All Blame and No Responsibility

The late great Claud Cockburn once said words to the effect that he never believed anything until he read an official denial of it, and in few periods in history can there have been more justification for his observation than at present. Governments and their accessories of all complexions have always told lies, of course, but the brazenness with which the current bunch of charlatans in the US and Britain have been bamboozling their unfortunate citizens is without precedent in democracies in modern times. It isn’t that the number of lies has exceeded the norm : it is rather that the fabrications are bolder, their originators are more bombastically self-righteous, and the outcome of their deceit has been irreversibly disastrous.

To be sure, Anthony Eden misled Britain to war on Egypt in 1956 with the same crusading fervor as silly little Tony Blair did in 2003 regarding Iraq, and LBJ manipulated Congress and the American people outrageously in the Sixties over Vietnam, just as Bush quite cynically duped and hoodwinked the House and the Senate in his immature macho aspiration to be regarded as a “war president’. (Wouldn’t it be nice, just for once, to have a Peace President?) And just as Eden and Johnson splashed into the gutters of history because of their illegal wars (in spite of their positive achievements, which were many), so we must hope that Bush and Blair will do likewise. But while the result of the war on North Vietnam was only intensified distrust of the US in its dealings with Asia, and that of Eden’s Suez adventure was extinction of already-waning British influence in the Middle East, the Bush-Blair war on Iraq has brought the plagues of hell upon the world for decades to come. They decided on war, and the entire world is suffering from their arrogant deceit. They were all slam, and no dunk.

Recent official inquiries into the Bush-Blair manufactured justifications for war, into the 9/11 debacle, and into the scandals of Pentagon-endorsed torture and murder of captives in Iraq and Afghanistan have revealed a great deal, but, of course, failed to apportion responsibility for incompetence or evil on the part of individuals at the highest level. It has been left to those without power to do that, but we would rather have the great and good inquirers, who are more clever than the rest of us, actually point out who was to blame. Why else would they have been asked to inquire, after all?

What a silly question. The inquirers were carefully selected by the self-same people into whose actions they were to inquire. Their terms of reference were written specifically to prevent them from pursuing embarrassing lines of investigation, even had they been inclined to do that. And they were appointed because those who chose them knew without doubt that they would not point a finger of culpability at anyone important. They would merely poke an intellectual middle digit at the rest of us. The concept is simple, and is along the lines of “We report ; And you must accept what we decide because you have no alternative”.

If a private corporation made a major decision that affected profits to the point that its share price fell in the same ratio as international trust in Bush and Blair has collapsed, there would be a major drama followed by an independent investigation of its senior executives’ mismanagement and chicanery. The inquiry would speedily result in people at the top being given the most energetic heave-ho, accompanied by a blunt and unaffectionate warning to avoid the handle of the rapidly-closing door just after it hit their departing and sadly chastened butts. There might even be prosecution and imprisonment of those who failed to cover their tracks.

Not in politics. Not any more, and perhaps never again. And this is dangerous, because the precedent has been set for officially-blessed evasion of responsibility. The desperate hounding of Bill Clinton by the Starr Chamber over so many years has been discredited, certainly : but the final outcome has been far from satisfactory. The squalid and remorseless (and unsuccessful) party political attempts to associate Clinton with chicanery resulted in widespread distaste that has been used very cleverly by the Bush administration to maneuver public opinion against blaming their man in the White House for anything atall. And this no-blame culture extends to the president’s minions, unless, of course, they are out of favor with his Inner Circle. So slam-dunk Tenet had to go. But the man was almost a Democrat anyway, so what the hell. We can be sure there will be no more sacrifices ; no more falling on swords ; because to fire even the most outrageously intellectually corrupt and bizarrely off-the-wall fundamentalist members of the Bush coterie (yes, Wolfowitz, it’s you), would be tantamount to admission of presidential imperfection. This cannot be allowed because at all costs the illusion of omniscient infallibility must be maintained amongst the Bush faithful, most of whom are misguided patriotic dupes of the Cheney-Rove propaganda machine who believe what is reported by supposedly objective and impartial people.

The 9/11 Commission has done as reasonable a job as it could in the circumstances, because the five Republican members of the ten-person group reporting on their president could not be expected to rock the boat of loyalty. Some of their factual statements are (if coded) condemnatory to the extent that would have caused honorable men to have resigned from public life a few moments after the report’s publication. But it cannot be expected that such liars as Cheney could possibly abide by the tenets (pun intended) of decency and conscience. Where the Report’s authors test our credibility beyond reason is in their non-committal yet lapdog-trusting description of that seven minutes Bush dallied indecisively in a Florida schoolroom. Their report states, with palpable deference, that

“The President was seated in a classroom when, at 9:05, Andrew Card whispered to him : “A second plane hit the second tower, America is under attack.” The President told us [the Committee, in front of which he made a brief private appearance with his vice-president] his instinct was to project calm, not to have the country see an excited reaction at a moment of crisis. The press was standing behind the children; he saw their phones and pagers start to ring. The President felt he should project strength and calm until he could better understand what was happening.”

