBI issues a bulletin to state and local law enforcement agencies which states that terrorists may use cultural, artistic or athletic visas to slip into the United States undetected. This is followed by another bulletin one day later from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security warning of pending terrorist attacks on buses and trains in major cities during the summer. The uncorroborated intelligence cited by the warning indicates the possible use of a bomb made out of ammonium nitrate fertilizer and diesel fuel, similar to the one used in the Oklahoma City federal building attack. This intelligence, as well as the March 11, 2004, train bombings in Madrid (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), reportedly increases the level of concern that terrorists are planning an attack in the US. It is reported that the intelligence community believes that al-Qaeda has the full intent and capability to execute coordinated and deadly attacks on public transportation systems. [PBS, 4/2/2004] No such attacks occur. The warning apparently is given because a number of suspects are arrested in Britain who had been working on a fertilizer bomb, but they have been under surveillance and their fertilizer had been replaced with a harmless substance. In the thousands of hours of monitored conversations, none of them mentioned anything about bombing the US (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004). One day prior to the first alert, Charles Duelfer, the chief weapons inspector in Iraq, informed Congress that no WMD have been found to date. [MSNBC, 6/4/2007]
In his monthly newsletter, conservative pundit Rush Limbaugh says that American liberals and Democrats are attacking President Bush for his Christian faith. “So now what does the left attack the president for?” he writes. “His belief in God!… Well, I’m going to predict something. If enough voters hear [Washington Post reporter] Bob Woodward berate Bush for relying on God, get ready for it.… Let them impugn the president of the United States for his admitting that he prays for the safety of the troops and the American people, let them make fun of that. They’re going to pay the price.” Limbaugh offers no evidence that nationally recognized liberals, Democratic Party members, or prominent reporters such as Woodward have criticized Bush for his Christian beliefs. [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 101]
After a tour of duty in Iraq, the Army Ranger platoon containing Pat and Kevin Tillman, the Black Sheep—officially, 2nd Platoon, A Company, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment—ship out from Fort Lewis, Washington, to Afghanistan. It is to participate in a new offensive codenamed Operation Mountain Storm (OMS) (see May 23-June 1, 2002 and Early 2003).
Tillman 'Battled Steadfastly' - The year before, the Tillman brothers’ platoon had been sent to Iraq (see March 2003). There, in place of his fallen lead gunner, Pat Tillman stepped up to his first firefight and “battled steadfastly.” Although Tillman voices opposition to the war in Iraq, he originally joined the military because he wanted to fight in Afghanistan (see Early 2004).
Redeployed for Operation Mountain Storm - Assigned to the newly-minted OMS campaign, the infantrymen in the Tillmans’ platoon are to act as “special operators,” tasked to “flush out and entrap enemy guerrillas,” sweeping zones “grid by grid,” and traveling in “small, mobile, lethal units.” As Rangers, the soldiers are trained in the use of unconventional, commando-style tactics in which small units conduct search-and-destroy missions rather than larger combat operations. The US Department of Defense has developed a strategy designed to eliminate insurgents along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border relying on searching for weapons and guerrilla fighters by “sweeping and clearing” villages. It is while on such a search and destroy mission during OMS that Pat Tillman will meet his death under circumstances triggering a military criminal probe (see April 23, 2004). [Washington Post, 12/5/2004]
Spc. Casey Sheehan. [Source: Associated Press]Specialist Casey Sheehan, an Eagle Scout, church group leader, and honor student who enlisted in the Army in 2000, dies during an ambush in Sadr City, Baghdad. Sheehan had been in Iraq for only two weeks. His death will drive his mother, Cindy Sheehan, to become a noted peace activist (see August 6, 2005 and After). Specialist Sheehan and six other American soldiers die during a rescue mission in Sadr City. Sheehan and his compatriots are left to fend for themselves by their Iraqi cohorts, newly trained militiamen who flee when fighters for Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army attack their position. Sheehan’s death will become a powerful counterargument against claims by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other Bush officials that “over 200,000 Iraqis… have been trained and equipped” and are “out on the front line taking the brunt of the violence.” Author and media critic Frank Rich will write that given the wildly inflated claims by Rumsfeld and others about the size and effectiveness of the Iraqi soldiers, and the increasing power wielded by al-Sadr, “[i]t is hard to see what Cindy Sheehan’s young son had died for.” [US Department of Defense, 4/7/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 193-194] Mrs. Sheehan, as part of a group of bereaved family members who suffered their own losses in Iraq, will meet with President Bush soon after her son’s death, and come away dissatisfied and angry. Recalling the meeting, she will say: “We wanted [the president] to look at pictures of Casey, we wanted him to hear stories about Casey, and he wouldn’t. He changed the subject every time we tried. He wouldn’t say Casey’s name, called him, ‘your loved one.’” [Los Angeles Times, 8/11/2005]
President Bush talks about the Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) he was given on August 6, 2001, entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US.” He claims, “There was nothing in this report to me that said, ‘Oh, by the way, we’ve got intelligence that says something is about to happen in America.‘… There was nothing in there that said, you know, ‘There is an imminent attack.’ That wasn’t what the report said. The report was kind of a history of Osama’s intentions.” [Associated Press, 4/12/2004] He adds, “[T]he PDB was no indication of a terrorist threat. There was not a time and place of an attack. It said Osama bin Laden had designs on America. Well, I knew that. What I wanted to know was, is there anything specifically going to take place in America that we needed to react to.… I was satisfied that some of the matters were being looked into. But that PDB said nothing about an attack on America. It talked about intentions, about somebody who hated America—well, we knew that.… Had I known there was going to be an attack on America, I would have moved mountains to stop the attack.” [US President, 4/19/2004] The complete text of the PDB was released the day before Bush’s comments and in fact the PDB does very clearly discuss an imminent attack on the US. For instance, it says that FBI information “indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York.” And it discusses a call to a US “embassy in the UAE in May  saying that a group of bin Laden supporters was in the US planning attacks with explosives” (see August 6, 2001).
In a press conference, President Bush states, “We knew he [Osama bin Laden] had designs on us, we knew he hated us. But there was nobody in our government, and I don’t think [in] the prior government, that could envision flying airplanes into buildings on such a massive scale.” [Guardian, 4/15/2004] He also says, “Had I any inkling whatsoever that the people were going to fly airplanes into buildings, we would have moved heaven and earth to save the country.” [New York Times, 4/18/2004; US President, 4/19/2004] Bush made similar comments two days earlier (see April 11, 2004). In July 2004, he will claim even more generally, “Had we had any inkling whatsoever that terrorists were about to attack our country, we would have moved heaven and earth to protect America.” [New Jersey Star-Ledger, 7/22/2004]
President Bush flounders in answering a question about what his “biggest mistake” after 9/11 might have been. During a White House press conference, Time reporter John Dickerson asks Bush: “In the last campaign, you were asked a question about the biggest mistake you’d made in your life, and you used to like to joke that it was trading Sammy Sosa. You’ve looked back before 9/11 for what mistakes might have been made. After 9/11, what would your biggest mistake be, would you say, and what lessons have you learned from it?” Bush’s press secretary, Scott McClellan, is horrified by what he later calls Bush’s “tortured response to a straightforward question.” Bush attempts to buy a moment with a quip—“I wish you would have given me this written question ahead of time, so I could plan for it”—but continues to fumble, saying: “John, I’m sure historians will look back and say, gosh, he could have done it better this way, or that way. You know, I just—I’m sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference, with all the pressure of trying to come up with an answer, but it hadn’t yet.”
