Toward New Criminal Investigations into the Events of September 11
"A BRIEF HISTORY OF
Article originally published as
NEW YORK CITY, MAY 16, 2004 --
Condoleeza Rice is a household name. But most Americans still have never heard of the man who wrote a book with her, Philip Zelikow. As the executive director of the Kean Commission, Zelikow is responsible for framing the agenda. He leads the research staff. He decides what evidence the commission sees.
In April, the world media focused on Rice's appearance before the commission. She claimed, not for the first time, that no one could have imagined terrorists would use hijacked planes as weapons against buildings. This is a demonstrable falsehood, which Bush himself inadvertantly exposed a week later. During a prime-time, live-broadcast press conference in mid-April, Bush said he had ordered briefings on the terrorist threat to the domestic United States in the summer of 2001, after rumors spread throughout the media starting in June 2001 about a possible attempt on his life at the July 2001 G-8 Summit in Genoa, Italy.
He neglected to add that these rumors specified that Osama Bin Ladin and al-Qaeda were planning to attack by crashing an airplane into his hotel or the summit building. As a protective measure, Bush and his entourage, presumably including Rice, spent one night during the Genoa Summit on a U.S. aircraft carrier anchored off the Adriatic coast. Despite this surely memorable experience, after September 11, Rice insisted repeatedly that "no one could have imagined" an aerial kamikaze threat to high-value targets.
By the time of Rice's appearance before the Commission, observers were well-versed in the long history, in the decades preceding September 11, of warnings about the potential for aerial attacks and actual attempts to use hijacked airplanes as weapons. Her testimony accordingly received mostly bad reviews from the press. At the same time, the Kean Commission was credited for its investigative fervor.
Few reports bothered to note that in the late 1980s, Rice and Zelikow had worked closely together on George H.W. Bush's national security staff.
Zelikow and Rice co-authored a 1999 book about their experiences in the first Bush White House, Germany Unified and Europe Transformed: A Study in Statecraft. The book presents "a detailed and fascinating account of behind-the-scenes discussions and deliberations" during the fall of the Soviet empire, according to Library Journal.
Zelikow again served alongside Rice as a member of the Bush transition team in 2000- 2001, when he took part in White House briefings on the terror threat. Among the others participating in these meetings with Zelikow were Clinton and Bush national security staffers who later testified to the 9/11 Commission that Zelikow directed. This was of such interest to the 9/11 investigation that the Kean Commission recently called Zelikow himself as a witness, in a closed-door session.
Now imagine if the judge's inspensable research assistant in a trial was a close associate of the star witness for the defense. Imagine if the judge called the research assistant as a witness to the case, in secret testimony, but continued to use him in exploring other matters involving the star witness.
A parallel situation has arisen, with Zelikow in the role of the judge's assistant, and Rice as the star witness.
Even after September 11, two days before the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, Zelikow went back to work for the Bush national security staff, taking his seat as a member of the White House Advisory Board on Foreign Intelligence.
Zelikow's evident and deep conflicts of interest prompted September 11 family leaders to call for his resignation months ago. "It is apparent that Dr. Zelikow should never have been permitted to be Executive Staff Director of the Commission," the Family Steering Committee for the Independent 9/11 Commission concluded in a March 20 press statement.
So far, the Kean Commission has ignored the families' plea.
The Rice/Zelikow connection should have set off alarm bells about the Kean Commission's independence. Yet it has barely caused a stir.
The Kissinger Commission
"When we first envisioned this commission, we did not envision it made up of ex-senators and ex-Navy secretaries and all of this other stuff," says Beverly Eckert of the Family Steering Committee. "We thought it should be professors and writers, scholars and also people who are involved in the news, but not necessarily a part of it. These people [the commissioners] are all a part of it. In many ways the government is part of the problem."
By a hair's breadth, the body we know today as the Kean Commission almost went down in history as the "Kissinger Commission." The White House finally assented to an independent investigation of 9/11 in November 2002, after resisting the idea for more than 14 months, despite insistent lobbying by the September 11 families.
