Everybody leads with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice’s testimony before the 9/11 commission, in which she said the administration couldn’t have done more than it did to avoid the attacks. The papers are mostly skeptical of that, with most emphasizing that commission members disclosed some details about a presidential briefing on Aug. 6, 2001, that seems to have had more information about AQ threats than the White House has said. The New York Times and Washington Post give near lead billing to the continued uprising in Iraq: About a dozen foreign nationals have been kidnapped over the past two days, including three Japanese citizens who were shown in a video being held by insurgents who said they would kill the captives unless Japan pulls its troops out. (Japan refused.) According to early morning reports, at least nine people were killled in an attack on a U.S. fuel convoy west of Baghdad. Also, after heavy fighting, the U.S. announced that it has suspended operations in Fallujah and is looking to negotiate. Finally, U.S. troops have reportedly retaken one of three insurgent-controlled cities. One GI and one Marine were killed in fighting yesterday. Hospital officials say about 300 Iraqis have been killed and about 400 wounded overall in Fallujah.
Rice said the Aug. 6 briefing “did not warn” of an attack and was just “historical information.” According to a joint House-Senate report issued last year and cited by the Post, the briefing included “FBI judgments about patterns of activity consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks; as well as information acquired in May 2001 that indicated a group of bin Laden supporters was planning attacks in the United States with explosives.” The presidential briefing was titled: “Bin Laden Determined To Attack in the United States.” Responding to commission pressure, the White House said it will eventually declassify the document. (The NYT says WH lawyers are “finally racing” to do so after the document was “kept out of view for more than two years.”)
The White House couldn’t have done more to avoid 9/11, said Rice, because of “structural” problems with counterterrorism efforts (namely, the CIA and FBI hate each other and often aren’t allowed to talk) and because the intel was too vague. Rice read some examples of the chatter received that summer. “Unbelievable news in coming weeks,” read one intercept. “There will be a very, very, very, very big uproar,” said another. “Troubling, yes,” Rice said. “But they don’t tell us when; they don’t tell us where; they don’t tell us who; and they don’t tell us how.” As Slate’s Fred Kaplan suggests, that’s quite a high threshold Condi created for action.
Meanwhile, Democratic commissioners on the panel noted that though Rice said she had instructed various domestic agencies to be warned in the summer of 2001 about the possibility of an attack, the message didn’t get through, with the secretary of transportation, the head of the FAA, and others saying they never heard a thing.
A front-page Los Angeles Times analysis tries to clarify the issues and ultimately skewers Rice, saying that while she successfully defended the administration against charges that it simply ignored warnings, “she described a White House inner circle that spent its time on broad strategy and left it up to the bureaucracy to decide how to meet the escalating threat, with no real follow-up from the White House.”
Calling the focus on pre-9/11 warnings a “pseudo-scandal,” Slatecontributor Robert Wright says in an NYT op-ed that the real scandal is that the White House still doesn’t understand and isn’t working effectively against the increasingly common AQ-centered phenomenon of what could be labeled telecommuting terrorism.
The LAT says guerrillas have fought “U.S.-led coalition forces to a standstill.” As the WP headlines, the U.S.’ top general in the region, Gen. John Abizaid, reiterated Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld’s warning that some troops will be kept in Iraq past their scheduled return dates. Abizaid said there are going to be a “series of very clear military moves” against the insurgency. “Everything is on the table,” he said.
As the papers all note, Iraq’s interior minister resigned under unclear circumstances. He was in charge of the country’s police, who have largely failed to show up for the fight.
The Post and NYT front the growing sense of brotherhood between Sunnis and Shiites. The WP says Fallujah has become “a freshly minted emblem of shared religious identity,” with mosques throughout country raising money, food, and medicine for residents there. About 10,000 people in a joint Sunni-Shiite humanitarian and protest convoy made their way from Baghdad to Fallujah. Marines reportedly let in the supplies but kept the protesters out.
The NYT says Shiite fighters are now making their way into Fallujah. “We share a cause now,” said one man. “Why not share our bodies?”
As for the fighting in Fallujah, the NYT says that the fighting was so heavy that residents have been leaving bodies in the streets. The Post talks to front-line Marine officers who say they’re short-handed. “We don’t have enough men to seal the area,” after guerrillas retreat, said one lieutenant, who was in the rear being treated for a shrapnel wound. “Every time guys come back here, I’m taking guns off my line.”
The LAT says that Baghdad “has become a warzone again,” with demonstrations and firefights breaking out in neighborhoods across the city.
The NYT says the Pentagon can’t get a handle on the size of the revolt. “It’s a mob mentality,” said one intelligence official. “They are recruiting among a lot of unhappy people.”
In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, former CIA Middle East specialist Reuel Marc Gerecht says the uprising isn’t widespread—yet: “The vast majority of Shiites—the overwhelming bulk of their paramilitary forces—are still on our side. (American soldiers would be dying by the hundreds if this were not the case.) Hell is when Ayatollah Sistani calls for a jihad.” The problem, says Gerecht, is that the U.S. is flirting with that hell by, among other things, force-feeding Iraqis an undemocratic handover process and interim constitution:
We all need to understand the risk the U.S. is running by refusing to have a more open, public debate in Iraq about the transitional constitution and government. If the Shiites have the impression that they are once again being cheated of an effective democratic majority, then it is entirely possible that the consensus among Shiites about America’s beneficial presence in their country could quickly end. Sadr’s argument to his flock—that military force is the best way to ensure a Shiite victory—could start to look very appealing.