'A Terrible Silence' - After what McClellan will recall as “an agonizingly long pause… a terrible silence [that] hung embarrassingly in the air,” Bush continues: “I would have gone into Afghanistan the way we went into Afghanistan. Even knowing what I know today about the stockpiles of weapons, I still would have called upon the world to deal with Saddam Hussein. See, I happen to believe that we’ll find out the truth on the weapons. That’s why we’ve sent up the independent commission. I look forward to hearing the truth, exactly where they are. They could still be there. They could be hidden, like the 50 tons of mustard gas in a turkey farm. One of the things that [weapons inspector] Charlie Duelfer talked about was that he was surprised at the level of intimidation he found amongst people who should know about weapons, and their fear of talking about them because they don’t want to be killed. There’s a terror still in the soul of some of the people in Iraq; they’re worried about getting killed, and, therefore, they’re not going to talk. But it will all settle out, John. We’ll find out the truth about the weapons at some point in time. However, the fact that he had the capacity to make them bothers me today, just like it would have bothered me then. He’s a dangerous man. He’s a man who actually—not only had weapons of mass destruction—the reason I can say that with certainty is because he used them. And I have no doubt in my mind that he would like to have inflicted harm, or paid people to inflict harm, or trained people to inflict harm on America, because he hated us.” After justifying his military actions, Bush concludes: “I hope I—I don’t want to sound like I’ve made no mistakes. I’m confident I have. I just haven’t—you just put me under the spot here, and maybe I’m not as quick on my feet as I should be in coming up with one.” McClellan will write that he remains “stone-faced and motionless” as Bush manages to flounder through the question without actually admitting any mistakes. [US President, 4/19/2004; McClellan, 2008, pp. 204-208]
'Why Can't He Pull Up Some of Those Talking Points?' - McClellan’s first response is to blame himself for Bush’s inability to answer the question, then he has what he later calls a “counterreaction,” thinking: “Wait a second! We’re talking about the president of the United States here! He didn’t get to be president without being able to bat down a simple question. We’ve talked about mistakes. We’ve talked about 9/11. We’ve talked about the invasion of Iraq. Why can’t he pull up some of those talking points?” McClellan calls Bush’s answer “rambling, rather incoherent, and ultimately unsatisfying.”
A 'Cocksure' President - After the press conference, McClellan and White House communications director Dan Bartlett carefully approach the president. They agree among themselves that the Dickerson question had gone poorly, but know better than to broach the subject to Bush straight out. They begin, McClellan later recalls, by complimenting Bush on “hitting the right tone and getting his message across” on the government’s fight against terrorism. Then, McClellan will write: “Dan tactfully broached the awkward response of the Dickerson question. We had to bring it up in the little time we knew we could hold the president’s attention.” Bush says: “I kept thinking about what they wanted me to say—that it was a mistake to go into Iraq. And I’m not going to. It was the right decision.” McClellan will recall Bush’s tone as “cocksure and matter-of-fact, not testy.”
McClellan: Bush Unwilling to Admit Mistakes for Fear of Appearing Weak - McClellan will later reflect: “There were many other times, in private and in public, when the president defended the most fateful decision of his administration. But few will be remembered as vividly as the one he made that night. It became symbolic of a leader unable to acknowledge that he got it wrong, and unwilling to grow in office by learning from his mistake—too stubborn to change and grow.” McClellan believes Bush is afraid to admit a mistake for “fear of appearing weak,” and will write: “A more self-confident executive would be willing to acknowledge failure, to trust people’s ability to forgive those who seek redemption for mistakes and show a readiness for change.” McClellan will add that Bush was unwilling to risk “the personal pain he would have suffered if he’d had to acknowledge that the war against [Iraq] may have been unnecessary.” But, McClellan will conclude: “Bush was not one to look back once a decision was made. Rather than suffer any sense of guilt and anguish, Bush chose not to go down the road of self-doubt or take on the difficult task of honest evaluation and reassessment.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 204-208]
Defending Bush - Representative Duncan Hunter (R-CA), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, defends Bush’s refusal to admit any mistakes by saying Bush struck the proper tone with his questioners. “He was giving us a leadership statement on Iraq,” Hunter says, and adds, “That is not the right time for reporters to try to throw the president down on the analyst’s couch and have him try to tell them about all of his failings. He has to spend his time giving a vision of the future for the country.” [Los Angeles Times, 4/14/2004]
The Army notifies the Tillman family that Pat Tillman (see May 23-June 1, 2002) has been killed in combat in Afghanistan. It reports that Tillman, a 27 year old Ranger who gave up a lucrative football career to join the US Army, was airlifted to the nearest field hospital in Salerno, where he died an hour later. It will be another five weeks before the family learns Tillman died, not in combat with the enemy, but in a “friendly fire” incident. Eventually, they will also learn that the Salerno field hospital report, apparently written up the day of his death, stating that he died an hour after arrival, contradicts fellow soldiers who will testify that he was clearly dead at the scene of the attack. [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/25/2005]
Cover of Mary Tillman’s book, titled after reason given for order to split platoon. [Source: Rodalestore (.com)]En route to its last “sweep and clear” operation on the 10th day of a combat patrol mission in southeastern Afghanistan, the Black Sheep, Pat and Kevin Tillman’s Ranger platoon, is forced to lay over in Magarah, a small town in “the heart of Taliban country,” because of a vehicle breakdown (see May 23-June 1, 2002 and April 20-22,2004). [Washington Post, 12/5/2004] Their young platoon leader, Lieutenant David Uthlaut, relays the situation to a tactical operations center (TOC) at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Salerno, near Khost, 65 miles away. There, the “Cross Functional Team” (CFT) works out platoon movements stationed in “a 20-by-30 tent with a projection screen and a satellite radio.” Already running late as a result of trying to repair and then tow the Humvee, the soldiers are low on supplies, “down to the water in their CamelBak drinking pouches, and forced to buy a goat from a local vendor.” [Associated Press, 11/9/2006]
Warning in Magarah Ignored - Later, several soldiers will report that an ominous incident occurs in Magarah during their “down time.” They testify that a village doctor passes a note that the chain of command on the ground ignores. Although they will not all agree on the exact contents of the note, they concur that it warns of impending enemy action against them. [US Department of the Army, 3/19/2007 ]
Soldiers Want to Get Rid of the Humvee - Some of the men, among them Kevin Tillman, think they should dispose of the $50,000 Humvee and “blow the b_tch up.” [ESPN, 10/12/2006; Tillman and Zacchino, 2008] Army regulations won’t allow it. And if they abandon the gun-mounted vehicle, base command is worried that guerrilla fighters could take propagandist pictures of themselves in possession of it. [Tillman and Zacchino, 2008, pp. 51]
Uthlaut Goes over Options with Command: They Leave Him Only One - Uthlaut offers an option: as previously, tow the disabled Humvee using another Humvee, but this time “on two wheels instead of four.” This would mean the platoon as a whole would bring the Humvee up to paved road for a wrecker to haul it back to the base. Command at TOC nixes this solution as it is concerned that additional stress to the Humvee’s rear suspension could further damage it. Uthlaut asks for a helicopter sling load for the Humvee. His request is denied. An officer at TOC tries to arrange for airborne support for the platoon. This request is also denied. [Associated Press, 11/9/2006; US Department of the Army, 3/19/2007 ] As Uthlaut messages the cross-functional team at TOC, locals are “coming out of the village” to ascertain what is going on. An Afghani “Jinga” (flatbed tow truck) driver offers to haul the vehicle out of the valley and up to a hard-topped road for a price. Uthlaut helps to negotiate the deal.
Now, reporting in to base command again, he enumerates three possible options to save both the vehicle and the mission. Uthlaut will later testify: “The first option was to split the platoon and send one element to deal with getting the broken HMMWV to the hardtop and the other element would move to the village and begin clearing operations. The second option was to keep the whole platoon together, move with the HMMWV up to the hardball [sic] road, drop the broken HMMWV off with the escort platoon and the wrecker, then move as a platoon to start clearing Manah. The third option was not to worry about meeting a wrecker or escort platoon and move as a platoon with the ‘Jinga’ truck towing the broken [redacted] and then take further orders from there.” Uthlaut continues, “From there, the response I got back from [REDACTED] was to go with option one, which was to split the platoon.”
