by James Bovard
Many members of Congress remain outraged at the Trump protestors who charged into the Capitol on January 6. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently declared, “We must get to the truth of how this happened… Our next step will be to establish an outside, independent 9/11-type Commission to investigate and report on the facts and causes.”
But another pious fraud from the political establishment is the last thing that America needs right now. The 9/11 Commission should be a warning that Washington dignitaries are the last people we should trust to expose the truth.
After the 9/11 attacks, a joint House-Senate Intelligence Committee investigation in late 2002 exposed a vast array of federal intelligence and law enforcement failures preceding the hijacking of four airliners. Because the Bush administration often stonewalled the Senate investigation, 9/11 widows and widowers pressured Congress to create an independent commission to investigate.
Bush and Republican and Democratic congressional leaders stacked the commission with former congressmen, high-ranking government officials, and others entwined in the Washington establishment (“Insiders all,” as a New York Times headline noted). Beverly Eckert, a 9/11 widow, complained, “We wanted journalists, we wanted academics…. We did not want politicians.”
When the 9/11 Commission’s report was released in July 2004, it was instantly hallowed by the media because it was bipartisan and did back flips to avoid casting blame. The Commission became the Bush administration’s most famous faith-based initiative. The commission appeared far more concerned with restoring trust in government than in embarrassing their patrons. President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were allowed to testify without a transcript and not under oath. Americans never heard what they said. Instead, the commission offered a synopsis of their comments — as if it would have been impious to quote them directly. The White House was allowed to edit the final version of the commission’s report before it was publicly released.
Though the 9/11 Commission report is beloved inside the Beltway, it would not be admissible in a court of law because the commissioners relied on torture to produce many of their key assertions. New York Times’ Philip Shenon, the author of “The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation,” noted, “An analysis by NBC News found that more than a quarter of the report’s footnotes — 441 of some 1,700 — referred to detainees who were subjected to the CIA’s ‘enhanced’ interrogation program, including the trio who were waterboarded.”
Shenon reported that commission members “forwarded questions to the CIA, whose interrogators posed them on the panel’s behalf. The commission’s report gave no hint that harsh interrogation methods [including waterboarding] were used in gathering information.”
The commission’s report was released almost three months after the shocking photos from Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad had been published, and two months after key Justice Department and Pentagon memos leaked out, exposed the Bush administration’s bizarre torture regime and legal rationale. Yet, as Shenon noted, “The commission demanded that the CIA carry out new rounds of interrogations in 2004 to get answers to its questions.” The 9/11 Commission became profoundly complicit in the torture at the same time it pretended to objectively judge the Bush record.
The commission report came out at the same time that Bush was exploiting the 9/11 attacks and the Iraq War for his re-election campaign. The biggest boon the Commission conferred on Bush was to deny the role of the Saudi government in financing the 9/11 attacks. Commission executive director Philip Zelikow, who was in contact with Bush chief political advisor Karl Rove while directing the commission, fired a staffer who pursued the Saudi connection too vigorously. Shortly before the report was finished, Zelikow and another staffer rewrote key passages of the report to remove “virtually all of the most serious allegations against the Saudis.” Commission member John Lehman “was struck by the determination of the Bush White House to try to hide any evidence of the relationship between the Saudis and al-Qaeda,” Shenon noted.
The 9/11 Commission ignored the joint House-Senate investigation’s evidence of Saudi agents bankrolling multiple Saudi hijackers in the U.S. before the attacks (15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis). But the Bush administration suppressed those 28 pages of that congressional report and they were not released until 2016. Bush had tightly embraced Saudi leadership after the 9/11 attacks despite that regime’s complicity; instead, Bush administration officials repeatedly implied that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was somehow to blame. If the 9/11 Commission had quoted the 2002 memo (apparently from the FBI) stating that there was “incontrovertible evidence that there is support for these [9/11 hijacker] terrorists within the Saudi Government,” Bush might have been seriously damaged. But the commissioners didn’t go looking under any rocks they were told to ignore.
Commission co-chairmen Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton touted their original report as a triumph of transparency and full disclosure. Yet, in their jointly-authored 2006 book, “Without Precedent: The Inside Story of the 9/11 Commission,” they complained that “we thought we were set up to fail” in part due to the brazen lies by numerous federal agencies and their stonewalling of the investigation. But instead of being denounced for kowtowing, the 9/11 commissioner co-chairmen became venerated as visionary statesmen.
The 9/11 Commission members have regularly issued “update” reports that should have earned them even more derision. Their tenth anniversary report in 2014 heaped praise on the utterly incompetent Transportation Security Administration and scoffed at Edward Snowden’s revelations of National Security Agency crimes: “Some reports exaggerated the scale of the programs. While the government explained that the NSA’s programs were overseen by Congress and the courts, the scale of the data collection has alarmed the public.” Almost everybody who followed Snowden’s leaks recognized that Congress and the courts utterly failed to leash the NSA. The NSA was so paranoid that its definition of terrorist suspect includes “someone searching the web for suspicious stuff.” But the 9/11 commissioners showed little or no concern about the NSA’s cyber attacks on Americans. As a Techdirt analysis noted, the Commission’s 10th anniversary report “is everything the DHS/NSA/FBI, etc. could have hoped for. It calls for more of the same, only faster, harder and with bigger budgets.”
Despite (or because of) such failures, the 9/11 commission is being touted as the model for investigating January 6. But who would appoint the “independent” commissioners this time around?
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, along with then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, bore ultimate responsibility for the failure to adequately defend the Capitol after the FBI sounded warnings of a major ruckus that day. Sen. Ted Cruz said Pelosi could “testify that we heard already that the House Sergeant at Arms turned down National Guard protection for the Capitol on January 6… Pelosi can testify as to whether she made a decision based on optics, based on politics.” President Joe Biden is emphatic that the protestors were “domestic terrorists” and his administration is invoking the clash to push new legislation on “domestic terrorism.” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, at the end of the Senate impeachment trial, thundered, “January 6 will live as a day of infamy in the history of the United States of America. The failure to convict Donald Trump will live as a vote of infamy in the history of the U.S. Senate.” Why expect any nominations that Schumer would make to a January 6 commission to be more judicious than himself?
A facade of “truth” is worse than no disclosure at all. There will be multiple investigations by congressional committees, federal agencies, the media, and private organizations into what happened on January 6. In the same way that it took almost 15 years for some key facts about the 9/11 attacks to be revealed, it may be months or years until the damning revelations about the Capitol clash are forcibly extracted from federal agencies or private actors. Appointing a bipartisan commission is more likely to codify a deceptive but politically profitable story-line than to reveal why chaos erupted inside the Capitol that day.
James Bovard is the author of “Attention Deficit Democracy,” “The Bush Betrayal,” “Terrorism and Tyranny,” and other books. Bovard is on the USA Today Board of Contributors. He is on Twitter at @jimbovard. His website is at www.jimbovard.com