perhaps the most famous presidential briefing in history.
On Aug. 6, 2001, President George W. Bush received a classified review of the
threats posed by Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network, Al Qaeda. That
morning’s “presidential daily brief” — the top-secret document prepared by
America’s intelligence agencies — featured the now-infamous heading: “Bin Laden
Determined to Strike in U.S.” A few weeks later, on 9/11, Al Qaeda accomplished
On April 10, 2004, the Bush White House declassified that daily brief — and only
that daily brief — in response to pressure from the 9/11 Commission, which was
investigating the events leading to the attack. Administration officials
dismissed the document’s significance, saying that, despite the jaw-dropping
headline, it was only an assessment of Al Qaeda’s history, not a warning of the
impending attack. While some critics considered that claim absurd, a close
reading of the brief showed that the argument had some validity.
That is, unless it was read in conjunction with the daily briefs preceding Aug.
6, the ones the Bush administration would not release. While those documents are
still not public, I have read excerpts from many of them, along with other
recently declassified records, and come to an inescapable conclusion: the
administration’s reaction to what Mr. Bush was told in the weeks before that
infamous briefing reflected significantly more negligence than has been
disclosed. In other words, the Aug. 6 document, for all of the controversy it
provoked, is not nearly as shocking as the briefs that came before it.
The direct warnings to Mr. Bush about the possibility of a Qaeda attack began in
the spring of 2001. By May 1, the Central Intelligence Agency told the White
House of a report that “a group presently in the United States” was planning a
terrorist operation. Weeks later, on June 22, the daily brief reported that
Qaeda strikes could be “imminent,” although intelligence suggested the time
frame was flexible.
But some in the administration considered the warning to be just bluster. An
intelligence official and a member of the Bush administration both told me in
interviews that the neoconservative leaders who had recently assumed power at
the Pentagon were warning the White House that the C.I.A. had been fooled;
according to this theory, Bin Laden was merely pretending to be planning an
attack to distract the administration from Saddam Hussein, whom the
neoconservatives saw as a greater threat. Intelligence officials, these sources
said, protested that the idea of Bin Laden, an Islamic fundamentalist,
conspiring with Mr. Hussein, an Iraqi secularist, was ridiculous, but the
neoconservatives’ suspicions were nevertheless carrying the day.
In response, the C.I.A. prepared an analysis that all but pleaded with the White
House to accept that the danger from Bin Laden was real.
“The U.S. is not the target of a disinformation campaign by Usama Bin Laden,”
the daily brief of June 29 read, using the government’s transliteration of Bin
Laden’s first name. Going on for more than a page, the document recited much of
the evidence, including an interview that month with a Middle Eastern journalist
in which Bin Laden aides warned of a coming attack, as well as competitive
pressures that the terrorist leader was feeling, given the number of Islamists
being recruited for the separatist Russian region of Chechnya.
And the C.I.A. repeated the warnings in the briefs that followed. Operatives
connected to Bin Laden, one reported on June 29, expected the planned near-term
attacks to have “dramatic consequences,” including major casualties. On July 1,
the brief stated that the operation had been delayed, but “will occur soon.”
Some of the briefs again reminded Mr. Bush that the attack timing was flexible,
and that, despite any perceived delay, the planned assault was on track.
Yet, the White House failed to take significant action. Officials at the
Counterterrorism Center of the C.I.A. grew apoplectic. On July 9, at a meeting
of the counterterrorism group, one official suggested that the staff put in for
a transfer so that somebody else would be responsible when the attack took
place, two people who were there told me in interviews. The suggestion was
batted down, they said, because there would be no time to train anyone else.
That same day in Chechnya, according to intelligence I reviewed, Ibn Al-Khattab,
an extremist who was known for his brutality and his links to Al Qaeda, told his
followers that there would soon be very big news. Within 48 hours, an
intelligence official told me, that information was conveyed to the White House,
providing more data supporting the C.I.A.’s warnings. Still, the alarm bells
On July 24, Mr. Bush was notified that the attack was still being readied, but
that it had been postponed, perhaps by a few months. But the president did not
feel the briefings on potential attacks were sufficient, one intelligence
official told me, and instead asked for a broader analysis on Al Qaeda, its
aspirations and its history. In response, the C.I.A. set to work on the Aug. 6
In the aftermath of 9/11, Bush officials attempted to deflect criticism that
they had ignored C.I.A. warnings by saying they had not been told when and where
the attack would occur. That is true, as far as it goes, but it misses the
point. Throughout that summer, there were events that might have exposed the
plans, had the government been on high alert. Indeed, even as the Aug. 6 brief
was being prepared, Mohamed al-Kahtani, a Saudi believed to have been assigned a
role in the 9/11 attacks, was stopped at an airport in Orlando, Fla., by a
suspicious customs agent and sent back overseas on Aug. 4. Two weeks later,
another co-conspirator, Zacarias Moussaoui, was arrested on immigration charges
in Minnesota after arousing suspicions at a flight school. But the dots were not
connected, and Washington did not react.
Could the 9/11 attack have been stopped, had the Bush team reacted with urgency
to the warnings contained in all of those daily briefs? We can’t ever know. And
that may be the most agonizing reality of all.
Eichenwald, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair
and a former
reporter for The New York Times,
is the author
of “500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars.”
instant on the morning of Sept. 11, an airliner that had vanished from all the
tracking tools of modern aviation suddenly became visible in its final seconds
to the people who had been trying to find it.
It was just after 9 a.m., 16 minutes after a plane had hit the north tower of
the World Trade Center, when a radio transmission came into the New York air
traffic control radar center. “Hey, can you look out your window right now?” the
“Yeah,” the radar control manager said.
“Can you, can you see a guy at about 4,000 feet, about 5 east of the airport
right now, looks like he’s —”
“Yeah, I see him,” the manager said.
“Do you see that guy, look, is he descending into the building also?” the caller
“He’s descending really quick too, yeah,” the manager said. “Forty-five hundred
right now, he just dropped 800 feet in like, like one, one sweep.”
“What kind of airplane is that, can you guys tell?”
“I don’t know, I’ll read it out in a minute,” the manager said.
There was no time to read it out.
In the background, people can be heard shouting: “Another one just hit the
building. Wow. Another one just hit it hard. Another one just hit the World
The manager spoke.
“The whole building just came apart,” he said.
That moment is part of a newly published chronicle of the civil and military
aviation responses to the hijackings that originally had been prepared by
investigators for the 9/11 Commission, but never completed or released.
Threaded into vivid narratives covering each of the four airliners, the
multimedia document contains 114 recordings of air traffic controllers, military
aviation officers, airline and fighter jet pilots, as well as two of the
hijackers, stretching across two hours of the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
Though some of the audio has emerged over the years, mainly through public
hearings and a federal criminal trial, the report provides a rare 360-degree
view of events that were unfolding at high speed across the Northeast in the
skies and on the ground. This week, the complete document, with recordings, is
being published for the first time by the Rutgers Law Review, and selections of
it are available online at nytimes.com.
“The story of the day, of 9/11 itself, is best told in the voices of 9/11,” said
Miles Kara, a retired Army colonel and an investigator for the commission who
studied the events of that morning.
Most of the work on the document — which commission staff members called an
“audio monograph” — was finished in 2004, not in time to go through a long legal
review before the commission was shut down that August.
Mr. Kara tracked down the original electronic files earlier this year in the
National Archives and finished reviewing and transcribing them with help from
law students and John J. Farmer Jr., the dean of Rutgers Law School, who served
as senior counsel to the commission.
At hearings in 2003 and 2004, the 9/11 Commission played some of the recordings
and said civil and military controllers improvised responses to attacks they had
never trained for. At 9 a.m., a manager of air traffic control in New York
called Federal Aviation Administration headquarters in Herndon, Va., trying to
find out if the civil aviation officials were working with the military.
“Do you know if anyone down there has done any coordination to scramble
fighter-type airplanes?” the manager asked, continuing: “We have several
situations going, going on here, it is escalating big, big time, and we need to
get the military involved with us.”
One plane had already crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center.
Another had been hijacked and was seconds from hitting the south tower. At
F.A.A. headquarters, not everyone was up to speed.
“Why, what’s going on?” the man in Herndon asked.
“Just get me somebody who has the authority to get military in the air, now,”
the manager said.
