Memo: To Tom Kean, Chairman, 9-11 Commission
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Why was the President not "on point."
With Condoleezza Rice scheduled to testify before your commission tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. in open session, I know you have been bombarded with advice on how to handle the assignment, just as she is being prepped at the White House on what tone to take in dealing with the commission. The questions you ask of her of course have to be related to your primary mission, to discover everything you can about the events leading up to 9-11, and I suppose you will not be able to ask her what the President might have said to her on any particular occasion in that regard. You will have Mr. Bush come before the commission where those kinds of questions can be put to him directly. My thinking is that it is quite appropriate for you to ask Dr. Rice about the President’s obsession with Iraq, even though the war is not at all part of your mission. By that I mean if the President were not so heavily focused on dealing with Saddam Hussein and his Baghdad regime in the several months between his inauguration in January and 9-11, he would logically have given more attention to the warnings he was getting about Al Qaeda from people like Richard Clark, his counter terrorism expert. If there was anyone in the administration who served the President directly in understanding his obsession with regime change in Iraq, it was Dr. Rice, his gatekeeper as director of the National Security Council. The President long ago acknowledged to Bob Woodward that he was not "on point" regarding Al Qaeda prior to 9-11.
First, please note that in almost all of her recent television appearances in defending the administration against Mr. Clarke’s assertions, Dr. Rice has asserted that Saddam Hussein tried to assassinate President Bush’s father. Why don’t you ask her if she ever made her own inquiries into this issue or if she simply accepted from others this assertion as fact? The American people as a whole have been told this so many times, by the President himself, that they take it as a given. But there are those who still believe with Seymour Hersh, the investigative reporter of The New Yorker, that it is most unlikely there was an assassination attempt directed at former President Bush when he visited Kuwait City in early 1993 as a private citizen. Dr. Rice surely has read the Hersh article, ”The Case Not Closed. She must have also known of the roles that Richard Perle and former CIA Director Jim Woolsey played in making the case that the assassination attempt did take place. With those question marks in mind, did she ever lift a finger to do her own due diligence on the President’s behalf? Did she ever bring the matter up with CIA Director George Tenet or ask to see the file so she might square it with the discrepancies raised by Seymour Hersh? This seems a legitimate line of inquiry, one the American people would find very interesting, I’m sure.
Second, there is the matter of Saddam’s genocide. It is again a matter of common knowledge that Saddam “gassed his own people,” because it has been repeated thousands of times by the President, Dr. Rice and the entire administration national security team. Yet on the record, it is the official position of the CIA that the only Iraqis, Kurds in the north or Shiites in the South, who died at the hands of the Iraqi military were either caught in a crossfire between the Iraqi and Iranian armies at the end of their war in 1988, or were engaged in an attempt to overthrow the Baghdad government at the urging of the first Bush administration. Again, it seems a legitimate line of inquiry for the commission to open up with Dr. Rice. Here again The New Yorker is involved, but in this instance it is another reporter, Jeffrey Goldberg, who wrote a lengthy article two years ago this month about a massacre of Iraqi Kurds at Halabja. It immediately found its way into the hands of the President and Vice President, both of whom cited it in appearances before the press as evidence of Saddam’s genocide.
At the time, I wrote a memo here to the President’s political counselor, Karl Rove, pointing out that "Bush and Cheney are Misinformed." I’d hoped Mr. Rove would have passed it on to Mr. Bush, but when it became clear the President continued to incorrectly cite “genocide” as a key reason for the regime change he was planning, I wrote Mr. Rove again in this space, this time appending an article that appeared on the op-ed page of The NYTimes on Jan. 31, 2003 by Stephen Pelletiere, "A War Crime or an Act of War". In the article, Dr.Pelletiere, the chief CIA analyst at Langley that covered the Iran/Iraq war, disputed the Goldberg piece, arguing the hundreds (not thousands) of Kurds who died that day of poison gas were caught between ground troops of the two armies firing different kinds of gas at each other. W. Patrick Lang, who was the chief analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency during that period of the Iran/Iraq war confirms Pelletiere’s analysis and further points out that there were no Iraqi aircraft over Halabja at the time of the conflict. Goldberg’s article asserted as fact an aerial bombardment of the Kurdish town.
Do you see what I mean? Dr. Rice almost certainly knew of these discrepancies, as I can guarantee you that Karl Rove did, well in advance of the President’s decision to take the country to war. Indeed, I sent all the material that I had e-mailed Rove to Mary Matalin, the Vice President’s political counselor, and she engaged me in an e-mail exchange expressing surprise at the dispute over Saddam’s “gassing his own people.” If Dr. Rice had made the slightest attempt to get to the bottom of the issue, she would have found that former CIA Director Jim Woolsey, a Perle neo-con sidekick, was the man who arranged for Goldberg’s article to get into the President’s hands before the ink was dry. Did Condi Rice ever discuss the issue with George Tenet? If she were asked by you or your commission, she would have to answer one way or another, but at least the American people would for the first time realize that maybe they had the wool pulled over their eyes as well.
They’ve been told over and over about “mass graves” containing hundreds of thousands of Iraqi innocents, and so has the President, but did Dr. Rice ever ask serious questions of the intelligence agencies about where these graves are and who are in them? It’s now 16 years since all this genocide is said to have definitely occurred, but according to Human Rights Watch, with whom I periodically check, the victims have yet to be found. Did Dr. Rice ever check with Human Rights Watch? These are issues that most certainly be raised in the genocide trial of Saddam Hussein, if he ever makes it to court. There is a Finnish team said to be headed for Iraq to do the forensic work on those graves that have been discovered. When they exhume the bodies, perhaps they will find the evidence that will help lead to Saddam’s conviction and execution. But from what I know by doing my own due diligence, it is more likely President Bush will learn the hard way that he had been spoofed again by his neo-con team, who did what they could to trigger the war.
In recommending these types of questions of Dr. Rice I am not thinking of embarrassing her, but of opening up these issues here and now, for there may not be another opportunity once your commission closes up shop. The Republican Congress never going to be interested in raising these kinds of questions, wishing not to embarrass the President at all in this election year. And if it is too late to get these questions into the mix tomorrow, Tom, you might think of bringing them up in the closed session you are planning with the President and Vice President. It's easy to see why Mr. Bush would be obsessed with ridding the world of Saddam Hussein instead of placing the focus of his attention on the Al Qaeda terrorists, and in so doing opened the way to 9-11.