March 25, 2004
Statement of Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle On the War on Terrorism
BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
BuzzFlash Note: Holy Moses! Tom Daschle takes a strong stand for getting the truth out of this administration two days in a row. The Senator must be reading BuzzFlash! Well, we welcome reformed sinners back into the fold. Not quite yet, but Daschle has taken a strong stand for democracy two days in a row. We are taking notes.
Keep it up, Tom!
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Statement of Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle On the War on Terrorism
Wednesday, March 24, 2004
Mr. President, I come to the floor today to discuss our nation's efforts in the war on terrorism. Tens of thousands of American soldiers have placed their lives on the line to fight this war, and its outcome affects the security of every American.
No one doubts our troops have performed courageously and effectively in this war. The entire world saw how quickly they were able to topple the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Less visible, yet certainly no less significant, is the fact that they are taking the fight to terrorists in scores of other countries around the world.
While there is no question about how our troops have performed in the war on terror, there are a growing number of questions about our government's policies in this critical struggle against Al Qaeda and other terrorists.
These questions are being raised by the families of the nearly 3,000 victims of the heinous terrorist attacks on September 11. These questions are being raised by the bipartisan 9/11 Commission, which is currently holding public hearings to understand the events surrounding that terrible day. And, most recently, questions are being raised by former Bush Administration officials with first hand knowledge of the Administration's counter-terrorism efforts.
The responsibility for getting answers to the questions surrounding the tragic events of September 11 rests with the 9/11 Commission. Therefore, the importance of cooperating with this commission cannot be overstated. Only with complete cooperation will the commission be able to produce a report that explains how these attacks occurred in the first place and what can be done to reduce the likelihood of future attacks. Only with complete cooperation can the commission produce the kind of report that our families, our troops, and the American people deserve.
While the former Clinton Administration officials have cooperated fully with the commission, the Bush Administration's record on access to officials and documents is, in a word, unsatisfactory.
As a result, I am confident the commission and the American people will get a full picture of the Clinton Administration's activities against Al Qaeda. All Americans will have an opportunity to evaluate both the things the Clinton Administration did right and the things it may have done wrong. Unfortunately, unless senior Bush Administration officials have an immediate change of heart, I am much less confident that the same can be said about their activities.
If the Bush Administration is truly serious about allowing the commission to examine its actions against Al Qaeda before September 11, it must provide answers to the following questions:
Was defeating Al Qaeda the Bush Administration's top national security priority before September 11?
Although both Clinton Administration officials and the intelligence community repeatedly warned the Bush Administration that Al Qaeda posed an immediate threat to America, accounts indicate defeating Al Qaeda was not, in fact, the Bush Administration's top priority. The President's most senior advisors did not meet to discuss terrorism until September, 2001 - nine months after the Administration took office. In fact, some senior Bush officials reportedly believed the Clinton Administration was obsessed with Al Qaeda. According to both former Treasury Secretary O'Neill and Richard Clarke, the President's top counter-terrorism expert, President Bush and senior Administration officials viewed Iraq as a greater threat to our security.
Did the Bush Administration have a strategy for defeating Al Qaeda prior to September 11?
Reportedly, the Bush Administration was unsatisfied with the Clinton Administration's approach for dealing with Al Qaeda and President Bush requested a new strategy. Dr. Rice recently wrote in the Washington Post that "the President wanted more than occasional retaliatory cruise missile strikes. He .... was tired of swatting flies."
However, even as the Administration was being told that the threat posed by Al Qaeda was growing, press accounts indicate President Bush did not see - let alone approve or implement - the new strategy until after the terrible attacks on September 11. The American people need to know what really happened.
What did the Bush Administration do before September 11 to defeat Al Qaeda?
During the nearly nine months it took the Administration to develop and sign off on its terrorism strategy, it does not appear the Bush Administration took any decisive or effective action to cripple Al Qaeda. Perhaps the most potentially significant action the Administration took prior to September 11 was in May 2001. At that time, reportedly in response to an increase in "chatter" about a potential Al Qaeda attack, President Bush appointed Vice President Cheney to head a task force "to combat terrorist attacks on the United States." But, according to The Washington Post and Newsweek, the Cheney Terrorism Task Force never met. The American people need to know whether this is true.
Did the Bush Administration commit adequate resources necessary to defeat Al Qaeda prior to September 11?
In the months before September 11, Attorney General Ashcroft listed the Justice Department's top objectives. According to this document, the Attorney General listed at least a dozen objectives that were more important than fighting Al Qaeda and terrorism. And in his September 10, 2001 submission to OMB, Attorney General Ashcroft did not endorse FBI requests for $58 million for 149 new counter-terrorism agents, 200 intelligence analysts, and 54 translators even while he approved spending increases for 68 programs not related to counter-terrorism. Even in the immediate aftermath of September 11, press reports indicate the White House budget office cut the Department of Justice's funding requests by nearly two-thirds.
