Sunday, May 08, 2005

Former CIA Agent's First-Hand Account of Tora Bora Suggests Kerry Was Right Last Year. Bush Was Not.

On this morning's edition of NBC's Meet the Press, host Tim Russert interviewed Gary Schroen, a CIA officer for 32 years and author of "First In: An Insider's Account of How the CIA Spearheaded the War on Terror in Afghanistan."

Schroen provided a first-hand account of the U.S. efforts to capture Osama bin Laden in December of 2001, at Tora Bora in Afghanistan. That account suggests that statements made during last year's presidential campaign by Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) were accurate, and statements by President Bush, Vice President Cheney and General Tommy Franks were inaccurate.

Here's a transcript:

RUSSERT: In December of 2001, the battle of Tora Bora. This is what you write. "In early 2002, in the immediate aftermath of the battle of Tora Bora and the subsequent escape of Osama bin Laden and his chief lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahari, CIA and specially trained U.S. military Special Operations units began to organize teams in the provincial areas east and south of Kabul, along Afghanistan's border with Pakistan."

You have no doubt that bin Laden escaped at Tora Bora?

SCHROEN: No doubt at all. When the first film -- videotape that was made -- that he made afterwards shows him that he was holding his left side and was probably wounded there in the battle, but every bit of information we had at the time indicated that he had escaped and moved into the Waziristan area which is south of Peshawar.

RUSSERT: How did he get away?

SCHROEN: We had done -- followed the same lead we had taken since September of '01 in defeating the Taliban. We were attacking with U.S. military forces against the al-Qaeda and Taliban militants, and we hired local tribal leaders to guard the escape routes into Pakistan. Unfortunately, many of those people proved to be loyal to bin Laden and sympathizers with the Taliban and they allowed the key guys to escape.

RUSSERT: In the heat of the presidential campaign in 2004, John Kerry as part of his stump speech in effect would say things like this. Let's watch.

(Videotape, October 30, 2004):

SEN. JOHN KERRY, (D-MA): As I have said for two years now, when Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda were cornered in the mountains of Tora Bora, it was wrong to outsource the job of capturing them to Afghan warlords who a week earlier were fighting against us.

(End videotape)

RUSSERT: Should we have had more U.S. troops in Afghanistan circling Tora Bora to prevent his escape?

SCHROEN: In hindsight that would have been ideal. We fought a special operations war. It was CIA and Army Green Berets on the ground directing the bombing campaign. It was only late in the campaign that U.S. ground forces came in, and the evolution, I think, simply we didn't take it far enough. If we'd have had one more battle after Tora Bora, we probably would have gotten it right.

RUSSERT: Again, in October of 2004, in the presidential campaign, after John Kerry made those charges, General Tommy Franks offered this observation. "We don't know to this day whether Mr. bin Laden was at Tora Bora in December 2001. ... Mr. bin Laden was never within our grasp."

You just disagree with that?

SCHROEN: I absolutely do, yes.

RUSSERT: And President Bush and Vice President Cheney all quoted General Franks, saying: "We don't know if bin Laden was at Tora Bora." You have no doubt.

SCHROEN: I have no doubt that he was there.


As last year's election grew close, Kerry apparently felt he was getting traction with his charges about "outsourcing" in Tora Bora. The Bush-Cheney '04 reaction was to incorrectly label Kerry a flip-flopper. Sadly, some news reporters (and the entire conservative wing of the blogosphere) bought the GOP spin line.

The basis of the alleged flip-flop came from a Kerry appearance on CNN's Larry King Live, on Dec. 14, 2004, just days after the battle of Tora Bora, and three days before it was known that the U.S. had "outsourced" the effort.

Kerry was answering a call-in question from a viewer: "Why they don't use napalm or flamethrowers on those tunnels and caves up there in Afghanistan."

KERRY: "Well, I think it depends on where you are tactically. They may well be doing that at some point in time. But for the moment, what we are doing, I think, is having its impact and it is the best way to protect our troops and sort of minimalize the proximity, if you will. I think we have been doing this pretty effectively and we should continue to do it that way."

But when Bush spoke in October 25, 2004, he shortened Kerry's statement and failed to note its context, saying:

BUSH: (O)n national TV, he said this about Tora Bora: "I think we've been doing this pretty effectively and we should continue to do it that way."

