The Lincoln Project
Tag Archives: Afghanistan
“The president does read and he also consumes intelligence verbally. This president, I’ll tell you, is the most informed person on the planet Earth when it comes to the threats that we face.”
– Kayleigh McEnany, White House Press Secretary, in response to claims that Donald Trump wasn’t aware of bounties placed on U.S. troops in Afghanistan by the Russian government
Now that we’ve reached another major milestone with the 09/11 attacks – 15 years – with more moments of silence, replays of news footage from that awful day and myriad personal stories, I have to express my growing cynicism about those events. Short of joining the cadre of unrepentant hawks who believe it was all a well-orchestrated conspiracy, I’m at least settled in the belief that those in charge of national security – from the White House occupants to the guardians of airline safety – failed in every sense to anticipate something like this. You mean to tell me that no one, absolutely no one, in any role above a street cop didn’t think for a moment that someone could hijack a large jet liner and slam it into a building? Did no one overseeing the nation’s immigration system not postulate that people overstaying their work or tourist visas could pose a legitimately fatal threat to a large segment of the populace? In retrospect, I guess not.
We’re the country that developed both the first fully-functioning automobile and airplane and were the first to reach the Earth’s moon. We were instrumental in developing radio, television, air conditioning, computers and cell phones. We rose up from the depths of the worst economic downturn in our brief history to help defeat some of the most brutal dictators the world has ever seen. Did no one – not even a secretary – sitting in an FBI office think, ‘Hm…you know, box cutters could be pretty nasty.’
The U.S. has failed before on such grand levels. In the fall of 1979, we were still so concerned about the threat of nuclear annihilation from the Soviet Union that we didn’t think a handful of really pissed off university students could overwhelm our embassy in Tehran, Iran and hold people hostage for fourteen months. Less than four years later we had military personnel in Beirut, Lebanon when a dynamite-laden box truck plowed into a compound and took 299 lives. Again, it seemed no one thought these events were possible.
On the other hand, someone did think of crashing a plane into the White House. In February of 1974, Samuel Byck, a failed Philadelphia businessman, planned to hijack a plane and nose dive it into the White House. Upset, in part, because the Small Business Administration didn’t grant him a loan to start his own company, Byck had actually come to the attention of the U.S. Secret Service more than once before his enacting fateful ploy. But, in the days when people could literally walk onto an airplane carrying more than just a bottle of water, Byck stormed aboard a Delta Airlines flight; killing first a policeman and – after firing through the cockpit door – the co-pilot with a stolen .22 revolver. After forcing a flight attendant to close the cabin door, he announced that he wanted the plane flown to Washington, D.C. He had even nicknamed his plot: Operation Pandora’s Box. The bomb he claimed was housed in his briefcase was actually two Valvoline containers filled with petrol, but it had no ignition device. Out on the tarmac police tried to disable the jet liner by blasting away at its tires. Finally another police officer fired directly through the cabin door, subsequently and fatally wounding Byck. Officials learned much about Byck’s plan from the audio tapes he left behind. However, both the media and the nation were enthralled with the brewing Watergate scandal, so Byck’s failed hijacking warranted little attention. Still, did no one with some degree of authority at the FBI – beyond that nosy secretary – not view this event with ominous potential?
In the aftermath of the 09/11 attacks, the country – already heavily divided over the previous year’s presidential elections – united in a way not seen in years. It’s a shame how people don’t often see the value of humanity or realize the fragility of their existence until someone dies. When death occurs on such a massive scale, though, it’s akin to a natural disaster: we lowly bidepals suddenly get it that we’re just a speck in that hourglass of time. But, no sooner had we come together in one of those Kumbaya / We-Are-the-World kind of ways than politics crept up from its sewer of a home and started ruthlessly dissecting the national conscious (as it’s wont to do). Among the first notable reactions was our descent into Afghanistan. Once a beacon of literature and mathematics, Afghanistan – by the start of the 21st century – had toppled into the madness of religious fervor and extremist conservatism. The Taliban had taken over a decade earlier and – as the U.S. became drunk on a newfound economic boon – Afghan war lords never forgot the promises our nation made for helping them defeat the Soviets: promises of new infrastructure, health care and all that comes with nation rebuilding. They didn’t forget. The U.S. did. Any average person knows one of the worst friendship betrayals is to forget a heartfelt promise. Hell – some people get pissed off if you forget their birthday! But forget about building a new hospital?! The one holding that bloody promissory note damn sure doesn’t! Hence, 09/11. So the U.S. invaded – and still hasn’t left.
