Whitewash as Public Service

Benjamin DeMott, author of Junk Politics: The Trashing of the American Mind, has an essay in the October 2004 issue of Harper’s entitled “Whitewash as Public Service: How the 9/11 Comission Report defrauds the nation.” In a nutshell, DeMott claims that since the report failed to place blame it is a failure.

In his own words:

“The Commissioners’ immeasurably valuable access to the principals involved offered an extraordinary opportunity to amass material precious to future historians: commentary based on moment-to-moment reaction to major events. But the 576 pages, which purport to provide definitive interpretations of the reactions, are in fact useless to historians, because a seeming terror of bias transforms query after commissarial query–and silence after silence–into suggested new lines of self-justification for the interviewees. In the course of blaming everybody a little the commission blames nobody, blurs the reasons for the actions and hesitations of successive administrations, masks choices that fearlessly defined, might actually have vitalized the public’s political discourse.”

DeMott hones in on President Bush’s inaction in particular. During testimony, Bush argued that he lacked actionable intelligence, the Commission reports, “if his advisors had told him that there was a [terrorist] cell in the United States, they would have moved to take care of it.” DeMott asserts the President’s claim was untrue.

DeMott would lay the blame with the President for failing to act on the intelligence he had. President Bush wishes somebody told him. Bush had been briefed by President Clinton on Al-Quaeda, the CIA, and the NSC.

Could 9/11 have been stopped? It’s impossible to say for certain. But we sure have come a long way from the era of Truman and “The Buck Stops Here.”

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