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Bye bye Bush: 9/11 panel kicks out admins only leg

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Officials ignored warning signs, 9/11 panel says

Commission delves into al-Qaida response threat MSNBC News Services

Updated: 10:50 a.m. ET March 23, 2004WASHINGTON - The failure of the Bush and Clinton administrations to pursue military action against al-Qaida operatives allowed the Sept. 11 terrorists to elude capture despite warning signs years before the attacks, a federal panel said Tuesday.


The Clinton administration had early indications of terrorist links between Osama bin Laden and future Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as early as 1995, but let years pass as it pursued criminal indictments and diplomatic solutions in an effort to subduing them abroad, the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks found.


Bush officials, meanwhile, failed to act immediately on increasing intelligence chatter and urgent warnings in early 2001 by its counterterrorism adviser, Richard Clarke, to take out al-Qaida targets, according to preliminary findings by the commission reviewing the attacks.


The release of the panels preliminary findings came as the commission opened a two-day public hearing on the U.S. response to the growing al-Qaida threat prior to the deadly attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.


Albright says threat was taken seriously

The hearings began with testimony by Madeleine Albright, secretary of state under former President Bill Clinton, who said that that the al-Qaida threat was taken seriously, but military and diplomatic efforts to either kill or gain custody of bin Laden were unsuccessful.


"President Clinton and his team did everything we could, everything we could think of, based on the knowledge we had, to protect our people and disrupt and defeat al-Qaida," she said.


Later in the day, the panel was to hear testimony from current Secretary of State Colin Powell, followed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his predecessor, William Cohen.


The testimony comes after a weekend bombshell by Clarke, a former counterterrorism official for both President Bush and former President Bill Clinton, who says the Bush administration did not take the al Qaeda threat seriously before the Sept. 11 attacks and then focused on tying the strikes to Iraq.


Former Rep. Lee Hamilton, the commissions vice chairman, said Tuesday on "The Early Show" on CBS that the commission will not make any final judgments about the Clarke allegations or other assertions until it has reviewed all the evidence.


The bipartisan report released Tuesday said that U.S. agencies sacrificed speed in comprehensively investigating pre-9/11 terrorist attacks that ultimately were attributed to al-Qaida.


"We found that the CIA and the FBI tended to be careful in discussing the attribution for terrorist attacks," the bipartisan report said. "The time lag between terrorist act and any definitive attribution grew to months, then years, as the evidence was compiled."


The preliminary report said that the U.S. government had determined bin Laden was a key terrorist financier as early as 1995, but that efforts to expel him from Sudan stalled after Clinton officials determined he couldn't be brought to the United States without an indictment. A year later, bin Laden left Sudan and set up his base in Afghanistan without resistance.


In spring 1998, the commission found, the Saudi government successfully thwarted a bin Laden-backed effort to launch attacks on U.S. forces in that country.


The Clinton administration turned to the Saudis for help.


All-out secret effort to forced bin Laden expulsion

Clinton designated CIA Director George Tenet as his representative to work with the Saudis, who agreed to make an "all-out secret effort" to persuade Afghanistan's Taliban rulers to expel bin Laden, the panel said.


Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki bin Faisal, using "a mixture of possible bribes and threats," received a commitment from Taliban leader Mullah Omar that bin Laden would be handed over.


But Omar reneged on the agreement during a September 1998 meeting with Turki and Pakistan's intelligence chief.


"When Turki angrily confronted him Omar lost his temper and denounced the Saudi government. The Saudis and Pakistanis walked out," the report said.


In conclusion, the report said "from the spring of 1997 to September 2001, the U.S. government tried to persuade the Taliban to expel bin Laden to a country where he could face justice," the report said. "The efforts employed inducements, warnings and sanctions. All these efforts failed."


In advance of the first public hearing by the federal panel reviewing the Sept. 11 attacks, commission members vowed to ask tough questions of both the Bush and Clinton administrations.