Of all the baloney that has been written about Bush, this adulatory self-serving crap takes the cake. A novice trial lawyer could have torn him to ribbons in a heartbeat. But the patriotic deference factor set in. George Bush told the senators what he says he believes he said, and nobody on that Commission was going to take issue with him.

Does nobody remember what Bush said publicly about that period when he failed so utterly to give leadership to the American people? Here he is, as recorded by CNN, December 4, 2001 (<>) :

“Well Jordan [first name of child] you’re not going to believe what state I was in when I heard about the terrorist attack. I was in Florida. And my chief of staff, Andy Card, actually I was in a classroom talking about a reading program that works. And I was sitting outside the classroom waiting to go in, and I saw an airplane hit the tower, the TV was obviously on, and I use to fly myself, and I said, “There’s one terrible pilot.” And I said, “It must have been a horrible accident.” But I was whisked off there, I didn’t have much time to think about it, and I was sitting in the classroom, and Andy Card, my chief who was sitting over here walked in and said, “A second plane has hit the tower. America’s under attack.”

Let’s take this dire garbage from the top : the current president of the United States was “sitting outside the classroom, waiting to go in”? Since when did any President of the United States wait until things were ready for him? Things are ready, but READY, for the President of the United States, no matter where he is and what he is doing. If he is scheduled to arrive at a venue at 09:00 he arrives at that instant and immediately starts the program that has been decided to the last tiny detail. Forget anything about Bush waiting outside a classroom until the tiny tots were ready to receive him.

Then the President of the United States said : “I saw an airplane hit the tower, the TV was obviously on.”

Let’s get this right, once for all: NOBODY IN THE WHOLE WORLD SAW THE VIDEO OF THE FIRST PLANE’S ATTACK UNTIL LATER THAT DAY. George W Bush is a fantasist. He told a downright lie. What he said is demonstrably untrue. There is no doubt about it. Yet the 9/11 Commission failed to put the question that would have publicly exposed GW Bush as a liar. All they needed to ask, with every due deference to his office, was : “Mr President : You are on record as saying you “saw an airplane hit the tower’ on television just before 9 in the morning of September 11. Then you say you were told about a second plane hitting the second tower at 9:05. Nobody else in the world saw on television the first plane hit a tower at that time. Could you please explain to us why you said that?”

The 9/11 Commission acted rather like a puppy dog in a forest : they sniffed every tree but wouldn’t raise a leg on the big ones. Their task was to “prepare a full and complete account of the circumstances surrounding the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks,” but they didn’t do that. Take another example of shying away from responsibility : the failure to comprehensively rebut the frequent allegations by the vice-president of the United States to the effect that there was a link between the 9/11 atrocities and Saddam Hussein, via al Qaeda.

In an interview on 17 June this year with Gloria Borger on CNBC’s “Capital Report’ [<>] Cheney told a lie about his pronouncement that an al Qaeda 9/11 plotter, Mohammad Atta, had met an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague in April 2001. Borger said to Cheney :

“You have said in the past that [the meeting] was, quote, “pretty well confirmed.”

Cheney: No, I never said that. Borger: OK. Cheney: I never said that. Borger: I think that is . . . . Cheney: Absolutely not.

There could not be a more flat denial that Cheney ever said that the supposed meeting was “pretty well confirmed”. The world was told, publicly, on the record, without a blush, that the vice-president of the United States did not say what was attributed to him in describing a most important piece of evidence about Iraq’s involvement with al Qaeda and thus the evil of 9/11.

But on December 9, 2001, on “Meet the Press’ Cheney had stated equally flatly that “It’s been pretty well confirmed that he [Atta] did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service in Czechoslovakia last April, several months before the [9/11] attack.”

Now, if you were amongst those instructed to “prepare a full and complete account of the circumstances surrounding the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks” on your country, would you not think it important to follow up the statement of the vice-president of your country that it had “been pretty well confirmed” that a terrorist deeply involved in planning the 9/11 terrorist attack had met with a representative of Saddam Hussein’s intelligence agency? This was not throwaway lightweight nonsense by Rush Limbaugh or Fox News, after all : it was a major statement by the vice-president of the United States of America concerning a plotter against his country. The Commission did (down in the depths of the Report) record that the claim was nonsense ; but not the fact that the Vice-president of the United States had made that claim.

It would have been appropriate if the 9/11 Commission had asked Cheney, publicly and on the record, for all of us to hear : “Mr Vice-president, you have stated that it was “pretty well confirmed” that a meeting between a 9/11 terrorist and a Saddam Hussein intelligence operative took place in April 2001. You maintain that this was so. Would you please tell us why you continue to tell the American public that this meeting took place?”

