by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
August 9, 2002
STILL WAITING FOR THE TRUTH
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Before President Bush decides to get us into another war with Iraq, perhaps he and others in his administration ought to start answering some questions about the conduct thus far of the "war on terror."
The recent report in Time magazine of how the Bush administration ignored a plan developed by the Clinton administration to attack al-Qaida in Afghanistan is the latest example of how ill-prepared the Bush team was to take on the terrorist threat before Sept. 11. Before it completely disappears from the radar screen of the news media, this story is worth a closer look.
In the fall of 2000, the Clinton administration prepared a counter-terrorism plan that included freezing financial assets, aiding countries such as Yemen, Uzbekistan and the Phillippines to help them break up terrorist cells, and a combined U.S. air and special operations military campaign in Afghanistan with help from the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance.
While the Bush Administration eventually did all of these things after Sept. 11, this plan was already put together almost a year earlier by the Clinton Administration after the attack on the U.S.S Cole in Yemen in October 2000. President Clinton held off on executing the plan in the last days of his presidency because of the impending transition. Unlike President George H.W. Bush, who stuck the incoming Clinton team with the Somalia mess in the closing days of his term, President Clinton apparently didn't want to do something similar as he left office.
The Bush Administration saw no urgency in fighting al-Qaida as it entered office. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was more interested in national missile defense. Attorney General John Ashcroft was more interested in the "war on drugs." National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice was too busy trying to keep peace between the various factions on the Bush national security team. And there was a general dismissal of anything related to President Clinton by the Bush team.
As a result, the plan languished in the national security bureaucracy. The proposals weren't re-examined by senior administration officials until April 2001 and weren't reconsidered by the top national security department heads until a week before the Sept. 11 attacks.
There's no guarantee that executing the Clinton plan would have foiled the Sept. 11 attacks. But it's now clear that doing something probably would've been better than doing nothing.
The Time Magazine story, which went out of its way to give the Bush administration the benefit of the doubt, is nonetheless damning. It is yet another example of why any attempt at an independent and open investigation of the events leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks have been actively discouraged by the Bush administration.
Combine this story with the reports that came out in May that the Bush Administration had advance knowledge last year that some sort of attack from al-Qaida was imminent, and you get a picture of deadly negligence and incompetence.
The first anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks is just a few weeks away, and we will be deluged with all sorts of weepy tributes to the dead from that day. I believe the best tribute we can offer the more than 3,000 people who died in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania is the truth.
We need to hear the truth about what the Bush team knew before the attacks and why it chose not to take action. We need to know the truth about the military campaign in Afghanistan - the extent of the destruction and civilian casualties from errant bombs and the chaos that still exists in that country that could keep U.S. forces there for years to come. We need to know the truth about why we need the draconian curbs on civil liberties that we've seen since Sept. 11. And most of all, we need to hear the truth about why President Bush is willing to risk tens of thousands of U.S. and Iraqi lives and perhaps world peace itself in a pre-emptive strike on the regime of Saddam Hussein.
The chances of getting straight answers on any of these questions are slim to none. It doesn't mean we shouldn't keep trying. Congress won't stand up to the Bush Administration.
The bulk of the corporate news media won't either. That leaves it up to each one of us to put pressure on our leaders and be advocates for
truth, justice and peace.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).