Next came the Patriot Act. This Hallmark-style gem blossomed from the hearts of the U.S. body politic as a concerted effort to prevent any future terrorist attacks. It snagged tools already in place to fight drug trafficking and organized crime and reconfigured them into a tool to infiltrate terrorist organizations. In that case, I wonder why they haven’t gone after the IRS. But it quickly metamorphosed into a pathetic dogma allowing social conservatives to dictate what they felt was un-American. Any suspected anarchist – you know…gays, lesbians, atheists, abortion doctors, Negroes, Hispanics, Native Americans, feminists, Muslims, Roman Catholics, environmentalists, vegans – fell under the proverbial microscope of questionable behavior. So, what’s new in America?
One of the most curious – and most comical – of responses was the passage of a bill by the U.S. Congress declaring that French fries in the commissary would be renamed “freedom fries”. This was strictly due to the fact that France refused to let itself get hoodwinked into believing the Bush Administration’s claim that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and should therefore be invaded. Freedom fries?! Yeah! Showed those Frenchies a thing or two about pissing off Americans!
Here’s the crux of my argument: the single greatest response to the 09/11 attacks is the equally catastrophic reaction of the Bush White House’s decision to invade Iraq because they maybe-kind-of-sort-of-in-a-way had something to do with killing nearly 2,900 people on that gorgeous Tuesday afternoon. The invasion of Iraq, along with passage of the Patriot Act and overall mismanagement of the Afghanistan War, annihilated our collective response of unity and hope rising from the ashes of the 09/11 carnage.
I’m old enough to recall Watergate and the destructive impacts it had on the collective American psyche. It brought down the notion of the imperial U.S. presidency, when we learned that Richard Nixon was a bigoted, foul-mouthed jerk. Americans shouldn’t have been shocked, though. Presidents are people, too. But then again, that level of authority imbues a certain degree of responsibility the average person can’t fathom. Or it should. There’s an exception to everything, and Bush certainly was exception to the concept of personal responsibility and high-caliber ethics.
George W. Bush had a prime opportunity to seal his future as one of the greatest Chief Executives ever to occupy the highest office in the land. Instead he screwed it up royally because of his own incompetence and narrowmindedness. That’s, in part, because he was nothing more than a puppet of right-wing extremists who targeted the White House and the U.S. Congress long before the 09/11 terrorists started plotting. Some large oil and energy corporations here in the U.S. set their sights on Iraq in the 1990s, strictly because of its vast reserves of natural resources. I’ve consistently pointed to one critical, almost overlooked fact: in 1998, Kenneth Derr, then CEO of Chevron declared, “Iraq possesses huge reserves of oil and gas-reserves I’d love Chevron to have access to.” Derr later became CEO of Halliburton – the same company Vice-President Dick Cheney lead until May of 2000, when he abruptly resigned and moved from Texas back to his native Wyoming. In 2000, Chevron, Exxon, BP and Shell dumped millions into the Bush presidential campaign; more than any other presidential race. Their efforts seem to have paid off. Less than two weeks after Bush took office, Cheney chaired the newly-formed National Energy Policy Development Group whose entire purpose was to lay out the course for America’s energy future. In March 2001, the group outlined Iraq’s oil production capacity. In 2004, Bush’s first Treasury secretary, Paul O’Neill, said, “Already by February (2001), the talk was mostly about logistics. Not the why (to invade Iraq), but the how and how quickly.”
In November of 2002, the Bush Administration RELUCTANTLY established the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, known affectionately as the “9/11 Commission.” The bipartisan group pulled as many high-ranking political and national security officials beneath the magnifying glass glare of its hearings. Watching bits of the hearings again recently, I noticed a few phrases kept popping up: ‘I’ll have to get back to you on that.’ ‘I can’t say right now.’ Here were some of the most critical figures in U.S. national security and they didn’t know that, for example, many of the 09/11 hijackers had expired visas? Or that “Bin Laden determined to strike US” could translate into: bombs on planes or even planes used as bombs? Seriously!
I have one question: what the fuck were you doing in that job anyway?
If, for any reason, I had ever told a supervisor questioning me on something in a past job, “Let me get back to you on that,” there’s a good chance I’d get fired. I’ve actually seen it happen to people. Long before 09/11!
