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Sunday, October 03, 2004

Tora Bora Fact Check

As Steve Soto points out, members of the Bush administration are doing everything in their power to help the President win re-election, even if it means lying about national security. For example, Soto points out that Secretary of State Colin Powell claimed after Thursday's debate
"that it's a stretch to say that they knew he ([Osama] bin Laden) was there [Tora Bora] and they knew it at the time the battle was going on...I have no reason to believe that our commanders mishandled that."
I saw General Tommy Franks on TV shortly after the debate and he too denied that this was the thinking at the time, claiming that there were multiple and conflicting reports of bin Laden's whereabouts.

Journalists: Where is the fact-checking? Oh, I see, they've bought the administration's spin on this.

Yet, it took less than 2 minutes with google to demonstrate that the administration thought bin Laden was at Tora Bora in December 2001, which means that Kerry's critique of their tactical choice (outsourcing US security) is legitimate.

Check out this "Interview of Vice President Cheney with Diane Sawyer of ABC" from November 29, 2001:
ABCNEWS' DIANE SAWYER Do we have intelligence now that we really trust? In other words, do we have any intelligence that is taking us closer to bin Laden?

VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY I think so. We're getting a lot of reports now, more than we got before. The volume has increased. And some of them conflict, but truly what's happened is we've narrowed the amount of space inside Afghanistan that he feels safe in.

SAWYER Do you believe he's in Tora Bora?

CHENEY I think he's still in Afghanistan. I think he's probably in that general area.

SAWYER Why do you think he's still there?

CHENEY Because I think he was equipped to go to ground there. He's got what he believes to be fairly secure facilities, caves underground. It's an area he's familiar with. He operated there back during the war against the Soviets in the '80s. He's got a large number of fighters with him probably, a fairly secure personal security force that he has some degree of confidence in, and he'll have to he may try to leave, that is, he may depart for other territory, but that's not quite as easy as it would have been a few months ago.
Note that on December 9, 2001, the Vice President appeared on NBC's Meet the Press and he said much the same thing about bin Laden and Tora Bora.

In any event, Sawyer and Cheney then went on at length about the high quality intelligence (both human and technical) that placed bin Laden in those caves, the logistics of finding him there, etc.

Cheney was also interviewed by Jim Angel of Fox on December 11, 2001. This time, the Vice President specifically introduced the idea that bin Laden was in Tora Bora:
Q In Afghanistan, are we now witnessing the last stand of Osama bin Laden?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I hope so. I think the results to date have been very, very good. And the Taliban clearly is finished as a military organization. A lot of the al Qaeda has been hard-hit, especially in recent days with our attacks up in the Tora Bora section. Whether or not he escapes and lives to fight another day I think is still an open question. Hopefully, we'll get him wrapped up in Afghanistan.
I found something else interesting in that Fox interview. Cheney presented John Kerry's argument about America's foreign policy priorities in the "war on terror." See if you can find what's missing:
Q Well, where does the war against terrorism go after Afghanistan? What's the next step?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: We've got the network, if you will, al Qaeda network, that clearly exists around the world. The estimates of how many people went through the training camps in Afghanistan runs as high as 70,000; that's the high side estimate.

There are cells in 50 or 60 countries around the world, many of them good friends of the United States. They're clearly there oftentimes surreptitiously, but we've uncovered al Qaeda operatives during the course of this investigation; for example, in Germany, in Hamburg; Spain, a lot of other places around the world, too.

We've got to go wrap all those up. We've got to deny them the ability to operate. We also need to drive their financial resources, which we're doing. But also, we need to work on the nongovernmental organizations and the charitable foundations that they've often used in the past to provide cover, logistics support, financing for their activities.
Hmmm. No mention of Iraq, eh?

Actually, Angle did ask Cheney about Iraq and the Vice President described it as "an area of concern," but he didn't want to predict what might or might not happen. He said the policy was likely to "evolve over time...In the course of addressing that threat, we'll want to work with our friends and allies in the region."

Was Cheney working for Kerry?

Please allow me one more history lesson from the White House website. On November 13, 2002, as the drums for war in Iraq sounded, the President himself confronted a question about the failure at Tora Bora, but predictably, he ducked it completely:
Q Shouldn't we have found him sooner though, looking back on Tora Bora?

THE PRESIDENT: We're making great progress in the war on terror. Slowly, but surely, we are dismantling the terrorist network. We're finding their sanctuaries, we're holding people to account. Our coalition of freedom-loving nations is up to 90 now. There is an international manhunt on. I warn the American people that this is going to take time to achieve our objective. We're in a different kind of war. It's a war that requires international cooperation. We've got to cut off their money, we've got to share intelligence. And we're on a manhunt. And we're not quitting. Slowly but surely, we're achieving our objective.
Since the President rarely takes questions from the press and always screens audience members in his campaign, he almost never has to face someone armed with facts who disagrees with his views.

As my former college debate colleague used to say of foes that we were crushing, in the debate, "there is no place to hide."

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