Thursday, September 07, 2006

9/11: Fact and Fiction

It's usually easy to tell fact from fiction on television. If I'm watching actors playing characters with names like "President Bartlett," "National Security Advisor Nancy McNally" and "Admiral Percy Fitzwallace" on "The West Wing," I would conclude I'm watching fiction.
If I'm watching actors playing characters with names like "President Clinton," "Secretary of State Madeleine Albright" and "National Security Advisor Sandy Berger" in the ABC documdrama "The Path to 9/11," I would conclude I am watching a portrayal of history. Apparently, I would be wrong.
As the Washington Post reports,
some of those portrayed in the docudrama have objected to scenes of events that never happened:
Among the scenes that the Clinton team said are fictional:
· Berger is seen as refusing authorization for a proposed raid to capture bin Laden in spring 1998 to CIA operatives in Afghanistan who have the terrorist leader in their sights. A CIA operative sends a message: "We're ready to load the package. Repeat, do we have clearance to load the package?" Berger responds: "I don't have that authority."
Berger said that neither he nor Clinton ever rejected a CIA or military request to conduct an operation against bin Laden. The Sept. 11 commission said no CIA operatives were poised to attack; that Afghanistan's rebel Northern Alliance was not involved, as the film says; and that then-CIA Director George J. Tenet decided the plan would not work.
· Tenet is depicted as challenging Albright for having alerted Pakistan in advance of the August 1998 missile strike that unsuccessfully targeted bin Laden.
"Madame Secretary," Tenet is seen saying, "the Pakistani security service, the ISI, has close ties with the Taliban." Albright is seen shouting: "We had to inform the Pakistanis. There are regional factors involved." Tenet then complains that "we've enhanced bin Laden's stature."
Albright said she never warned Pakistan. The Sept. 11 commission found that a senior U.S. military official warned Pakistan that missiles crossing its airspace would not be from its archenemy, India.
Granted, there is room for some gray area in portrayals of history, particularly if there are gaps in the historical record. But the record is extensively documented in the 9/11 Commission Report. (My copy runs to 567 pages, including appendices and notes.)
As clips from the docudrama have dribbled out, those featured in the fabricated scenes are hopping mad:
Former secretary of state Madeleine K. Albright called one scene involving her "false and defamatory." Former national security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger said the film "flagrantly misrepresents my personal actions." And former White House aide Bruce R. Lindsey, who now heads the William J. Clinton Foundation, said: "It is unconscionable to mislead the American public about one of the most horrendous tragedies our country has ever known."
Former secretary of state Madeleine Albright and national security adviser Samuel "Sandy" Berger have objected to the fabircations in the production. The New York Post reports that Bill Clinton is angry as well:
A furious Bill Clinton is warning ABC that its mini-series "The Path to 9/11" grossly misrepresents his pursuit of Osama bin Laden - and he is demanding the network "pull the drama" if changes aren't made.
Clinton's attorneys fired off this letter to CEO Robert Iger, CEO of Walt Disney, which owns ABC:
September 1, 2006
Dear Bob,
As you know, ABC intends to air a two part miniseries, “The Path to 9/11,” which purports to document the events leading up to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. ABC claims that the show is based on the 9/11 Commission Report and, as Steve McPherson, President of ABC Entertainment, has said: “When you take on the responsibility of telling the story behind such an important event, it is absolutely critical that you get it right.”
By ABC’s own standard, ABC has gotten it terribly wrong. The content of this drama is factually and incontrovertibly inaccurate and ABC has a duty to fully correct all errors or pull the drama entirely. It is unconscionable to mislead the American public about one of the most horrendous tragedies our country has ever known.
Despite several requests to view the miniseries, we have not been given the courtesy of seeing it. This is particularly troubling given the reputation of Cyrus Nowrasteh, the drama’s writer/producer. Mr. Nowrasteh has been criticized for inaccurately portraying historical events in the past. In response to previous criticism, he has even said, “I made a conscious effort not to contact any members of the Administration because I didn’t want them to stymie my efforts.” Indeed, while we have not been given the courtesy of a viewing, based upon reports from people who have seen the drama you plan to air, we understand that there are at least three significant factual errors:
-- The drama leads viewers to believe that National Security Advisor Sandy Berger told the CIA that he would not authorize them to take a shot at bin Laden. This is complete fiction and the event portrayed never happened. First of all, the 9/11 Commission Report makes clear that CIA Director George Tenet had been directed by President Clinton and Mr. Berger to get bin Laden (p. 199 & 508-509). Secondly, Roger Cressy, National Security Council senior director for counterterrorism from 1999-2001, has said, on more than one occasion, “Mr. Clinton approved every request made of him by the CIA and the U.S. military involving using force against bin Laden and al-Qaeda.”
In addition, ABC’s own counter-terrorism consultant, Richard Clarke, has said that contrary to the movie:
1) No US military or CIA personnel were on the ground in Afghanistan and saw bin Laden;
2) The head of the Northern Alliance, Masood, was nowhere near the alleged bin Laden camp and did not see bin Laden; and