In its 2004 report, the commission praised front-line aviation officials. But it
then thoroughly dismantled the accounts of senior government officials, who in
the weeks after Sept. 11, and for more than a year afterward, assured the public
that fighter pilots had been in hot pursuit of the suicidal hijackers. During
these chases, according to accounts from Vice President Dick Cheney, the F.A.A.
and the Defense Department, the pilots were described as ready to carry out a
wrenching order from President George W. Bush to shoot down airliners.
The commission discovered that little of that was true: of the four flights,
military commanders had nine minutes’ notice on one before it flew into the
World Trade Center, and did not learn the other three had been hijacked until
after they had crashed. Military commanders, given an order outside the chain of
command to shoot down hijacked airliners, did not pass it along to the fighter
pilots, but instructed them instead to identify the tail numbers of any
suspected rogue planes. That turned out to be a prudent call because by then,
there were no longer hijackers in the air for them to shoot.
The newly published multimedia document spells out precisely how the recordings
contradicted the accounts of the senior officials.
Throughout the recordings, listeners also get a visceral feeling for the
desperate scramble for information, as well as the confusion and lack of
coordination between the civil and military aviation authorities. One example is
an exchange that began at 9:34 a.m.
A military aviation official contacted the Washington center of the F.A.A. to
discuss the situation, and learned, to her surprise, that American Airlines
Flight 77 had disappeared more than 30 minutes earlier. No one had told the
“They lost radar with him, they lost contact with him, they lost everything, and
they don’t have any idea where he is or what happened,” an unidentified F.A.A.
official said. The plane was a 767, he said, explaining that he had gotten his
information from the F.A.A.’s Indianapolis center.
“All I need is the lat-long, last known position of the 767,” the military
“Well, I don’t know,” the F.A.A. official replied. “That was Boston, that was
Indy Center. But they said somewhere, it was, last time I talked to them, they
said that it was east of York. And I don’t even know what state that is.”
Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon three minutes later.
At almost the same time, a military commander, Maj. Kevin Nasypany, discovered
that some of the fighter pilots had been sent east of Washington, over the
ocean, in pursuit of American Airlines Flight 11 — which had crashed nearly an
hour earlier into the north tower of the World Trade Center.
Major Nasypany ordered them to head toward Washington at high speed. “I don’t
care how many windows you break,” he said.
The account published this week is missing two essential pieces that remain
restricted or classified, according to Mr. Kara. One is about 30 minutes of the
cockpit recording of United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed into the ground
after passengers tried to storm the cockpit as hijackers flew across
Pennsylvania toward Washington, D.C. Families of some of those onboard have
objected to the release of that recording, Mr. Kara said.
The other still-secret recording is of a high-level conference call that began
at 9:28 and grew, over the course of the morning, to include senior figures like
Mr. Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and the vice chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard B. Myers.
The recording was turned over to the National Security Council. The 9/11
Commission was not permitted to keep a copy of it or of the transcript, Mr. Kara
said, and investigators were closely monitored when they listened to it. Mr.
Kara said he believed that the only truly sensitive material on the recordings
were small portions that concerned the provisions being made to continue
government operations if the attacks took out some national leadership or
“There was a staffer who was designated to sit with us, who would stop and start
the tape, in my estimation to mask continuity of operations,” Mr. Kara said.
Nevertheless, he noted, the commission ended up with hours and hours of
recordings that it initially did not have access to or had been told did not
exist, a point Mr. Farmer echoed in the preface to the Rutgers Law Review
When the commission began taking testimony, military and civil aviation
officials said “that no tapes were made, and we were told at one point that a
technical malfunction would prevent us from hearing them,” Mr. Farmer wrote. “If
we had not pushed as hard as we did — ultimately persuading the commission to
use its subpoena power to obtain the records — many of the critical
conversations from that morning may have been lost to history.”
The New York Times
By ROSS DOUTHAT
Laden is dead. So is Saddam Hussein, and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and too many
Qaeda No. 3’s to count. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is awaiting his military
tribunal. George W. Bush is home on the ranch, Dick Cheney is on book tour, and
even Gen. David Petraeus is a general no more, having traded in his stars for a
civilian position atop the Central Intelligence Agency.
But 10 years to the week after the twin towers fell, we are still living in the
9/11 era. The names and faces are different, the White House has changed hands,
and the country has turned its gaze from our distant wars to the economic crisis
on the home front. But American foreign policy is still defined by the choices
our leaders made while ground zero smoldered, and the objectives they set. Our
approach to the world was fundamentally altered by 9/11, and nothing that’s
happened since has undone that transformation.
Part of this transformation was tactical: a shift from a criminal justice
approach to counterterrorism that emphasized investigations, arrests and
successful prosecutions, to a wartime approach that emphasized detention,
interrogation and assassination. The other part was strategic: a decision that
America’s national security required promoting democracy across the Muslim world
— by force of arms, if necessary — rather than accepting the kind of stability
that various dictators had promised to supply.
Taken together, these two shifts gave us the Bush administration’s most
controversial policies, from Guantánamo Bay and “extraordinary rendition” to the
invasion of Iraq and the nation-building effort that followed. Some of those
policies were walked back in the second Bush term. (The waterboard vanished from
our interrogation repertoire, and there were no further wars of choice.) But the
overall transformation endured.
It has endured under Barack Obama as well, his campaign promises
notwithstanding. We are still fighting a war on terrorist groups, complete with
the indefinite detention, drone attacks and covert warfare that infuriated civil
libertarians during the Bush presidency. Meanwhile, Obama’s first term has
featured an expanded nation-building effort in Afghanistan, a regime-change
operation in Libya, a possibly permanent military footprint in Iraq — and the
gradual adoption, amid the ferment of the Arab Spring, of Bush’s freedom agenda
rhetoric as well.
The question is whether this continuity is evidence of success or an example of
the stay-the-course bias to which all governments are prone. Here it’s worth
asking a version of Ronald Reagan’s famous question: Are we better off than we
were 10 years ago?
The case for answering yes is strongest on the counterterrorism front, where our
shadow war has clearly diminished our enemies’ capacity to do us harm in ways
that our pre-9/11 efforts never did.
There are significant moral costs to a policy that depends on routinized
assassination and detention without trial. But 10 years without a major attack,
the death of Osama bin Laden and the steady degradation of Al Qaeda and its
affiliates are not achievements to be taken lightly. The United States will
always be vulnerable to terrorists, but in the decade since we were blindsided
by Mohammed Atta’s team of hijackers, our spies and SEALs and interrogators have
dramatically improved our odds.
On the strategic front, though, it is extremely difficult to argue that
America’s geopolitical position is stronger today than it was 10 years ago.
Some of this weakening was inevitable: Our extraordinary post-cold-war dominance
couldn’t last forever, and the rise of rival powers is a phenomenon to be
managed rather than resisted. But our post-9/11 attempts to transform the Muslim
world have cost trillions of dollars and thousands of lives, and won us — well,
what? A liberated Iraq that’s more in Iran’s sphere of influence than ours, an
Afghan war in which American casualties keep rising, an Arab Spring that
threatens to encircle Israel with enemies, a Middle East where our list of
reliable allies grows thin ...
This list doesn’t account for various counterfactuals (how much worse off we
might be with Saddam Hussein in power, for instance). Nor does it account for
democracy promotion’s long-term benefits.
But after 10 years of conflict, we aren’t exactly in short-term territory
anymore. And pointing out that things could have been worse doesn’t change the
fact that our post-9/11 grand strategy has been associated with a steady erosion
of America’s position in the world.
In this context, the fact that President Obama has kept the United States
enmeshed in occupations and interventions across the Muslim world isn’t evidence
that our strategy is working. It’s a sign that he doesn’t know how to get us
In my Aug. 22 column, I should have said
that the Texas-Mexico border is 1,250
miles, not 1,969 miles.
| Mon Apr 4, 2011
By David Alexander
and James Vicini
(Reuters) - President Barack Obama yielded to political opposition Monday,
agreeing to try the self-professed mastermind of the September 11 attacks in a
military tribunal at Guantanamo and not in a civilian court as he had promised.
Attorney General Eric Holder blamed lawmakers for the policy reversal, saying
their December decision to block funding for prosecuting the 9/11 suspects in a
New York court "tied our hands" and forced the administration to resume military
His announcement was an embarrassing reversal of the administration's decision
in November 2009 to try September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four
co-conspirators in a court near the site of the World Trade Center attack that
killed nearly 3,000 people.
That decision had been welcomed by civil rights groups but strongly opposed by
many lawmakers -- especially Republicans -- and New Yorkers, who cheered
Holder's announcement that the Obama administration had reversed course.
