The Search for AnswersThe Search for Answers
BY BOB KERREY
Thursday, April 8, 2004
The 9/11 Commission's objective is to answer the following question: How--at the end of a summer of high terrorist threat--did 19 men with a few hundred thousand dollars manage to utterly defeat every single defensive mechanism we had in place that September morning and murder 3,000 innocents on American soil?
The search for this answer is especially painful because these 19 men were part of al Qaeda, a radical Islamic army called to war against the United States by Osama bin Laden in August 1996 and again in February 1998--and because Sept. 11, 2001, was not their first success.
On Aug. 7, 1998, six months after Osama bin Laden's declaration of war against Americans world-wide, al Qaeda terrorists attacked our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania with truck bombs, killing more than 250 Kenyans, Tanzanians and Americans and wounding thousands more. Attempts to bomb Los Angeles International Airport, a hotel in Amman, Jordan, and the USS The Sullivans in Yemen were prevented by a combination of skilled spycraft and good luck.
But our luck did not hold.
On Oct. 12, 2000, a bomb ripped through the USS Cole in Yemen killing 17 American sailors. And less than a year later, Mohamed Atta and his suicidal crew crashed civilian aircraft into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field near Shanksville, Pa.
I believe Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton will lead our commission to write a bipartisan report that will provide Americans with the clearest picture yet of how this happened. I believe they will lead the commission to produce a report that will contain specific recommendations of what we need to do to make certain that nothing like the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, ever happens again.
As a member of the commission, authorized under federal law as a consequence of the persistence and perseverance of the families of the victims of that terrible day, I sincerely hope our efforts will meet their highest expectations.
Today's appearance of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will test the commission's resilience to the partisan pressures which threaten to collapse the goodwill needed to achieve consensus. Among the most dangerous forces is the tendency in politics to become personal and question motives instead of confronting the substance of the argument made by any individual. If we yield to this tendency, all hope for an honest and constructive report is lost. We will most certainly fail.
The best example of this came two weeks ago, when all the key national security officials of both the Clinton and Bush administrations, except Ms. Rice, testified under oath before the commission. This testimony came immediately after Richard Clarke, the former counterterrorism director under both presidents, spoke.
Mr. Clarke's most startling statement was that there have been more terrorist attacks against the United States in the 30 months since 9/11 than in the 30 months prior to the attack. You could almost hear a clap of thunder when he went on to say that this happened because we substantially reduced our efforts in Afghanistan and went to war in Iraq, causing a loss of momentum in the war against al Qaeda.
That's his argument. I think he's wrong, but I don't think he is being duplicitous. He is wrong because most if not all of the terrorism since 9/11 has occurred because al Qaeda and other radical Islamists have an even dimmer view of a free and independent Iraq than they do a free and independent United States. A democracy in Iraq that embraces modernism, pluralism, tolerance and the plebiscite is a greater sacrilege than anything we are doing here at home.
Mr. Clarke's views on Iraq notwithstanding, after 9/11 we could not afford either to run the risk that Saddam Hussein would be deterred by our military efforts to contain him or that these military deployments would become attractive targets for further acts of terrorism. I supported President Bush's efforts to persuade the United Nations Security Council to change a 10-year-old resolution that authorized force to contain Saddam Hussein to one that authorized force to replace his dictatorship. And I believe the president did the right thing to press ahead even without the Security Council's support. Remember, the June 25, 1996, attack on Khobar Towers that left 19 American airmen dead happened because of our containment efforts. Sailors had also died enforcing the Security Council's embargo and our pilots were risking their lives every day flying missions over northern and southern Iraq to protect Iraqi Kurds and Shiites.
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Originally posted in thread: 11628