Krauthammer's claims about Bush's "steely" resolve against Al Qaeda conflict with reported facts

››› ››› SARAH PAVLUS

Among the reasons cited by Charles Krauthammer that Al Qaeda has not and cannot "hit us" is because the Bush administration has waged an "incredibly effective war in Afghanistan" that he said has "expelled Al Qaeda and scattered it, and has kept it off-balance for six years now." In fact, the July 2007 National Intelligence Estimate concluded that Al Qaeda "has protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability" including a "safehaven" in Pakistan. Krauthammer also credited "secret prisons and the interrogation which yielded and interrogated people like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed"; but even supporters of the CIA's interrogation and detention program reportedly acknowledge that much of the information that coercion produces, including information gathered from Mohammed, is unreliable.

On the September 11 edition of Fox News' Special Report, nationally syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, in explaining why Al Qaeda "cannot hit us," touted the Bush administration's "incredibly effective war in Afghanistan," using a "determined, completely invented war plan" that he said has "expelled Al Qaeda and scattered it, and has kept it off-balance for six years now." No one on the Special Report panel challenged his assertion. In fact, the July 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) "The Terrorist Threat to the US Homeland," concluded that Al Qaeda "has protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability, including: a safehaven in the Pakistan Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), operational lieutenants, and its top leadership."

From the NIE's "Key Judgments":

Al-Qa'ida is and will remain the most serious terrorist threat to the Homeland, as its central leadership continues to plan high-impact plots, while pushing others in extremist Sunni communities to mimic its efforts and to supplement its capabilities. We assess the group has protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability, including: a safehaven in the Pakistan Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), operational lieutenants, and its top leadership. Although we have discovered only a handful of individuals in the United States with ties to al-Qa'ida senior leadership since 9/11, we judge that al-Qa'ida will intensify its efforts to put operatives here.

Moreover, as Media Matters for America previously noted, in a July 18 article on the NIE, The New York Times reported that "[i]n identifying the main reasons for Al Qaeda's resurgence, intelligence officials and White House aides pointed the finger squarely at a hands-off approach toward the tribal areas by Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who last year brokered a cease-fire with tribal leaders in an effort to drain support for Islamic extremism in the region." In that article, reporters Mark Mazzetti and David E. Sanger noted that the Bush administration had "reluctantly endorsed" the deal and quoted presidential homeland security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend saying of the cease-fire: "It hasn't worked for Pakistan. ... It hasn't worked for the United States." Further, in a May article in the journal Foreign Affairs, Brookings Institution senior fellow Bruce Reidel noted that, "thanks largely to Washington's eagerness to go into Iraq rather than concentrate on hunting down al Qaeda's leaders, the organization now has a solid base of operations in the badlands of Pakistan and an effective franchise in western Iraq. Its reach has spread throughout the Muslim world, where it has developed a large cadre of operatives, and in Europe, where it can claim the support of some disenfranchised Muslim locals and members of the Arab and Asian diasporas. Osama bin Laden has mounted a successful propaganda campaign to make himself and his movement the primary symbols of Islamic resistance worldwide."

Additionally, after saying, "We can never know how safe we are because we can be hit tomorrow, as we were unexpectedly on 9-11. What we can say is we have gone six years, and nobody expected we would go six weeks or six months," Krauthammer claimed, Al Qaeda "cannot hit us." However, the NIE stated that "the US Homeland will face a persistent and evolving terrorist threat over the next three years" and concluded that "the United States currently is in a heightened threat environment."

Further, Krauthammer asserted that -- because of "the actions of this administration, determined, steely, and relentless, starting with a decision six years ago today of ... the president of the United States to shoot down a civilian airliner if necessary" -- Al Qaeda has not and cannot "hit us." But contrary to his assetion that Bush decided "to shoot down a civilian airliner if necessary," as Media Matters previously noted, Vanity Fair published an analysis of the recordings from the control room at NORAD's Northeast headquarters from September 11, 2001, indicating that Bush did not actually give the order to shoot down the hijacked airplanes.

In fact, the 9-11 Commission specifically noted that even though Vice President Dick Cheney had testified that he remembered calling Bush to discuss rules of engagement for fighter jets in the air, there existed "no documentary evidence for this call," adding that "the relevant sources are incomplete." As Media Matters has noted, the commission cited a number of sources, none of which supported Cheney's claims. According to the report, those sources were: "(1) phone logs of the White House switchboard; (2) notes of Lewis ["Scooter"] Libby [Cheney's then-chief of staff], Mrs. [Lynne] Cheney, and [then-White House press secretary] Ari Fleischer; (3) the tape (and then transcript) of the air threat conference call; and (4) Secret Service and White House Situation Room logs, as well as four separate White House Military Office logs (the PEOC Watch Log, the PEOC Shelter Log, the Communications Log, and the 9-11 Log)."