When you reach that level of authority in government (or business, for that matter), you are held to a greater degree of accountability than, say, someone mopping the floors at Wal-Mart. It’s why the police aren’t really granted the benefit of an “honest mistake” when they reach for their guns and pull the trigger. But then, we’re talking about the Bush White House. Its people weren’t held to a higher standard than the rest of us. They got away with it, too.
In September of 2009, political activist and author Van Jones resigned his new-found position as “green jobs czar” in the Obama Administration due to his affiliation with self-proclaimed 9/11 conspiracy “truthers.” The group claims the Bush White House was complicit in the September 11, 2001 terrorist onslaughts. Within their own ranks they generally fall into two camps: those who say the Bush Administration (and, to some extent, the Clinton White House) dismissed a growing body of intelligence beginning in the late 1990s that the attacks were imminent; and those who declare the Bush gang actually planned and carried out the events with the express intent of invading either Afghanistan or Iraq and accessing their natural resources. Or invading both countries. Either theory is plausible.
Consider – among other things – that 511 executives at 186 large corporations, such as Halliburton and Exxon-Mobil, hoarded stock options towards the end of September 2001 at a rate never seen in corporate America before. Or that one company, Teradyne, laid off a slew of employees just hours before the 09/11 events, and its chairman gathered 602,589 stock options just two weeks later. Or that KBR, a Halliburton subsidiary, received $39.5 billion in no-bid contracts to rebuild Iraq – the most of any company. Remember, Dick Cheney had been CEO of Halliburton before assuming the vice presidency.
There are a few figures who have become lost in questions over 09/11. One is William Rodriguez. Rodriguez was one of the last people who made it out of World Trade Center Tower 1 before it collapsed. A maintenance worker with 20 years on the job, Rodriguez is considered a hero because he unlocked doors for arriving firemen. In testimony before the 09/11 Commission, he claimed he heard an explosion in the basement of that building as he arrived for work; which was just before the plane hit. Kenneth Johannemann, a part-time janitor in WTC1, stated he also heard the explosion. And a maintenance worker in Tower 2 reported a similar explosion just before the plane struck that building. Barry Jennings, a former New York Housing Authority Emergency Coordinator, had been in World Trade Center Tower 7 (the Deutsche Bank Building) and claimed he and another man, Michael Hess, had been “blown back” by an explosion in the structure hours before it and WTC Towers 1 and 2 collapsed. They also claimed to have stepped over dead bodies in WTC7 as they fled. WTC7 had not been struck by an airplane, but it caught fire and crumbled within hours after Towers 1 and 2 fell. Other occupants claimed they’d heard explosives go off in the building some time before its downfall. But the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which investigated the collapse of the three edifices solely from a structural standpoint, highlighted the amount of debris (including flaming refuse) that fell onto WTC7 from Towers 1 and 2. Still, conspiratorialists point to the fact that Jennings died under suspicious circumstances on August 19, 2008. Twelve days later Johannemann also died; in this case, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
There are other mysterious deaths of people with direct and indirect ties to 09/11.
Beverly Eckert, whose husband died on 09/11, co-founded Voices for September 11th, an advocacy group for 09/11 survivors and their families. Eckert had also pushed for the U.S. to allow legal action against the government of Saudi Arabia, pointing out that 15 of the 19 09/11 hijackers hailed from the oil-rich kingdom. She and others claimed that, like the U.S., the Saudi government helped to facilitate the attacks. Eckert died in a commuter plane crash on February 12, 2009.
Christopher Landis was Operations Manager for Safety Service Patrol for the Virginia Department of Transportation in 2001. He had an unobstructed view of the Pentagon, which was struck by American Airlines Flight 77. Landis had taken photos of the area in the days immediately preceding 09/11; many show light poles that were down near the Pentagon. Afterwards Landis turned over the photos to authorities. But he also kept copies and handed the same batch over to “The Pentacon,” an organization dedicated to investigating military injustices. Jason Ingersoll, who worked for the U.S. Navy, took pictures of the same area in the moments after Flight 77 plowed into the Pentagon. In some of the photos, the same light poles as in the Landis shots are knocked down. In November 2006, Landis committed suicide.
