Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Kid gloves for an old goat

I just finished reading Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. I initially ignored the Lawrence Journal-World's article about former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's appearance at the Lied Center last month. However, Wright's book reminded me of just how willing the reporter was to accept Albright's claims.

One of Albright's claims was “I personally feel we did everything we could” to battle and prepare for the threat of terrorism. Well, anyone who has read the 9/11 Commission's report knows that that is a false statement. The reporter apparently made no effort to talk to anyone who would take issue with Albright's claim. I highly suspect that if a Bush administration official had made a similar statement, the reporter would have found someone on the other side to quote.

If the reporter really wanted to scrutinize Albright's claim, he would have noted that, according to CNN correspondent Peter L. Bergen in Holy War, Inc: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden (2001), "The aptly named Prudence Bushnell, a veteran diplomat, had long been concerned about the security of the [U.S.] embassy [in Kenya], which because of its busy downtown location was threatened not only by terrorism but also by crime. Bushnell had cabled Washington on December 24, 1997, pointing out the threat of terrorism and the embassy's extreme vulnerability because of its location and the lack of setback from the street. She wrote another letter to the U.S. secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, in April 1998, reprising her concerns."

Albright ignored Bushnell's warnings.

On August 7, 1998 Al Qaeda simultaneously bombed the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing a total of 257 people and wounding 4,500.

In Against All Enemies, Richard Clarke recounts a one-on-one discussion with Albright. "What do you think will happen if you lose another embassy?" Clarke asked. "The Republicans in the Congress will go after you."

"I had her attention," Clarke wrote. "She shot back, 'First of all, I didn't lose these two embassies. I inherited them in the shape they were.'"

Keep in mind that Albright was sworn in as secretary of state 18 months prior to the embassies being bombed.

Now back to The Looming Tower. According to Wright, a staff writer for The New Yorker, after the embassy in Kenya was bombed, "investigators were stunned to learn that nearly a year earlier an Egyptian member of al-Qaeda had walked into the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi and told the CIA about the bombing plot. The agency had dismissed this intelligence as unreliable. This was not an isolated incident. All through the spring there had been a drumroll of threats and fatwas from bin Laden, but few had taken them seriously. Now the consequence of that neglect was starkly evident."

Albright's cavalier attitude towards security vis-a-vis the embassy in Nairobi was actually detailed seven years ago in a New York Times special report. According to the report, "The State Department has acknowledged that Ms. Bushnell raised questions about security before the bombing. But a close examination of events in the year before the assaults, based on interviews with officials throughout the U.S. government, shows her concerns were more intense, more well-founded, more specific, and more forcefully expressed than has previously been known."

Albright had 18 months to fix the security problems at the embassy. She did nothing. She received well-founded and specific wanrings about an imminent attack on that embassies. She ignored them. Then she appeared at the Lied Center and claimed the Clinton administration did everything it could to prepare for and battle terrorism.

Albright had the gall to assert, “The record shows [the Bush administration] actually didn’t do a lot” about terrorism during its first eight months in office. If the Bush administration had had well-founded and specific information about an imminent attack on 9/11, does anyone really believe they would have ignored the threat in the same way that Albright and the Clinton administration ignored the threat in Kenya?

Remarkably, Madeleine Albright may be as responsible as any American for the attacks on our embassies, the bombing of the USS Cole, and 9/11. Mohamed al-'Owhali, convicted in the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, relied on Albright's words during a 1996 60 Minutes interview in mounting his defense against the death penalty. According to 60 Minutes, an estimated 500,000 Iraqi children had died from the economic sanctions imposed on Iraq in August 1990. Albright, who was then U.S. ambassador to the UN, answered, "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price -- we think the price is worth it."

Osama bin Laden himself mentioned these deaths in Iraq in a March 1997 interview with CNN. According to bin Laden, "The hearts of Muslims are filled with hatred towards the United States of America and the American president [Bill Clinton]. The president has a heart that knows no words. A heart that kills hundreds of children definitely knows no words. Our people on the Arabian Peninsula will send him messages with no words because he does not know any words. If there is a message that I may send through you, then it is a message I address to the mothers of American troops who came here with their military uniforms walking proudly up and down our land.... I say that this represents a blatant provocation to over one billion Muslims. To these mothers I say if they are concerned for their sons, then let them object to the American government's policy."

Those "messages with no words," which were largely inspired by Albright's words, were delivered in August 1998, October 2000, and September 2001.

The Journal-World could have detailed Albright's and the Clinton administration's shortcomings and failings in the fight against terrorism. Instead it choose to give Albright a forum for a revisionist concerning that fight. That was a disservice to its readers.

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