In moving the case back to the military system, the Justice Department unsealed
a nine-count criminal indictment that detailed how Mohammed trained the 9/11
hijackers to use short-bladed knives by killing sheep and camels.
Another of the five -- Walid bin Attash -- tested air security by carrying a
pocket knife and wandering close to the doors of aircraft cockpits to check for
reactions, said the indictment, which prosecutors asked the court to drop so the
case can be handled by a military commission.
STILL HOLDS 172 PEOPLE
The decision to abandon civilian prosecution was an admission that Obama has not
been able to overcome political opposition to his effort to close the prison for
terrorism suspects and enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, a key 2008
campaign promise. It came on the day he kicked off his campaign for re-election
James Carafano, a foreign policy expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation
think tank, said a military trial for the five men was "the only rational course
of action" and Obama was unlikely to be hurt politically by the decision.
"The (U.S.) public basically just ignores the issue these days. Even overseas,
Europeans who were so critical before of Guantanamo have really gone to sleep on
the issue," he said.
Obama has called the Guantanamo Bay facility, set up by his predecessor
President George W. Bush, a recruiting symbol for anti-American groups and said
allegations of prisoner mistreatment there had tarnished America's reputation.
He promised to close the prison by the end of his first year in office, but that
deadline passed with no action as the administration confronted the hard reality
of finding countries willing to accept custody of the inmates.
The prison still holds 172 people, down from 245 when Obama took office in
The decision to try the five men before military commissions was praised in New
York and Washington. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the cost of
holding and securing the trials in Manhattan would have been near "a billion
dollars" at a time of tight budgets.
Chuck Schumer, a Democratic senator for New York, called it "the final nail in
the coffin of that wrong-headed idea."
Julie Menin, who spearheaded opposition to the trials in New York, said the
decision was a "victory for lower Manhattan and my community."
But others, like Valerie Lucznikowska, said the use of military commissions was
"just not satisfying to people who want real justice." The 72-year-old New
Yorker, whose nephew died in the World Trade Center attack, said the military
commissions could be viewed by the world as "kangaroo courts."
Holder said he still believed the 9/11 suspects would best be prosecuted in U.S.
civilian courts, despite strong congressional opposition.
Captain John Murphy, the chief prosecutor of the office of military commissions,
said his office would swear charges in the near future against the five suspects
for their alleged roles in the 2001 attacks.
In addition to Mohammed, an al Qaeda leader captured in Pakistan in 2003, and
bin Attash, the accused co-conspirators are Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali
and Mustafa Ahmed al Hawsawi.
For nearly nine years, the threat of international terrorism has fueled a
government jackhammer, cutting away at long-established protections of civil
liberties. It has been used to justify warrantless wiretapping, an expansion of
the state secrets privilege in federal lawsuits, the use of torture, and the
indefinite detention of people labeled enemy combatants. None of these actions
were necessary to fight terrorism, and neither is a dubious Obama administration
proposal to loosen the Miranda rules when questioning terror suspects and to
delay presenting suspects to a judge.
A change to a fundamental constitutional protection like Miranda should not be
tossed out on a Sunday talk show with few details and a gauzy justification. If
Attorney General Eric Holder really wants to change the rules, he owes the
public a much better explanation.
At the most basic level, it is not even clear that the warning requirement can
be changed, except from the bench. The Miranda warning was the creation of the
Supreme Court as a way of enforcing the Fifth Amendment. Since 1966, it has
reduced coerced confessions and reminded suspects that they have legal rights.
The Rehnquist court warned against meddling with the rule in a 2000 decision
forbidding Congress to overrule the warnings to suspects, which over the decades
became an ingrained law enforcement practice.
In 1984, the court itself added a “public safety” exception to Miranda. If there
is an overriding threat to public safety and officers need information from a
suspect to deal with it, the court said, the officers can get that information
before administering the Miranda warnings and still use it in court. We
disagreed with that decision, but in the years since, the exception has become a
useful tool to deal with imminent threats.
The question now is whether the exception needs to be enlarged to deal with the
threat of terrorism. Clearly an unexploded bomb or a terror conspiracy would
constitute a safety threat under the existing rule. But must investigators
“Mirandize” a suspect before asking about his financing sources, his experience
at overseas training camps, his methods of communication? In a world that is
differently dangerous than it was in 1984, these seem to fit logically under the
existing exception, without requiring a fundamental change to the rule.
Miranda does not seem to be an impediment to good antiterror police work, as Mr.
Holder himself noted on Thursday before the House Judiciary Committee.
Investigators questioned Faisal Shahzad, the suspect in the Times Square bombing
attempt, for three or four hours before giving him a Miranda warning, receiving
useful information both before and after the warning. He readily waived his
right to a quick hearing before a judge.
Investigators also questioned the suspect in the attempted airliner bombing last
Christmas for 50 minutes before his rights were read. After both incidents,
there were alarmist and unproven outcries from some politicians that Miranda was
a hurdle to the cases.
We hope the Obama administration is not simply reacting to shortsighted
pressure. To allay those concerns, it must quickly explain precisely what
changes it wants to make, what time limits would be set on any new exceptions,
and why the existing rules are inadequate.
ON a bright sunny day two years ago, President George W. Bush strode into the
East Room of the White House and informed the world that the United States had
created a dark and secret universe to hold and interrogate captured terrorists.
“In addition to the terrorists held at Guantánamo,” the president said, “a small
number of suspected terrorist leaders and operatives captured during the war
have been held and questioned outside the United States, in a separate program
operated by the Central Intelligence Agency.”
At these places, Mr. Bush said, “the C.I.A. used an alternative set of
procedures.” He added: “These procedures were designed to be safe, to comply
with our laws, our Constitution and our treaty obligations. The Department of
Justice reviewed the authorized methods extensively and determined them to be
lawful.” This speech will stand, I believe, as George W. Bush’s most important:
perhaps the only historic speech he ever gave. In his fervent defense of his
government’s “alternative set of procedures” and his equally fervent insistence
that they were “lawful,” he set out before the country America’s dark moral epic
of torture, in the coils of whose contradictions we find ourselves entangled
At the same time, perhaps unwittingly, Mr. Bush made it possible that day for
those on whom the alternative set of procedures were performed eventually to
speak. For he announced that he would send 14 “high-value detainees” from dark
into twilight: they would be transferred from the overseas “black sites” to
Guantánamo. There, while awaiting trial, the International Committee of the Red
Cross would be “advised of their detention, and will have the opportunity to
meet with them.”
A few weeks later, from Oct. 6 to 11 and then from Dec. 4 to 14, 2006, Red Cross
officials — whose duty it is to monitor compliance with the Geneva Conventions
and to supervise treatment of prisoners of war — traveled to Guantánamo and
began interviewing the prisoners.
Their stated goal was to produce a report that would “provide a description of
the treatment and material conditions of detention of the 14 during the period
they were held in the C.I.A. detention program,” periods ranging “from 16 months
to almost four and a half years.”
As the Red Cross interviewers informed the detainees, their report was not
intended to be released to the public but, “to the extent that each detainee
agreed for it to be transmitted to the authorities,” to be given in strictest
secrecy to officials of the government agency that had been in charge of holding
them — in this case the Central Intelligence Agency, to whose acting general
counsel, John Rizzo, the report was sent on Feb. 14, 2007.
The result is a document — labeled “confidential” and clearly intended only for
the eyes of those senior American officials — that tells a story of what
happened to each of the 14 detainees inside the black sites.
A short time ago, this document came into my hands and I have set out the
stories it tells in a longer article in The New York Review of Books. Because
these stories were taken down confidentially in patient interviews by
professionals from the International Committee of the Red Cross, and not
intended for public consumption, they have an unusual claim to authenticity.
Indeed, since the detainees were kept strictly apart and isolated, both at the
black sites and at Guantánamo, the striking similarity in their stories would
seem to make fabrication extremely unlikely. As its authors state in their
introduction, “The I.C.R.C. wishes to underscore that the consistency of the
detailed allegations provided separately by each of the 14 adds particular
weight to the information provided below.”