CNN's John King and NBC's David Gregory, in separate reports on Oct. 25, each reported on Bush's charge of a Kerry flip-flop, and each quoted the president, but neither bothered to relate that Bush took Kerry's quotes out of context.

King said: "President Bush today in his speech is quoting something very different Senator Kerry said back in the fall of 2001." But then he repeated Bush's quotation of Kerry, apparently failing to view the entire interview to see if the quote was taken out of context.

Gregory noted: "Today, the Bush campaign tracked down an interview Kerry gave at the time, praising the effort to find bin Laden at Tora Bora." But it would appear Gregory never bothered to review the interview himself.


The irony of Russert's interview today is that he, too, was guilty of buying into GOP spin and charging Kerry with being a flip-flopper on Tora Bora). Kerry is still waiting for a correction from Russert.

On the Oct. 31, 2004 edition of Meet the Press -- two days before the election, but six days after Bush had taken Kerry's comments out of context -- Russert, grilling former Senator Bob Kerrey, brought up the "Tora Bora flip-flop":

RUSSERT: In December of '01, Senator, John Kerry was on CNN after Tora Bora. He was being asked about this [bin Laden’s escape from Tora Bora]. He said, “I think our guys are doing a superb job. I think they've been smart. I think the administration leadership has done it well. We're on the right track.” Why the change? Politics?

Unsatisfied with Kerrey's defense of Kerry -- did Russert actually expect Bob Kerrey to be able to reference a three-year-old interview by John Kerry? -- Russert repeated the incorrect charge:

RUSSERT: But it was after Tora Bora and he seemed to be praising them back then and now he’s ...


Stereotypes, unfortunately, can sometimes dictate news coverage. The mainstream media bought into the "Kerry is a flip-flopper" line in 2004, just as easily as it had bought into the "Gore is a liar," smear campaign of 2000. But in regard to Tora Bora, it seems the mainstream media never seriously considered the possibility that "Bush is a liar."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another prototype example of how Kerry lost the election due to Bush spinning of the truth. Why isn't every reporter/commentator who bought into the lie held accountable? Why isn't this story demanding a massive retraction front page news?
Isn't it possible if the media instead of generally buying into Bush B.S. spin and reading out of context had allowed Kerry inkling he was telling the truth about Tora Bora, which would have shined a floodlight on the Bush Administration's incompetence in capturing the largest U.S. terrorist in history, Kerry would have won the election?
A lot of bloggers will say, "Kerry lost the election, get over it." No one should ever "get over" these kinds of relevations as long as there exists a majority in the population, and I believe there is, whether Democrats, Liberals or Republicans, who want the honest-to-God truth from our leaders, not bull shit.
Did I make that clear enough? Most people of whatever political affirmation wanted to be told the TRUTH about Tora Bora during the campaign season.

9:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is nothing in here that proves that Bin Laden was there, nothing. It is his opinion, given the information he has available. General Franks, given the same information, is unwilling to make the same conclusion. The truthful answer in this is that unless he was visually seen and confirmed to be in Tora Bora at the time, anything else is mere speculation. However, the readers here will be willing to take the word of one man willing to state so definitively that he was there, because in doing so, it casts the Administration and the military in the worst possible light.

6:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're right. It is one man's opinion. But that man was our top CIA officer in the region at the time, and the question has to be raised why he says one thing so definitively, and Bush, Cheney and Franks said the opposite during the presidential campaign.

I hope you recognize the possibility that Bush & Co. put spin above the truth.

6:36 PM  
Anonymous alias: "cutiepie" johnson said...

The sad thing in all of this is that our "liberal media" didn't do its homework when reporting on Bush's comments last October.

These guys get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars, and they can't do some simple homework? Sad.

6:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The above blogger does not account for additional evidences: a Pentagon document that shows Bin Laden was indeed in Tora Bora. I've reprinted the recent AP wirestory in its entirety:

Document: Bin Laden evaded U.S. forces
U.S. holding man who allegedly helped terror leader flee Tora Bora
The Associated Press
Updated: 3:32 a.m. ET March 23, 2005

