The Media Lied and People Died?

Among the smaller tidbits in the 9/11 Commission’s report are a couple of shots the commission takes at the media in general and at the New York Times in particular for downplaying terrorism and Osama Bin Laden as a threat prior to 9/11. At one point, for example, the report notes,

It is hard now to recapture the conventional wisdom before 9/11. For example, a New York Times article in April 1999 sought to debunk claims that Bin Laden was a terrorist leader, with the headline ‘U.S. Hard Put to Find Proof Bin Laden Directed Attacks.'”

I was curious, so I looked up that story on Lexis/Nexis. It includes paragraphs like this,

In their war against Mr. bin Laden, American officials portray him as the world’s most dangerous terrorist. But reporters for The New York Times and the PBS program “Frontline,” working in cooperation, have found him to be less a commander of terrorists than an inspiration for them.

Enemies and supporters, from members of the Saudi opposition to present and former American intelligence officials, say he may not be as globally powerful as some American officials have asserted. But his message and aims have more resonance among Muslims around the world than has been understood here.

The 9/11 report also includes a quote from an unidentified Saudi Arabian individual who complains that the American media’s anti-Saudi(!?) bias fuels terrorist groups like Al Qaeada. But the 1999 New York Times story shows exactly the sort of cavalier attitude that the Saudi took (and continue to take IMO) toward Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden,

On May 31, 1996, four Saudis were beheaded after confessing to bombing a Saudi National Guard post in Riyadh and killing five Americans. All told their interrogators that they had received Mr. bin Laden’s communiques. Only 25 days later, a truck bomb tore through a military post in Dhahran, killing 19 American soldiers.

Mr. bin Laden was blamed by American officials for instigating the attacks. But no known evidence implicates him, and the Saudi Interior Minister, Prince Nayef ibn Abdel Aziz, has absolved him. “Maybe there are people who adopt his ideas,” Prince Nayef said. “He does not constitute any security problem to us.”

The interesting thing in light of what the report says about Sandy Berger — that he rejected no less than four separate attempts to grab Bin Laden based on narrow legalistic grounds — is that the Times story is also focused on excessively legalistic matters. After all, the only thing the United States could prove with absolute certainty was that Bin Laden had fled to Sudan and then Afghanistan, declared war on the United States, was busy training terrorists in camps, and regularly issued calls for terrorists to strike against American targets as well as praised successful such strikes.

Pretty weak case, huh?


U.S. Hard Put to Find Proof Bin Laden Directed Attacks. Tim Weiner, New York Times, April 13, 1999.

Clark Digs Himself Even Bigger Holes

According to a Village Voice story, Wesley Clark’s new book Winning Modern Wars is going to allege that the Bush administration had begun planning its attack on Iraq at least two months prior to the 9/11 attacks,

As I went back through the Pentagon in November 2001, one of the senior military staff officers had time for a chat. Yes, we were still on track for going against Iraq, he said. But there was more. This was being discussed as part of a five-year campaign plan, he said, and there were a total of seven countries, beginning with Iraq, then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia, and Sudan. I left the Pentagon that afternoon deeply concerned.

The most obvious problem about the above excerpt is, if it is true, why had Clark never mentioned it before? Similarly, Clark writes in the book that,

After 9/11, during the first months of the war on terror, a critical opportunity to nail Al Qaeda in Afghanistan was missed. Additionally, our allies were neglected and a counter-terrorist strategy was adopted that, despite all the rhetoric, focused the nation on a conventional attack on Iraq rather than a shadowy war against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks: Al Qaeda. I argue that not only did the Bush administration misunderstand the lessons of modern war, it made a policy blunder of significant proportions. . . . [E]vidence and rhetoric were used selectively to justify the decision to attack Iraq. . . . [W]e had re-energized Al Qaeda by attacking an Islamic state and presenting terrorists with ready access to vulnerable U.S. forces. It was the inevitable result of a flawed strategy

But as the Voice points out, as recently as April 2003 Clark an op-ed 2003 praising President Bush and Prime Minister Blair for their courage in taking on Iraq. (And who in their right mind thinks Al Qaeda was re-energized by the war in Afghanistan? I guess that’s true if you define re-energized as seeing most of your top leaders killed and dozens others imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay — Al Qaeda seems to have largely been eliminated as a serious player in international terrorism). Source: The Secrets Clark Kept. Sydney H. Schanberg, Village Voice, September 29, 2003.