Former Vice President Dick Cheney apparently has a selective memory when it comes to Sept. 11. If that’s not the case, he must be trying to out-Orwell George Orwell himself. In his classic dystopian novel “1984,” Orwell’s protagonist Winston Smith lives in a world where war is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength.
In Cheney’s world, being caught unawares on Sept. 11, 2001, is insignificant in comparison to being “ready” on subsequent anniversaries.
As members of the US House prepare to hear testimony on the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attacks on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, Cheney does not seem concerned with past mistakes he and former President George W. Bush made, only those made last year by President Barack Obama and his State Department, then headed by Hillary Clinton.
In an exclusive interview with the UK-based Daily Mail, obtained at a Georgetown party celebrating the release of Donald Rumsfeld’s new book, Cheney shared his thoughts on Benghazi.
“They should have been ready before anything ever happened," Cheney said. “When we were there, on our watch, we were always ready on 9/11, on the anniversary.”
Pay special attention to that last part, “on the anniversary.”
Had the Bush administration not let its guard down in the months preceding Sept. 11, 2001, there would be no awful “anniversary” for which to be ready. This is not to insinuate the Bush White House was somehow responsible for the attacks -- not at all. But it is to say Team Bush acted very irresponsibly in the months leading up to that infamous Sept. 11 some 12 years ago.
Bush spent a month on vacation at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, just prior to the 2001 attacks. During that lengthy respite, on Aug. 6, 2001, the president and his inner circle received a briefing paper from the CIA with the straightforward headline, “Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S.”
While Bush-Cheney apologists have sought to defend the duo by saying that was more of a historical overview than fresh intelligence, documents not yet made public show this was not the case. Vanity Fair contributing editor and bestselling author Kurt Eichenwald, writing in the Sept. 10, 2012, New York Times, had this to say about the daily intelligence briefings Bush received prior to Aug. 6:
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.
Eichenwald goes on to write that Bush received direct warnings on multiple occasions about al-Qaida’s determination to strike in the United States beginning in the spring of 2001. Yet he and Cheney and the rest of the national security team were unprepared when terrorists struck.
This column is not meant to defend the Obama administration’s handling of Benghazi. Four people, including US ambassador Chris Stevens, lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2012, at least in part because the administration did not take precautionary action prior to the anniversary in spite of being told by Stevens and others they needed to do so.
The House hearings ought to help get to the bottom of what happened that day in 2012, but unlike Bush and Cheney when they discussed Sept. 11, 2001, with the 9/11 Commission in an unrecorded, closed-door session without a stenographer present, witnesses will presumably be under oath Wednesday when they give testimony to Rep. Darrel Issa’s House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Cameras will be filming, and scribes will have pens and laptops in tow. The whole world will be watching.
Perhaps after the hearings on Sept. 11, 2012, conclude, the House, Senate and American media should follow Eichenwald’s lead and take a closer look at the warning signs that were missed in 2001. If the mistakes and a potential cover-up in 2012 are important, then that surely that holds true for 2001 as well. After all, as George Santayana famously told us, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
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