George W. Bush kicked off the new Commission by appointing Henry Kissinger to chair it. Two weeks later, Kissinger declined the appointment. The families and a few of the legislators designing the commission had asked him to rule out possible conflicts of interest involving his consulting firm, Kissinger Associates. Kissinger refused to name his clients, even confidentially. In a letter to Bush, he opined that this service to country would ruin his business.
During the two weeks of Kissinger's appointment, the Internet and alternative press buzzed at the thought of a 9/11 investigation headed by Richard Nixon's former secretary of state. Kissinger remains an elder adviser to many of the key people in the present Bush administration and U.S. defense establishment, especially the neoconservative advisory group chaired by Richard Perle at the Pentagon under Donald Rumsfeld. Kissinger has been investigated in several countries for alleged involvement in Nixon-era crimes against humanity in Chile, Indochina and elsewhere. During a Paris hotel stay in 2001, he received a surprise visit from a French magistrate who wished to question him on these matters, and had to quietly slip out of the country.
The failed Kissinger appointment was a global public relations disaster. But perhaps the administration felt it needed a political practitioner of his caliber. Soon after his departure, the job of heading the 9/11 Commission went to the former governor of New Jersey, Republican Thomas Kean, a less controversial figure, who was more willing to reveal his business connections. One of these is worthy of a detour.
New Jersey to Afghanistan
Before taking his current position, Thomas Kean was a director and part owner of Amerada Hess, a company that maintained a partnership with Delta Oil of Saudi Arabia. Since that is the home country for most of the alleged 9/11 hijackers, and since the Bush family has close business ties to Saudi elites, many people naturally think that this is already a serious conflict of interest.
Together with UNOCAL, Delta Oil in the mid-1990s began negotiating deals with Central Asian governments, looking to acquire pipeline rights out of the world's richest remaining known store of undeveloped oil fields. The favored plan was to get the oil to a port in Pakistan - meaning, through Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. The Taliban were courted in the late 1990s by a number of American oil projects, including UNOCAL's. But hardline behavior ruined their international image, and the companies backed off.
When the Bush Administration came to power in 2001, it opened new pipeline negotiations with the the Taliban. Despite awards to Afghanistan of $125 million in U.S. aid in the first five months of 2001, the Taliban refused to accept the U.S. proposal of a joint government with the Northern Alliance. They broke off the back-channel Berlin talks in June. At the time, a U.S. representative promised that the Taliban had a choice between "a carpet of gold or a carpet of bombs." (Dasquie and Brisard, The Forbidden Truth, 2002.)
The White House has admitted that documents placed on Bush's desk on September 9, 2001 detailed a plan for attacking Afghanistan by mid-October. Significant deployments to the region of United States and British forces were already underway. All that was missing for an invasion was the casus belli - the cause for hostilities. That arrived two days later, in New York, in the form of the 9/11 attacks.
The subsequent U.S. invasion of Afghanistan installed Hamid Karzai as prime minister and Zalmay Khalilzad as the powerful White House envoy to Kabul. Interestingly, both men were previously employed as consultants by UNOCAL. The new Afghan government has since entered a pipeline consortium. UNOCAL is not known to be involved, but is seen within the industry as a likely ultimate beneficiary of a future pipeline.
In other words, 9/11 became the reason for an already-planned offensive in Afghanistan, as a result of which a long-delayed Afghan pipeline deal was struck. Given that context, the appointment to chair the 9/11 Commission of any oil company director - let alone a director of a company involved in a Central Asian pipeline consortium - appears improper.
But within the commission, Gov. Kean's involvement is by no means exceptional. A look at the member resumes shows that almost all of them have had business ties to oil companies - or else, airlines.
Pipelines and Airlines
After Kean's appointment, the White House shifted from resisting the very idea of an investigation to the more mundane matter of obstructing it. Although the commissioners were all government and national security insiders, getting security clearances took months. The longest delays were for Slade Gorton, a former Republican senator.
In the legislation empowering the Commission, the rules were fashioned so that issuing a subpeona would require a majority vote. For most of the Commission's first year, the White House claimed executive privilege in withholding access to the briefings delivered to the president each day by the CIA (Presidential Daily Briefings or "PDBs"), and the Commission was unable to muster a majority for a subpoena.
The White House initially agreed to a budget of only $3 million for the panel, which requires a staff of dozens to comb through millions of documents. Only after months of wrangling did the Administration consent to an additional $12 million in funding.
