Saturday, June 6, 2009

Bush Administration Rewrites Failed Terrorism Legacy

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This evening President Bush will give a farewell address to the nation in which he will undoubtedly claim that thanks to his national security policies America has not been hit by a terrorist attack since 9/11. But while our law enforcement agencies and military work to protect Americans from attack, President Bush leaves behind a legacy of failure. The Bush Administration has succeeded in overinflating the terrorist threat at home and utterly discrediting it abroad. It presided over eight years in which the number of terrorist acts worldwide rose; a significant terrorist recruiting and training ground arose in Iraq as a result of our invasion; and a new terrorist safe haven on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan - a safe haven which our intelligence community now believes presents the greatest single threat to the U.S. homeland. The President's failed detention and interrogation policies have made it impossible to bring the 20th 9/11 hijacker to justice, with a senior Bush administration official this week acknowledging that Mohammed al-Qahtani was in fact tortured in American custody and could therefore not be brought to trial. Even the President's claim that he has kept us safe since 9/11 forgets that prior to 9/11 he ignored the warnings of the Intelligence Community and counterterrorism officials such as Richard Clarke. In fact, the President's central legacy in his "war on terrorism" is war in Iraq - a country that the 9/11 Commission concluded had no operational relationship with Al Qaeda

Sadly, the President's counterterrorism policies have not made us safer. They have succeeded in hyping and confusing the terrorist threat, while simultaneously undermining the legitimacy and effectiveness of American counterterrorism efforts, allowing terrorist movements across the world to grow stronger. Yesterday, as if to stake his own legacy claim, Osama Bin Laden released a message taunting President Bush, and reminding us that Bush will leave the scene, but Bin Laden's movement - as yet - will not.
Hype, torture and the war in Iraq have clouded and discredited attempts to forge a strong international front against genuine terrorist threats - and even bring legitimate terror prosecutions at home. The administration's use of torture may make it impossible to bring the 20th 9/11 hijacker to justice, while undermining American credibility and values. In contrast to the confirmation testimony of Attorney General-designate Eric Holder, Vice President Cheney continues to claim that the Bush administration did not torture detainees and that its policies, including waterboarding, were justified. However, "The top Bush administration official in charge of deciding whether to bring Guantanamo Bay detainees to trial has concluded that the U.S. military tortured a Saudi national who allegedly planned to participate in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, interrogating him with techniques that included sustained isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity and prolonged exposure to cold, leaving him in a 'life-threatening condition.'" The official, Susan J. Crawford, said, "His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that's why I did not refer the case" for prosecution." Moreover international support for fighting terrorism has dropped dramatically in recent years with Pew Global Research concluding: "America's global image has again slipped and support for the war on terrorism has declined even among close U.S. allies like Japan." [Eric Holder, 1/15/09. Washington Times, 12/18/08. Washington Post, 1/14/09. ABC News, 12/16/08. Pew Global Research, 6/13/06]

Bin Laden tape restates a different legacy -- a re-constituted al-Qaeda and extremist threat in Afghanistan - Pakistan region. "In a new message aimed at harnessing anger in the Mideast over the Gaza offensive, bin Laden urges Muslims to launch a jihad, or holy war, against Israel and condemned Arab governments as allies of the Jewish state." Bin Laden's broadcast serves as a reminder that the Bush administration has failed to thwart al-Qaeda and other extremist affiliates, now reconstituted along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The 2006 and 2007 National Intelligence Estimates both concluded that al Qaeda "will continue to pose the greatest threat to the Homeland and US interests abroad." The Congress's Government Accountability Office (GAO), in concert with the unclassified 2007 NIE and State and embassy documents, found that "al Qaeda's central leadership, based in the border area of Pakistan, is and will remain the most serious terrorist threat to the United States..." and " now using the Pakistani safe haven to put the last element necessary to launch another attack against America into place." Major terrorist attacks, including the 2005 London bombings, involved participants with ties to the region, and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has indicated that "[t]hree-quarters of the most serious terror plots being investigated by UK authorities have links to Pakistan," home to al-Qaeda central, and other extremist groups. Worse still, the recent report by the Commission on the Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism deemed Pakistan to be the nexus of proliferation and terrorism, and yet the Bush administration has not developed a comprehensive plan to tackle the problem. [Washington Post, 1/15/09. NIE, 4/06. NIE, 7/07. NY Times, 9/24/06. GAO, 4/08. USA Today, 7/20/05. BBC, 12/14/08. Report of the Commission on the Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism, 12/08]

President ignored warnings from counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke and the Intelligence Community prior to 9/11. The now infamous Presidential Daily Briefing, "Bin Laden determined to attack inside the U.S.," said a month before the 9/11 attacks that there were "patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings." The White House responded to the public release of the memo, saying that "The PDB article did not warn of the 9/11 attacks. Although the PDB referred to the possibility of hijackings, it did not discuss the possible use of planes as weapons." While the White House draws distinctions to defend itself, President Bush's own former counterterrorism advisor, Richard Clarke, said that "the White House had ignored warnings about bin Laden's terrorist organization. Clarke said the Bush administration, including Rice, was aware of al Qaeda threats but did not treat them as 'urgent.'" During the 2004 presidential campaign, Clarke said, "Frankly, I find it outrageous that the president is running for re-election on the grounds that he's done such great things about terrorism. He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11. Maybe. We'll never know. . . I think he's done a terrible job on the war against terrorism." [CNN, 5/19/04. CBS, 3/21/04]

Invasion of Iraq has translated into a rise in international terrorism. In a recent interview with Jim Lehrer, Vice-President Cheney once again attempted to conflate U.S. counterterrorism efforts with the war in Iraq, saying "what Saddam Hussein represented was, especially in the aftermath of 9/11, was a terror-sponsoring state so designated by the State Department. He was making payments to the families of suicide bombers." In reality, the 9-11 Commission found that there was no operational relationship between Al Qaeda and Iraq. The sad truth is that by invading Iraq, the Bush administration has created a "cause - célèbre" for extremism, leading to a rise in incidents of terrorist violence. In 2007, the nation's 16 intelligence agencies agreed that "the Iraq conflict has become the 'cause célèbre' for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement." Experts Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank found that the invasion of Iraq has unleashed a wave of terrorism across the world. "[T]he Iraq War has generated a stunning sevenfold increase in the yearly rate of fatal jihadist attacks, amounting to literally hundreds of additional terrorist attacks and thousands of civilian lives lost; even when terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan is excluded, fatal attacks in the rest of the world have increased by more than one-third." Overall, 71 percent of terrorism experts believed that "the world was growing more dangerous for Americans and the United States." [Vice President Cheney, 1/14/09. NIE, 07/07. Annals of American Political Science, July 2008. Mother Jones, 3/01/07. CAP Terrorism Index, 8/19/08]

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