Uthlaut "Pushes the Envelope" - Uthlaut questions the order. He messages CFT the following: “I strongly recommend not splitting the platoon… for several reasons.” Mainly, Uthlaut is concerned for the safety of the platoon. He feels its security will be undermined by the split. Part of the platoon will be without a satellite radio. In addition, half of the soldiers will be without his immediate command. He brings up these concerns and also asks if it is not a problem that one of the two “serial” convoys will have less firepower in that there is only one heavy weapon—a .50 caliber machine gun—between the entire platoon. This fact does not persuade command to alter its order. In addition, Uthlaut will testify that he is aware that standard operating procedure had changed since two Rangers were killed in ambush recently—“our clearing procedures were to clear the villages in the day time”—so as to be a less visible target. He asks if the platoon element that is to go ahead to Manah will begin a night operation. Even as he makes plans to re-configure his men into separate convoys, he is still “disagreeing with… the course of action.” His concerns about communication are met with the information that there is another satellite radio on one of the vehicles in addition to his own, as the company commander’s vehicle is being used. Then he learns that “the clearing was not to start at night.” Instead, serial one proceeding in advance of serial two is to “set up an assembly area,” outside of the village, wait for two, and clear the next morning in daylight.
Command Wants Boots on the Ground before Nightfall - Uthlaut presses for clarification. He asks if the whole purpose of sending one element ahead of the other is “to get boots on the ground before nightfall.” He will say that he is told “yes, that was the intent.” [US Department of the Army, 3/19/2007, pp. 77-79 ] Although exactly who gives the order to split the platoon will remain in contention across several future investigations, the record will show that soldiers on the ground and even some back at TOC do not think it wise. [US Department of the Army, 3/19/2007 ] But Uthlaut will later testify that he “figured I had pushed the envelope far enough and [I] accepted the mission.” It will be dark soon. After a six hour stop over, Ulthaut must hurry his men to their respective destinations. Sergeant Trevor Alders, later identified as one of the shooters in that day’s friendly fire incident (see April 23, 2004) will tell Army investigators that his convoy, serial two, escorting the Afghani tow truck driver, does not even have a chance to glance at a map before “we were rushed to conduct an operation that had such flaws… which in the end would prove to be fatal.” [Associated Press, 11/9/2006]
Ordered by command to split up into two convoys, Kevin and Pat Tillman’s platoon leaves Magarah (see April 22, 2004 and May 23-June 1, 2002) en route to clear the village of Manah near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Both convoys must move through a narrow canyon, presided over by steep cliffs where they are easy targets for enemy fighters.
Brothers in Separate Convoys - The brothers ride in separate convoys, Pat in designated Serial One, advancing to the village; Kevin, in designated Serial Two, escorting a local tow truck with the platoon’s disabled Humvee (see April 20-22,2004).
Platoon Leader Did Not Want Split - The platoon’s leader, Lieutenant David Uthlaut, who has strongly resisted the split-up—believing it compromises security in terms of weapons, communications, personnel, and command—leads Serial One. Sergeant Greg Baker commands “the heaviest armed vehicle” in Serial Two. Subsequent investigations will determine that two of Baker’s men have never been under fire before. [CounterPunch, 8/9/2007; Krakauer, 2009, pp. 250-276]
Serial One is the first to go through a dangerous canyon en route to complete a combat patrol mission (see 6:00 p.m. April 22, 2004). Military writer Stan Goff will describe the extremely narrow canyon as acting “like a funnel, a megaphone.” In a later book, Where Men Win Glory, author Jon Krakauer will write that Pat Tillman’s convoy must “move at an excruciatingly slow pace,” taking 20 minutes to do so because “the slot [is] so tight that the Humvees’ fenders scraped against its sheer walls.” [CounterPunch, 8/9/2007; Krakauer, 2009, pp. 250-276]
Afghanistan Canyon Area. [Source: ABC News]Serial Two of the Tillman brothers’ Rangers’ platoon, the Black Sheep, heads in a different direction from Serial One to deliver a disabled Humvee to a wrecker on the Khost highway (see April 20-22,2004). However, the tow truck driver refuses to continue when the road becomes impassable. He suggests taking the same route as Serial One, passing Manah to “circle around to the designated highway.” Sergeant Eric Godec must make the call. Although he finds his serial, Two, has lost radio communication with One, he agrees. Two must now make it through the same narrow passage as One (see 6:14 p.m.-6:34 p.m. April 22, 2004) with about 17 men and six vehicles, including the tow. [Washington Post, 12/5/2004; CounterPunch, 8/9/2007; Krakauer, 2009, pp. 250-276]
Soldiers Have Eerie Feeling - Men in both convoys will recall having “an eerie feeling” as they pass through the canyon. Kevin Tillman will say, “I knew damn well we were going to get hit.” According to author Jon Krakauer, “the cliffs rose so precipitously [on either side of the canyon],” Private Bryan O’Neal, in Serial Two, has to “lie on his back in order to scan the canyon’s ledges for Taliban through the scope of his M4 carbine.” Sergeant Trevor Alders, manning the Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) for Serial Two, and later named one of the “friendlies” shooting at Pat Tillman’s position, will recall that the men speak of this “mutual feeling” of “eeriness” among themselves. As he remembers it, “the canyon closed in on us as we went further into it.” [Associated Press, 11/9/2006; US Department of the Army, 3/19/2007 ; Krakauer, 2009, pp. 250-276]
US Army soldiers in Afghanistan at dusk. [Source: ESPN (.com)]Pat Tillman’s part of the Black Sheep Platoon, known as Serial One, gets through a perilous canyon passage without incident. But just as it emerges—after missing a turn—at the far mouth of the canyon, to an open area on the edge of a nearby village, it receives what will be described as “a highly-amplified, and highly-alarming acoustics-and-light show.” This is the effect of the other part of the platoon, known as Serial Two, engaging apparent guerrilla fighters from within the depths of the canyon (see April 22, 2004, 6:00 p.m. April 22, 2004, 6:18 pm April 22, 2004, and 6:14 p.m.-6:34 p.m. April 22, 2004). In his book on Pat Tillman, author Jon Krakauer will write that “from behind them, gunfire erupted inside the canyon. The Rangers in Serial One [look] back to see red tracer bullets blasting out of the passage, and [scramble] to provide cover for their embattled fellow soldiers.” [Associated Press, 11/9/2006; CounterPunch, 8/9/2007; Krakauer, 2009, pp. 250-276]
Kevin and Pat Tillman. [Source: IraqHeroes (.com)]The Tillman brothers (see May 23-June 1, 2002) ride in separate convoys to complete a mission, Pat Tillman in designated Serial One and Kevin Tillman in Serial Two; while One moves safely through a dangerous canyon, Two, following shortly behind, runs into an ambush ( see April 22, 2004 and 6:14 p.m.-6:34 p.m. April 22, 2004).
Trapped in 'Kill Zone' - Serial Two—in the canyon only a minute—hears an explosion. Thinking they have hit a land mine or that an IED has been detonated, Sergeant Greg Baker and his men follow Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) and dismount their “machine gun-laden” vehicle. Baker, in command of that vehicle, will later testify that he “noticed rocks falling,” and “then… saw the second and third mortar rounds hit.” He also will say that he could hear the “rattle of enemy small arms fire.” Now, realizing they are in an ambush, Two tries to get out of the “kill zone,” but the tow truck, which has been at the head of the convoy, blocks the way, its driver “cowering behind rocks.” Baker grabs the driver, throws him back in the truck, and gets him to move out, while he unloads his weapon “up the canyon walls” until it is out of ammunition. He dismounts the tow truck, racing back to his own vehicle—a roofless Humvee open on all sides—reloads, and continues firing. [Washington Post, 12/5/2004; Krakauer, 2009, pp. 264]
Serial Two 'Trigger-Happy' - Ranger Corporal Jason Parsons, a Serial Two member, will describe a scene of “tunnel vision” and “panic,” as his “trigger-happy crew”—men in the convoy’s last vehicle—fire at dark shapes they perceive above, to their north. Both Black Sheep soldiers, Pedro Arreola and Kyle Jones, shoot multiple rounds at this area, the northern ridge line. Kevin Tillman, riding atop Parson’s Humvee, holds his fire, fearing a ricochet effect will land his ordinance on a fellow Ranger’s head, but when he does finally see an opportunity to get off a shot, he finds his Mark 19 machine gun jammed, perhaps due to all the jostling, and he cannot get off a grenade during the entire incident. [Krakauer, 2009, pp. 250-276]
Half of Pat Tillman’s platoon, the Black Sheep, attempts to exit a narrow canyon-slot in southeastern Afghanistan where it has been ambushed (see 6:34 p.m. April 22, 2004). Coming out of the ambush, the part of the platoon known as Serial Two, in which Tillman’s brother Kevin rides, fires on Serial One, Pat Tillman’s convoy (see May 23-June 1, 2002 and 6:34 p.m. April 22, 2004).