Bertha Champagne was a babysitter for the family of Marvin P. Bush, a younger brother of President George W. Bush. Often dubbed the “neglected Bush,” he had served on the board of directors for Securacom/Stratesec, a Kuwaiti/Saudi-backed company, from 1993 June 2000. Securacom/Stratesec provided electronic security for the World Trade Center Complex and Dulles International Airport from where American Airlines Flight 77 originated. By September of 2001, Marvin sat on the board of HCC Insurance Holdings (now Tokio Marine HCC), which insured parts of the WTCC. On September 29, 2003, Bertha Champagne was crushed to death by her own vehicle on the grounds of Marvin’s family home in Fairfax County, Virginia. The car inexplicably rolled forward and subsequently trapped Champagne against a small building beside the driveway. There were no witnesses, and nothing was stolen from either Champagne or the Bush home. Champagne’s death appears to have been purely accidental, but it wasn’t reported in the media until October 5.
It’s all circumstantial evidence that can point to a deliberately wicked machination. Or not. There’s nothing like a good conspiracy, though. Even the pragmatic, ever-cynical Chief Writing Wolf loves one. Yet, amidst any great national tragedy, people will always make tangential connections between seemingly unrelated events and individuals. Marife Torres Nichols, the Filipino-born second wife of Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols, had lived briefly in a New York City building where a man named Ramzi Ahmed Yousef also occasionally resided. A Kuwaiti national, Yousef helped to plan and bomb World Trade Center Tower 1 in February 1993. He and another man drove an explosives-laden truck into the building’s garage. The resultant explosion killed 6 and injured more than a thousand.
If you think the U.S. federal government doesn’t engage in such unseemly practices, I have a couple of vials of Jesus Christ’s blood in a Tupperware container beneath my bed I’d like to sell you for $25,000 a pop.
Regardless of whether the tragic events of Tuesday, September 11, 2001 were a carefully-conceived Mephistophelean drama or the end result of people in government who just should have known better, it all served as a conduit for poor behavior at the highest levels of authority; gateway, if you will, for a small cadre of government and corporate elitists to twist reality into a new and more affluent life for themselves.
The rest of us were forced or tricked into submission via personal shaming or voter intimidation. Just when we progressive futurists felt two centuries worth of human rights advances had finally produced a casteless society, we got shot down like…well, like a bird out of the sky. Many of us saw this coming. The hijacking of four airplanes was preceded by the blatant hijacking of the 2000 presidential elections. Once again, the message was clear: White male privilege is not to be questioned. (And, in case anyone forgot, the Chief is mostly of the Caucasian persuasion.)
Like microwaved French fries (yes, that’s what they really are), it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. And in my soul.
Let political and business titans tap-dance on the graves of those who perished – were murdered – on 09/11, if it makes them feel empowered. They can’t take that feeling with them when they meet their own fate.
“They’ve bombed the World Trade Center in New York,” my mother said.
“Who?” I asked.
“I don’t know. We just heard about it.”
It was a few minutes before 9 A.M. on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, and her phone call had awoken me from a sound sleep. I had lost my job at the bank almost five months earlier and had taken to sleeping late throughout that summer. I had my alarm clock set for 11 A.M. My father had an appointment with his eye doctor at 1 P.M. Exactly one week earlier one of the doctor’s colleagues had implanted some radiation pellets into his left eye; another attempt to destroy a small tumor that had formed behind the eyeball. The doctor had made his first effort to eliminate it nearly seven months earlier by cauterizing the blood vessels around the tumor. But, it had regenerated. The pellets could only remain in his eye for a maximum of seven days.
After my mother had called me, I really couldn’t go back to sleep and finally got up around 10:00. Turning on the TV, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing: the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsing. It had just occurred, and I was watching a replay. “What the hell happened?” I kept asking myself.
I thought back to Memorial Day weekend, when I visited New York with a close friend, Phillip*, who had lived there for five years. He had attended New York University, beginning in 1991, and after graduating, decided to stay and try to build a long-desired career in the film industry. When that didn’t go as planned, he returned to Dallas. Yet, Phillip kept his tiny one-bedroom apartment in the heart of Greenwich Village; subletting it college students. He hoped to move back there one day.
I had first visited New York with Phillip over Memorial Day weekend 1997. We stayed with some friends of his who lived across the Hudson in New Jersey. I had no desire to patronize the World Trade Center back then. Seeing the Statue of Liberty from a boat was enjoyable enough, but a cluster of office buildings wasn’t exactly akin to viewing the remains of Tenochtitlán.
But, before our 2001 visit, I told Phillip I’d visit the World Trade Center complex – just to say I’d been there. Then, as we made our way to Manhattan’s financial district, I stopped. Literally. In mid-stride.
“What’s wrong?” Phillip asked me.