(By comparison: the Columbia Space Shuttle explosion led to immediate approval of $30 million for a investigative commission within a week. The investigation of Bill Clinton's sexual affairs in the 1990s, undertaken by the Special Prosecutor originally appointed to investigate the Whitewater Affair, took on the order of $40 million in public funding. Was a 9/11 investigation worth only 10 percent of that or less to the public?)
Congressional Democrats and Republicans and the White House set out to apportion seats on the Commission in what was termed a bipartisan manner, meaning five for each party.
Some facts about the panelists, as compiled by journalist Sander Hicks for the Long Island Press:
Kean's Democratic co-chair, Lee Hamilton, was the chairman in the 1980s of the House Select Committee on Iran/Contra. Afterwards, he told PBS Frontline that he didn't wish to indict Reagan or George H.W. Bush, because he didn't think it would be "good for the country," although a wealth of evidence showed that Reagan and Bush had authorized illegal arms shipments to Iran in 1985. Then Chairman Hamilton was influenced by heavy political pressure from a hawkish fellow congressman from Wyoming by the name of Dick Cheney.
The New York Post and FOX NEWS have yet to report any of the above details concerning Zelikow, Kean or Hamilton, but in April they devoted much energy to exposing commission member Jamie Gorelick, who served on Bill Clinton's national security staff. The Murdoch-owned media and Republican politicians have said she is too partisan to serve on the commission, and urged her to resign.
In May 2003, shortly after joining the Kean Commission, Gorelick also joined the Washington firm of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering. A month earlier, this firm announced it would defend Saudi Prince Mohammed al Faisal, third in command in the Saudi government, and a plaintiff in the billion-dollar lawsuit filed by relatives of 9/11 victims (see, www.september11classaction.com).
Richard Ben-Veniste, former Clinton White House lawyer, was a partner until February 2003 in one of the biggest bankruptcy firms in the world, Weil, Gotshal, and Manges. As the New York Post disclosed, the firm received a famously inflated $3 million retainer from Enron, when the latter filed for bankruptcy in 2001.
Former Republican Senator Slade Gorton is a partner with the Seattle firm of Preston, Gates and Ellis, which counts among its clients both Delta Air Lines and the Boeing Employees' Credit Union. Is either of these clients likely to want airlines forced to pay off lawsuits from September 11 relatives?
While Henry Kissinger did not make the cut, he does have close ties to Republican John Lehman, whom he recruited for his staff during the Nixon administration. Lehman, the secretary of the Navy under the Reagan administration, is also close to several members of the current Bush government. Along with Kean, Hamilton, and Gorelick, he is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), where many of the plans for Central Asian pipelines and attendant necessity for U.S. military hegemony in the region were originally hatched.
As for former Illinois Governor James R. Thompson, it takes no rocket science to figure out his conflict of interest. He is chairman of the Winston & Strawn law firm in Chicago. From January, 1997 through June, 2002, Thompson's law firm received $1.66 million for federal lobbying efforts on behalf of American Airlines - one of the two carriers potentially liable for negligence on 9/11.
Commission Cuts Deal with White House
There were many early signs that the Commission would not be living up to its members' initial protestations that their investigation would be unrelenting and uncompromising, and that the questions posed by the Family Steering Committee would consitute a "roadmap" for the proceedings (in the words of Commissioner Gorelick). When the Commission finally began holding public hearings in the spring of 2003, witnesses were not even required to testify under oath. Only under pressure from lobbyists was that practice later altered.
The underlying hands-off nature of the investigation with regard to the activities of high government officials emerged publicly by the end of 2003, in regard to the question of access to White House documents.
Under a deal the Kean Commission made with the White House in November, 2003, Jamie Gorelick became the only commissioner - alongside Executive Director Philip Zelikow - allowed relatively unrestricted access to originals of Presidential Daily Briefings, such as the now-famous PDB entitled "BIN LADEN DETERMINED TO STRIKE IN U.S."
The government recently published one and one-half pages out of the original 11 pages of that document, confirming at the very least that it warned the president about the danger that al-Qaeda might hijack planes in domestic air space. We still don't know what was in the other 9½ pages. The PDB was delivered from George Tenet's offices to George W. Bush at his Crawford ranch on August 6, 2001.