Serial Two out of Canyon, Keeps Firing - As the men in Serial Two race out of the canyon, firing at an enemy they believe surrounds them, they do not know where One is positioned. And they do not know that One is trying to provide them with cover. Testifying in the Army’s later criminal investigation, Pat Tillman’s squad leader, Sergeant Matthew Weeks, will state that he “heard over the radio” of Two’s change in route. But he does not recall being able to get through to Two to coordinate their positions. Yet, he will state that because Two had been briefed as to One’s route, according to “Ranger training,” its men should have been able to maintain “situational awareness.” He will add that he does not think, however, that they “had any idea how close we were.” [US Department of the Army, 3/19/2007 ]
Pat Tillman Leads Fire Team - Specialist Bryan O’Neal is nearest in proximity to Pat Tillman during the whole of the firefight. Initially, upon hearing an explosion, Lieutenant David Uthlaut orders the first convoy to dismount and “press the fight.” He assigns Tillman as one of the three fire team leaders. Tillman dismounts the second vehicle in the convoy and beckons for O’Neal, in the lead vehicle, to hurry up and follow him. One of the Allied Militia Forces (AMF) soldiers, an Afghani armed with an AK 47, has dismounted the vehicle he shares with four other AMFs and their interpreter, and he catches up with O’Neal and Tillman, the three of them then taking a position on a spur on the outskirts of a nearby village. Testifying in the third Army investigation which will, subsequent to this day’s events, be conducted by Brigadier General Gary Jones, O’Neal will state that he follows Tillman’s fire, opening up where he believes Tillman thinks the attackers are firing from. O’Neal can see muzzle flashes up on top of the ridge line. [Washington Post, 12/5/2004; ESPN, 7/19/2006; US Army, 7/19/2006 ; US Department of the Army, 3/19/2007, pp. 77-79 ]
Serial Two Draws Fire; AMF Soldier Fires AK-47 over Road - Weeks will report seeing muzzle flashes and silhouettes and that the first convoy “received fire from across the valley as well.” Tillman runs back to his squad’s leader to ask him if he can take off his body armor and also to let him know where he is positioned. According to Army regulations, Weeks cannot allow him to drop his body armor. O’Neal will tell Army criminal investigators that while Tillman seeks orders from Weeks, the AMF soldier is “firing in all directions… firing over the main road.” Coming back to position, Tillman tells the small firing team that it will be running up a hill.
Squad Leader Weeks Gives Cease-Fire Signal; Sets off Flare - At this time, Weeks gets a radio transmission with the information that “Serial Two [is] mounting up to get around the tow truck vehicle.” He will state: “I remember the lead vehicle starting to make its way out of the canyon, after I had to stand up and look over the spur. I told everybody on the fire teams that friendlies [were] coming out of the low ground, and the lead vehicle was coming out of the canyon, and they mimiced [sic] the call. When I saw the vehicle coming out I also saw [Tillman’s] position. I knew Serial Two did not know where we were.” He will further relate that he rolls on his back and prepares a pen flare gun, then sees a vehicle carrying Sergeant Greg Baker and others stop and “the M240B gunner in the back… fire a burst of fire towards me.” Weeks sets off the flare and gives the cease-fire signal; although some of the soldiers will state to criminal investigators that there is no such signal known, others confirm that the signal is made by waving a hand and arm over the front of the face, palm out. As Weeks does this, he hears another burst, and then people in Baker’s vehicle shouting “cease fire.” [US Department of the Army, 3/19/2007, pp. 77-79 ]
A soldier posted close to Pat Tillman on a ridge-line fired upon by “friendlies” (see 6:34 p.m. - 6:44 p.m. April 22, 2004) will later testify that he, Tillman, and an Allied Forces soldier fighting with them, are fired upon in two incidents involving two different vehicles.
Account of Eyewitness in Nearest Proximity to Tillman - In Private Bryan O’Neal’s account, provided in the Army’s third investigation prior to its criminal probe, he recalls two encounters with friendly fire from two different vehicles, each of which he refers to as a “GMV.” He will testify that the first GMV fires an M-4 at the location where the AMF soldier, Tillman, and he are positioned on the spur, and that the AMF soldier is not hit until the “second encounter of friendly fire,” from a different vehicle. In an official inquiry conducted by Brigadier Gary Jones, O’Neal will detail the two encounters: “[M]y belief was that the first GMV that shot at us was like a cargo GMV, sir. It wasn’t—I didn’t, at that time, see any heavy—heavy weaponry on that sir. It was pretty much—you know there was nothing on it. And then the next one that came on us had a mounted fifty-cal and 240 and they were the ones that opened up on us, sir.” O’Neal will relate that in the initial confrontation with the first vehicle, the one he identifies as being a cargo transport, he and Tillman recognize friendlies, but not considering the situation serious, try to signal that they are friendlies by “a lot of waving.” O’Neal believes the shooters in the first vehicle realize they have made a “mistake,” and, as a result, “stop shooting… pretty instantaneously.” He will say the cargo GMV moves past them. Then the second vehicle “came and they pretty much stopped in the exact same spot… not too far forward of that spot.” But, according to O’Neal, “that one [the second, heavily armed vehicle] had a better angle on us.”
"I Guess They Figured We Were All Dead" - O’Neal will say that the second GMV “stopped and fired for a good 45 seconds to a minute,” but that “it felt like forever.” He will remember that “when they initially opened up… we were waving back and forth, back and forth,” but after GMV-2 hits them with “the fifty-cal and 240,” they stop moving, “and then they carried on after, I guess they figured we were all dead.” Asked about the distance of the second vehicle from his and Tillman’s position, he gauges it to be “no more than 30 meters,” possibly as far as 35. Although he will say he cannot see individual faces, the light is still good enough that he can see that “they were my friends.”
Tillman: "I Have Something that Can Help Us" - O’Neal will describe Tillman’s attempt to save their lives: “Pat was behind some pretty good cover, to where he wasn’t really too much in danger, and I was completely open for getting shot. I was watching them as they were shooting at me, and I was watching the rounds where they were—and Pat could look around—and I was noticing that most of their fire seemed to be directed towards me. The AMF guy, he was dead at that time. He was lying down. I could see him lying down and I realized that they were predominantly shooting at me and I guess he [Tillman] did too. And he moved out from behind his cover to throw some smoke.… All I remember him telling me, ‘Hey, don’t worry, I’ve got something that can help us.’ And he popped a smoke, I guess, and that’s when he got shot—one of the few times he got shot, sir.” Questioned as to when GMV-2 stops firing, O’Neal will reply, “Not too long after Pat threw the smoke, because I just remember him throwing the smoke and then he started having a cry in his call, you know, and he started screaming, ‘My name is Pat Tillman,’ and he said that probably five to 10 times, and then he went silent completely.” O’Neal will confirm that the shooters continue firing all through Tillman’s repeated “cry.”