The mission

The independent, bipartisan commission was created to prepare a full and complete account of the circumstances surrounding the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, including preparedness for and response to the attacks, as well as recommendations to prevent future attacks.


The purpose of the hearings

The hearings on March 23 and 24 will focus on Counterterrorism Policy with an emphasis on the period from the August 1998 embassy bombings to Sept. 11, 2001 to measure what information senior administration officials had before Sept. 11 and what decisions were made.


Timothy Roemer, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana, said wants to know why the government didnt consider a stronger military option sooner, particularly after U.S. intelligence received repeated warnings in early 2001 of a possible attack.


One of the key issues in all of the hearings is going to be the question of accountability, Roemer said. While the commission has been reluctant to name names, as we get more revealing and intriguing information, it will become more obvious to the general public. Thats why these hearings are so important.


Military approach abandoned

Commissioners say questions for Clinton officials include why the administration reverted to a nonmilitary approach despite knowledge that al-Qaida terrorists had planned attacks to coincide with the Dec. 31, 1999, millennium festivities and particularly after the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole.


In August 1998, Clinton had ordered cruise missile attacks on al-Qaida camps in Afghanistan and a factory in Sudan in retaliation for al-Qaidas suspected role in the bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Osama bin Laden is thought to have narrowly escaped the attacks in Afghanistan.


Bush officials, meanwhile, should expect scrutiny about their counterterrorism strategy after taking office in January 2001 and whether officials downplayed the al-Qaida threat despite warnings from Clinton officials as well as growing intelligence chatter about a possible strike during the summer of 2001.


We will focus on the lead-up to 9-11 and the extraordinary information that was being collected during the summer of 2001 and how that information was or was not disseminated to the appropriate agencies, said Richard Ben-Veniste, a Democratic commissioner and former Watergate prosecutor.


Bush campaign showcases wartime role

The hearing comes as President Bushs re-election campaign is showcasing his role as a wartime president. And it follows explosive allegations in a book released Monday by Clarke, Bushs former counterterrorism coordinator and a holdover from the Clinton administration.


Clarke said he warned Bush officials in a January 2001 memo, just as they were taking office, about the growing al-Qaida threat after the Cole attack but was put off by national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, who gave me the impression she had never heard the term before.

Rice responded in a series of morning talk show interviews Monday that she asked Clarke to come back with a more comprehensive strategy to eliminate al-Qaida, including military options rather than pinprick strikes against training camps that had already been abandoned.


The commission's preliminary report released Tuesday offered some support for both accounts, saying that Clarke had pushed for immediate and secret military aid to the Taliban's foe, the Northern Alliance. But Rice and her deputy, Stephen Hadley, proposed a broader review of the al Qaida response that would take more time.


The proposal wasn't approved for Bush's review until just weeks before Sept. 11.


The 10-member commission had invited Rice to testify, but she has declined on the advice of the White House, which cited separation of power concerns involving its staff appearing before a legislative body.


Rice did meet privately with commission members for four hours on Feb. 7 in what Ben-Veniste termed a very useful interview in which he found her candid and forthcoming. Roemer said the tone and level of cooperation ... was productive. But Ben-Veniste and Roemer have both said they believe Rice should testify in public.


Clarke resigned his White House job 13 months ago, after holding senior posts under Presidents Reagan, Clinton and the first President Bush.


Clarke was scheduled to testify Wednesday, along with CIA Director George Tenet; Clinton national security adviser Sandy Berger, who was Rices predecessor, and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.



"The president seems to have been pursuing policies chosen in advance of the facts, and is making a systematic effort to manipulate the facts in service to a totalistic ideology that is felt to be more important than the mandates of basic honesty."


-Al Gore 2003

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"The president seems to have been pursuing policies chosen in advance of the facts, and is making a systematic effort to manipulate the facts in service to a totalistic ideology that is felt to be more important than the mandates of basic honesty."


-Al Gore 2003

The democrats are guilty of the same. It goes with the trade.

Democrats are criminals, too. End discrimination now.

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