I am now about halfway through The 9/11 Commission Report. It represents the triumph of the footnote. No scholar could fail to envy the fastidiousness and real-world coolness of the sourcing, or the casual way that various bits of misinformation are obliterated. For example, on the alternate name of the Manila air bombing, which was planned in 1994 but never executed (p. 147): “KSM [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed] also says bojinka is not Serbo-Croatian for ‘big bang,’ as has been widely reported, but rather a nonsense word he adopted after hearing it on the front lines in Afghanistan” (p. 488, n. 7).
But the report also represents the absence of the index. You can’t turn to the back and look up, say,
Pakistan, complicity of
allows Bin Laden to return to Afghanistan, 64
probably warns Bin Laden of upcoming missile attacks by U.S., 117
called “rogue state” by NSC, 124
hosts Al Qaeda training in Karachi, 157
You have to read the text (or failing that, download the whole PDF and search for keywords, but I haven’t tried that yet). And so, in the confidence that few people will, the Bush administration is adopting the strategy of patting the report on the head and pretending that it says what they’d like it to have said. Like me, Cheney says that he has read about half the report. It is consoling that someone in the executive branch is reading it. I don’t think there’s much chance that Bush will. Consider this entry in the as-yet-unwritten index:
daily intelligence briefings
Clinton is “voracious reader” and annotater of, 200
Bush, “by contrast,” prefers “face-to-face briefings,” 200
Cheney is now claiming that the 9/11 report justifies his administration’s decision to go to war in Iraq. So let me do a little more indexing:
Iraq, links to Bin Laden of
Bin Laden proposes to retake Kuwait from Iraq in August 1990, 57
Bin Laden supports anti-Saddam Islamists in Iraq in early 1990s, 61
Bin Laden asks Iraq to host training camps and is refused in 1994-95, 61
meetings between Bin Laden and Iraqi officials in 1998, 66
U.S. attorney accuses Bin Laden of collaborating with Iraq in manufacture of chemical weapons in Sudan in November 1998, then drops charge from indictment, 128; cf. 61, 116
Bin Laden is invited to Iraq but doesn’t go in August 1999, 66, 134
Bin Laden follower Mohamed Atta considers Sadddam “an American stooge,” 161
And that, so far, is it. The definitive statement in the report remains: “But to date we have seen no evidence that these or the earlier contacts ever developed into a collaborative operational relationship. Nor have we seen evidence indicating that Iraq cooperated with al Qaeda in developing or carrying out any attacks against the United States” (66). The collusion of Yemen (156, 192), the United Arab Emirates (137), Iran (169), Pakistan (see above), and Sudan (passim) are much more impressive.
The contrast of the Bush administration’s alacrity with the Clinton administration’s wish to be certain that it had correctly identified the perpetrator of the Cole bombing and the East African embassy bombings before retaliating is instructive. As are the differing accounts of the briefing that departing President Clinton gave to incoming President Bush in 2001. Clinton recalls telling Bush that “One of the great regrets of my presidency is that I didn’t get him [Bin Ladin] for you, because I tried to” and emphasizing the al Qaeda threat. Bush doesn’t remember that Clinton said anything about al Qaeda. According to the 9/11 report, “Bush recalled that Clinton had emphasized other issues such as North Korea and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process” (199). The discrepancy hardly matters, in the end; Bush would go on to bungle those subjects, too.