That is a simple question. Cheney couldn’t have wriggled out of that one, and even he would not have dared, publicly, to tell them to get lost (or whatever), as he did in a pathetically vulgar way to one of their Honorable colleagues. But they didn’t ask the right questions, because Cheney is just another arrogant example of “I decide ; they report ; you believe, because you have no alternative.” This is the hallmark, the leitmotif, the very ethos of the Bush administration.

But there are some alternatives presenting themselves to the American people. John Kerry will not be the ideal president, but then nobody could be. He appears pretty flaky on some issues, but this is in the main because his policy pronouncements are ignored by those who should be reporting on them objectively, and, as Paul Krugman pointed out in the New York Times on Friday, the print and electronic media are taking their cue from the Bush propaganda apparatus. They refer to the “millionaire’ Kerry but never to “millionaire’ Bush, for example, which is pretty smart, because the essence of propaganda is to implant a nasty feeling in the public about your opponent while maintaining, quite correctly, that what you are saying is the exact truth.

The Bush camp ploy is to describe John Kerry as a millionaire (true), thus implying he cares nothing for the poor and the struggling middle class, in spite of the fact that his (largely unreported) program will benefit them enormously at little cost to any but the tacky and amoral super-rich such as Cheney. And concurrently George W Bush is referred to as “President’ (true), but without the derisive and contemptuous “millionaire’ description. Therefore, by subliminal definition, Bush MUST care about ALL Americans in spite of the fact he quite blatantly favors the rich and cares not a fig for the poor and nothing, but nothing, for the fiscally-penalized and increasingly desperate middle class. It’s amazing that the press and television have been suckered by this sort of hocus pocus, but that’s the way it goes. And when even the US Army tries to pull the wool over the eyes of the American public it’s time to seriously examine the blind acceptance of : “We report ; And you gotta believe what we report because we’re fighting for our commander-in-chief”.

Coincidentally, on the same day as the release of the 9/11 Commission’s report (and announcement of a few other interesting events and revelations round the world that were deliberately buried on that day ; surprise, surprise), there came the US military’s official explanation of why its soldiers tortured and murdered some hundred prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq.

To digress (or perhaps expand) for a moment, while we are reflecting on coincidences, did anyone notice that the final day of the Democrats’ shindig in Boston was also the day on which it was disclosed that Pakistan had been interrogating an alleged king-pin al Qaeda figure who was arrested without fanfare five days before? Supposedly he planned the bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which, amazingly, might give the American public some interest in his appearance in the headlines. And was it noticed that the final day of the Democrats’ confab was the day, too, on which Secretary Powell paid a sudden and headline-intensive visit to Iraq? And the day on which Homeland Security Fiasco Tom Ridge announced he might retire? It was also the day on which a main domestic New York Times’ headline was “As Democratic Gathering Wraps Up, Bush Is Raring to Go”. Oh well, it’s all fair and balanced stuff ; which brings me back to the US Army.

And it brings me back to the New York Times which did have the decency to state that the Army’s brutality in Afghanistan and Iraq was indeed very naughty in the course of the “volatile and dangerous mission of rounding up and detaining 50,000 prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last two and a half years”. To be fair on the Times, it did record that the International Red Cross and the entire civilized world had identified “ill treatment” in “a systematic way” by the US military, and that the army’s pariah, Major General Taguba (who seems to be the only honorable senior officer in the whole damn lot) had stated in his report about torture that there was “systemic and illegal abuse of detainees.” But it didn’t go as far as the Washington Post did, bless its little cotton socks.

The Post said bluntly that the Army’s report into murder and torture by its soldiers was “implausible and unacceptable” and that “If the reputation and integrity of the Army are to be restored, some other authority will need to do better.” But, for so long as GW Bush is military commander-in-chief, the US Army and the entire American armed forces cannot possibly have any Authority who can or will or want to do better.

The Army told lies in its report about murder and torture, but it was following the example of the Bush administration and its horrible appointees. The Army blamed its most junior and stupid and defenseless (and also appallingly evil) members for the atrocities against its captives. (Of whom, in Iraq, the Red Cross stated categorically in November last year there were 70 to 90 per cent innocent civilians, as has been shown by the Army’s precipitate and unconditional release of thousands of them from Abu Ghraib and other lesser-known hell-holes.) But by blaming those who cannot answer back, rather than the generals who were actually responsible for the atrocities, the Army’s Inquiry was simply following the example of the honorable Senators and all the other Good and Great Members of the western world’s Establishment who will never, like that dog sniffing in the forest, lift a leg on the biggest trees.

The US Army apportioned blame and lacked the guts to identify ultimate responsibility. Like the 9/11 Commission, and all the other inquiries into official incompetence, lying, deceit, dishonor and systemic malevolence, it was all slam, and no dunk.

BRIAN CLOUGHLEY writes on military and political affairs. He can be reached through his website


Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.