Suskind: Tora Bora Decision Made In Oval Office
Q: Are you saying you want him dead or alive, sir? Can I interpret --
THE PRESIDENT: I just remember, all I'm doing is remembering when I was a kid I remember that they used to put out there in the old west, a wanted poster. It said: "Wanted, Dead or Alive." All I want and America wants him brought to justice. That's what we want.--Bush, September 17, 2001
There is a nugget in the Ron Suskind book “The One Percent Doctrine” that crept out of Barton Gellman’s Washington Post review which should get a lot of attention in the coming days, and I suspect the issue will come up again when George Tenet’s memoir comes out in October, just before the midterm elections. We have known for years that the Bush Administration decided against committing American forces to capture and kill Osama Bin Laden when the Al Qaeda leader was surrounded in Tora Bora only a few months after 9/11. The Pentagon concluded that this failure to commit American forces and mistakenly rely on Pakistan’s army (even though the CIA told the White House about the ISI’s support for Al Qaeda) and local Afghan militias to capture “Mr. Dead or Alive” was the contributing factor in his escape, and his still being at large now nearly five years later.
What hasn’t been known up until now was whether the decision to in essence let Bin Laden get away was made at Rummy’s level, or whether something this momentous was elevated and briefed at a higher level. After all, you would think that the news that Bin Laden was encircled and could be held to account a few months after 9/11 and the “Dead or Alive” tag would reach the White House. We now know that it did. And what do we now find out from Suskind’s book?
Not only was the information and decision elevated to the White House, but that the CIA specifically told the president that the local forces weren’t capable and shouldn’t be relied upon to get Bin Laden. Yet George W. Bush, when presented with the choice of committing US forces to go in and get him, or doing nothing and letting the inevitable happen, chose to let the local forces do it, and then saw Osama get away.
The book's opening anecdote tells of an unnamed CIA briefer who flew to Bush's Texas ranch during the scary summer of 2001, amid a flurry of reports of a pending al-Qaeda attack, to call the president's attention personally to the now-famous Aug. 6, 2001, memo titled "Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US." Bush reportedly heard the briefer out and replied: "All right. You've covered your ass, now." Three months later, with bin Laden holed up in the Afghan mountain redoubt of Tora Bora, the CIA official managing the Afghanistan campaign, Henry A. Crumpton (now the State Department's counterterrorism chief), brought a detailed map to Bush and Cheney. White House accounts have long insisted that Bush had every reason to believe that Pakistan's army and pro-U.S. Afghan militias had bin Laden cornered and that there was no reason to commit large numbers of U.S. troops to get him. But Crumpton's message in the Oval Office, as told through Suskind, was blunt: The surrogate forces were "definitely not" up to the job, and "we're going to lose our prey if we're not careful."
Crumpton told the president that in order to make sure Mr. “Dead or Alive” was captured, it would require our own forces to do the job. And yet, Bush passed, even though it was he who made Bin Laden our Public Enemy Number One only weeks earlier.
This should be brought up repeatedly this week while the Democrats are getting blasted for allegedly being weak on terrorism because they want an exit strategy in Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with 9/11.
It wasn’t the Democrats who let Osama get away, it was the GOP.