Beginning with the chapter headings on its contents page — “suffocation by
water,” “prolonged stress standing,” “beatings by use of a collar,” “confinement
in a box” — the document makes compelling and chilling reading. The stories
recounted in its fewer than 50 pages lead inexorably to this unequivocal
conclusion, which, given its source, has the power of a legal determination:
“The allegations of ill treatment of the detainees indicate that, in many cases,
the ill treatment to which they were subjected while held in the C.I.A. program,
either singly or in combination, constituted torture. In addition, many other
elements of the ill treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted
cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”
Perhaps one should start with the story of the first man to whom, according to
news reports, the president’s “alternative set of procedures” were applied:
“I woke up, naked, strapped to a bed, in a very white room. The room measured
approximately 4 meters by 4 meters. The room had three solid walls, with the
fourth wall consisting of metal bars separating it from a larger room. I am not
sure how long I remained in the bed. After some time, I think it was several
days, but can’t remember exactly, I was transferred to a chair where I was kept,
shackled by hands and feet for what I think was the next two to three weeks.
During this time I developed blisters on the underside of my legs due to the
constant sitting. I was only allowed to get up from the chair to go [to] the
toilet, which consisted of a bucket.
“I was given no solid food during the first two or three weeks, while sitting on
the chair. I was only given Ensure and water to drink. At first the Ensure made
me vomit, but this became less with time.
“The cell and room were air-conditioned and were very cold. Very loud,
shouting-type music was constantly playing. It kept repeating about every 15
minutes, 24 hours a day. Sometimes the music stopped and was replaced by a loud
hissing or crackling noise.
“The guards were American, but wore masks to conceal their faces. My
interrogators did not wear masks.”
So begins the story of Abu Zubaydah, a senior member of Al Qaeda, captured in a
raid in Pakistan in March 2002. The arrest of an active terrorist with
actionable information was a coup for the United States.
After being treated for his wounds — he had been shot in the stomach, leg and
groin during his capture — Abu Zubaydah was brought to one of the black sites,
probably in Thailand, and placed in that white room.
It is important to note that Abu Zubaydah was not alone with his interrogators,
that everyone in that white room — guards, interrogators, doctor — was in fact
linked directly, and almost constantly, to senior intelligence officials on the
other side of the world. “It wasn’t up to individual interrogators to decide,
‘Well, I’m going to slap him. Or I’m going to shake him,’” said John Kiriakou, a
C.I.A. officer who helped capture Abu Zubaydah, in an interview with ABC News.
Every one of the steps taken with regard to Abu Zubaydah “had to have the
approval of the deputy director for operations. So before you laid a hand on
him, you had to send in the cable saying, ‘He’s uncooperative. Request
permission to do X.’”
He went on: “The cable traffic back and forth was extremely specific.... No one
wanted to get in trouble by going overboard.”
Shortly after Abu Zubaydah was captured, C.I.A. officers briefed the National
Security Council’s principals committee, including Vice President Dick Cheney,
the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and Attorney General John
Ashcroft, in detail on the interrogation plans for the prisoner. As the
interrogations proceeded, so did the briefings, with George Tenet, the C.I.A.
director, bringing to senior officials almost daily reports of the techniques
At the time, the spring and summer of 2002, Justice Department officials, led by
John Yoo, were working on a memorandum, now known informally as “the torture
memo,” which claimed that for an “alternative procedure” to be considered
torture, and thus illegal, it would have to cause pain of the sort “that would
be associated with serious physical injury so severe that death, organ failure,
or permanent damage resulting in a loss of significant body function will likely
result.” The memo was approved in August 2002, thus serving as a legal “green
light” for interrogators to apply the most aggressive techniques to Abu
“I was taken out of my cell and one of the interrogators wrapped a towel around
my neck; they then used it to swing me around and smash me repeatedly against
the hard walls of the room.”
The prisoner was then put in a coffin-like black box, about 4 feet by 3 feet and
6 feet high, “for what I think was about one and a half to two hours.” He added:
The box was totally black on the inside as well as the outside.... They put a
cloth or cover over the outside of the box to cut out the light and restrict my
air supply. It was difficult to breathe. When I was let out of the box I saw
that one of the walls of the room had been covered with plywood sheeting. From
now on it was against this wall that I was then smashed with the towel around my
neck. I think that the plywood was put there to provide some absorption of the
impact of my body. The interrogators realized that smashing me against the hard
wall would probably quickly result in physical injury.”
After this beating, Abu Zubaydah was placed in a small box approximately three
feet tall. “They placed a cloth or cover over the box to cut out all light and
restrict my air supply. As it was not high enough even to sit upright, I had to
crouch down. It was very difficult because of my wounds. The stress on my legs
held in this position meant my wounds both in the leg and stomach became very
painful. I think this occurred about three months after my last operation. It
was always cold in the room, but when the cover was placed over the box it made
it hot and sweaty inside. The wound on my leg began to open and started to
bleed. I don’t know how long I remained in the small box; I think I may have
slept or maybe fainted.
“I was then dragged from the small box, unable to walk properly, and put on what
looked like a hospital bed, and strapped down very tightly with belts. A black
cloth was then placed over my face and the interrogators used a mineral water
bottle to pour water on the cloth so that I could not breathe. After a few
minutes the cloth was removed and the bed was rotated into an upright position.
The pressure of the straps on my wounds was very painful. I vomited.
“The bed was then again lowered to horizontal position and the same torture
carried out again with the black cloth over my face and water poured on from a
bottle. On this occasion my head was in a more backward, downwards position and
the water was poured on for a longer time. I struggled against the straps,
trying to breathe, but it was hopeless.”
After being placed again in the tall box, Abu Zubaydah “was then taken out and
again a towel was wrapped around my neck and I was smashed into the wall with
the plywood covering and repeatedly slapped in the face by the same two
interrogators as before.
“I was then made to sit on the floor with a black hood over my head until the
next session of torture began. The room was always kept very cold.
This went on for approximately one week.”
Walid bin Attash, a Saudi involved with planning the attacks on American
embassies in Africa in 1998 and on the Navy destroyer Cole in 2000, was captured
in Pakistan on April 29, 2003:
“On arrival at the place of detention in Afghanistan I was stripped naked. I
remained naked for the next two weeks.... I was kept in a standing position,
feet flat on the floor, but with my arms above my head and fixed with handcuffs
and a chain to a metal bar running across the width of the cell. The cell was
dark with no light, artificial or natural.”
This forced standing, with arms shackled above the head, seems to have become
standard procedure. It proved especially painful for Mr. bin Attash, who had
lost a leg fighting in Afghanistan:
“After some time being held in this position my stump began to hurt so I removed
my artificial leg to relieve the pain. Of course my good leg then began to ache
and soon started to give way so that I was left hanging with all my weight on my
Cold water was used on Mr. bin Attash in combination with beatings and the use
of a plastic collar, which seems to have been a refinement of the towel that had
been looped around Abu Zubaydah’s neck:
“On a daily basis during the first two weeks a collar was looped around my neck
and then used to slam me against the walls of the interrogation room. It was
also placed around my neck when being taken out of my cell for interrogation and
was used to lead me along the corridor. It was also used to slam me against the
walls of the corridor during such movements.
“Also on a daily basis during the first two weeks I was made to lie on a plastic
sheet placed on the floor which would then be lifted at the edges. Cold water
was then poured onto my body with buckets.... I would be kept wrapped inside the
sheet with the cold water for several minutes. I would then be taken for
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the key planner of the 9/11 attacks, was captured in
Pakistan on March 1, 2003.
After three days in what he believes was a prison in Afghanistan, Mr. Mohammed
was put in a tracksuit, blindfold, hood and headphones, and shackled and placed
aboard a plane. He quickly fell asleep — “the first proper sleep in over five
days” — and remains unsure of how long the journey took. On arrival, however, he
realized he had come a long way:
“I could see at one point there was snow on the ground. Everybody was wearing
black, with masks and army boots, like Planet X people. I think the country was
Poland. I think this because on one occasion a water bottle was brought to me
without the label removed. It had [an] e-mail address ending in ‘.pl.’”
He was stripped and put in a small cell. “I was kept for one month in the cell
in a standing position with my hands cuffed and shackled above my head and my
feet cuffed and shackled to a point in the floor,” he told the Red Cross.
“Of course during this month I fell asleep on some occasions while still being
held in this position. This resulted in all my weight being applied to the
handcuffs around my wrist, resulting in open and bleeding wounds. [Scars
consistent with this allegation were visible on both wrists as well as on both
ankles.] Both my feet became very swollen after one month of almost continual
For interrogation, Mr. Mohammed was taken to a different room. The sessions
lasted for as long as eight hours and as short as four.
