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When Geedubya's in Crawdad...
July 23, 2002
By Sheila Samples

Isn't it remarkable that it takes a monumental screw-up for the guys at Justice to act? Looking back, it's difficult to come to grips with how fat, dumb and happy we were last August. The word, "terrorism" simply wasn't in our vocabularies. Terrorists were hard-eyed, swarthy ghosts who moved through the shadows of Robert Ludlum's complicated imagination - who were brought down at the last microsecond by Bond, James Bond. We had no reason to believe terrorists were coming for us. After all, we were conditioned to believe when Geedubya's in Crawdad, all's right with the world...

However, it turns out we could have - and should have - been warned. It is somehow grotesque that we were allowed during those dog days of summer to blissfully fritter away our last days of Constitutional freedom as we know it. Freedom that throughout our proud history - until last summer when we were knocked flat on our emotional backs - was worth fighting for.

Actually, we were felled with a stunning one-two punch. First, on 9-11, we were staggered by the indescribable horror of 3,000 innocent lives disintegrating right before our eyes. Then, before we could find the TV remote to release us from that fearful reality - before we could digest the terror that mesmerized us or even attempt to assimiliate its impact - up popped the humorless and ghoulish Attorney General John Ashcroft, brandishing a list of freedoms that we must relinquish immediately. He was going to round up all un-American terrorists, he assured us angrily, and our assignment was to sit down, shut up and continue living our normal lives. Those who argued, who dissented, Ashcroft warned darkly as he knocked us down for the count - would be un-American or, worse - terrorists.

How could this have happened? Even as Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney each called Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle and demanded an investigative policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the scapegoating began. The breathless rip-and-read press-release media made the startling revelation that Ashcroft's own FBI was a "fraud squad" incapable of assimilating warnings from all points of the globe - to include world leaders - about the probable destruction of US lives and property. Members of Congress, eager to cover their own asses, nodded obediently, waved their flags and gathered on the front steps to sing.

Pardon me for being un-American, but I don't buy that. Obviously, some folks were asleep at the wheel, but it seems to me that, last summer, our "lousy" intelligence system was working pretty well.

In June, warnings of impending terrorist acts alarmed the State Department, and it prudently issued a general warning to American travelers. On July 5, President Bush asked Anacondoleezza Rice to look into the threats and, the very next day, a counterterrorism group met under the aegis of the national security adviser.

By mid-July, threats were piling up, including a specific threat against Bush himself while at the G-8 meeting in Genoa. At the end of July, the FBI received the now famous Kenneth Williams memo about flight schools. In early August, Bush was told that aircraft hijackings might be a goal of Al Qaeda. On August 13, Zacarias Moussaoui was nabbed on immigration charges. On August 21, as part of its investigation into the USS Cole, the CIA became suspicious of Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaq Alhazmi and alerted the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) that these two were possible terrorists. Two days later, the CIA realized al-Midhar was already in the U.S., and alerted the FBI, but the Bureau couldn't locate him. Both al-Midhar and Alhazmi were hijackers on the jet that hit the Pentagon.

The point is, the intelligence was out there - the "system" was working - but Administration and Justice officials chose to either reject it out of hand or to ignore it. That could be because while all this specific intelligence was flowing in, Ashcroft was otherwise occupied. Throughout the summer, Ashcroft was involved in Operation Avalanche, a scheme to crack down on child pornography and, more important, Ashcroft and his people spent both precious time and money trying to ease the financial hardship on their corporate donors caused by the Clinton-era tobacco suits. And, of course, keeping "dope" out of the greedy hands of all those terminally-ill, pain-wracked patients was a crusade that registered very high on Ashcroft's agenda.

Ashcroft then took time out to cause a partisan furor by sending a letter to the National Rifle Association backing an individual's right to own guns. Not satisfied with that bit of controversy, he then stirred the pot a bit more by determining there was no intentional racial or ethical bias in federal death penalty cases. No way. No how. Nada. Zilch. According to Ashcroft, it's un-American not to pull that switch on this country's evildoers. And we sure don't want to downplay the importance of the "sting" operation in the Big Easy, where Ashcroft snagged as many as a dozen hookers in his net.

As you can see, it's easy to understand why Ashcroft had no time for international terrorism, but he must have suspected something was up because, although he didn't warn the rest of us, he began traveling by private jet.

We now know that Ashcroft was indeed informed of the Williams memo, but for reasons of his own, kept it a secret. However, as if making up for lost opportunity, he began flailing around in a state of near-hysteria, targeting anyone even remotely resembling a Muslim, snaring thousands in a dragnet and imprisoning them on the flimsiest of pretexts. Overnight, he came up with the destructive Patriot Act, which sailed through Congress, a spineless body whose members later shamefacedly admitted they had neither read nor discussed its details.

It's interesting to note that not only have heads NOT rolled for a breach of intelligence that resulted in the destruction of so many lives, nobody's hair has even been mussed in the ten months following the attack. The administration appears to be far more interested in a stark, brazen attempt to seize legislative and judicial powers for the Executive Branch and to shroud that branch's actions in secrecy, much as Ashcroft shrouded the statues at the Justice Department. The final sliver of freedom's light was tamped out when Ashcroft ordered all federal officials to resist at all costs releasing information under the Freedom of Information Act.

The scapegoating of the intelligence network continues unabated as the administration undertakes the project of fixing something that ain't broke. Rather than sweep out the debris at the top, those officials who clogged up the intelligence system by refusing to heed warnings, Bush decided to restructure the entire government complex under a massive Homeland Security Department. This "war on turf," like Bush's "war on terror," is under way, and is likely to go on forever.

We are again entering the dog days of summer, and I am struck by the thought that we are no longer innocent and we are no longer free. Recently, a "soldier" in the right-wing army that marches daily in lockstep through the studios of CNN and FOX, made the announcement that "the only real freedom we have as Americans is the freedom to live." He said whatever freedoms we must give up in this time of war is justified. It is necessary, you see, so that we can be free...

It may be un-American, but if Geedubya's in Crawdad, and if the freedom to survive is the only freedom we have left, I damn sure hope this power-mad bunch can ward off another monumental screw-up this summer, don't you?

Sheila Samples is an Oklahoma freelance writer.

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