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Monday, September 13, 2004

The unwinnable war

By James Carroll

GEORGE W. BUSH finally told the truth. It happened last week when he said of the war on terrorism, "I don't think you can win it."

We know it was the truth because of the way it embarrassed him, because of the way his handlers immediately required him to repudiate it ("I probably need to be more articulate"), and because the mass of Republicans were deaf to it. Just as Bush had inadvertently spoken the exact truth about the war on terrorism at its onset ("This crusade, this war on terrorism"), he had inadvertently done so again.

Six months ago, I took a leave from this column. I had been writing obsessively about the war for more than two years, and my truth had become woefully repetitive. "Whatever happens from this week forward in Iraq," I wrote in March, "the main outcome of the war is clear. We have defeated ourselves."

In the time since I wrote that, I confess, even my bleak vision has come to seem like the good old days. After all, that was before Abu Ghraib, before the siege of Najaf, before the Sunnis and Shi'ites discovered that their hatred of the occupiers outweighed their hatred of each other, before the handover of Fallujah to outlaw militants, before Ahmed Chalabi's disgrace (and last week's rehabilitation), before Washington's installation in Baghdad of a blatant puppet regime, before the death toll of young Americans approached 1,000.

Citizens of the United States are a decent, fair-minded people. The only reason we tolerate what is being done in our name in Iraq is that, for us, this war exists only in the realm of metaphor. The words "war on terrorism" fall on our ears much in the way that "war on poverty" or "war on drugs" did.

War is an abstraction in the American imagination. It lives there, cloaked in glory, as an emblem of patriotism. We show our love for our country by sending our troops abroad and then "supporting" them, no matter what. When images appear that contradict the high-flown rhetoric of war -- whether of young GIs disgracefully humiliating Iraqi prisoners or of a devastated holy city where vast fields of American-created rubble surround a shrine -- we simply do not take them in as real. Thinking of ourselves as only motivated by good intentions, we cannot fathom the possibility that we have demonized an innocent people, that what we are doing is murder on a vast scale.

There is the single most troubling aspect of the war in Iraq. We launched it against the wicked Saddam Hussein, yet the majority of so-called "insurgents" against whom our forces are arrayed hated Hussein more than we did. We are killing people by the thousands who threaten absolutely nothing of ours.

The boys in the Iraqi resistance are not terrorists. They are not Ba'athists. They are not jihadists -- or they weren't until we gave them reason to be. Whatever the justifications for the invasion of Iraq were a year and a half ago, why are we in this war today? And as President Bush might ask, how in the world do we "win" it?

Obviously, something else is going on below the surface of all the stated reasons for this war. The Republican convention last week was gripped with war fever, and the fever itself was the revelation. War is answering an American need that has nothing to do with the Iraqi people.

Even though the war on terrorism is indeed, as the president said, a "crusade," it has nothing real to do with Islam either, although Islam is surely its target. Not Islam as it actually exists in dozens of different settings and cultures across the globe, but an imagined Islam that exists only in the troubled minds of a people who project "evil" outward and then attack it. Alas, it is an old Christian habit.

The war, meanwhile, answers the Bush administration's need to justify an unprecedented repressiveness in the "homeland," and simultaneously prompts widespread docile submission to the new martial law. But more deeply still, by understanding ourselves as a people at war, we Americans find exemption from the duty to face the grotesque shame of what we are doing in the world.

So the final truth about this war is that there is no real enemy (although we are creating enemies by the legion). There will be no victory. I resume this regular column by declaring, President Bush was right.

-Published on September 7,2004
James Carroll's column appears regularly in the Globe.
©Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.


Circle Of Accountability

By Andrew Meier,Sherry Jones and Bill Moyers

It has taken three years for the details of the terrorist plot of 9/11 to emerge. The fateful turns that led to the attacks have
finally entered the public discourse. Their lessons, however, have yet to be learned.

The first lesson is that the highest officials in government did not want us to know the truth.

They already had the story they wanted Americans to believe: Nearly 3,000 people had died, we were assured, because the terrorists
turned our liberties against us, had brazenly exploited our open society. According to this official view, the atrocities were inevitable, the plot so diabolical and its execution so precise that only a superhero could have prevented it.

It sounded right. For the American people, the terror seemed to have fallen out of that near-perfect September sky, out of the clear blue.

We now know otherwise. The report of the 9/11 Commission lays the story bare in exhaustive, forensic detail:

That Condoleezza Rice in the White House press room told reporters May 16, 2002: "I don't think anybody could have predicted that
these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, taken another one and slam it into the Pentagon; that they would try to use an airplane as a missile,a hijacked airplane as a missile."

That George Tenet, in testimony before Congress, countered Rice's claim: "The documents we've provided show some 12 reports spread
over seven years which pertain to possible use of aircraft as terrorist weapons. We disseminated those reports to the appropriate agencies, such as the FAA, the Department of Transportation, and the FBI as they came in."

