Tuesday, June 20, 2006

"Frontline" documentary makes case that Cheney used 9/11 to go to war

The Seattle Times
By Mark Rahner
Seattle Times staff reporter

Last week's grim milestone of 2,500 American military deaths in Iraq will look even grimmer after tonight's "Frontline" documentary, "The Dark Side."

The damning 90-minute exposé (10 p.m. PBS) stops short of laying those bodies at Vice President Dick Cheney's feet. But it does finger Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld — through more than 40 interviews with CIA veterans, journalists, politicians and others — as the ones who ignored, suppressed and manipulated intelligence after the 9/11 attacks to lead us into war with a country that had nothing to do with our attackers.

And you wonder why the GOP hasn't exactly been a sugar daddy for public television.

Comedians have made countless Darth Vader jokes about Cheney, but the film's title is no joke about The Force. It's from Cheney's own words about America's response to terrorists: "We have to work the dark side, if you will. We've got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies."

But apparently he didn't use the actual intelligence from the agencies.

The CIA and its then-director, George Tenet, knew immediately that al-Qaida in Afghanistan was responsible for the 9/11 attacks and said so. But author James Bamford says that while the Pentagon was still smoking, Rumsfeld said, "We've got to see, somehow, how we can bring Saddam Hussein into this."

"The Dark Side" claims that 9/11 provided Cheney and Rumsfeld with a pretext for achieving their longstanding ambition to go after the Iraqi dictator and to boost executive power that they'd seen diminish ever since their days as allies in Nixon's administration. As consummate political infighters, they resented and continually undermined Tenet — a sports-loving man's man who had become pally with George W. Bush.

The CIA repeatedly insisted that there was no connection between Saddam and al-Qaida, and Tenet explicitly warned that invading Iraq would "break the back" of our counterterrorism effort. Tenet even ordered the agency's records scoured 10 years back for links. CIA vet Michael Scheuer, who led that effort, says, "There was no connection between al-Qaida and Saddam."

But Cheney, the chief architect of the war on terror and the most powerful vice president in U.S. history, had made up his mind, according to "The Dark Side." CIA vets say Cheney and his now-indicted chief of staff, Scooter Libby, made unprecedented trips to CIA headquarters to pressure and "harangue" analysts who were compiling the National Intelligence Estimate. Analyst Paul Pillar, one of its primary authors, says he regrets his role in the hastily prepared, fatally flawed document, which was "clearly requested and published for policy-advocacy purposes ... to strengthen the case for going to war with the American public."

The apparent circularity of the pro-war machinations is especially disturbing. Then-New York Times reporter Judith Miller would get off-the-record info from the White House about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, print the claims in Sunday's paper, and then Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and others would cite the articles as evidence on the Sunday talk shows to justify the invasion.

While Tenet and Secretary of State Colin Powell had strong reservations about Iraq, sources quoted in "The Dark Side" say the two eventually caved in. Tenet, says former weapons inspector David Kay, "traded integrity for access" to power, while Powell was ultimately a team player.

"The Dark Side" is especially timely in light of those who persisted in equating the Iraq war with the fight against terrorism in the debate leading to last Friday's pro-war House resolution.

These are the guys who want our phone records now. If "The Dark Side" is as credible as it looks — and it's no cheap Michael Moore job — they can't even be trusted to go after the right bad guys when they've got the right intelligence handed to them on a platter.

George Carlin — meek?

Speaking of battles: Last Wednesday night promised to be the Thrilla in Manila on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno."

Ann Coulter and George Carlin. On the same show. Gasoline and fertilizer — the order depending on who you like: the author of "Godless" who bad-mouthed 9/11 widows vs. the author of "When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?" who recently tongue-lashed a conservative politician on "Real Time with Bill Maher."

And ... go! Coulter sticks to her guns, goes on the offensive, calls liberal scorn her "badge of honor" — and gets cheers. Leno meekly asks if it might be easier to catch flies with honey. Apparently it's easier to get self-righteous when he's asking Hugh Grant about sex with a hooker. And Carlin the splenetic, Carlin the misanthrope, Carlin the undiplomatic ... he just sits there looking like he has to go to the bathroom and says nothing.

**what the hell's up with that, GC?**

Huh? That's it? There went a perfectly good tailgate party for nothing.

Will she have last laugh?

In a battle where "kill" means something entirely different: Kent native Rebecca Corry goes to the next round of NBC's "Last Comic Standing" at 9 tonight. Corry's back on home turf for live shows at Comedy Underground Thursday through Saturday. See www.comedyunderground.com for details. By the way, this season's competition, minus host Jay Mohr, seems less painful by half.

Mark Rahner: 206-464-8259 or mrahner@seattletimes.com

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