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How 9/11 Report Soft-Pedaled Root Causes


Former CIA analyst

The 567-page final report released Thursday by the 9/11 Commission provides a wealth of data–indeed, so much detail that it is all too easy to miss the forest for the trees. Comments by the ubiquitous commissioners last weekend yield the clear impression that they would just as soon limit our horizon to the trees.

On CNN’s Late Edition Sunday, Wolf Blitzer braced commission vice chair Lee Hamilton with an unusually blunt question, prompting Hamilton to give the game away. Expressing puzzlement as to why the commission had ventured no recommendation regarding Iraq, Blitzer suggested one: “Don’t go to war with countries that had nothing to do with 9/11.”

Caught off balance, Hamilton explained that dealing with the issue of Iraq “would have been highly divisive,” and that commission members would not have been able to agree on a recommendation. Then, recovering quickly, he gave the official answer; i. e., that discussing Iraq would have been “well beyond any reasonable interpretation of what we were supposed to do.”

Thankfully, the putitave limits on the commission’s mandate did not prevent it from putting the final nail in the coffin in which lies the scarytale favored by Vice President Cheney that Iraq and Al Qaeda were in bed together. Nor, curiously enough, did those limits prevent the commission from leading off its policy recommendations with ones regarding Pakistan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia.

One can be forgiven for being struck at the incongruity of the commission’s silence on Iraq, with 140,000 U.S. troops tied down there and terrorists breeding like rabbits.

Why They Hate Us

The commission’s desire to avoid unpleasantness shows through even more clearly as the final report tiptoes past a core issue–motivation. Chartered to “prepare a full and complete account of the circumstances surrounding the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks,” the commission might have been expected to devote considerable effort to discerning the “why” of the attacks–especially for those among us who remain impervious to the dumbed-down bromide about the terrorists hating our democracy.

If you read page 147 of the commission report carefully, you will find embedded there a key sentence throwing light on the motive of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, whom the report calls the “mastermind of the 9/11 attacks:”

“KSM’s animus toward the United States stemmed not from his experiences there as a student, but rather from his violent disagreement with U.S. foreign policy favoring Israel.”

A footnote points out that his statements regarding the “why” of attacking the United States echo those of his nephew, Ramzi Yousef, when he was sentenced in New York to a prison term of 240 years in January 1998. Yousef, mastermind of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, accused the United States of supporting Israeli terrorism against Palestinians, adding that he was proud to fight any country that supports Israel.

Hats off to commission staff for shoehorning that information in and to the commissioners who let it stay. This is highly unusual prose for a Washington establishment usually allergic to any hint at the cruel reality that Israel is the tail wagging the dog–the dogs of war let slip on Iraq by those in the Bush administration who draw no distinction between U.S. strategic interests and those of Israel.

Bravo for the commission’s attempt–however timid–to go beyond jingoism in addressing “why they hate us.” On page 374 begins a section titled “PREVENT THE CONTINUED GROWTH OF ISLAMIST TERRORISM.” There the authors pick up on the conundrum repeatedly expressed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld regarding whether the United States is generating more terrorists than it is killing, and whether the United States needs “a broad, integrated plan to stop the next generation of terrorists.”

In gingerly language, the report points out: “America’s policy choices have consequences. Right or wrong, it is simply a fact that American policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and American actions in Iraq are dominant staples of popular commentary across the Arab and Muslim world.” –or, in the vernacular, “It’s the policy, stupid!”

Michael Scheuer, the CIA analyst author of Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror, emphasizes that Bin Laden’s “genius” is his ability to exploit U.S. policies–first and foremost, our one-sided support for Israel–that are most offensive to Muslims, and notes that it is particularly difficult to have a serious debate regarding U.S. policy toward Israel.

As if to prove Scheuer right, Commissioner Bob Kerrey yesterday on ABC’s This Week recited a mantra that is as familiar as it is mindless: You cannot negotiate; you cannot compromise with those who have reached the conclusion that terrorism is their only option.

But of course. Keep it at that level, Bob. Don’t dare ask the deeper but simple question as to why such people have lost all hope for peaceful change. Have you really forgotten that there can be no peace without justice?

I was reminded of Rumsfeld’s melancholy musing on the same ABC program some months ago: “How do you persuade people not to become suicide bombers; how do you reduce the number of people attracted to terrorism? No one knows how to do that.”

Let’s hope that Rumsfeld, Kerrey and others will read and ponder the implications of what is said on pages 374-377 of the 9/11 commission report.

RAY McGOVERN, a CIA analyst for 27 years, is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity and a contributor to CounterPunch’s unsparing new history of the Afghanistan/Iraq wars, Imperial Crusades. McGovern can be reached at:

This article first appeared on

Ray McGovern was an Army officer and CIA analyst for almost 30 year. He now serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). He can be reached at: A version of this article first appeared on  

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