“If I was perceived not to be cooperating I would be put against a wall and
punched and slapped in the body, head and face. A thick flexible plastic collar
would also be placed around my neck so that it could then be held at the two
ends by a guard who would use it to slam me repeatedly against the wall. The
beatings were combined with the use of cold water, which was poured over me
using a hose-pipe.”
As with Abu Zubaydah, the harshest sessions involved the “alternative set of
procedures” used in sequence and in combination, one technique intensifying the
effects of the others:
“The beatings became worse and I had cold water directed at me from a hose-pipe
by guards while I was still in my cell. The worst day was when I was beaten for
about half an hour by one of the interrogators. My head was banged against the
wall so hard that it started to bleed. Cold water was poured over my head. This
was then repeated with other interrogators. Finally I was taken for a session of
water boarding. The torture on that day was finally stopped by the intervention
of the doctor.”
Reading the Red Cross report, one becomes somewhat inured to the “alternative
set of procedures” as they are described: the cold and repeated violence grow
numbing. Against this background, the descriptions of daily life of the
detainees in the black sites, in which interrogation seems merely a periodic
heightening of consistently imposed brutality, become more striking.
Here again is Mr. Mohammed:
“After each session of torture I was put into a cell where I was allowed to lie
on the floor and could sleep for a few minutes. However, due to shackles on my
ankles and wrists I was never able to sleep very well.... The toilet consisted
of a bucket in the cell, which I could use on request” — he was shackled
standing, his hands affixed to the ceiling — “but I was not allowed to clean
myself after toilet during the first month.... I wasn’t given any clothes for
the first month. Artificial light was on 24 hours a day, but I never saw
Abu Zubaydah, Walid bin Attash, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed — these men almost
certainly have blood on their hands. There is strong reason to believe that they
had critical parts in planning and organizing terrorist operations that caused
the deaths of thousands of people. So in all likelihood did the other
“high-value detainees” whose treatment while secretly confined by the United
States is described in the Red Cross report.
From everything we know, many or all of these men deserve to be tried and
punished — to be “brought to justice,” as President Bush vowed they would be.
The fact that judges, military or civilian, throw out cases of prisoners who
have been tortured — and have already done so at Guantánamo — means it is highly
unlikely that they will be brought to justice anytime soon.
For the men who have committed great crimes, this seems to mark perhaps the most
important and consequential sense in which “torture doesn’t work.” The use of
torture deprives the society whose laws have been so egregiously violated of the
possibility of rendering justice. Torture destroys justice. Torture in effect
relinquishes this sacred right in exchange for speculative benefits whose value
is, at the least, much disputed.
As I write, it is impossible to know definitively what benefits — in
intelligence, in national security, in disrupting Al Qaeda — the president’s
approval of use of an “alternative set of procedures” might have brought to the
United States. Only a thorough investigation, which we are now promised, much
belatedly, by the Senate Intelligence Committee, can determine that.
What we can say with certainty, in the wake of the Red Cross report, is that the
United States tortured prisoners and that the Bush administration, including the
president himself, explicitly and aggressively denied that fact. We can also say
that the decision to torture, in a political war with militant Islam, harmed
American interests by destroying the democratic and Constitutional reputation of
the United States, undermining its liberal sympathizers in the Muslim world and
helping materially in the recruitment of young Muslims to the extremist cause.
By deciding to torture, we freely chose to embrace the caricature they had made
of us. The consequences of this choice, legal, political and moral, now confront
us. Time and elections are not enough to make them go away.
Mark Danner, a professor of journalism
at the University of California,
and Bard College, is the author of "Torture and Truth: America,
Americans have long known that the horrors of Abu Ghraib were not the work of a
few low-ranking sociopaths. All but President Bush’s most unquestioning
supporters recognized the chain of unprincipled decisions that led to the abuse,
torture and death in prisons run by the American military and intelligence
Now, a bipartisan report by the Senate Armed Services Committee has made what
amounts to a strong case for bringing criminal charges against former Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld; his legal counsel, William J. Haynes; and potentially
other top officials, including the former White House counsel Alberto Gonzales
and David Addington, Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff.
The report shows how actions by these men “led directly” to what happened at Abu
Ghraib, in Afghanistan, in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and in secret C.I.A. prisons.
It said these top officials, charged with defending the Constitution and
America’s standing in the world, methodically introduced interrogation practices
based on illegal tortures devised by Chinese agents during the Korean War. Until
the Bush administration, their only use in the United States was to train
soldiers to resist what might be done to them if they were captured by a lawless
The officials then issued legally and morally bankrupt documents to justify
their actions, starting with a presidential order saying that the Geneva
Conventions did not apply to prisoners of the “war on terror” — the first time
any democratic nation had unilaterally reinterpreted the conventions.
That order set the stage for the infamous redefinition of torture at the Justice
Department, and then Mr. Rumsfeld’s authorization of “aggressive” interrogation
methods. Some of those methods were torture by any rational definition and many
of them violate laws and treaties against abusive and degrading treatment.
These top officials ignored warnings from lawyers in every branch of the armed
forces that they were breaking the law, subjecting uniformed soldiers to
possible criminal charges and authorizing abuses that were not only considered
by experts to be ineffective, but were actually counterproductive.
One page of the report lists the repeated objections that President Bush and his
aides so blithely and arrogantly ignored: The Air Force had “serious concerns
regarding the legality of many of the proposed techniques”; the chief legal
adviser to the military’s criminal investigative task force said they were of
dubious value and may subject soldiers to prosecution; one of the Army’s top
lawyers said some techniques that stopped well short of the horrifying practice
of waterboarding “may violate the torture statute.” The Marines said they
“arguably violate federal law.” The Navy pleaded for a real review.
The legal counsel to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time
started that review but told the Senate committee that her boss, Gen. Richard
Myers, ordered her to stop on the instructions of Mr. Rumsfeld’s legal counsel,
The report indicates that Mr. Haynes was an early proponent of the idea of using
the agency that trains soldiers to withstand torture to devise plans for the
interrogation of prisoners held by the American military. These trainers — who
are not interrogators but experts only on how physical and mental pain is
inflicted and may be endured — were sent to work with interrogators in
Afghanistan, in Guantánamo and in Iraq.
On Dec. 2, 2002, Mr. Rumsfeld authorized the interrogators at Guantánamo to use
a range of abusive techniques that were already widespread in Afghanistan,
enshrining them as official policy. Instead of a painstaking legal review, Mr.
Rumsfeld based that authorization on a one-page memo from Mr. Haynes. The Senate
panel noted that senior military lawyers considered the memo “ ‘legally
insufficient’ and ‘woefully inadequate.’ ”
Mr. Rumsfeld rescinded his order a month later, and narrowed the number of
“aggressive techniques” that could be used at Guantánamo. But he did so only
after the Navy’s chief lawyer threatened to formally protest the illegal
treatment of prisoners. By then, at least one prisoner, Mohammed al-Qahtani, had
been threatened with military dogs, deprived of sleep for weeks, stripped naked
and made to wear a leash and perform dog tricks. This year, a military tribunal
at Guantánamo dismissed the charges against Mr. Qahtani.
The abuse and torture of prisoners continued at prisons run by the C.I.A. and
specialists from the torture-resistance program remained involved in the
military detention system until 2004. Some of the practices Mr. Rumsfeld left in
place seem illegal, like prolonged sleep deprivation.
These policies have deeply harmed America’s image as a nation of laws and may
make it impossible to bring dangerous men to real justice. The report said the
interrogation techniques were ineffective, despite the administration’s repeated
claims to the contrary.
Alberto Mora, the former Navy general counsel who protested the abuses, told the
Senate committee that “there are serving U.S. flag-rank officers who maintain
that the first and second identifiable causes of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq — as
judged by their effectiveness in recruiting insurgent fighters into combat —
are, respectively, the symbols of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo.”
We can understand that Americans may be eager to put these dark chapters behind
them, but it would be irresponsible for the nation and a new administration to
ignore what has happened — and may still be happening in secret C.I.A. prisons
that are not covered by the military’s current ban on activities like
A prosecutor should be appointed to consider criminal charges against top
officials at the Pentagon and others involved in planning the abuse.
Given his other problems — and how far he has moved from the powerful stands he
took on these issues early in the campaign — we do not hold out real hope that
Barack Obama, as president, will take such a politically fraught step.
At the least, Mr. Obama should, as the organization Human Rights First
suggested, order his attorney general to review more than two dozen
prisoner-abuse cases that reportedly were referred to the Justice Department by
the Pentagon and the C.I.A. — and declined by Mr. Bush’s lawyers.
