Shortly after September 11, Dan Rather–or “El Diablo” as he is known to conservatives–appeared on Letterman and announced, “George Bush is the President, he makes the decisions, and, you know, as just one American, he wants me to line up, just tell me where.” About a year later, Rather came to understand how misguided a sentiment this is for a journalist and took it back: “We haven’t lived up to our responsibility,” he admitted. “We haven’t been patriotic enough to ask the tough questions.”
The costs of the media acquiescence to the atmosphere of superpatriotism are all around us. We’re fighting one war in Afghanistan and may be about to enter another in Iraq. And yet because of the Bush Administration’s penchant for obsessive secrecy coupled with the media’s misplaced deference, we’re not much more knowledgeable about our path than thirty-eight years ago, when Lyndon Johnson sent US troops into combat in Vietnam by retaliating for an imaginary attack.
As a patriotic American, I’d like to offer up a few questions to which we might like answers related to the attacks of September 11, the war against Al Qaeda (which I support) and the proposed war against Iraq (which I don’t). In addition to my own research, I have relied on recent reports by Patrick Tyler and Jim Dwyer of the New York Times, Robert Kaiser of the Washington Post, Eric Boehlert of Salon and Juan Gonzalez, author of the new book Fallout. Here goes:
Why did the Bush national security team ignore the Al Qaeda briefing it received from President Clinton’s National Security Adviser, Sandy Berger, in the fall of 2000?
Why did the President ignore the August 2001 intelligence briefing warning him of the likelihood of an Al Qaeda hijacking?
Why, in August 2000, was the FBI unable to locate Al Qaeda operatives Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaq al-Hazmi, both of whom had been placed at a terrorist planning meeting by Malaysian intelligence in December 1999? Hazmi was listed in the San Diego telephone directory and Midhar was using a credit card with his name on it. Both were active at the San Diego Islamic Center.
Why didn’t the National Security Agency have foreign language expertise to translate the words “Tomorrow is zero hour,” spoken by Al Qaeda operatives and picked up in real time on September 10, 2001?
Why can’t the FBI afford a decent computer system and people who know how to run it? Can’t they hire Microsoft?
Why can’t the CIA and the FBI talk to each other? Why can’t either talk to the NSA? Microsoft could probably handle this one, too.
Why has no one, apparently, been fired, anywhere, despite a clear systemwide breakdown?
What was really up with George Bush flying around the country on September 11? If they thought they had a “credible threat” to Air Force One, why the hell did he fly on Air Force One?
What’s up with those “loose” and missing Soviet-era nukes in Russia, Ukraine and elsewhere? Why is the White House cutting funding for the Nunn-Lugar program, designed to protect them and keep them away from bad guys?
Why couldn’t the cops and firemen communicate during 9/11? How many lives will be lost next time if this problem isn’t fixed? (Ahem, Mr. Gates? This too.)
Who besides Rudy Giuliani thought it was a smart idea to build a terrorism crisis control center inside an obvious terrorist target? How many people might have survived if it had been built in a halfway intelligent place?
Speaking of Ground Zero, anybody got any idea if it’s safe to breathe the air down there? Anybody know how all those contaminants–mercury, asbestos, benzene, etc.–combining in unprecedented chemical cocktails, affect the long-term health of children, pregnant women, old people? Who is monitoring the health effects on the rescue workers? Who made the decision to reopen downtown so quickly, knowing so little?
Why is John Ashcroft arresting people who grow medical marijuana? Ditto New Orleans hookers? Isn’t there a war on? Don’t the terrorists win if we give up pot and hookers?
What about those detention camps Ashcroft wanted for the purposes of indefinitely incarcerating US citizens deemed to be “enemy combatants,” while stripping them of all constitutional rights, including the right to trial? Is that still happening? That sounds kinda bad.
When did George Bush decide to appoint Ariel Sharon as de facto US representative to what used to be called the Middle East peace process? Isn’t Marty Peretz supposed to be Gore’s guru?
How did Bush decide on war with Iraq without consulting the uniformed military, the intelligence agencies, the UN, NATO, the Republican national security establishment–including both of his dad’s secretaries of state and his National Security Adviser–the Republican Party in Congress, the Democratic majority or just about anyone who did not already want to go to war with Iraq?
Why was it OK for Iraq to use nerve gas when we were helping it fight the Iranians during the Reagan Administration? Wasn’t Richard Perle in the Defense Department back then? Didn’t Reagan send Rumsfeld over there to suck up to the guy? Well, what did they know and when did they know it?
Got any real evidence about those nukes Saddam is building? Got any real evidence regarding his CBW and WMD delivery capabilities? Why is he not deterrable again?
About this pre-emptive war stuff, who gets to go next? China against Taiwan? India against Pakistan? Or is it just a white guy thing?
What happens with Iran if Iraq collapses?
What happens with Kashmir if Musharraf is overthrown?
Does Israel go nuclear if Saddam unleashes a gas attack on Tel Aviv? What happens then?
Is anybody thinking about this stuff?
Who elected this guy anyway?