Last night when discussing the White House’s truth-bending revisionism on Tora Bora, I wrote that I had been “pretty skeptical of the Bush team’s revisionism on this count since the outlines of the Kerry critique have been a commonplace in national security and counter-terrorism circles for literally years.”
You’ll remember that what I’m referring to here as ‘Kerry’s critique’ is the charge that the US let bin Laden get away at Tora Bora because we ‘outsourced’ the job to local warlords and militiaman. The Bush campaign is now calling that a lie. Dick Cheney says it’s “absolute garbage” and the campaign has enlisted retired general and now Bush surrogate Tommy Franks to help back their case.
Now Steve Soto points out one more reason why I and others who’ve followed this story for years were so skeptical.
Look at the lede of this Washington Post article from April 17, 2002 …
The Bush administration has concluded that Osama bin Laden was present during the battle for Tora Bora late last year and that failure to commit U.S. ground troops to hunt him was its gravest error in the war against al Qaeda, according to civilian and military officials with first-hand knowledge.
That really says it all.
And there’s more.
Was bin Laden there, a claim Cheney and the Bush campaign now discount or treat as mere speculation?
Again from the Post: “Intelligence officials have assembled what they believe to be decisive evidence, from contemporary and subsequent interrogations and intercepted communications, that bin Laden began the battle of Tora Bora inside the cave complex along Afghanistan’s mountainous eastern border.”
The article goes on to say that though the administration had never publicly acknowledged that bin Laden slipped the noose in this way, “inside the government there is little controversy on the subject.”
Then the paper quotes a government official “giving an authoritative account of the intelligence consensus,” who says that, “I don’t think you can ever say with certainty, but we did conclude he was there, and that conclusion has strengthened with time.”
And as to the issue of ‘outsourcing’?
One more time from the article …
After-action reviews, conducted privately inside and outside the military chain of command, describe the episode as a significant defeat for the United States. A common view among those interviewed outside the U.S. Central Command is that Army Gen. Tommy R. Franks, the war’s operational commander, misjudged the interests of putative Afghan allies and let pass the best chance to capture or kill al Qaeda’s leader. Without professing second thoughts about Tora Bora, Franks has changed his approach fundamentally in subsequent battles, using Americans on the ground as first-line combat units.
In the fight for Tora Bora, corrupt local militias did not live up to promises to seal off the mountain redoubt, and some colluded in the escape of fleeing al Qaeda fighters. Franks did not perceive the setbacks soon enough, some officials said, because he ran the war from Tampa with no commander on the scene above the rank of lieutenant colonel. The first Americans did not arrive until three days into the fighting. “No one had the big picture,” one defense official said.
I quote here at length for a simple reason, to make a simple point. Though we cannot in the nature of things have absolute certainty about bin Laden’s whereabouts, there is little doubt that bin Laden was there. We had a “reasonable certainty” he was there when the critical decisions were being made. And subsequent intelligence has only tended to confirm that belief. As to the issue of ‘outsourcing,’ the claim is unquestionably true. And it is widely believed that this was a key reason for the failure to capture bin Laden.
One might well argue, we hadn’t hunted a bin Laden before. And I don’t mean that flippantly. Had the Afghan tribesmen killed OBL in those hills, the decision might have seemed an inspired one, since it no doubt saved American lives. Perhaps a Gore or a Kerry administration would have made the same mistake.
What you simply cannot say is that the whole thing never happened. And yet that is precisely what the president and the vice president are now doing: Simply denying everything. Who you gonna believe? Me or your lyin’ eyes?
They are, in old fashioned English, lying.
And the major news outlets covering the campaign — as nearly as I’ve seen so far — are just treating the disagreement as a he said/(s)he said in which both sides’ arguments have equal merit.
Sums up the whole campaign.