Volume 16 • Issue 46 | April 9 - 15, 2004


Cooperation with 9/11 Commission will make us safer

The testimony of National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice before the 9/11 Commission in public and under oath on Thursday shows once again how enormously valuable this commission is. Not that we were pleased by her testimony – we weren’t. But we need to see the leaders in both the Bush and Clinton administrations face tough questions from the experienced public servants on the commission so that the panel can determine and help us understand to what extent, if any, the Sept. 11 attacks were preventable and much more importantly, to figure out what can we do to reduce the chances of future terrorist acts. Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, the leaders of the commission, and the rest of their colleagues appear more focused on correcting problems than playing a blame game.

Like many family members of 9/11 victims, we would like to see more cooperation and honesty from the Bush administration on matters before the commission. We understand the perils of the commission working in an election year, but surely Bush could admit that with the benefit of hindsight, he would have devoted more time and resources to stopping Al Qaeda. Such an admission would not only be refreshing for many to hear, it would be an important step for the administration to take before it could work with the commission on fixing what went wrong.

This admission would not mean Bush is responsible for 9/11. Osama bin Laden is. What does appear to be the case is that there were loose pieces of information floating around the F.B.I. and C.I.A., and if there was better internal and inter-agency communication and more of a focus against Al Qaeda, perhaps the attack might have been able to be prevented. In all likelihood, we’ll never know.

Bush made mistakes but so did Clinton and both deserve some understanding from the public that we were all living in a pre-9/11 world before Sept. 11, 2001.

Our neighborhood in Lower Manhattan was attacked in 1993 and the response was not strong enough. The terrorists came back eight years later and proved that they learned how to take the Twin Towers down and kill thousands of people. In between, U.S. embassies were bombed in Africa, the Cole was attacked and still we didn’t realize we were at war.

Bush came in, focused on theoretical ways to stop an errant nuclear missile and on withdrawing from the A.B.M. Treaty, and the most severe threat was put on the backburner.

That’s what Richard Clarke, former White House anti-terrorism chief, argues with considerable credibility. Clarke, a non-partisan who has worked for both President Bushes, President Clinton and President Reagan, has been viciously attacked by the current administration, which can’t seem to get their story straight as to whether Clarke was out of the loop or the man to blame for 9/11.

Why does Clarke have credibility? Bush admitted to Bob Woodward that he didn’t have the sense of urgency about getting bin Laden pre-9/11. Few of us did. The administration would have been better to stick to that point than to pretend that terrorism was the top priority at the beginning of 2001. Clarke’s second major point, that the administration was obsessed with Iraq, was confirmed by Paul O’Neill, Bush’s former Treasury secretary, and borne out by Bush’s reckless and disastrous actions in Iraq.

The war against Iraq, in addition to the rapidly increasing costs in human lives, resources, and U.S. standing and credibility in the world, took the focus away from bin Laden, who still remains at large. Capturing or killing him won’t end the terrorist threat, just as capturing Hussein did not end the threat against U.S. forces in Iraq, but it should reduce it and regardless, it is essential that bin Laden be brought to justice.

Admitting we could have and should have done better three, four or 11 years ago won’t make us safer, but it will help set the stage for implementing anti-terrorism reforms. For those of us who live and work in Lower Manhattan, this is not an idle abstraction.

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