WASHINGTON - A commander for Osama bin Laden during Afghanistan’s war with the Soviet Union who helped the al-Qaida leader escape American forces at Tora Bora is being held by U.S. authorities, a government document says.
The document represents the first definitive statement from the Pentagon that bin Laden, the mastermind of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, was at Tora Bora and evaded his pursuers.
President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney asserted during the presidential election that commanders did not know whether bin Laden was at Tora Bora when U.S. and allied Afghan forces attacked there in December 2001. They dismissed assertions by Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, that the military had missed a chance to capture or kill bin Laden while al-Qaida made a last stand in the mountainous area along the Pakistan border.
'Assisted in the escape of Osama bin Laden'
The document, provided to The Associated Press in response to a Freedom of Information request, says the detainee held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, “assisted in the escape of Osama bin Laden from Tora Bora.” While not identified by name or nationality, he is described as being “associated with” al-Qaida and having called for a holy war against the United States.
In an indication that he might be a higher-level operative, the document says the detainee “had bodyguards” and collaborated with regional al-Qaida leadership. “The detainee was one of Osama bin Laden’s commanders during the Soviet jihad,” it says, referring to the holy war against Soviet occupiers in the 1980s.
The document is what the Pentagon calls a “summary of evidence” and was presented against one of 558 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay on Dec. 14 for a hearing to determine whether the prisoner was correctly held as an “enemy combatant.” The assertion about his efforts and bin Laden’s escape is made as a statement of fact; it does not indicate how the information was obtained.
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Daryl Borgquist, a spokesman for the Combatant Status Review Board for which the document was prepared, said Tuesday he could not elaborate on the Tora Bora statement, or its sources, because the statement was derived from classified information.
In mid-December 2001, a spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem, told reporters there had been “indicators” of bin Laden’s presence at Tora Bora in early December. “And now indicators are not there,” Stufflebeem said. “So maybe he still is there, maybe he was killed, or maybe he’s left.”
A political issue
While campaigning for president last fall, Kerry said Bush had erred in relying on Afghan warlords to hunt down bin Laden in the caves of Tora Bora in December 2001, contending on Oct. 22 that the president had “outsourced” the job.
Cheney said Oct. 26 that Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, had “stated repeatedly it was not at all certain that bin Laden was in Tora Bora. He might have been there or in Pakistan or even Kashmir,” the Indian-controlled Himalayan region.
Franks, now retired, wrote in an opinion column in The New York Times on Oct. 19, “We don’t know to this day whether Mr. bin Laden was at Tora Bora in December 2001.” He added that intelligence assessments of his location varied, but bin Laden was “never within our grasp.”
On several occasions Bush cited the column as evidence that bin Laden could have been in any of several countries in December 2001. “That’s what Tommy Franks, who knew what he’s talking about, said,” Bush said on Oct. 27.
Bin Laden remains at large. For many months, officials have said they believe he probably is hiding in the Afghan-Pakistan border region. Last week Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, declined to endorse that view, saying bin Laden’s whereabouts are unknown.
Another suspect allegedly left U.S. after 9/11
Among documents stating the U.S. government’s evidence against other detainees at Guantanamo Bay is a September 2004 assertion that an unidentified detainee, described as a member of al-Qaida, had traveled from the United States to Afghanistan in November 2001 — two months after the terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
The document does not elaborate on the detainee’s U.S. connection but says he arrived in Afghanistan via Bahrain and Iran. He was “present at Tora Bora,” crossed the Afghan border into Pakistan in December 2001, and surrendered to Pakistani authorities, the document says.
The detainee also was arrested by Saudi authorities for questioning in the 1996 terrorist bombing of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 members of the U.S. Air Force, the document says.

6:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And yet, despite all of your posting, you have yet to have shown that Osama Bin Laden was a) in Tora Bora, b) escaped due to our negligence, or c) is even alive. I know it is inconvenient to let what is known get in the way of your dogma, but please attempt, for a moment, to get your head around this concept.

9:47 PM  
Anonymous Rob of Wilmington, Del. said...

You have no proof that Bush and Cheney weren't aware of the opinions of the top CIA officer, or the Pentagon report. Right? Why is it so hard to imagine that Bush/Cheney put politics above the truth two weeks before the election?

And let me ask ... why did Bush and Cheney have to lie about Kerry during the campaign?

Why not say Kerry was wrong and they were right in Tora Bora? Instead ... they took Kerry's words out context; lied about what Kerry meant; called him a flip-flopper.

Do you find this credible? It's "politics," right? But how can you consider Bush credible ... at least on this ... when he chose to lie rather than defend his record?