Shooters Stopped - Towards the end of his testimony, O’Neal will be asked several times about whether or not GMV-2 was stopped when “they were firing.” He will answer that “they pulled up, stopped, looked at our position directly… it was like, stop, acquire, okay that’s our targets, now we can start firing.” In subsequent investigations, O’Neal will not be questioned about his account of receiving fire from two different GMVs, and he will not reiterate it. [ESPN, 7/19/2006]
Serial Two Leader Only Sees 'a Figure Holding an AK-47' - Sergeant Gary Baker, leader of the convoy later established to have fired at Pat Tillman’s position, will state that when he sees “a figure holding an AK-47, his muzzle flashing,” who is not wearing a helmet that might identify him as a coalition force soldier, he “[gets] tunnel vision.” He will claim that he does not notice O’Neal, Tillman, or any other Serial Two soldiers on the ridge-line. He will recall that the bearded Afghan is lying on his stomach. Others in his convoy will say the Afghan is shooting standing up, which they know to be the traditional fighting stance of “the enemy.” Although men under Baker’s command will say they can see that the Afghan is not dressed in what they call “man-dresses” (traditional garb) worn by guerrilla fighters, and in fact the CIA-trained Afghans traveling with the Black Sheep are all in standard battle dress uniforms (BDUs), none of the soldiers have combat trained with the allied Afghan fighters, and “shifting alliances” in the province have previously led to fatal mistakes in identifying friend from foe. Baker will say he sees a man with a dark complexion firing “a rifle typically carried by the enemy.” He believes the Afghan is firing directly at him. Only later does he realize that fading light, distance, and angle compromised his vision. In fact, the AMF soldier is attempting to provide cover for Baker and his men.
First Investigation Reports Tillman Was Charged - Baker opens up on the AMF, who is standing about 10 feet to the right of Tillman. His men follow his fire. Baker will refute the first investigative report, which notes that he dismounted his vehicle and “charged 15 meters toward Tillman” before firing. Staff Sergeant Kellett Sayre, Baker’s driver, will say he is also initially wary of the AK-47, but he spots Ranger vehicles parked in the area and Rangers along the ridge. He sees hands thrown up in the air—O’Neal and Tillman frantically trying to signal they are friendlies. He hears shouts of “cease fire.” He yells cease fire and even pulls on Specialist Stephen Ashpole’s leg, while driving with one hand on the wheel, racing away hoping to deprive the squad of a stationary shooting platform. But Ashpole is busy unloading every round in the .50-caliber machine gun up in the turret. And the men will say that by the time their platoon mates are trying to stop the barrage of fire, they themselves have been deafened by it. [Washington Post, 12/5/2004; Associated Press, 11/9/2006; US Department of the Army, 3/19/2007 ]
"They Just Wouldn't Stop Shooting" - According to Krakauer, “as Baker’s Humvee kept driving across the wadi [dry riverbed valley], the shooters continued to spew bullets with reckless disregard, raking the entire hillside.” Many of the Serial One Rangers under Weeks’s command are arrayed up on a slope above Tillman’s position. Private Will Aker sees Specialist Steve Elliott “shooting [his 240 machine gun] everywhere,” over the slope and into village buildings. Aker recalls one of the bullets as landing within 12 inches of his foot. Specialist Russell Baer will reflect on a moment during which he contemplates shooting at his own men to put an end to the deadly chaos: “You could see rounds impacting all around us… they just wouldn’t stop shooting. I came so close to shooting back at those guys. I knew I would be able to kill everyone of them with my SAW.” Although he does not act on his impulse, and is glad not to have, he will say “it didn’t seem like anything else was gonna stop them.” [Krakauer, 2009, pp. 250-276]
The Toll - When the shooters’ Humvee finally comes to a stop, the toll amounts to two dead—Tillman and the AMF soldier—and two seriously wounded—platoon leader Lieutenant Uthlaut and his radio operator, Specialist Jade Lane, who had been attempting to communicate with Regimental Command in Kabul from 100 yards up the road. Tillman is killed by three shots to the forehead. The AMF soldier dies of chest wounds. Uthlaut is shot in the mouth, Lane in the knee. [ESPN, 7/19/2006; US Department of the Army, 3/19/2007 ]
Although an Army investigation conducted within a few days of Pat Tillman’s death (see May 23-June 1, 2002 and April 23, 2004) concludes that Tillman died due to his own unit’s “gross negligence,” shot three times in the head, this information is not given to the Tillman family for several weeks. Not until after a televised memorial service is held do Tillman relatives and the American public learn that Tillman died under “friendly,” not enemy fire. It will be another year before the Washington Post breaks the story that Tillman’s fellow Rangers had reported details of a friendly fire incident immediately and that US Army local command and top officials knew the truth well in advance of the family, but deliberately chose not to share it. A report consisting of 2,000 pages of investigative material, made by Brigadier General Gary M. Jones at the request of Tillman’s family and Senator John McCain (R-AZ), will reveal that Army commanders know the results of an initial, in-house investigation days before the memorial at which they award Tillman the Silver Star. [Washington Post, 5/4/2005]
Specialist Pat Tillman marching in
graduation ceremony at Fort Benning, GA. [Source: National Ledger]The Pentagon reports that Army Ranger Pat Tillman has died in combat with enemy fighters in Afghanistan. Tillman gave up a multi-million dollar NFL contract to fight against al-Qaeda ( seeMay 23-June 1, 2002, and was was perhaps the most well-known US soldier in the Middle East. [Rich, 2006]
White House Calls Tillman Death "Ultimate Sacrifice" - In a statement made a day after Tillman’s death, Taylor Goss, a White House spokesman, says: “Pat Tillman was an inspiration on and off the football field, as with all who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the war on terror. His family is in the thoughts and prayers of President and Mrs. Bush.” [MSNBC, 4/26/2004]
Military Spokesman Tells NBC Tillman Died at Hands of Enemy - According to Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Beevers, Tillman died at the hand of enemy fighters in an ambush near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The Pentagon will release more details of Tillman’s death a week later. [Rich, 2006]
The Silver Star. [Source: Pat Dollard (.com)]The Pentagon awards Army Ranger Pat Tillman, who it claims died at the hand of the Taliban a week before (see April 23, 2004), a posthumous Silver Star for conspicuous bravery under enemy fire. It also releases more details of Tillman’s death. According to an Army press release, Tillman had stormed an enemy-occupied hill trying to save fellow soldiers pinned down by enemy fire: “Through the fire, Tillman’s voice was heard issuing commands to take the fight to enemy forces emplaced on the dominating high ground [even as he] personally provided suppressive fire with an M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon machine gun.” Weeks later, the Pentagon’s story will prove to be completely false. Tillman actually died from friendly fire. [Rich, 2006, pp. 124]
An image from the ABC broadcast ‘The Fallen.’ [Source: ABC / Poynter (.org)]ABC News reporter Ted Koppel, the anchor of the network’s late-night news show Nightline, marks the first anniversary of the end of what President Bush called “major combat operations” (see May 1, 2003) by reading alound the names of the US troops who have died in Iraq, and showing their pictures as he goes through the list. After the 35-minute segment, which Koppel titles “The Fallen,” he explains the rationale behind it. “Our goal tonight was to elevate the fallen above the politics and the daily journalism,” he says. “The reading tonight of those 721 names was neither intended to provoke opposition to the war nor was it meant as an endorsement. Some of you doubt that. You are convinced that I am opposed to the war. I am not, but that’s beside the point. I am opposed to sustaining the illusion that war can be waged by the sacrifice of the few without burdening the rest of us in any way.” [CNN, 5/1/2004]
Heavy Conservative Criticism - Author and media critic Frank Rich will call it “an unbelievably poignant roll call.” Others, mostly conservative pundits and lawmakers, disagree. Neoconservative pundit and editor William Kristol calls Koppel’s tribute a “stupid statement.” Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly says the show might undermine morale if it tries to “exploit casualties in a time of war,” but fails to mention his own tribute to slain soldier Pat Tillman (see April 23, 2004 and April 29, 2004) the night before. [Rich, 2006, pp. 125] Brent Bozell, president of the conservative Media Research Center, criticizes what he calls the program’s “partisan nature,” and says its only goal is “to turn public opinion against the war.” [Associated Press, 5/1/2004]
Station Owners Order Broadcast Censored - The Sinclair Broadcast Group, a large regional consortium of local television stations whose executives are heavy donors to Republican campaigns, orders its eight ABC affiliates not to air Koppel’s broadcast. In its statement, Sinclair writes: “The action appears to be motivated by a political agenda designed to undermine the efforts of the United States in Iraq.… Mr. Koppel and Nightline are hiding behind this so-called tribute in an effort to highlight only one aspect of the war effort and in doing so to influence public opinion against the military action in Iraq.” The statement goes on to ask why ABC does not read the names of the thousands of Americans killed in the 9/11 attacks. Sinclair spokesman Mark Hyman says the broadcast is irrelevant: “Someone who died 13 months ago—why is that news? Those people did not die last week. It’s not an anniversary of the war, it’s not Memorial Day—so why this day? If this is Memorial Day, then go ahead and do it.” Hyman goes on to say of Koppel, “I think clearly here’s a guy who is opposed to the war and is trying to stir up public opposition to it,” and says that ABC is obviously trying to boost its ratings. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) calls the Sinclair decision “deeply offensive,” writing in a letter to Sinclair Broadcast Group president and CEO David Smith: “Your decision to deny your viewers an opportunity to be reminded of war’s terrible costs, in all their heartbreaking detail, is a gross disservice to the public, and to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. It is, in short, sir, unpatriotic. I hope it meets with the public opprobrium it most certainly deserves.” Smith replies: “Our decision was based on a desire to stop the misuse of their sacrifice to support an anti-war position with which most, if not all, of these soldiers would not have agreed. While I don’t disagree that Americans need to understand the costs of war and sacrifices of our military volunteers, I firmly believe that responsible journalism requires that a discussion of these costs must necessarily be accompanied by a description of the benefits of military action and the events that precipitated that action.” [Greensboro News and Record, 4/30/2004; CNN, 5/1/2004; Jay Rosen, 5/1/2004; Associated Press, 5/1/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 125] Jane Bright, who lost her son Sergeant Evan Ashcraft, writes in response: “The Sinclair Broadcast group is trying to undermine the lives of our soldiers killed in Iraq. By censoring Nightline they want to hide the toll the war on Iraq is having on thousands of soldiers and their families, like mine.” [Associated Press, 5/1/2004] Koppel says that any suggestion by Sinclair that he is “unpatriotic” or trying to “undermine the war effort” is “beneath contempt.” [CNN, 5/1/2004]