But we do know that Gorelick herself is a long-standing Tenet associate, and an adviser to the CIA. Once again, the investigator is on the friendliest terms with the subject of the investigation.
While viewing White House documents, Gorelick and Zelikow are allowed to take notes, which remain with the White House. They then report to the other commission members. At one point, the White House withheld the notes. In a rather laughable demonstration of the level of its determination, the Kean Commission was reported to be debating a subpoena for its own notes, instead of the actual documents (Washington Post, 1/31/04).
Max Cleland Drops Out
Commissioner Max Cleland, the former Democratic Senator from Georgia, objected strenuously to the deal restricting access to White House documents. In the course of autumn 2003, he issued a series of challenges to both the White House and his fellow Kean Commission members.
"Bush is scamming America," Cleland declared.
"As each day goes by, we learn that this government knew a whole lot more about these terrorists before September 11 than it has ever admitted," Cleland told the New York Times (10/26/03).
"Let's chase this rabbit into the ground here," Cleland said in an interview. (Salon, November 2003) "They had a plan to go to war, and when 9/11 happened that's what they did. They went to war." He called this "a national scandal." Cleland compared the Kean Commission to the earlier investigation of the Kennedy Assassination. "The Warren Commission blew it. I'm not going to be part of that. I'm not going to be part of looking at information only partially. I'm not going to be part of just coming to quick conclusions. I'm not going to be part of political pressure to do this or not do that."
At the time of Cleland's impassioned outbursts, the hearings were not even covering the events of September 11, but rather were covering issues relating to future recommendations for Homeland Security. The commission was barely a blip on the mass-media radar. Aside from the Salon interview, Cleland's revolt was treated to cursory coverage in a total of two other outlets: the New York Times and the Washington Post. In the midst of an apparent news black-out, followers of the Commission process were not even sure if Cleland had resigned.
In December, Bush stepped in and settled the question. He appointed Cleland to serve on the board of the U.S. Export-Import Bank. Cleland accepted, and left the Commission.
Ignoring the Elephant
Max Cleland's departure exposed the commission's conflicts of interest and willingness to compromise its mission. Despite reports of turmoil behind the scenes, the public consequences approached nil.
Yet it was also a chance for the panel to change course, to address the issues he raised. Activists launched a campaign to nominate a member of the Family Steering Committee to fill the vacancy left by Cleland.
Did the Kean Commission have room for one person who is not a government insider, and who has a clear incentive to seek the truth? A well-known FSC member expressed her willingness to serve as a Commission member. Calls and faxes advocating her nomination poured in from around the country to the offices of Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle. Since he had originally nominated Cleland, he got to choose the replacement.
At the Commission's next public session, on December 8, 2003, Cleland went unmentioned until the closing press conference, when a reporter asked Kean and Hamilton how they intended to restore the Commission's credibility in light of Cleland's statements and surprising appointment to a bank directorship by Bush, the very president whom he had attacked. The co-chairs both proclaimed, rather needlessly, that Cleland was a man of integrity, in the process failing to address anything he had said.
Another reporter at the press conference confronted the co-chairs with open-source evidence of U.S. military preparations for the 9/11 scenario prior to September 11: the Pentagon MASCAL exercises of Oct. 24-26, 2000. These included live rehearsals for the emergency scenario of an airliner crashing into the building (see, online article of 11/3/00 by a U.S. Army press service at www.mdw.army.mil/news/Contingency_Planning.html). Kean and Hamilton gave their usual answer, which can be summed up as follows: "We are grateful. Please provide us with these materials. We will pursue all leads." The materials were duly provided.
The next day, Daschle filled the vacancy on the panel with former Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey, president of The New School University and an outspoken hardliner on homeland security issues. (Kerrey was also a member of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, which lobbied foreign countries to support the ousting of Saddam Hussein.)
The decision had been made. The families would have no say on the panel itself, any more than would outside researchers, academics or experts from without the government. The 9/11 Commission apparently had room for no one but insiders.
(-Nicholas Levis, 911Truth.org)
(Forward to Appendix 7.)
Copyright (c) 2004 The "Justice for 9/11" Steering