The advent of a Democratic administration offers a badly needed opportunity to get to the bottom of serious matters covered up by the Bush Administration. Clearly, the nation would benefit from finding out the hidden history of the past eight years. We could finally reach closure on the events of 2001. Culprits could be identified and, when not protected by immunity of office or other legal barriers, could be brought to justice. And proper re-investigations could suck the wind out of the sails of unwarranted, misleading conspiracy theories.

Yet working out the optimal method for investigating and resolving these cover-ups will not prove easy. A fistful of pressing problems will demand the attention of the Obama Administration. Satisfactory investigation and resolution of cover-ups will require objectivity and credibility that a partisan Democratic administration and Congress might find hard to achieve. What’s more, investigators might discover unpalatable or even shocking realities–perhaps the Bush Administration had understandable, if not forgiveable, reasons to hide certain truths from the public. The Obama Administration could find reasons to remain silent about what it uncovers.

Lastly, we may be hard put to reach agreement on what in fact was covered up. Every observant American has his or her own list of favorite Bush cover-ups, and perhaps we don’t even know of several scandals that this secretive Administration hid from public view. Yet we don’t want to dissipate energies and momentum by sniffing out minor scandals while losing focus on the big items and on the need to move on.

One observer’s list

Here is a list of three key Bush era cover-ups that cry out for investigation.

1) In some respects, the 9/11 Commission carefully investigated the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. But its Report contained gaping holes that constituted a major cover-up. Specifically, we need to find out what the President knew and when he knew it. The evidence suggests that Bush received repeated warnings of an impending attack of roughly the sort that occurred, yet he did nothing. It looks like criminal negligence. But very possibly there is more evidence that would lead us to refine or change this judgment.

We also need to find more evidence regarding the roles of the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense in the run-up to 9/11, including in the abysmal planning of the so-called air defenses of New York and Washington, D.C. In addition, DoD smeared whistle-blowers of the clandestine Able Danger surveillance of the intending hijackers as it hastened to destroy evidence, aided by the President’s national security adviser. It looks very much as if Able Danger knew who the hijackers were and what they were planning.

2) Evidence is mounting that FBI’s investigation of the 2001 anthrax mailings has involved a cover-up. As anthrax case expert Meryl Nass, M.D. put it recently: “the Justice Department was desperate to ‘solve’ (read bury) this case any way it could before the Bush administration left office.” Some observers believe that the cover-up hid a secret government bioweapons program run by Battelle Memorial Institute.

Another view is that FBI actually identified the real Mailer, al Qaeda operative Abderraouf Jdey, in 2004. But Jdey also seems to have turned himself into the shoebomber of American Airlines Flight #587 on November 12, 2001, killing 265–a terrific potential embarrassment that led Bush to induce FBI to drop its investigation of Jdey and find some other likely anthrax suspect. If this is correct, then the Flight #587 investigation itself was likely a cover-up.

3) The domestic implementation of the War on Terrorism–including wiretapping, other data collection efforts, and arrests that violated civil liberties–likewise deserves a full investigation.

If we get these three investigations right, even if we miss other cover-ups, we can close this sad chapter of American history with a feeling that at least we understand more fully what happened and can set our future course accordingly. Solving one anomaly can also lead to the solution of others. For instance, if indeed Bush was criminally negligent in the run-up to 2001, then his immediate and repeated suggestions that Iraq was behind the attacks could help solve another lingering mystery of the Bush era: what were the real reasons for attacking Iraq? If Bush was trying to lead public attention away from his deep negligence regarding 9/11, then the Iraq War would be in a significant way a War of Distraction.

A division of labor

How can we ensure that these investigations are done properly? A division of labor might work best.

The Obama Administration can effectively contribute to #2 (anthrax mailings and perhaps Flight #587) by appointing a new Attorney General and FBI Director who will have no stake in FBI’s clearly erroneous identification of Bruce Ivins as the Mailer, so that FBI can return to more fruitful lines of inquiry. And Obama himself could use his expertise in constitutional law to oversee a general cleaning of skeletons out of the closet on #3 (domestic violations of civil liberties in the War on Terrorism). Of course, Obama may find himself overwhelmed with other responsibilities, and he also may prove less willing to rock the boat than his talk about change suggests. The Congress can contribute on #3 by rewriting laws to protect civil liberties.

On #1 and 2, congressional committee investigations could resolve many of the outstanding issues, though the danger of partisanship might arise. Independent commissions of outside experts seem the best alternative. For instance, a joint investigation of the 9/11 attacks by the American Political Science Association and the American Historical Association could provide the requisite objectivity and credibility.

Driven by fear of making a mistake or challenging the Bush Administration when it was riding high in popular esteem, the media were to a considerable extent complicit in the cover-ups of the events of 2001. The “Washington Post”, for example, is still telling us what a great idea it was to attack Iraq. Its in-house reviewer thoughtlessly put his stamp of approval on the 9/11 Commission Report. And recently the “Post” published an anthrax mailings article that slavishly toed the FBI line. So we cannot rely on the media to investigate these cover-ups to the hilt, though they just might perform now that the pressure is off and they can win the favor of a new cast of officials by doing so.

The bottom line: we must not let slip through our fingers this golden opportunity to bring to light the real history of the Bush Administration. But we need to focus on the genuinely critical cover-ups and use appropriate methods to investigate them.

Kenneth J. Dillon

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