Media Watchdog Group Alleges Underlying Agenda - Robert McChesney of the media reform group Free Press says that Sinclair has an underlying motive in censoring the Nightline broadcast: “No one thinks for a second this decision has anything to do with journalism. It’s a politics-slash-business decision that Sinclair made because they don’t want to [anger] the White House.” Sinclair, a political supporter of the Bush administration, is trying to curry favor with the White House to bolster chances of gaining changes in station ownership rules, McChesney says. “The stench of corruption here is extraordinary.” [Associated Press, 5/1/2004]
Political Statement? - Koppel says he has no intention of making any sort of “political statement” by airing the segment. “I don’t want it to make a political statement. Quite the contrary,” he says. “My position on this is I truly believe that people will take away from this program the reflection of what they bring to it.… Why, in heaven’s name, should one not be able to look at the faces and hear the names and see the ages of those young people who are not coming back alive and feel somehow ennobled by the fact that they were willing to give up their lives for something that is in the national interest of all of us?” New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen disagrees. “Despite what he said about it,” Rosen writes, “Ted Koppel and Nightline were making a political statement last night by reading the names of ‘the fallen’ in Iraq. And there is nothing wrong with that—although it is risky because many will object.… By refusing to air the show… Sinclair Broadcasting, the country’s largest owner of television stations, was making a political statement right back.… Nothing intrinsically wrong with that, either, although it is risky and many will object.” ABC makes a political statement by choosing to air the segment, not only on the airwaves, but on the Jumbotron in New York City’s Times Square. And ABC affiliates who decide to ignore Sinclair’s order and air the broadcast are making their own political statement. [Al Tompkins, 4/30/2004; Jay Rosen, 5/1/2004]
Undermining Public Support of War? - Many pundits who argue against the Nightline memorium say that to air such a segment would undermine public support for the war, an argument which Rich later answers: “If the country was as firmly in support of this war as Bush loyalists claimed, by what logic would photographs of its selfless soldiers, either of their faces or their flag-draped coffins (see April 18, 2004 and After), undermine public opinion?” [Rich, 2006, pp. 125] Sue Niederer, who lost her son, Second Lieutenant Seth Dvorin, to a roadside bomb, says: “I feel it’s extremely important that the American people put a face and a name to the dead. When you just listen to a number, you don’t think about what may be behind that—that there’s a family, that there’s actually a person who has lost their life.” [CNN, 5/1/2004] Tim Holmes, who lost his son, Specialist Ernest Sutphin, says of Koppel’s broadcast: “That’s something I’d like to see. I feel like people have a right to see something like that—what’s going on over there.” Marine reservist Chief Warrant Officer David Dennis adds: “Let the American people know the Marines who have died, and everyone who has died. The people need to know who it is that is going out there and making the ultimate sacrifice for them.” [Greensboro News and Record, 4/30/2004] “We should be honoring all the men and women who have served,” says Ivan Medina, who lost his twin brother, Irving Medina. “My hat goes off to Nightline.” [Associated Press, 5/1/2004]
Fox News Responds - Fox News reporter and anchor Chris Wallace says his network will “answer” Koppel’s broadcast by airing its own segment: “[W]e here at Fox News Sunday are going to put together our own list, a list of what we’ve accomplished [in Iraq], with the blood, sweat, and yes, lives of our military.” [Jay Rosen, 5/1/2004]
Entity Tags: William Kristol, Fox News, Tim Holmes, Ted Koppel, ABC News, Bill O’Reilly, Brent Bozell, David Smith, Sue Niederer, Evan Ashcraft, Chris Wallace, David Dennis, Sinclair Broadcast Group, Ernest Sutphin, Robert McChesney, Ivan Medina, Irving Medina, George W. Bush, Seth Dvorin, Frank Rich, Jane Bright, Jay Rosen, Free Press, Mark Hyman, John McCain, Media Research Center, Pat Tillman
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
A Marine armored personnel carrier pulls out of Fallujah. [Source: Dusteye (wordpress.com)]After a bloody three-week siege of Fallujah (see April 2, 2004 and April 10, 2004), the Marines retreat. Military spokesman Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt explains that “this is not a withdrawal, this is not a retreat,” but his words are contradicted by a film clip, shown repeatedly on US news broadcasts, of an American tank literally going into reverse while pulling out of the city. The surviving citizens of Fallujah spill into the streets to celebrate the Americans’ withdrawal, dancing and singing. For many American citizens, the low point of the entire exercise may be when, immediately after the Marines’ departure, an Iraqi military officer bearing an uncanny resemblance to Saddam Hussein (even wearing a Republican Guard beret) is elevated to lead the Fallujah government by the Coalition Provisional Authority. The Pentagon claims to know nothing of the man’s identity, but it takes the media little time to learn that he had once been a high-ranking officer in Hussein’s Republican Guard and was close to the deposed dictator. [Rich, 2006, pp. 125]
Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh dismisses photos taken of prisoners at Abu Ghraib over the course of several broadcasts. The excerpts are collected by Newsweek, researchers from the Annenberg Public Policy Center, and the progressive media watchdog site Media Matters. On May 3, he tells his listeners, “You know, if you look at—if you really look at these pictures, I mean, I don’t know if it’s just me, but it looks just like anything you’d see Madonna or Britney Spears do onstage—maybe I’m, yeah—and get an NEA [National Education Association] grant for something like this” (see October 2003, October 17-22, 2003, October 24, 2003, Evening October 25, 2003, November 4, 2003, November 4-December 2, 2003, and Between 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. November 4, 2003, among others). On May 4, he says: “You know, those [US soldiers in Iraq] are being fired at every day. I’m talking about people having a good time. These people—you ever heard of emotional release? You ever heard of needing to blow some steam off? … It is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation.” On May 5, he says: “I think a lot of the American culture is being feminized. I think the reaction to the stupid torture is an example of the feminization of this country.” On May 6: he says, “The thing, though, that continually amazes—here we have these pictures of homoeroticism that look like standard good old American pornography, the Britney Spears or Madonna concerts or whatever.… I mean, this is something that you can see onstage at Lincoln Center from an NEA grant, maybe on Sex and the City.” In that same broadcast, he praises the torturers by saying: “And we hear that the most humiliating thing you can do is make one Arab male disrobe in front of another. Sounds to me like it’s pretty thoughtful.… Maybe the people who executed this pulled off a brilliant maneuver. Nobody got hurt. Nobody got physically injured.… Sounds pretty effective to me if you look at us in the right context.” And on May 11, he says, “If you take these pictures and bring them back and have them taken in an American city and put on an American Web site, they might win an award from the pornography industry.” [Media Matters, 5/6/2004; Newsweek, 5/13/2004; Boehlert, 2006, pp. 118; Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 160]
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says in a testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, “Any suggestion that there is not a full, deep awareness of what has happened [at Abu Ghraib], and the damage it has done, I think, would be a misunderstanding.” [Washington Post, 5/7/2004]
Vice President Dick Cheney is interviewed in his office by federal prosecutors as part of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak investigation (see December 30, 2003). Cheney is asked if he knows who, if anyone, in the White House might have leaked Plame Wilson’s identity to the press. He is asked about conversations with his senior aides, including his chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby. He is also asked whether he knows of any concerted effort by White House officials to leak Plame Wilson’s identity. Cheney is not questioned under oath, and has not been asked to testify before the grand jury. He is represented by two lawyers, Terrence O’Donnell and Emmet Flood. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 5/8/2004 ; New York Times, 6/5/2004]
Cheney Evades, Refuses to Answer Questions - In October 2009, an FBI interview summary regarding Cheney’s testimony will be released (see October 1, 2009). According to the document, Cheney equivocates or refuses to answer 72 times during his interview, either saying he cannot be certain about the information requested, or that he does not know.