Krauthammer went on to claim that Bush's alleged decision to "shoot down a civilian airliner if necessary" was "the beginning of this -- the kind of steely determination, including all of the elements that Mort [Kondracke, Roll Call executive editor] and Fred [Barnes, Weekly Standard executive editor] have talked about, including the secret prisons and the interrogation which yielded and interrogated people like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed -- more information, according to [former CIA director] George Tenet, than any other source of information about the future attacks -- the kind of thing deplored by the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] and the liberal press -- has been extremely effective."

However, reporter Jane Mayer noted in an August 13 New Yorker article on the CIA's interrogation program that "even supporters" of the CIA's interrogation and detention program "acknowledge that much of the information that coercion produces is unreliable" and that "[w]hen pressed, one former top agency official estimated that 'ninety per cent of the information was unreliable.' " More specifically, Mayer reported that during Mohammed's interrogation, he "claimed responsibility for so many crimes that his testimony became to seem [sic] inherently dubious."

From Mayer's New Yorker article:

Without more transparency, the value of the C.I.A.'s interrogation and detention program is impossible to evaluate. Setting aside the moral, ethical, and legal issues, even supporters, such as John Brennan, acknowledge that much of the information that coercion produces is unreliable. As he put it, "All these methods produced useful information, but there was also a lot that was bogus." When pressed, one former top agency official estimated that "ninety per cent of the information was unreliable." Cables carrying [Khalid Shaikh] Mohammed's interrogation transcripts back to Washington reportedly were prefaced with the warning that "the detainee has been known to withhold information or deliberately mislead." Mohammed, like virtually all the top Al Qaeda prisoners held by the C.I.A., has claimed that, while under coercion, he lied to please his captors.

[...]

Ultimately, however, Mohammed claimed responsibility for so many crimes that his testimony became to seem inherently dubious. In addition to confessing to the [Daniel] Pearl murder, he said that he had hatched plans to assassinate President Clinton, President Carter, and Pope John Paul II. Bruce Riedel, who was a C.I.A. analyst for twenty-nine years, and who now works at the Brookings Institution, said, "It's difficult to give credence to any particular area of this large a charge sheet that he confessed to, considering the situation he found himself in. K.S.M. has no prospect of ever seeing freedom again, so his only gratification in life is to portray himself as the James Bond of jihadism."

From the September 11 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:

KRAUTHAMMER: We can never know how safe we are because we can be hit tomorrow, as we were unexpectedly on 9-11. What we can say is we've gone six years, and nobody expected we would go six weeks or six months.

Then people spoke about Al Qaeda has a cycle of a year or two or three. Well, it doesn't have six-year cycles. It cannot hit us, it hasn't, and that's because of the actions of this administration -- determined, steely, and relentless, starting with a decision six years ago today of the vice -- the president of the United States to shoot down a civilian airliner if necessary.

That was the beginning of this -- the kind of steely determination, including all of the elements that Mort and Fred have talked about, including the secret prisons and the interrogation which yielded and interrogated people like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed -- more information, according to George Tenet, than any other source of information about the future attacks -- the kind of thing deplored by the ACLU and the liberal press -- has been extremely effective.

And then, lastly, an incredibly effective war in Afghanistan. Not a retaliation on the morning after 9-11, as would have happened in the Clinton administration -- a useless launching of cruise missiles -- but a determined, completely invented war plan -- it was not on the shelf -- which expelled Al Qaeda and scattered it, and has kept it off-balance for six years now.

That's why we haven't had an attack. It is a remarkable development, and history is going to look on this and say, "Six years without an attack, that's an amazing achievement."

BARNES: Remember President Bush's first reaction? I agree with Charles about Vice President Cheney, but moments after the attack, when he heard about it, he said, "We're at war." Not that we have to go and criminally prosecute these horrible people who do this, we have to catch them and put them in jail, but "We're at war." And that is the policy that Bush has followed.

KONDRACKE: I cannot believe -- I cannot believe that after an attack on the mainland of the United States that Bill Clinton, had he been president, would not have declared war on Taliban too.

HUME: OK, that's it for the panel.

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