In his news conference last Friday President Obama made these remarks about the events of 9/11 in his statement about the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on torture.
With respect to the larger point of the RDI report itself, even before I came into office I was very clear that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 we did some things that were wrong. We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks. We did some things that were contrary to our values.He seems prepared to use 9/11 as an excuse for his unwillingness to investigate and possibly prosecute those things that were wrong. 9/11 has been used to create a terrorism industry and to justify military invasions and occupations of two countries along with the spread of an invasive national security information dragnet. It seems like its time to step back and put it into some perspective.
I understand why it happened. I think it’s important when we look back to recall how afraid people were after the Twin Towers fell and the Pentagon had been hit and the plane in Pennsylvania had fallen, and people did not know whether more attacks were imminent, and there was enormous pressure on our law enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this. And it’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had. And a lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.
The video images of the planes being flown into the twin towers will probably long hold a place in history. It was indeed a dramatic incident and the product of a carefully planned conspiracy. At the time almost everybody was asking how could this have possibly happened in the US. There was an obvious need for immediate investigations. Those investigations turned up some practical answers to how it happened.
One thing that was apparent and was already known was that passenger screening for airline security was a sloppy mess. A couple of years before that I took a trip from San Francisco to Atlanta. I had a box cutter that I used for trimming tooth picks to clean my gums with. It was in may shaving kit in my carry on luggage. I did not know that it was not allowed. I sailed right through security in San Francisco with no questions asked. On the way back they caught it in Atlanta and confiscated it. The item was not unlike the weapons that were probably used by the 9/11 hijackers.
Even after 9/11 there was a big debate about what to do about airline security. Bush wanted to keep it in the hands of private industry. He finally had to give in and establish a government agency. I would like to think that the present ordeals that air travelers go through would be effective in preventing people from pulling off another such incident. The reality is that there are still lots of people in the world who would like to do that and it hasn't happened. There have only been a few arrests of people who were actively engaged in such attempts.
It seems to me that on 9/12/2001 Americans were not materially more in danger than they had been on 9/10/2001. To the extent that a real national problem had been identified it was one of domestic security. I watched police with dogs sniffing for bombs on BART trains in San Francisco. That all settled down very quickly. It turned out that there was no vast network of Muslim sleeper saboteurs, preparing to attack. It seems quite plausible that the country could have settled down in a few weeks and gotten on with is business.
However, we had a government that was in the control of rabid neocons. They saw this as the second coming of Pearl Harbor and a golden opportunity to advance the agenda of the new American century. The great threat was used to stampede through the Patriot act and various other draconian pieces of legislation that we are still living with today. Saddam Hussein was ginned up as preparing to attack the American homeland with his vast arsenal of WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION.
I do not think that Barack Obama and his administration are cut from the same cloth as Bush/Cheney. He hasn't actively added to the institutionalized War On Terror. He did bring the fiasco in Iraq to a halt, but is now sticking his toe into the water again. From the day he took office he has been reluctant to criticize the excesses of his predecessor. He is also reluctant to do anything that might appear to question the legitimacy of the national security establishment in its incarnations of the CIA and NSA.
It is impossible to know how Al Gore would have handled 9/11 since he was cheated out of the electoral victory. He or anybody else who was president would have had to make some form of fairly vigorous response to it. However, I do not think that we would have been left with the neocon legacy that a new administration has felt that he had to preserve and apologize for.