Robert Scheer is editor of TruthDig, where this essay originally was published.
Hysteria over the barbarians at the gate has destroyed republics from Rome to Germany. Will President Bush’s post-September 11 America meet a similar fate? In the name of stopping the new bogeyman of international terrorism, our government has claimed an unfettered right to torture foreigners, eavesdrop on citizens and reorder the world with our military might. It is a policy that depends for its domestic political success on the specter of an enemy whose power and purpose must never be subject to logical and factual inquiry, lest it lose its power to alarm.
Five years ago, a moribund Bush Administration seized upon the national fear and revulsion over the September 11 attack to tighten its grip on power. Quickly diverting the nation into a disastrous foreign military adventure in Iraq, which had nothing to do with fighting terrorism, the Republicans happily shed painstakingly established domestic civil liberties and mocked the ideal of representative democracy by lying to the American public. A July 21 Harris Poll revealed that fully half the public still buys the carefully constructed Bush falsehood that Saddam Hussein had usable weapons of mass destruction.
Meanwhile, the President continues to assert constitutionally indefensible powers to the office of the President. As the conservative Salt Lake Tribune editorialized July 29, “Congress and the courts must rein in this presidential power grab. To do otherwise would be to court tyranny.” Perhaps most frightening of all, however, is the enraptured talk of a World War III by influential neocon ideologues nurturing a self-fulfilling clash-of-civilizations worldview. These ideologues are oddly aligned in a pincer movement on our President’s malleable brain with Christian fundamentalists, who hope violence in the Middle East presages a coming Apocalypse.
The pattern of Bush Administration deception that has helped build this bulwark of ignorance is again revealed in a new book by the former co-chairs of the 9/11 commission–one of whom is the former Republican governor of New Jersey. While in their forthcoming book, Without Precedent, ex-Governor Tom Kean and ex-Representative Lee Hamilton apparently remain agnostic as to whether the Bush Administration deliberately lied or was merely totally incompetent, they are clear about the obstacles placed in the way of their investigation. How grimly ironic that while September 11 has been the omnipresent baseline of all Bush Administration rhetoric for five years, the White House has systematically endeavored to squelch any real examination of an enemy who remains conveniently ill-defined or even actively misrepresented.
Thus, the lie that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, irreconcilable enemies, were in cahoots was shamelessly sold to the American public. Now we are told that Israel’s fight against Hezbollah is simply a battle in the larger war on terrorism, rather than what it is: the playing out of a historically rooted regional drama. All global narratives are subservient to the goal of posturing Bush as a “war President,” unaccountable and irreproachable.
Ignorance of the enemy was by design–which is why Bush opposed any serious investigation of September 11. Failing, after a bitter struggle, to prevent even the formation of a bipartisan 9/11 commission, he permitted key members of his Administration and the military, of which he is the Commander in Chief, to undermine the investigation, according to advance reports on the new book by the commission’s co-chairmen.
For example, “We to this day don’t know why NORAD told us what they told us,” said Kean, referring to the Pentagon’s fraudulent account of its initial response to the attacks. “It was so far from the truth.”
None of the stonewalling was more glaring, however, than Bush denying the investigating commission access to captured prisoners whose testimony, elicited after torture, provided the basic narrative as to how September 11, 2001, came to be. That fatal flaw in the investigation was earlier conceded in a disclaimer box on page 146 of the official 9/11 Commission report:
“We submitted questions for use in the interrogations, but had no control over whether, when, or how questions of particular interest would be asked. Nor were we allowed to talk to the interrogators so that we could better judge the credibility of the detainees and clarify ambiguities in the reporting. We were told that our requests might disrupt the sensitive interrogation process.”
It is useful that the commission co-chairs are now willing to reveal some of the means by which the Bush Administration undermined their investigation. Unfortunately, their account provides further evidence that, by the design of this President, we still know very little that we can trust about this historic attack on American soil.