web counter Media Lies: Did Berger really nix four attacks on al Qaeda?

Friday, July 23, 2004

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Did Berger really nix four attacks on al Qaeda?

The New York Sun published an article today entitled The Boldness of the President. The writer asserts that Sandy Berger nixed four different plans to either capture or kill bin Laden.

My reading of the report doesn't support this assertion. The first instance was a plan to capture bin Laden at Tarnak Farms using "tribals" in Afghanistan. According to the report:
Impressions vary as to who actually decided not to proceed with the operation. Clarke told us that the CSG saw the plan as flawed. He was said to have described it to a colleague on the NSC staff as "half-assed" and predicted that the principals would not approve it. "Jeff" thought the decision had been made at the cabinet level. Pavitt thought that it was Berger's doing, though perhaps on Tenet's advice. Tenet told us that given the recommendation of his chief operations officers, he alone had decided to "turn off" the operation. He had simply informed Berger, who had not pushed back. Berger's recollection was similar. He said the plan was never presented to the White House for a decision.
Although it isn't certain who actually nixed the plan, reading the events leading up to the decision to kill the plan reveals that, while the field agents were enthusiastic about the plan, there was a great deal of trepidation about it back in Washington.

The quote that the Sun uses accurately portrays Berger's thinking at the time, but that was more than ten days before the decision to kill the plan was made. While I'm all for skewering Berger for his stupid antics with the top secret documents in the National Archives and for his lies in the past, I think it's unfair to accuse him of having killed a plan that both he and CIA Director Tenet agree was killed by Tenet, not Berger.

Furthermore, I find Berger's objections reasonable. At the time, recall, we were pursuing terrorism legally, not militarily, and it may well have been a disaster to capture bin Laden, bring him to trial only to have him acquited of the charges.

On page 134, the report states, in reference to the attack on the Sudan pharmaceutical plant, "Berger has told us that he thought about what might happen if the decision went against hitting al Shifa, and nerve gas was used in a New York subway two weeks later."

On page 151 we find that Berger authorized a U2 flight over Afghanistan over the objections of Richard Clarke, who felt that, because the US would have to get Pakistani approval for the overflight, the Pakistanis would warn bin Laden about the flight, just as he believed bin Laden had been warned about the 1998 missile strikes on Tarnak Farms. The flight never took place, but Berger did authorize it.

Page 158 contains the Sun's reference to a handwritten Berger note regarding some "families" and "we'll be blamed". Although the strike never took place, there's no testimony in the report that points to Berger having been the one who nixed the strike.

The note referred to where Berger wrote "no" in the margin, in reference to attacks on bin Laden at the end of 1999 appears in Chapter 6, note 11, in the addendum. While it is Berger's note, there's simply no way to determine if Berger nixed the plan himself or simply wrote down a decision made by others in the margin. Considering the normal course of decision making prior to this point, I think it's more likely that Berger was simply noting a decision that had been made by others.

The August 2000 memo the Sun refers to appears on page 206. While it accurately quotes the memo, it has nothing whatsoever to do with any decision to take action on anything. It's simply Berger's note that he wants good information from the Predator drones before taking action in Afghanistan. This seems perfectly reasonable to me.

This casts Berger in a different light than the Sun attempts to cast him. Berger may be a lot of things, but he apparently is not quite the timid soul (or perhaps coward) that the Sun portrays him as. He certainly isn't responsible for missing four opportunities to get bin Laden.

I'll be honest. I want Bush to win this election. I want the lies of the Democrats exposed. But I do not want to see distortion and misrepresentation used to make the case for Bush. Hasn't there been enough of that already? Sandy Berger has enough problems with the things he has done wrong. He should not have to defend himself against false accusations and innuendo as well.

The Sun owes Sandy Berger an apology.