Mr. Obama should consider proposals from groups like Human Rights Watch and the
Brennan Center for Justice to appoint an independent panel to look into these
and other egregious violations of the law. Like the 9/11 commission, it would
examine in depth the decisions on prisoner treatment, as well as warrantless
wiretapping, that eroded the rule of law and violated Americans’ most basic
rights. Unless the nation and its leaders know precisely what went wrong in the
last seven years, it will be impossible to fix it and make sure those terrible
mistakes are not repeated.
We expect Mr. Obama to keep the promise he made over and over in the campaign —
to cheering crowds at campaign rallies and in other places, including our office
in New York. He said one of his first acts as president would be to order a
review of all of Mr. Bush’s executive orders and reverse those that eroded civil
liberties and the rule of law.
That job will fall to Eric Holder, a veteran prosecutor who has been chosen as
attorney general, and Gregory Craig, a lawyer with extensive national security
experience who has been selected as Mr. Obama’s White House counsel.
A good place for them to start would be to reverse Mr. Bush’s disastrous order
of Feb. 7, 2002, declaring that the United States was no longer legally
committed to comply with the Geneva Conventions.
The New York Times
By JONATHAN MAHLER
— Early last Tuesday morning, a military charter plane left the airstrip at
Guantánamo Bay for Sana, Yemen, carrying Osama bin Laden’s former driver, Salim
Hamdan. Once the Bush administration’s poster boy for the war on terror — the
first defendant in America’s first military tribunals since World War II — Mr.
Hamdan will spend less than a month in a Yemeni prison before returning to his
family in Sana, having been acquitted by a jury of United States military
officers of the most serious charge brought against him, conspiracy to support
The turn of events underscores the central challenge President Obama will face
as he begins to define his own approach to fighting terrorism — and the
imperative for him to adopt a new, hybrid plan, one that blends elements of both
traditional military conflict and criminal justice.
Until now, much of the debate over how best to battle terrorism has centered on
the two prevailing — and conflicting — paradigms: Is it a war or a criminal
action? The Hamdan case highlights the limitations of such binary thinking. As
the verdict in his tribunal this summer made clear, Mr. Hamdan was not a
criminal conspirator in the classic sense. Yet, as an aide to the world’s most
dangerous terrorist, neither was he a conventional prisoner of war who had
simply been captured in the act of defending his nation and was therefore
essentially free of guilt.
So how should Americans think about Mr. Hamdan? More broadly, how should they
think about the fight against terrorism?
The problems with the war paradigm are by now familiar. Because the war on
terror is unlike any other the United States has waged, traditional wartime
policies and mechanisms have made for an awkward fit, in some instances
undermining efforts to defeat terrorism. The traditional approach to dealing
with captured combatants — holding them until the end of hostilities to prevent
them from returning to the battlefield — is untenable in a war that could last
If you treat the fight against terrorism as a war, it’s hard to get around the
argument that it’s a war without boundaries; a terrorist could be hiding
anywhere. Yet by asserting the right to scoop up suspected terrorists in other
sovereign nations and indefinitely detain and interrogate them without hearings
or trials, the administration complicated its efforts to build an international
coalition against terrorism.
“The war-against-Al-Qaeda paradigm put us in a position where our legal
authorities to detain and interrogate didn’t match up with those of our allies,
so we ended up building a system that’s often rejected as strategically unsound
and legally suspect by even our closest allies,” says Matthew Waxman, a law
professor at Columbia who worked on detainee issues in the Bush administration.
Perhaps the most problematic consequence of the war paradigm, though, is that it
gave the president enormous powers — as commander in chief — to determine how to
detain and interrogate captured combatants. It was the use, or abuse, of those
powers that produced the Bush administration’s string of historic rebukes at the
Supreme Court, starting in 2004 when the justices ruled in Rasul v. Bush that
the president had to afford the Guantánamo detainees some due process.
Some critics of President Bush are now urging President-elect Obama to abandon
the war paradigm in favor of a pure criminal-justice approach, which is to say,
either subject captured combatants to criminal trials or let them go. This will
almost certainly not happen.
Mr. Obama may be more inclined to prosecute suspected terrorists in the federal
courts than Mr. Bush has been, and he may even avoid referring to the battle
against terrorism as a “war.” But ceding the military paradigm altogether would
severely limit his ability to fight terrorism. On a practical level, it would
prevent him from operating in a zone like the tribal areas of Pakistan, where
American law does not reach.
“If you seriously dialed it back to the criminal-justice apparatus you will
paralyze the executive branch’s ability to go where they believe the bad guys
are,” says Benjamin Wittes, a fellow at the Brookings Institution. “When people
talk about a return to the criminal-justice system, they’re ignoring the
geographical limits of that system.”
In fact, the military approach to fighting terrorism predates the Bush
administration. After Al Qaeda attacked two American embassies in Africa in
1998, President Clinton launched cruise missiles against terrorist camps in
Afghanistan and a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan thought to be making chemical
weapons. During the presidential campaign, Mr. Obama said he would not hesitate
to take out terrorist targets in Pakistan — an act of war — if that country’s
government was unwilling to do so itself.
Going forward, the fight against terrorism will have to be something of a
hybrid. This is a novel idea, as the Constitution lays out only two distinct
options: the country is at war, or it is not. Such a strategy may require
building new legal systems and institutions for detaining, interrogating and
There has already been talk of creating a national security court within the
federal judiciary that would presumably give more flexibility on matters like,
say, the standard of proof for evidence collected on an Afghan battlefield.
Similarly, it may be necessary to set clear legal guidelines for when the
government can detain enemy combatants, and how far C.I.A. agents can go when
interrogating terror suspects.
This won’t be easy. It will require striking a balance between the need to
preserve and promote America’s rule-of-law values, protect its intelligence
gathering and ensure that no one who poses a serious threat is set free.
Such an infrastructure is not likely to survive unchallenged, let alone win
popular support, if the executive branch builds it alone. Its chances would be
far better with input from Congress, acting as the elected representatives of
the people to ensure that any new systems protect both the public and America’s
values. And direct advice from the courts could ensure that they are found to be
Paradoxically, such an approach might ultimately enhance a president’s power.
“We need a strong president to fight this war,” says Jack Goldsmith, a law
professor at Harvard who worked in the Bush Justice Department, “and the way to
ensure that there’s a strong president is to have the other institutions on
board for the actions he feels he needs to take.”
Jonathan Mahler, a contributing writer for The Times Magazine,
is the author,
most recently, of “The Challenge:
Hamdan v. Rumsfeld and the Fight Over
Ever since Americans learned that American
soldiers and intelligence agents were torturing prisoners, there has been a
disturbing question: How high up did the decision go to ignore United States
law, international treaties, the Geneva Conventions and basic morality?
The answer, we have learned recently, is that — with President Bush’s clear
knowledge and support — some of the very highest officials in the land not only
approved the abuse of prisoners, but participated in the detailed planning of
harsh interrogations and helped to create a legal structure to shield from
justice those who followed the orders.
We have long known that the Justice Department tortured the law to give its
Orwellian blessing to torturing people, and that Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld approved a list of ways to abuse prisoners. But recent accounts by ABC
News and The Associated Press said that all of the president’s top national
security advisers at the time participated in creating the interrogation policy:
Vice President Dick Cheney; Mr. Rumsfeld; Condoleezza Rice, the national
security adviser; Colin Powell, the secretary of state; John Ashcroft, the
attorney general; and George Tenet, the director of central intelligence.
These officials did not have the time or the foresight to plan for the aftermath
of the invasion of Iraq or the tenacity to complete the hunt for Osama bin
Laden. But they managed to squeeze in dozens of meetings in the White House
Situation Room to organize and give legal cover to prisoner abuse, including
brutal methods that civilized nations consider to be torture.
Mr. Bush told ABC News this month that he knew of these meetings and approved of
Those who have followed the story of the administration’s policies on prisoners
may not be shocked. We have read the memos from the Justice Department
redefining torture, claiming that Mr. Bush did not have to follow the law, and
offering a blueprint for avoiding criminal liability for abusing prisoners.
The amount of time and energy devoted to this furtive exercise at the very
highest levels of the government reminded us how little Americans know, in fact,
about the ways Mr. Bush and his team undermined, subverted and broke the law in
the name of saving the American way of life.
We have questions to ask, in particular, about the involvement of Ms. Rice, who
has managed to escape blame for the catastrophic decisions made while she was
Mr. Bush’s national security adviser, and Mr. Powell, a career Army officer who
should know that torture has little value as an interrogation method and puts
captured Americans at much greater risk. Did they raise objections or warn of
the disastrous effect on America’s standing in the world? Did anyone?