Then again, Bush got away with it, because of the lazy reporters at CNN and NBC (David Brooks at least had the common sense to apologize ... after the election)

A simple search would have led them to realize Bush was lying about what Kerry said, and then the heat would have been back on Bush and his Tora Bora policy. It's especially ridiculous that the CNN reporter failed to check a CNN transcript.

So yes, there is no smoking gun. No photograph of Osama in Tora Bora. Just our top CIA official, and a military report highlighting the words of a detainee at Guantanamo. If the U.S. prosecutes that detainee based on what he said about helping Osama escape, woudl that be enough proof for you?

10:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Even if they were aware of his opinions, they are just that, his opinions. Should we simply take his word over the words of others simply because it most closely conincides with our worldview?

10:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Words of others? Who? Franks? I will go on the side that has evidences, not the side of bias, spinning and blindness. In this case, the hard evidences Bin Laden was in Tora Bora far outweigh those evidences that he "may not have been." Countless examples exist to demonstrate the following.
The Bush Administration and its supporters have mastered the art of looking for any tiny crack or loophole in the evidences to justify an explanation or excuse, and spinning and exaggerating that crack out of control to create enough of a smokescreen so that interested observers can never arrive at the truth. And that's the entire idea.

9:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Right ... one CIA analyst as opposed to General Franks. But, he is a partisan hack, so you will discount whatever he says.

1:26 PM  
Anonymous rob of wilmington, del. said...

Not just one CIA analyst -- the U.S. top guy in the region.

Not just any old Afghani -- a detainee at Guantanamo whose information was considered solid enough to form the basis of a U.S. military report.

Look, you don't have to believe these guys.

But consider -- please consider -- the possibility that Bush put politics before truth during last year's election campaign. Consider the possibility that Bush knew he couldn't answer the question honestly, so instead he dishonestly took Kerry's words out of context to make him look like a flip-flopper.

3:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the above blogger hit the nail on the head. Bush had too much to lose by letting it get out that his Administration, claiming to be the tougher opponent on terror, had clumsilly let Bin Laden escape!
History has shown that Bush, or more likely the Grand Puppet Master Karl Rove, will stop at nothing, even lying and unjust character assassination, to cover up for past mistakes and failed policies. Not "politics as usual," rather lying to the American people and pundits all too willing to accept those lies.

3:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have no problem considering that possibility, no problem whatsoever. However, I would question whether or not you have the ability or willingness to consider the possibility that President Bush is not some mad evil genius, and that he and General Franks might just be right.

1:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to give Bush & Co. some leeway. But I look at this situation in the context of other Bush and Bushie fact-challenged positions on John Kerry's Vietnam service and the Swift Boat veterans, reasons for invading Iraq, ties between Iraq and Bin Laden, euthanasia, government propaganda, Social Security and privatization, and other items we read about on this blog to evidence a pattern of deceipt and misrepresentations in a do-anything at all costs approach, even lie, to win over the masses. Although frightening, it appears all too real in this current administration.

9:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, clearly you have an open mind towards the Administration. Let me guess, you were once a Republican, but switched parties and voted for Kerry due to Chimpy McHitler's crooked administration.

10:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay. Instead of spewing generalizations, why don't you demonstrate where I am wrong? Provide me with some evidence Bush doesn't distort or hide the truth in the above examples cited. I already offered my opinion on the Frank's thoughts verses the evidences argument.
I say this now only because it is on my mind.
Bush decieved us into going into a war (if he didn't outright lie the facts show he purposefully avoided turning an ear to available conflicting opinions within the security departments)that has CREATED a deadly, indefatiguable insurgency, is costing the U.S. hundreds of billions of dollars which is substantially contributing to bankrupting this country and robbing funding away from critical domestic programs, including homeland security.
And for what? A war that has yet to produce a tangible long-term benefit or even a result. The newly-passed $80 billion funding package for Iraq comes with absolutely no assurances or prospects on our chances of success in the country. And by the last account I read that 57% of Americans were opposed to the war and believe we should have never bothered with it.
In reality, this war has so far proven to be nothing more than another Vietnam-scale black hole. A dramatic waste of human lives and expense. I read today that Insurgent attacks have increased to an average of 70 a day in recent weeks.
The real folly is that things will likely turn out the same in Iraq no matter how long we prolong our involvement there.
Meanwhile back at the Texas ranch, the Bush Administration continues to throw support beyond terrorist regimes in Sudan known to have slaughtered more than 300,000 innocent people.

2:13 PM  
Blogger David Drake said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6:08 PM  

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