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Now is the Time to Ask Questions
May 18, 2002
By Kevin Raybould (kcr)

I have been hearing quite a bit recently from the nation's right wing pundits about "moral clarity". They seem to be afraid that the Bush administration is losing said clarity in its War on Terrorism. Apparently, Bush's tepid attempt to draw the Israelis and Palestinians away from the battlefields and towards the negotiating tables constitutes a dangerous loss of moral clarity. Reducing tensions and the chance of a wider war - not to mention hatred of America - appears to be much too murky a proposition for our friends on the right.

In their defense, the conservative Greek chorus is not entirely wrong - there is a distinct lack of moral clarity in the White House - they are just trying to find it in the wrong place. They should start by looking at the months leading up to September 11th.

For eight months, the Bush administration has been saying "We did not know, how could we know? It was an unprecedented, unique attack, perpetrated by clever and cunning adversaries. How could anyone have been prepared for that?" Except, it turns out that, well, they did know more than they first revealed.

The revelations start, of course, with the disclosure that Bush was warned in early August that Al-Qaeda was planning on hijacking jetliners, but they do not end there. The Bush administration claims that the warnings were not specific, that they dealt with "traditional" hijacking, not the use of planes as weapons. Once again, they hide behind the "how could we have known" defense - except that they could have known very easily.

The FBI would soon have one terrorist in custody in Minnesota, and had warnings about possible terrorists taking flight lessons in Phoenix. Apparently, no-one in the administration saw those warnings until after September 11th. Why not? Why, in the face of credible warnings about potential hijackings did the word not go out to pay closer attention to airline related investigations? Why was there no attempt to collect and centralize such information? Why was such an obvious step missed? Weren't the grown-ups supposed to be in charge?

Then there is the question of the lack of increased preparations. Even if one assumes that a public warning could reasonably have been considered to be counterproductive, why do the airlines and airports say they were not warned? Why did John Ashcroft stop flying commercially in July, but no steps were taken to increase airport security?

The Bush administration had inherited the Commission on Terrorism's final report. True, the Bush administration had ignored the report, preferring to have FEMA devise the plan for homeland security, but in the face of these credible threats, why were the warnings and advice in that report not taken seriously and airport security tightened? Was no one in the administration paying attention, was no one concerned?

Finally, most importantly, why did the administration react so badly to the events of September 11th? Why did no one connect the dots? Why, when he was told of the first plane crashing into the WTC, did Bush sit in a classroom for another thirty-five minutes? Why did he and his administration not react immediately? Why were fighter jets not immediately scrambled to protect the Capital and other American cities besides New York? Why, despite knowing that terrorists were planning on hijacking planes, did no one in the administration realize what was happening?

The administration claims that the idea of using airplanes as weapons was completely unique, and totally unanticipated. Except that the Bush administration had received just such a threat only a few months previously. Before Bush's visit to Genoa for the G-8 summit in July, the administration was warned by the Italian government of credible threats by terrorists to crash a hijacked airplane into Bush's residence. The Italian government was able to anticipate the "airplane as missile" scenario clearly enough to ring Genoa with anti-aircraft weaponry during Bush's visit.

The Bush administration's reaction to these facts has been abysmal, to say the least. Immediately after September 11th, Bush personally asked Daschle not to conduct a wide ranging investigation into the events leading up to the attacks. After the most recent revelations, Dick Cheney cautioned the Democrats to be "very cautious" in their calls for investigations into the Administration's failings. George Bush himself classified requests for more information as having a "hint of politics." Apparently, morality in the Bush Administration is defined as whatever is necessary to protect Bush's approval ratings.

Let us be perfectly clear here: the first duty of any administration is to protect the nation from foreign aggression. The Bush administration, through its own incompetence, reflexive contempt for anything produced during the Clinton administration (including blue ribbon reports on the nation's vulnerability to terrorism), and lack of vision, failed in that duty horribly. At the very least, their mistakes and lack of decisive action allowed the deadliest attack on American soil since the Second World War to be deadlier than it otherwise should have been. Because the Bush administration failed, there are almost certainly people dead today who should be alive and well.

Even more outrageously, by continuing to stonewall attempts to determine just what went wrong, and what can be done to fix those failings, the Bush administration leaves us just as vulnerable today as we were on September 11th. If the administration succeeds in blunting an honest and open investigation, then when the next attack comes - and there almost certainly will be a next attack - Americans will yet again die when they should have lived.

I wonder when we can expect Bush's cheerleaders in the press to call for the moral clarity of an open, thorough, unobstructed investigation?

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