3) CIA Director Tenet said that he could not recommend a strike on the camp because the information was single-sourced and there would be no way to know if bin Laden was in the target area by the time a cruise missile hit it.
As Clarke and others will corroborate, President Clinton did in fact approve of a standing plan to use Afghans who worked for the CIA to capture bin Laden. The CIA’s Afghan operatives were never able to carry out the operation and the CIA recommended against inserting Agency personnel to do it. The Department of Defense, when asked by President Clinton to examine the use of US troops to capture bin Laden, also recommended against that option.
-- The drama claims that former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright refused to sanction a missile strike against bin Laden without first alerting the Pakistanis and notified them over the objections of the military. Again, this is false.
-- Using newsreel footage of President Clinton, the drama insinuates that President Clinton was too pre-occupied with the impeachment and the Lewinsky matter to be engaged in pursuing bin Laden. This allegation is absurd and was directly refuted by ABC News consultant Richard Clarke in his book, Against All Enemies: “Clinton made clear that we were to give him our best national security advice without regard to his personal problems. ‘Do you recommend that we strike on the 20th? Fine. Do not give me political advice or personal advice about the timing. That’s my problem. Let me worry about that.’ If we thought this was the best time to hit the Afghan camps, he would order it and take the heat.”
While these are three examples that we are aware of that are utterly baseless, they are clearly indicative of other errors in the substance and bent of the film. Indeed, the overall tone in the advertisements we’ve seen for this drama suggest that President Clinton was inattentive to the threat of terrorism or insufficiently intent upon eliminating the threat from bin Laden. Note that the 9/11 Commission Report says:
-- We believe that both President Clinton and President Bush were genuinely concerned about the danger posed by al Qaeda.” (p. 349)
-- “By May 1998 … clearly, President Clinton’s concern about terrorism had steadily risen.” (p. 102)
-- “President Clinton was deeply concerned about bin Laden. He and his national security advisor, Samuel ‘Sandy’ Berger, ensured they had a special daily pipeline of reports feeding them the latest updates on bin Laden’s reported location.” (p. 175)
-- “President Clinton spoke of terrorism in numerous public statements. In his August 5, 1996, remarks at George Washington University, he called terrorism ‘the enemy of our generation.’” (p. 500)
We challenge anyone to read the 9/11 Commission Report and find any basis for the false allegations noted above or the tenor of the drama, which suggests that the Clinton Administration was inattentive to the threat of a terrorist strike.
Frankly, the bias of the ABC drama is not surprising given the background and political leanings of its writer/producer, Mr. Nowrasteh, which have been well-documented on numerous conservative blogs and talk shows in his promotion of this film. Mr. Nowrasteh’s bias can be seen in an interview he gave to David Horowitz’s conservative magazine Frontpage, during which he said:
"The 9/11 report details the Clinton’s administration’s response – or lack of response – to Al Qaeda and how this emboldened Bin Laden to keep attacking American interests. The worst example is the response to the October, 2000 attack of the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen where 17 American sailors were killed. There simply was no response. Nothing."
But as Sandy Berger told the 9/11 Commission: “[T]o go to war, a president needs to be able to say that his senior intelligence and law enforcement officers have concluded who is responsible.” And as the 9/11 Commission report repeatedly acknowledges, the US did not have clear evidence of bin Laden’s connection to the attack on the USS Cole before the end of the Clinton Administration (p. 192, 193, 195 & executive summary).
While ABC is promoting “The Path to 9/11” as a dramatization of historical fact, in truth it is a fictitious rewriting of history that will be misinterpreted by millions of Americans. Given your stated obligation to “get it right,” we urge you to do so by not airing this drama until the egregious factual errors are corrected, an endeavor we could easily assist you with given the opportunity to view the film.
Sincerely,
Bruce R. Lindsey
Chief Executive Officer
William J. Clinton Foundation
Douglas J. Band
Counselor to President Clinton
Office of William Jefferson Clinton
An ABC spokesman responded to critics that they haven't seen the entire film, which has been provided to right wing bozos like Rush Limbaugh, though not to President Clinton or anyone who served during his administration:
ABC spokesman Jonathan Hogan last night defended the miniseries as a "dramatization, not a documentary, drawn from a variety of sources, including the 9/11 commission report, other published materials and personal interviews."
"Many of the people who have expressed opinions about the film have yet to see it in its entirety or in its final broadcast form," he said. "We hope viewers will watch the entire broadcast before forming their own opinion."
I hope viewers will make up their minds after reviewing the historical record. The entire 9/11 Commission Report, a bestseller that was nominated for the National Book Award, is available online.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Curt said...

Thank you for an interesting blog and the chance to comment.

I think it's brutally apparent that this would not be happening were we not on the cusp of Congressional elections.

Your observations are just and compelling.

5:09 PM, September 07, 2006  
Anonymous Nancy Willing said...

Tommywonk, this is good stuff!

3:24 PM, September 08, 2006  

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