I was silent for a moment. “Nothing,” I finally said. I don’t know what it was, but I had suddenly developed a sickening feeling as I looked at those two gargantuan structures just a few blocks away. I don’t remember exactly what I said afterwards, but I shifted my focus to an Indian restaurant Phillip had wanted me to try out. My appetite had evaporated, yet we made our way back up to the Greenwich Village area. I grew hungry, though, by the time we reached the restaurant. I couldn’t explain to Phillip why I’d abruptly changed my mind about the World Trade Center. I couldn’t explain it to myself.
As I sat alongside my father in the waiting room, we stared at the TV monitor snuggled high up into a corner. An older couple sat opposite us, and, of course, we all wondered aloud who had wreaked such havoc on us and why. None of us actually cared why. We just wanted retribution.
But, thirteen years on, I know why Al-Qaeda attacked the U.S. in so brutal a manner. It’s not like they all woke up one morning and decided to highjack those planes because they had nothing else better to do with their time and money.
On December 27, 1979, the Soviet Union unexpectedly invaded Afghanistan. Back then, the average American probably couldn’t locate the landlocked nation on a map. It was the U.S.S.R.’s last concerted effort at a land grab. At the time, however, the United States was preoccupied with the Iran hostage crisis. Before then, most Americans probably couldn’t find Iran on a map either. In retrospect, though, the quandary was the U.S.’s first battle with radical Islam. President Jimmy Carter appeared thoroughly inept in his handling of it; a fact that cost him the 1980 presidential election. Ronald Reagan rode into the White House with a promise to help the mujahideen fighters drive out the Soviets. The Cold War was still very active; the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. locked in a never-ending battle of hearts and minds. In March of 1985, Reagan signed National Security Decision Directive 166, which allowed for much-needed financial and military support to the Afghan warriors. Within two years, the U.S. was shipping up to 65,000 tons of arm supplies and covertly spiriting a bevy of military operatives and specialists into Afghanistan via Pakistan. When the Soviets finally left Afghanistan in 1989, the Afghan people expected the U.S. to live up to its Reagan-born vow. We were supposed to stay and help the impoverished country move from its medieval environment into the 20th century. We never did. President George H.W. Bush simply didn’t see it as a priority. Neither did Bill Clinton. People don’t forget something like that.
Blindly supporting Israel.
The U.S. and Israel have one major thing in common: both were founded by White Europeans fleeing religious persecution who ended up displacing the indigenous peoples through violence and intimidation. As of 2013, the U.S. has been providing roughly $3.1 billion annually to support its only true ally in the Middle East. This small nation of 7.1 million was formally established in 1948 and now has the highest standard of living of any country in the region with a 95% literacy rate and an average life expectancy of 79. It’s not that its neighbors are bitterly envious of Israel’s global success. The harassment of non-Jews by Israeli police and government has always bordered on the criminal. But, any criticism of Israel’s actions is met with a harsh rebuke by its supporters. President Barack Obama is repeatedly accused of abandoning Israel; a declaration born more out of political partisanship and racism than fact. Yet, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has received scant criticism about his refusal to acknowledge a “Palestinian state,” or a “two-state solution.” The ongoing battle between Jews and Palestinians is a little like the English-French divide in Canada, but more pointless. Israel’s assault upon Lebanon in 2006 was met with silence, even as news of atrocities at the hands of the Israeli military seeped out, along with images of civilians fleeing to the island nation of Cyprus. The U.S. also remains mum on Israel’s constant push into the West Bank; forcing out entire families and destroying Palestinian property. Other democratic nations always seem to look away.
The United States should have seen 09/11 coming. There were plenty of signs: the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center; the 1996 assault on the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia; the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania; and the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in October of 2000. There’s also plenty of blame to go around. On September 12, 2001, people kept asking how something so horrifically grand could happen. Didn’t anyone suspect that planes could be used as missiles? Didn’t anyone believe it was imprudent to overlook the expired visas of foreign nationals? Didn’t someone think box cutters and pocket knives could be so deadly? Didn’t somebody alert authorities to the curious behavior of Middle Eastern men at flight schools? Well, yes to all of the above. Various people at various times had already expressed concern about those things. And, it goes far beyond just the infamous “August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing.”
There’s nothing that can take back the horror of that late summer day more than a decade ago. People launching themselves from the top floors of the World Trade Center towers is one of the most blood-curdling things I’ve ever seen. We’ll never just get over it. And, while I’m no security expert, I know the U.S. should never set itself up for catastrophe through an imaginary veil of isolation.