Sunday, August 07, 2005

Bush Admin Had Osama, and Let Him Get Away

Newsweek's Michael Hirsh reports in the current issue that a new book coming out in October charges that the White House and Pentagon knew Osama bin Laden was holed up at Tora Bora, and that U.S. forces could have captured him, but chose not to. The book's author is Gary Berntsen, who was the C.I.A. field commander on the ground at Tora Bora in December 2001.

Bush and others in his administration, including Tommy Franks, have repeatedly said that U.S. commanders at Tora Bora did not know whether bin Laden was still there, or whether he had escaped. But Berntsen says that's not true.

... [H]e and other U.S. commanders did know that bin Laden was among the hundreds of fleeing Qaeda and Taliban members. Berntsen says he had definitive intelligence that bin Laden was holed up at Tora Bora—intelligence operatives had tracked him—and could have been caught. "He was there," Berntsen tells NEWSWEEK. Asked to comment on Berntsen's remarks, National Security Council spokesman Frederick Jones passed on 2004 statements from former CENTCOM commander Gen. Tommy Franks. "We don't know to this day whether Mr. bin Laden was at Tora Bora in December 2001," Franks wrote in an Oct. 19 New York Times op-ed. "Bin Laden was never within our grasp." Berntsen says Franks is "a great American. But he was not on the ground out there. I was."

In his book—titled "Jawbreaker"—the decorated career CIA officer criticizes Donald Rumsfeld's Defense Department for not providing enough support to the CIA and the Pentagon's own Special Forces teams in the final hours of Tora Bora, says Berntsen's lawyer, Roy Krieger. ...

So we lost the chance to get bin Laden, even though U.S. commanders on the ground knew he was at Tora Bora, because Donald Rumsfeld didn't want to provide the troops necessary to block the exits. And he didn't want to send the troops because he had his little pet theory about doing wars on the cheap, and in his overwhelming hubris and arrogance, never once considered the notion that he might be wrong, and that his error would harm national security and cost the lives of American soldiers.

Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings has a few choice words for Rumsfeld's willingness to sacrifice lives to his personal vanity.

Some of you may have noticed that I loathe Donald Rumsfeld. I don't particularly loathe Bush -- I think he's a disaster as a President, but I can't seem to raise any real emotion towards him personally. But I do loathe Rumsfeld. And this is a lot of the reason why. I think that when we order kids to go off to fight and die in our name, we owe them as much support as we can muster. It should go without saying that we move heaven and earth to armor their vehicles, that we not nickel-and-dime their health care when they return, and so on. And it should go without saying that when we're unsure how many troops we will need, we err on the side of caution. I can easily understand how it might cross someone's mind to wonder whether generals overstate the number of troops they will need. (As I understand it, it's a standard response when the military doesn't want to do something: announce that it can't be done with less than half a million troops.) I can understand questioning them about this. I have a much harder time understanding how someone could just assume that he's right and all the people who have spent their lives thinking about military operations are wrong: for every one person who thinks like this and is a genius, there are (I'm estimating, of course) thousands who are just pig-headed idiots; and how someone could fail to consider the possibility that he was in the second group, not the first, is a mystery to me. But I absolutely cannot fathom how someone could be so confident in this assumption that he was willing to act on it in wartime, when the price of your being wrong will be a lot of dead soldiers, not to mention failing to achieve your objectives. That's a level of blind arrogance that I find breathtaking, and the idea that families across the country have buried their children because of it fills me with an enduring icy fury.

George W. Bush doesn't seem to be too concerned about that, either. Guess he was too eager to move on to Iraq, with its nonexistent weapons of mass destruction and no connection to 9/11 or Al Qaeda to worry about letting the man who masterminded 9/11 escape into Pakistan.

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