That the CIA in late 1999 had identified one of the future hijackers, Khalid al Mihdhar, tracked him and a companion to Malaysia,obtained a photocopy of his Saudi passport, learned he had a U.S. visa valid until April 2000, obtained photographs of him and his associates, recognized that "something more nefarious [was] afoot," and then promptly lost Mihdhar, and his traveling partner and fellow future hijacker, Nawaf al Hazmi, in Thailand.

That Mihdhar and Hazmi arrived in Los Angeles aboard a United Airlines flight on Jan 15, 2000.

That Mihdhar was, according to a 9/11 Commission staff report, "a known al Qaeda operative at the time."

That Mihdhar and Hazmi lived openly in San Diego, obtained California drivers' licenses in their own names, even rooming for a time with an FBI informant.

Even when the CIA learned of Mihdhar and Hazmi's arrival, their names were not added to a terror watchlist until August 24, 2001.

That even today, after three years of intensive FBI investigation, the 9/11 Staff conceded an "inability to ascertain the activities
of Hazmi and Mihdhar during their first two weeks in the United States...."

That FBI director Robert Mueller said, "They gave no hint to those around what they were about. They came lawfully. They lived lawfully. They trained lawfully."

That the staff of the 9/11 Commission endeavored "to dispel the myth that [the hijackers'] entry into the United States was 'clean and legal.'"

"That all 19 of the still-existing hijacker [visa] applications were incomplete in some way..."

That the hijackers cleared U.S Customs a total of 33 times over 21 months through 9 airports.

Ziad Jarrah, one of the 4 pilots, entered the U.S. a total of seven times between May 2000 and August 2001.

That "in all, [the hijackers] had 25 contacts with consular officers and 43 contacts with immigration and customs authorities."

That Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, "KSM," the mastermind of the terror plot, used "a travel facilitator" to acquire a U.S. visa on July
23, 2001 in Saudi Arabia - even though he had been indicted in the Southern District of NY in 1996.

That Mohammed Atta was readmitted to the US on January 10, 2001 - even though he had overstayed his previous visa by a month.

That even when Atta was referred for further, "secondary inspection" at Customs, "Atta's secondary inspector misjudged him as a tourist, even though Atta presented him with a student/school form as a basis for entry."

That "in late June, 2001, when intelligence indicated that al Qaeda was planning a major attack against U.S. interests in the near future, the Visa Express Program in Saudi Arabia was expanded to include all applicants in Saudi Arabia."

That, "according to the GAO, consular officers in Riyadh refused .15 percent of Saudi citizen visa applications during the period
from September 11, 2000 to April 30, 2001."

That U.S. visa policy in Saudi Arabia "derived from several sources"...including "common interests" that "resulted in what one
senior consular official serving in Saudi Arabia described as 'a culture in our mission in Saudi Arabia to be as accommodating as we possibly could.'"

That when the 9/11 Commission staff "asked consular officials whether they felt pressure from their superiors or others to issue
visas, they answered that pressure was applied from several sources, including the U.S. ambassador, Saudi government officials or businesspeople, and members
of the U.S. Congress."

That "al Qaeda's senior leadership" stopped using a satellite phone, and the NSA lost an effective avenue of surveillance, "almost
immediately after a leak to the Washington Times" in August 1998 - just after the Clinton administration's failed strike on his Afghan camp.

That on 9/11 "the Secretary of Defense did not enter the chain of command until the morning's key events were over."

That at 10:39 am on 9/11, Vice-President Cheney informed the Secretary of Defense that "'s my understanding they've already
taken a couple of aircraft out."

That "NORAD and the FAA were unprepared for the type of attacks launched against the United States on September 11th, 2001. They
struggled, under difficult circumstances, to improvise a homeland defense against an unprecedented challenge they had never before encountered and had never trained to meet."

Then on page 265 the final report of the Commission concludes that the terrorists "exploited deep institutional failings within our

That is not the whole truth. What are institutions if not the lengthened influence of individuals? "The system failed" is the
catchphrase now in vogue in Washington. Critics and fans alike of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush still rely on this hollow analysis. But "the system" is no mindless mechanism operating independently of the men and women individuals with names, power, and obligations - who are charged with making it work. Before "the system" can fail,they must fail.

The Commissioners avoided blaming any government officials, past or present, for the failure to prevent the attacks. They maintain
that their job was not to assign individual blame, but provide the most complete and frank account of the decisive events surrounding the attack. To that end, they succeeded.

But to stop there is to stop short. Read the final report of the Commission carefully - connect the dots - and a fuller pattern emerges:Key government officials failed the system,and they failed the American people.

Judges and social workers talk of the "circle of accountability." The 9/11 Commission was indeed an historic undertaking. Yet in
spreading the blame as broadly as it possibly could, the Commissioners, rather than enlarging that circle, have all but closed it. Americans deserve better than to allow accountability to be passed off as a mere abstraction; they should know where the buck stops. The nearly 3,000 men and women who died on 9/11 deserve better, too. It will not bring them back to hold accountable the particular officials in high office who could have acted and did not. But it will assure that they did not die in vain.

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