Mr. Bush has sidestepped or quashed every attempt to uncover the breadth and
depth of his sordid actions. Congress is likely to endorse a cover-up of the
extent of the illegal wiretapping he authorized after 9/11, and we are still
waiting, with diminishing hopes, for a long-promised report on what the Bush
team really knew before the Iraq invasion about those absent weapons of mass
destruction — as opposed to what it proclaimed.
At this point it seems that getting answers will have to wait, at least, for a
new Congress and a new president. Ideally, there would be both truth and
accountability. At the very minimum the public needs the full truth.
Some will call this a backward-looking distraction, but only by fully
understanding what Mr. Bush has done over eight years to distort the rule of law
and violate civil liberties and human rights can Americans ever hope to repair
the damage and ensure it does not happen again.
September 13, 2007
Filed at 1:05 p.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Pentagon has censored an audio tape of the suspected
mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks speaking at a military hearing -- cutting out
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's explanation for why Islamic militants waged jihad
against the United States.
After months of debate by several federal agencies, the Defense Department
released the tape Thursday. Cut from it were 10 minutes of the more than
40-minute closed court session at Guantanamo Bay to determine whether Mohammed
should be declared an ''enemy combatant.''
Since the March hearing, he has been assigned ''enemy combatant'' status, a
classification the Bush administration says allows it to hold him indefinitely
and prosecute him at a military tribunal.
Officials from the CIA, FBI, State Department and others listened to the tape
and feared it could be copied and edited by other militants for use as
propaganda, officials said.
''It was determined that the release of this portion of the spoken words of
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed would enable enemies of the United States to use it in a
way to recruit or encourage future terrorists or terrorist activities,'' said
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman. ''This could ultimately endanger the lives and
physical safety of American citizens and those of our allies.''
Calling Mohammed a ''notorious figure,'' Whitman added, ''I think we all
recognize that there is an obvious difference between the potential impacts of
the written versus the spoken word.''
Some of the statements deleted from the tape have already been widely reported
because the Pentagon released a 26-page written transcript of the hearing
several days after it was held. Others statements were cut both from the audio
and the transcript because of security and privacy concerns, officials said.
Mohammed was the first of 14 so-called ''high-value'' detainees who were held in
secret CIA prisons before being transferred to the Pentagon facility at the U.S.
naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
At the hearing, he portrayed himself as al-Qaida's most active operational
planner, confessing to the beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl and to
playing a central role in 30 other attacks and plots in the U.S. and worldwide
that killed thousands.
The gruesome attacks range from the suicide hijackings of Sept. 11, 2001 --
which killed nearly 3,000 -- to a 2002 shooting on an island off Kuwait that
killed a U.S. Marine.
Among statements that appeared in the transcript, but were cut from the audio,
was Mohammed saying he felt some sorrow over Sept. 11.
''I'm not happy that 3,000 been killed in America,'' the transcript quoted him
as saying in broken English. ''I feel sorry even. I don't like to kill children
and the kids.''
But he says there are exceptions in war.
''The language of the war is victims,'' Mohammed said in a part of the
transcript that was cut from the audio. He compared al-Qaida leader Osama bin
Laden to George Washington, saying Americans view Washington as a hero for his
role in the Revolutionary War and many Muslims view bin Laden in the same light.
''He is doing same thing. He is just fighting. He needs his independence,''
During much of Mohammed's hearing, he spoke in English. The audio released by
the Pentagon includes Mohammed responding to questions.
Audio tapes of other high-value detainees have been released by the Pentagon.
Whitman said he did not know if any of those have been used as propaganda by
extremist groups on the Internet.
The audio tape also includes a number of other redactions that reflect portions
of the written transcript that were deleted, because of security and privacy
concerns, when it was first released.
One of the sections initially held back by the Pentagon, but later released, was
Mohammed's confession to the beheading of Pearl. ''I decapitated with my blessed
right hand the head of the American Jew, Daniel Pearl, in the city of Karachi,
Pakistan,'' Mohammed said in a written statement read by his U.S.-appointed
representative for the hearing.
Officials at first held back the section to allow time for his family to be
notified, Whitman said at the time.
AP Washington reporter Lolita Baldor contributed to this report.
As millions watched, a second plane hit.
Then the Pentagon was
The entire US was thrown into a state of siege
Wednesday September 12, 2001
Julian Borger in Washington,
Duncan Campbell in Los Angeles,
Charlie Porter in
and Stuart Millar
American Airlines flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles had
been in the air for a matter of minutes when the terrorists seized control just
after 8am and changed course towards New York City. The hijacking heralded the
start of a series of appalling attacks which reduced America's two most
important cities to war zone-like scenes of carnage and threw the entire nation
into a panic-fuelled state of siege. From start to finish, the operation took
less than three hours.
The first attack came within 45 minutes of flight 11 being
seized. At the World Trade Centre in downtown Manhattan, staff were already at
their desks and the working day was in full flow. On the densely packed streets
of the financial district around the base of the 110-storey twin towers, other
New Yorkers were strolling to work in the pristine early autumn sunshine when
The initial reports were patchy and confused, but according to eyewitnesses,
what appeared to be a passenger plane had crashed into the north tower. As
emergency services rushed to the scene they were joined by dozens of news crews
and onlookers who stared in horror at the upper storeys, most of which had been
destroyed in impact. The devastation was horrific: vast palls of smoke billowing
from twisted window frames and sheets of flame shooting up the side of the
building. In desperation, some of those who were trapped began leaping from the
windows of the building.
One employee at London firm Garban Intercapital was on the phone to a colleague
in the north tower when the first plane hit. The last words he heard were:
"Help, we are all dying. Get us out."
Around the world, television images of the north tower, smoke billowing from its
upper floors, were being broadcast live. The news anchors were already
speculating that terrorists were responsible when the unthinkable happened.
Watched by millions of shocked viewers, a second airliner headed straight for
the south tower, dipped its port wing slightly and accelerated into the building
somewhere around the 60th storey. The explosion caused by the impact sent a
huge, debris-laden fireball cascading down the building on to the streets below.
"The first tower was smoking hard," said Joe Trachtenberg, who was watching from
the top of his building. "Then there was another plane, and before we knew, it
just kamikaze went straight into the other tower. There was a mass explosion and
windows flying. It was horrible."
On the ground, there was chaos. "People were running in all directions jumping
over barriers, desperately trying to get away from the area. I guess they were
just desperate to escape," said one eyewitness.
There was worse to come. A little before 9.30am, reports emerged that another
plane had been hijacked. Within 10 minutes, a medium-sized passenger plane flew
in low over Arlington and the Navy Annexe in Washington DC and plunged into the
Pentagon's south-west face, throwing up a huge fireball.
Omar Campo, a Salvadorean, was cutting the grass on the other side of the road
when the plane flew over his head.
"It was a passenger plane. I think an American Airways plane," Mr Campo said. "I
was cutting the grass and it came in screaming over my head. I felt the impact.
The whole ground shook and the whole area was full of fire. I could never
imagine I would see anything like that here."
Afework Hagos, a computer programmer, was on his way to work but stuck in a
traffic jam near the Pentagon when the plane flew over. "There was a huge
screaming noise and I got out of the car as the plane came over. Everybody was
running away in different directions. It was tilting its wings up and down like
it was trying to balance. It hit some lampposts on the way in."
A pilot who saw the impact, Tim Timmerman, said it had been an American Airways
757. "It added power on its way in," he said. "The nose hit, and the wings came
forward and it went up in a fireball."
Smoke and flames poured out of a large hole punched into the side of the
Pentagon. Emergency crews rushed fire engines to the scene and ambulancemen ran
towards the flames holding wooden pallets to carry bodies out. A few of the
lightly injured, bleeding and covered in dust, were recovering on the lawn
outside, some in civilian clothes, some in uniform. A piece of twisted aircraft
fuselage lay nearby. No one knew how many people had been killed, but rescue
workers were finding it nearly impossible to get to people trapped inside,
beaten back by the flames and falling debris.
In New York, police and fire officials were carrying out the first wave of
evacuations when the first of the World Trade Centre towers collapsed. Some
eyewitnesses reported hearing another explosion just before the structure
crumbled. Police said that it looked almost like a "planned implosion" designed
to catch bystanders watching from the street.