It might be that the Attorney General has a good explanation for why the other items on his list where higher priorities than terrorism. There might be a good explanation why the Attorney General did not support the FBI request for these funds. The American people need to know why this happened.
Finally, did the Bush Administration's apparent focus on Saddam Hussein detract from efforts to defeat Al Qaeda and leave America less secure?
Paul O'Neill and Richard Clarke are very different people with different backgrounds and experiences. Yet both have spent the majority of their public lives serving Republican Presidents and both had an insider's vantage point on the current Administration's security policies and priorities. And both agree that from the very beginning of this Administration through the terrible events of September 11 and beyond, President Bush and his senior advisors were fixated on Iraq.
O'Neill revealed that at the very first meeting in January 2001 of the President and his senior national security advisors, these officials discussed what to do about Iraq - not terrorism. Mr. Clarke's observations confirm Secretary O'Neill's assessment. According to Clarke, after failing to get a cabinet level meeting to discuss terrorism, Administration officials relented a permitted a deputies meeting in April 2001. At this meeting, Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz argued that Iraq posed a terrorist threat at least as grave as Al Qaeda.
Even after September 11, both Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz reportedly made the case that the Administration should use the attacks of September 11 as a reason to invade Iraq. In Secretary Rumsfeld's case, the reason was that there were no good targets in Afghanistan.
If the Administration's focus on Iraq appears to be coming clearer, so too are the consequences - for our troops, their families, and our security. In the debate leading up to the authorization of the use of force against Iraq, a number of us sought Administration assurances that action against Iraq would not harm our efforts to capture Bin Laden and destroy Al Qaeda; would not shift the focus from those responsible for September 11 to a less immediate threat; would not drain away much needed intelligence analysts, translators, and certain military assets in short supply; would not inflame the Arab world and alienate our allies and others whose cooperation was essential if we were to prevail in the war on terrorism.
Even at the time, we were amazed at the swiftness and certainty of the Administration's response. Far from harming our efforts in the war on terrorism, the Administration repeatedly insisted that attacking Iraq would help them.
Unfortunately, like so many other predictions advanced by the Administration as it made the case for invading Iraq, these assertions have not been borne out. Osama Bin Laden is still at large. No one can deny that vital intelligence collection, intelligence analysts and special forces were shifted away from Afghanistan and directed to Iraq. And no one can deny that our credibility and standing in the Arab world and with our allies and others have suffered greatly as a result of the decision to attack Iraq based on an apparently false claim that it possessed weapons of mass destruction.
As a result, even the Administration has been forced to back off just a bit from some of the bolder claims it made before the start of the war in Iraq. In a much discussed memo released late last year, Secretary Rumsfeld wondered whether we were winning or losing the war on terror. "Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?"
At a minimum, the Administration's missteps in Iraq have greatly complicated the answer to this question, and attacking Iraq, at least in the short to medium term, may have made Americans less secure not more against terrorist threat.
The American people need to know whether attacking Iraq has helped our efforts against Al Qaeda and made them more secure.
These are the critical questions currently confronting this Administration.
Unfortunately, while the Administration has chosen to make its accomplishments in the war on terror a centerpiece of its reelection campaign, it has resisted telling the American people precisely what it did and did not do to win this war. It has resisted allowing the 9/11 Commission access to the policymakers and documents that can provide some answers. It has refused to provide the families of the victims of September 11 and the American people with the information they deserve so they can judge for themselves the Administration's record.
Rather than attacking those who raise questions about the Administration's policies, President Bush and senior Administration officials should do all they can to clear up these troubling questions. The first step is to make themselves and any supporting documents immediately available to the 9/11 Commission, which is running up against a deadline for its important work of ensuring the American people that we do everything possible to prevent another September 11.
This includes having National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice testify publicly. It also includes having the President and Vice President appear privately before the full commission for as long as needed to clear up these critical issues.
America's soldiers have performed heroically in the defense of their nation. All America stands united in our pride and gratitude for their service.
In order to be certain our government has done and is doing all it can to defend us, Americans have a right to know more about our government's priorities and actions in the months leading up to the attacks of September 11. Americans have placed the security of this nation in the hands of this Administration. That trust is a privilege, and alongside it comes the obligation to answer the questions and concerns of the American people. To continue to refuse the 9/11 Commission's requests and to criticize those who raise legitimate questions about its actions merely adds to the doubt felt by an increasing number of Americans.
It is time for the Administration to honor our citizens' right to know.
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