Writing in Sunday’s Washington Post, Richard Clarke, the former counterterrorism chief under Presidents Clinton and Bush, slammed Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice for invoking what he called “the White House 9/11 trauma defense” — namely, the shock of 9/11 was so great as to justify all and any actions taken in the name of national defense. Clarke called the decisions on interrogations, detentions, and Iraq were all “wrong,” and the White House panic proved that Cheney and company had simply been ignoring the warning signs:
Cheney’s admission that 9/11 caused him to reassess the threats to the nation only underscores how, for months, top officials had ignored warnings from the CIA and the NSC staff that urgent action was needed to preempt a major al-Qaeda attack.
Speaking at the National Press Club today, Cheney struck back at Clarke. When asked about Clarke’s argument, Cheney — once again — invoked the “burning ashes” of 9/11 and the victims who leaped to their deaths from the World Trade Center. Then, quite succinctly, Cheney pinned the entire blame for 9/11 on Clarke:
CHENEY: You know, Dick Clarke. Dick Clarke, who was the head of the counterrorism program in the run-up to 9/11. He obviously missed it. The fact is that we did what we felt we had to do, and if I had to do it all over again, I would do exactly the same thing.
When the moderator reminded Cheney that Clarke had repeatedly warned the administration about al Qaeda’s determination to attack the U.S., Cheney snarkily replied, “That’s not my recollection, but I haven’t read his book.”
In fact, it was Cheney who “missed” the warning signs, not Clarke. New York Times reporter Philip Shenon’s book, “The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation,” reprinted some of Clarke’s emphatic e-mails warning the Bush administration of the al Qaeda threat throughout 2001:
“Bin Ladin Public Profile May Presage Attack” (May 3)
“Terrorist Groups Said Co-operating on US Hostage Plot” (May 23)
“Bin Ladin’s Networks’ Plans Advancing” (May 26)
“Bin Ladin Attacks May Be Imminent” (June 23)
“Bin Ladin and Associates Making Near-Term Threats” (June 25)
“Bin Ladin Planning High-Profile Attacks” (June 30)
“Planning for Bin Ladin Attacks Continues, Despite Delays” (July 2)
Similarly, Time Magazine reported in 2002 that Clarke had an extensive plan to “roll back” al Qaeda — a plan that languished for months, ignored by senior Bush officials:
Clarke, using a Powerpoint presentation, outlined his thinking to Rice. … In fact, the heading on Slide 14 of the Powerpoint presentation reads, “Response to al Qaeda: Roll back.” … The proposals Clarke developed in the winter of 2000–01 were not given another hearing by top decision makers until late April, and then spent another four months making their laborious way through the bureaucracy before they were readied for approval by President Bush.
Cheney needs to check his “recollections” before blaming former employees for the single most devastating attack in American history.