As the tower crumbled in on itself, throwing a vast mushroom cloud of choking
grey ash, smoke and debris across the densely packed streets of south Manhattan,
the air was filled by a terrifying sucking sound akin to the roar of a rocket
engine, caused by the sheer volume of air displaced by the collapse.
The dust cloud roared through block after block, blanketing
the entire area in a thick layer of grey ash and soot, at least three inches
thick in some places.
"Everyone was screaming, crying, running, cops, people, firefighters, everyone,"
said Mike Smith, a fire marshal. "It's like a war zone."
"Windows shattered, people were screaming and diving for cover," one eyewitness
said. "People walked around like ghosts, covered in dirt, weeping and wandering
At 10.15am in Washington, another alert was sounded. "Get them out of here.
We've got another threat coming," a policemen yelled, pushing survivors back
from the building. Another officer said a report had come in saying another
plane was on its way into Washington.
A US air force fighter jet flew around the Pentagon banking steeply, as the air
around the defence department began to buzz with military and police
Stanley St Clair was stumbling along the road away from the vast building,
covered in dust. He had been working on renovations on the first floor of the
section which was struck by the plane.
"It shook the whole building and hurt our ears. Papers and furniture and debris
just went flying through the hallway and I thought it was a bomb or something.
Then someone started shouting get out, get out."
Renovation work on the upper floors had just been completed and they had been
handed back to the defence department.
According to Navy Commander Tom O'Loughlin, the third and fourth floors of the
outer ring which took the brunt of the impact housed senior navy officers,
including vice-admirals. There were also offices used by secretaries of the
different armed services and the assistant secretaries. A Pentagon spokeswoman
said the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, was unharmed.
A mobile secret service command centre raced west on H Street, with sirens
blaring, shortly after 11am as police drew a growing cordon around the White
House. Metal gates and yellow tape blocked access to streets and alleys. People
scrambled to find working pay phones or reach friends or family on mobile
Just before 10.30am, the north tower of the World Trade Centre collapsed.
Authorities had been trying to evacuate the glass-and-steel skyscraper when it
came down in a thunderous roar.
At 11.30 in Washington, police cars again screamed up and down the roads around
the Pentagon ordering passers-by off the street. One officer said there had been
another report of an incoming plane heading down the Potomac river at high
The wide and normally crowded bridges across the Potomac were deserted and the
scene resembled a city at war: deserted streets, billowing smoke and warplanes
circling above. An elderly man, Tom O'Riordan, standing in the shade of a tree
near the Jefferson Memorial, said he had not seen anything like it since Pearl
Paul Begala, a Democratic consultant, said he witnessed an explosion near the
Pentagon. "It was a huge fireball, a huge, orange fireball," he said in an
interview on his mobile phone.
He said another witness told him a helicopter exploded. AP reporter Dave Winslow
also saw the crash. He said, "I saw the tail of a large airliner ... It ploughed
right into the Pentagon."
General Richard Myers, vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that
before the crash into the Pentagon, military officials had been notified that
another hijacked plane had been heading from the New York area to Washington.
"We heard what sounded like a missile, then we heard a loud boom," said Tom
Seibert, 33, a network engineer at the Pentagon. "We were sitting there and
watching this thing from New York, and I said, you know, the next best target
would be us. And five minutes later, boom."
Within an hour of the New York explosions, the federal government took the
additional step of shutting down national landmarks across the country,
including the Washington Monument, the Statue of Liberty and the St Louis
Gateway Arch, among other locations, according to the National Park Service.
The plane crashed on the helicopter landing pad adjacent to the Pentagon. There
were reports of injuries, but no details. The Pentagon building was partially
blackened on the outside and at least a portion of the structure had collapsed,
Earlier reports of other explosions in the Washington region, at the State
Department and the Capitol, were not accurate, law enforcement officials said.
The crash at the Pentagon, which occurred less than an hour after the New York
attacks, triggered immediate security steps in the Washington area, including
evacuation of the State Department, the Capitol building and the West Wing of
the White House. The nine top leaders of the house and senate were taken into
federal protection, according to the US Capitol police. The federal aviation
administration shut down airports nationwide.
The federal government closed all of its facilities around Washington at 10.30am
and told the region's 340,000 federal employees they could leave.
Across the United States, passengers queuing for flights and
relatives waiting to meet arriving planes stood in airport lobbies staring at
the arrival and departure monitors and listening with a growing sense of
bewilderment and dismay to the announcements over the loudspeakers. Every major
airport has had its rehearsals for disaster but not since Pearl Harbour had the
country experienced such a widespread series of attacks.
Los Angeles International airport, the destination for three of the four
hijacked flights, announced a suspension of operations as soon as it became
clear what had happened. Worried callers were diverted to the lines of American
Airlines and United, which were trying to supply information of who had been on
The airport itself was closed to the public and its operations suspended with
only key staff allowed to remain. California governor Gray Davis made the
National Guard available to assist.
Grief counsellors were called in by American Airlines and United to be ready to
meet the friends and relatives of those on the flights. Switchboards were jammed
as people tried to get information from the airport.
Lieutenant Howard Whitehead of the Los Angeles police said: "We are working with
all the other agencies and a total evacuation of the airport has been ordered
for precautionary reasons. Right now everything is fluid." Mr Whitehead said
that the airport had never previously had to deal with such a serious situation.
Terrorism was yesterday blamed for an explosion which tore
through the World Trade Centre in New York, killing at least five people,
injuring up to 500 and paralysing lower Manhattan.
Late last night rescue workers were still going through the eerily dark twin
towers, one of New York's most famous landmarks, looking for trapped workers.
Television networks quoted fire officials as saying that a large bomb caused the
blast. Accidental causes were ruled out.
Governor Mario Cuomo put units of the National Guard on alert. New York's
airports were placed on security alert for possible "terrorist activities".
Police said the explosion took place in an area of the underground car park
reserved for the security services and the president when he visits New York.
Police took no chances with a bomb threat at another landmark, the Empire State
building, later in the afternoon and evacuated the building.
The explosion at the World Trade Centre brought down the ceiling in an
underground station below the car park. Scores of passengers were in the
station, which services New Jersey. Fires at the base of the complex of seven
office buildings sent heavy smoke throughout.
In one dramatic rescue, a police helicopter hovered over the roof of one of the
twin towers, and hoisted a pregnant woman into the aircraft.
"I was standing there waiting for the train when I heard an explosion," said
Robert Ashley as he was carried away. Fred Ferby spoke of his panic as dense
black smoke filled the concourse below the World Trade Centre. "It was like a
tomb. I panicked, I tried to get out as fast as I could."
Rescue workers, hampered by icy conditions, worked to free people from the
rubble on the station platform. Workers emerged, faces blackened with soot. With
electricity cut, workers had to make their way down the buildings on foot.
Hospitals around New York treated hundreds of patients, mostly for smoke
"The building shook," said Lisa Hoffman, who works nearby. "I looked out the
window to see if New Jersey had disappeared."
The explosion occurred at 2.15pm, when the area around the centre was filled
with employees on their lunch break. Minutes later, the area, where 100,000
people work, was filled with the wail of sirens.
Trading ground to a halt as all of New York's commodity markets which share the
building closed early because of smoke. The incident caused huge disruption in
the New York subway system as the World Trade Centre is a major transfer point.
On the eighth anniversary of the
of US troops to Saudi Arabia
two American embassies in East Africa
were bombed almost simultaneously
WITH lax airport security and
thousands of miles of porous borders with countries in a state of war, Kenya and
Tanzania presented a soft underbelly to the international terrorists who
detonated two car bombs outside American embassies in Nairobi and Dar es-Salaam
The prime suspect, intelligence sources said last night before formal
investigations, is Osama bin Laden, 44, a Saudi Arabian-born Islamic
fundamentalist zealot behind a wave of similar bomb attacks, who has good
contacts in East Africa.
Mr bin Laden has extensive links inside Sudan, where he is based when he moves
outside Afghanistan, and in Somalia, where he has a network of extremists on his
He would have had little difficulty in smuggling the explosives and detonators
required to devastate reinforced concrete buildings in both Kenya and Tanzania.
To observers it has been a surprise that terrorist groups have not exploited the
almost non-existent security at most African airport terminals and anarchic
frontiers to unleash terror against American embassies.
US and Saudi investigators believe that the millionaire scion of a wealthy Saudi
family funded the bombing of the World Trade Centre in New York and the murder
of 19 American airmen in a bomb attack in Dhahran in 1996.