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Monday, September 27, 2004

No Time For Truth- We've Got a War to Fight

America stands by its citizens. No matter where they happen to be, if an American falls victim to crime, we will do our best to hunt down those responsible and bring them to justice. That should especially true if the victims were Americans serving their nation when they were attacked,- soldiers, diplomats or others on an official mission.

We have all heard this entirely proper sentiment. Our public officials don't tire of telling us how tough they are on crime, whatever its source.

Almost a year ago, on October 15, 2003 three Americans working for the US Embassy in Israel were killed in a roadside bombing in Gaza. According to this CNN report,
The victims were employed by the U.S. Embassy in Israel to provide security while U.S. officials traveled to Gaza to interview Palestinian students who have applied for Fulbright scholarships in the United States.
Based on other sources I have read at the time, the attack was facilitated by means of a large remotely-controlled bomb. The attack happened during daylight, so in all likelihood the operator who detonated the device was able to see diplomatic decals on the vehicles comprising the American convoy. And, as former Assistant Secretary of State Jamie Rubin correctly observed,
...the Palestinian Authority, although they disagree with us on so much, desperately want the Americans there and realize that it's an attack on them as much as it is a tragedy for the American diplomats involved.
So it is natural to expect both American and Palestinian authorities to be willing and ready to do what it takes to locate those responsible and bring them to justice. However, the reality of the situation appears to be a bit different.

As recently reported by IsraelInsider,
Musa Arafat, the newly appointed head of PA Military Intelligence and a cousin of PA chairman Yasir Arafat, told Reuters (Sept. 22, 2004) that "Palestinian security forces know who was behind the killing of three Americans in Gaza nearly a year ago but cannot act against the factions while fighting with Israel continues."
This is a curious twist. What Mr Arafat is effectively saying is that while his country is at war, justice should wait. And clearly we in the US have every right to be outraged by this attitude.

However, this is also time for some self-reflection. For instance, even when it comes to one of the greatest crimes ever perpetrated on the American soil,- the 9/11 terrorist attack,- our authorities seem to be less than forthcoming in uncovering the truth and bringing those responsible to justice. As David Johnson wrote in The New York Times on July 26, 2003,
Senior officials of Saudi Arabia have funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to charitable groups and other organizations that may have helped finance the September 2001 attacks, a still-classified section of a Congressional report on the hijackings says, according to people who have read it.

The 28-page section of the report was deleted from the nearly 900-page declassified version released on Thursday by a joint committee of the House and Senate intelligence committees. The chapter focuses on the role foreign governments played in the hijackings, but centers almost entirely on Saudi Arabia, the people who saw the section said.

The Bush administration's refusal to allow the committee to disclose the contents of the chapter has stirred resentment in Congress, where some lawmakers have said the administration's desire to protect the ruling Saudi family had prevented the American public from learning crucial facts about the attacks. The report has been denounced by the Saudi ambassador to the United States, and some American officials questioned whether the committee had made a conclusive case linking Saudi funding to the hijackings.
The US government's attempts to decelerate, if not outright stop, any meaningful attempts on the part of the public to learn the truth about 9/11 were by far not limited to the famous "28 pages". The Administration was at first not particularly enthusiastic about the proposal to empanel an independent commission to probe the events of 9/11.
After initially opposing the independent commission, the White House now says it supports it. But it has differences with the families and congressional leaders about the commission's leadership and its subpoena power.

Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has indicated he won't let the commission be considered in Congress until an agreement is reached with the White House.

"Our frustration level has never been higher," said Beverly Eckert of Voices of Sept. 11.

The relatives and their congressional supporters said they are waiting to hear back from the White House.

"We left the meeting with the ball not just in the White House's court, but firmly with them at the free throw line with a couple of seconds left in the game," said Rep. Tim Roemer, D-Ind.

The main sticking points continue to be provisions governing the commission's subpoena power and leadership, which the White House fears could lead to partisan squabbling and finger-pointing. Bush objects to a provision that would allow five members of the 10-person commission, split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, to issue a subpoena. The administration also wants its only member on the commission to be the sole chairperson, instead of being co-chair with a Democratic appointee.
So, why such opposition? Clearly, the Administration may have been embarrassed about some things that a truly independent commission with unlimited subpoena powers could have uncovered,- but isn't discovering all those responsible an objective important enough to forgo such considerations? Can we ever win this "War on Terror" the Administration claims to be fully committed to unless we know exactly what the enemy has done to succeed? And isn't "fingerpointing",- given the accusing finger of justice is pointed at those guilty,- precisely the objective, too?

However, some people, occupying very powerful positions in the Administration, tend to think differently. According to this January 29, 2002 CNN report,

President Bush personally asked Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle Tuesday to limit the congressional investigation into the events of September 11, congressional and White House sources told CNN.
It is also curious to hear why this must be so, according to Mr Bush's second-in-command, Vice President Dick Cheney.
Tuesday's discussion followed a rare call to Daschle from Vice President Dick Cheney last Friday to make the same request.

"The vice president expressed the concern that a review of what happened on September 11 would take resources and personnel away from the effort in the war on terrorism," Daschle told reporters.
So, according to Mr Cheney, while the war is on, we "ain't got no time for courtroom out here" (quoting, to the best of my recollection, Staff Sergeant Barnes from Platoon). And it certainly doesn't look like Mr Cheney would be too upset if a thorough investigation of 9/11 were never conducted.

So, I wonder if Musa Arafat is being original in what he is saying,- or is the just borrowing some from Mr Cheney's repertoire? Whatever the case is here, while justice is being sacrificed on the altar of politics, we will likely never know the truth about the tragic death of either the three Americans in Gaza, or the nearly 3,000 people who died on 9/11.

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