Denies Informing Libby about Plame Wilson's CIA Status - One of the most fundamental questions Cheney is asked is about how Libby learned about Plame Wilson’s identity. Libby’s own notes indicate that he learned it from Cheney, and that he had shared his notes with Cheney in late 2003 (see Late September or Early October, 2003), in defiance of instructions from the FBI and the White House counsel’s office not to share information with colleagues (see September 29-30, 2003). But in his testimony, Cheney “cannot recall Scooter Libby telling him how he first heard of Valerie Wilson. It is possible Libby may have learned about Valerie Wilson’s employment from the vice president… but the vice president has no specific recollection of such a conversation.” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 5/8/2004 ; Associated Press, 11/2/2009] Cheney testifies that contrary to the evidence, he learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from Libby, who informed him that a number of reporters had contacted Libby in July 2003 to say that Plame Wilson had been responsible for arranging her husband’s trip to Niger to investigate the Niger uranium claims. Cheney says that the next time he heard about Plame Wilson and her connection to her husband was when he read Robert Novak’s article outing her as a CIA officer (see July 14, 2003). Cheney is lying; he informed Libby of Plame Wilson’s identity (see (June 12, 2003)).
Denies Knowledge of Wilson Trip to Niger - He also denies knowing that Plame Wilson’s husband, war critic and former ambassador Joseph Wilson, was sent to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq was attempting to buy uranium from that country (see (February 13, 2002) and February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), and says the CIA never briefed him about Wilson’s trip (see March 5, 2002). Future testimony will challenge Cheney’s claims, as witnesses will testify that Cheney, Libby, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, the Defense Department, the State Department, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the National Security Council, and President Bush were all given copies of a CIA cable sent to Cheney’s office that debunked the Niger claims (see December 2001, Shortly after February 12, 2002, March 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, March 8, 2002, October 15, 2002, Mid-October 2002, October 18, 2002, January 2003, and March 8, 2003). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 5/8/2004 ; Truthout (.org), 2/15/2006]
Refuses to Answer about WMD NIE - Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, leading the interview, presses Cheney to discuss evidence that shows he pressured Bush to quickly declassify portions of the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraqi WMD (see October 1, 2002) for the purpose of making the case for invading Iraq. Libby provided selected NIE information to New York Times reporter Judith Miller while simultaneously leaking Plame Wilson’s identity to her (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003) and other reporters. Cheney refuses to confirm that he discussed anything regarding the NIE with Bush, saying that he could not comment on any private or privileged conversations he may have had with the president. Libby has already testified to the declassification of the NIE, telling prosecutors that he talked to Miller following the “president’s approval relayed to me through the vice president.”
Insists Plame Wilson's Identity Never Used to Discredit Husband - Cheney insists that no one in the White House ever talked about leaking Plame Wilson’s CIA status to the press in an attempt to discredit her husband. There was never any discussion, Cheney says, of “pushing back” on Wilson’s credibility by raising the issue of nepotism, the fact that his wife worked for the CIA, the same agency that dispatched him to Niger to run down the report of an agreement to supply uranium to Iraq. In his own testimony, Libby was far less emphatic, saying “[i]t’s possible” he may have discussed the idea with Cheney. Both men lie in their testimony (see March 9, 2003 and After, May 2003, June 3, 2003, June 9, 2003, June 11 or 12, 2003, (June 11, 2003), 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003, 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003, 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003, (June 12, 2003), June 19 or 20, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, July 7-8, 2003, 12:00 p.m. July 7, 2003, July 8, 2003, and 7:35 a.m. July 8, 2003). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 5/8/2004 ; Associated Press, 11/2/2009] Cheney tells prosecutors that he and his office were merely interested in rebutting Wilson’s criticisms of the war effort, and wanted to dispel the notion among some reporters that he had selected Wilson for the Niger trip. In 2006, an attorney close to the case will say: “In his testimony the vice president said that his staff referred media calls about Wilson to the White House press office. He said that was the appropriate venue for responding to statements by Mr. Wilson that he believed were wrong.” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 5/8/2004 ; Truthout (.org), 2/15/2006] In June 2009, the Department of Justice will reveal that Cheney and Bush had discussed the leak in a “confidential conversation” and “an apparent communication between the vice president and the president.” [Truthout (.org), 7/7/2009]
Entity Tags: Terrence O’Donnell, US Department of State, Valerie Plame Wilson, Stephen J. Hadley, US Department of Defense, Robert Novak, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Emmet Flood, Defense Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Federal Bureau of Investigation, George W. Bush, Joint Chiefs of Staff, National Security Council, Judith Miller, Joseph C. Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of Justice
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
The lobbying organization Citizens United (CU) runs a television advertisement featuring the father of a firefighter killed in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. The father, Jimmy Boyle, says in the ad: “On September 11, terrorists murdered nearly 3,000 Americans, including 346 firefighters, one of which was my son, Michael. I lost my son. I spoke to him that day. He went to work that morning, and he had died for a reason: because somebody hates America. And that day, George Bush became a leader, a war president.” CU is spending $100,000 to run the ad for a week in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Washington, DC. CU is led by Republican political operative David Bossie (see May 1998). [Washington Post, 5/11/2004; Media Matters, 5/11/2004]
Author and former Nixon White House counsel John Dean reviews former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s new book, The Politics of Truth (see April 2004). Dean, who has long been a fierce critic of the Bush administration, uses the review to examine aspects of the controversy surrounding the White House’s disproven claim that Iraq attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and July 6, 2003) and the outing of Wilson’s wife as a CIA agent through a White House leak (see June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, Before July 14, 2003, and July 14, 2003). Dean calls the book “riveting and all-engaging… provid[ing] context to yesterday’s headlines, and perhaps tomorrow’s, about the Iraq war and about our politics of personal destruction,” as well as detailed information about Wilson’s long diplomatic service in Africa and the Middle East, and what Dean calls “a behind-the-scenes blow-by-blow of the run-up to the 1991 Persian Gulf war.”
'Anti-Dumb-War' - Dean also admires Wilson’s opposition to the Iraq war, saying that “Wilson is not antiwar. Rather, he is ‘anti-dumb-war’” and noting that while Wilson is not himself particularly conservative (or liberal), he considers the neoconservatives who make up the driving force in President Bush’s war cabinet “right-wing nuts.”
'Vicious Hatchet Job' - Dean quickly moves into the White House-orchestrated attempt to besmirch Wilson’s credibility, calling it “the most vicious hatchet job inside the Beltway since my colleague in Richard Nixon’s White House, the dirty trickster Charles W. Colson, copped a plea for defaming Daniel Ellsberg and his lawyer (see June 1974).… It was an obvious effort to discredit Wilson’s [Niger] report, and, Wilson believes, a you-hurt-us-we-will-hurt-you warning to others.” While Wilson writes with passion and anger about the outing of his wife, he restrains himself from giving too many personal details about her, relying instead on material already revealed in press interviews and reports. Dean notes that Wilson believes his wife’s name was leaked to the press by any or all of the following White House officials: Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney; Karl Rove, Bush’s chief political strategist; and Elliott Abrams, a national security adviser and former Iran-Contra figure (see October 7, 1991). Though Dean is correct in noting that Wilson comes to his conclusions “based largely on hearsay from the Washington rumor mill,” he will be proven accurate in two out of three of his assertions (see July 8, 2003,
11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). Wilson continues to fight attacks from Bush supporters, but, Dean notes, if they actually read his book, “they should understand that they have picked a fight with the wrong fellow.” [New York Times, 5/12/2004]
Radio host Glenn Beck, whose conservative talk show is aired by syndicated program provider Clear Channel, rails against Michael Berg, whose son Nick Berg was recently executed by militant Iraqis (see March 24-May 11, 2004). Beck, like his fellow radio conservatives Sean Hannity and Michael Savage, has aired the audio of Berg’s execution on his show in recent days. After his son’s death, Michael Berg criticized the Bush administration’s handling of the war in Iraq; for doing so, Beck calls him “despicable” and “a scumbag.” On his show, Beck directs a question at Berg: “Can you let your son’s body become the same temperature as your son’s head before you turn this into a political campaign against the president—could you do that?” Beck says he would say the same about Michael Berg if he were “a Republican and a supporter of the war and rah-rah George W. Bush and whatever.” He says he refuses to “fake” any sympathy for Berg because of Berg’s criticism of President Bush and the war effort. “I find this guy despicable,” he says. “Everything in me says that. The ‘want to be a better person today than I was yesterday’ says he’s a dad, he’s grieving, but I don’t buy that. I’m sorry, I don’t buy it. I think he is grieving, but I think he’s a scumbag as well. I don’t like this guy at all.” [Media Matters, 5/17/2004]
Sam Francis, a white supremacist and syndicated columnist (see September 1995), marks the 50th anniversary of the landmark civil rights case Brown v. Board of Education by calling it “the most dangerous and destructive Supreme Court decision in American history.” Francis blames the decision for giving the Supreme Court the impetus to “gut… state and local law enforcement powers” (referring to the 1966 Miranda v. Arizona ruling that gave suspects basic rights after being arrested), “ban… school prayer,” weaken laws “against sedition and obscenity,” overturn death penalty statutes and “laws governing sexual morals,” and legalize abortion. “This is merely a partial list of the tyranny the Court has succeeded in creating because the American people allowed it to get away with Brown,” he writes. The decision is uniformly disastrous, he continues, with no “merits in law” to justify its existence. The Constitution never intended for children of different races to go to school together, Francis writes, and therefore the Supreme Court should never have ruled that schools should be desegregated. Moreover, he writes, school segregation actually promotes the academic success of African-American children. “By cramming through a legally groundless ruling that authorized the federal engineering of American society, Brown alienated Southern whites for at least a generation, wrecked public education, and helped revolutionize both cities and suburbs,” he concludes. “Today, schools once entirely white because of segregation laws are entirely black because of Brown. The white middle class exodus has meant the domination of cities by a black underclass, the crooks and demagogues it puts in office, and the financial and social devastation of American urban life.” Francis’s columns are provided to a national audience by Creators Syndicate. [VDare (.com), 5/17/2004]
On May 17, 2004, security officials say that recent intelligence has led to increased concern about the possibility of a major terrorist attack in the US. It is believed that the attack could take place as early as the summer and before November, perhaps in an attempt to affect the outcome of the Presidential election. Potential targets include the dedication of the National World War II Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, the G8 economic summit on Sea Island, Georgia, Fourth of July celebrations, the Democratic convention in Boston, the Republican convention in New York, and the Olympics in Greece. However, no specific target, time or date is identified for the possible attack. Sources do state that the assessment is new and is the result of intelligence gathered over time. However, an official with the Department of Homeland Security, speaking on condition of anonymity, states that “We are not aware of any new highly credible intelligence indicating a planned attack in the US this summer. Nothing in the current intelligence is exceptionally specific.” [CNN, 5/25/2004] The next day, Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller hold a news conference to warn of a “plane attack inside the United States.” They warn that terrorists are “poised for an immediate attack.” Ashcroft says “credible intelligence from multiple sources indicates that al-Qaeda plans to attempt an attack on the United States in the next few months. This disturbing intelligence indicates al-Qaeda’s specific intention to hit the United States hard.” [CNN, 5/26/2004] The Justice Department asks for assistance in locating seven alleged terrorist operatives and states an increased concern about attacks over the summer. [CBS News, 6/14/2004] It is later revealed the threat actually came from a group that falsely claimed responsibility for the terror attacks in Madrid. One expert says that the group is “not really taken seriously by Western intelligence.” These warnings come as the administration is under heavy criticism for failures in Iraq. The Abu Ghraib torture scandal dominates headlines. [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 ] This warning also comes on the heels of other bad news for the Bush administration. During a May 16 interview on Meet the Press, Secretary of State Colin Powell is cut off by an aide while discussing misleading CIA information regarding WMD in Iraq. He admits that “it turned out that the sourcing was inaccurate and wrong and in some cases, deliberately misleading. And for that, I am disappointed and I regret it.” [MSNBC, 6/15/2004] Three days later, Newsweek reports that White House counsel Alberto Gonzalez warned in a January 25, 2002 internal White House memo that US officials could be prosecuted for war crimes due to the unprecedented and unusual methods used by the Bush administration in the war on terrorism. [Newsweek, 5/19/2004]
Conservative radio host Michael Savage marks the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights case Brown v. Board of Education by saying, “Everything about [the case] is sickening.” Savage criticizes President Bush for “trying to outmaneuver [Democratic presidential candidate John] Kerry on the race issue” by being photographed “hugging people of color” at a church in Birmingham, Alabama. Savage calls the idea that there is racism in America “left-wing brainwashing.… [W]hat, racism still exists? Well okay, where does it still exist? Can you tell me of some minority here who can’t get ahead in this country if he’s smart, or she’s smart, and she pushes, as much as a white person?… In fact they’re given priority treatment everywhere, you know that.” Savage calls a recent claim by Kerry that schools remain underfunded and divided by income “rubbish, pure rubbish,” and implies that African-American children will perform at lower levels than their white counterparts no matter how equal funding is: “I can show you one minority school after another, with more funding per capita than surrounding, suburban white schools, and the kids still do badly. Okay? Take that—put that in your pipe and smoke it, and go explain it to yourself, because I know the reasons why.” [Media Matters, 5/21/2004]
Lt. Col. Tucker Mansager tells reporters that the media will not be permitted access to secret detention facilities in Afghanistan, claiming that to do so would violate the prisoners’ rights under the Geneva Conventions. However in February 2002, the administration had denied “prisoner of war” status to all Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters captured in Afghanistan (see February 7, 2002) on grounds they were “illegal combatants.” Since then, the US has maintained that these prisoners are not protected by the Conventions. Nonetheless, Mansager explains: “Part of… spirit [of the Geneva Conventions] is to ensure that the persons under confinement are not subject to any kind of exploitation. It is the coalition’s position that allowing media into the facilities would compromise that protection.” [Reuters, 5/19/2004]
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