The July Surprises

Joel Bleifuss

The Bush administration is trying to manipulate the war on terrorism to further President George W. Bush’s re-election efforts.The New Republic’s John B. Judis, Spencer Ackerman and Massoud Ansari report that the Bush administration has been pressuring Pakistan to capture or kill “high-value targets” (HVTs) Osama bin Laden, his deputy Ayman al Zawahiri and Taliban leader Muhammed Omar before the upcoming election.One source in Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s equivalent of the CIA, said: “The Pakistani government is really desperate and wants to flush out bin Laden and his associates after the latest pressures from the U.S. administration to deliver before the U.S. elections.”A second source, in the Pakistani Interior Ministry, said: “The Musharraf government has a history of rescuing the Bush administration. They now want Musharraf to bail them out when they are facing hard times in the coming elections.”A third source, who works under the ISI director Lieutenant General Ehsan ul-Haq, said: “[The Pakistanis] have been told at every level that apprehension or killing of HVTs before [the] election is [an] absolute must. … The last 10 days of July deadline has been given repeatedly by visitors to Islamabad and during [ul-Haq’s] meetings in Washington.” This source said a White House aide told ul-Haq last spring, “It would be best if the arrest or killing of [any] HVT were announced on 26, 27 or 28 [of] July.” (The Democratic Convention opens on July 26.)A fourth source, a Pakistani general, fears that if Pakistan doesn’t deliver the HVTs before to the election, the Bush administration will focus attention on the role Pakistan’s security establishment played in nuclear physicist A.Q. Khan’s transfer of nuclear technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya. The general said: “If we don’t find these guys by the election, they are going to stick this whole nuclear mess up our asshole.”The investigative report validates what many have long thought: Bush is manipulating the war on terrorism to further his political fortunes. In effect, we must now infer that for the past two years the administration has allowed Osama bin Laden to run free in order to kill or capture him as a pre-election- publicity stunt.Recall the 1980 election when one-time CIA director and Reagan running mate George H.W. Bush negotiated a secret deal in October with representatives of the Ayatollah Khomeini to delay the release of the 52 American hostages held in Iran until after the election to ensure Jimmy Carter’s defeat. (For the most definitive information on what has become known as the October Surprise click here.)The Bush administration will no doubt use its influence in the media to try to discredit Judas et al., in the same way it tried to denature Michael Moore following the release of Fahrenheit 9/11, using friends in the press like Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff.In the June 28 issue, Isikoff dismissed Fahrenheit 9/11 as “a mélange of investigative journalism, partisan commentary and conspiracy theories.” He goes on to dispute three of what he calls “Moore’s most provocative allegations,” thereby leading the unsuspecting reader to wonder what else Moore has fabricated. More on that later. First some history about Isikoff’s own “mélange.”In April 1989, John Kerry’s Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Terror-ism, Narcotics and International Operations released an exhaustive report that concluded that the Contras were involved in drug trafficking and that Reagan administration officials were aware of that involvement.In an April 14, 1989, Washington Post article, Isikoff trivialized the report’s findings and asserted that claims of drug trafficking by high-level Contras “could not be substantiated.” Subsequently, Newsweek’s “Conventional Wisdom Watch” dubbed Kerry “a randy conspiracy buff.”The Post had little more to say on the subject until the fall of 1991, when Gen. Manuel Noriega went to trial on drug-trafficking charges in Miami. Isikoff then wrote: “Allegations that the federal government worked with known drug dealers to arm the Contras have been raised for years, but congressional investigations in the late 1980s found little evidence to back charges that it was an organized activity approved by high-level U.S. officials.”That assertion was soon contradicted by the U.S. government’s own witnesses against Noriega. In November 1991, convicted Colombian drug lord and government witness Carlos Lehder told the court that an unnamed U.S. official offered to allow him to smuggle cocaine into the United States in exchange for use of a Bahamian island that he owned as part of the Contra supply route. Lehder went on to testify that the Colombian cartel had donated about $ 10 million to the Contras.At this point, the Post finally took notice. “The Kerry hearings didn’t get the attention they deserved at the time,” its editorial concluded. “The Noriega trial brings this sordid aspect of the Nicaraguan engagement to fresh public attention.” The Post editorial writer might have added, “Indeed, our own reporter Michael Isikoff let us down.”Isikoff did a number on Bill and Hilary Clinton promoting the Whitewater Scandal. In a series of Post stories in late 1993 and early 1994, Isikoff, citing unnamed sources, offered ominous-sounding revelations about bureaucratic maneuvers (“Justice Department officials are moving forward with two separate inquiries that have been expanded”) and unsubstantiated speculation from more unnamed sources (“Bill and Hillary Clinton ‘could possibly have benefited from the alleged scheme.’”) The rest of the press followed suit and a publicly funded $52 million investigati0n turned up nothing.Now Isikoff has set his sights on Moore.Isikoff contends that, contrary to the facts presented in Fahrenheit 9/11, the six charted airplane flights that flew the Saudis out of the United States “didn’t begin until September 14, after airspace reopened.” The movie says this:It turns out that the White House approved planes to pick up the bin Ladens and numerous other Saudis. At least six private jets and nearly two-dozen commercial planes carried the Saudis and the bin Ladens out of the U.S. after September 13. In all, 142 Saudis, including 24 members of the bin Laden family were allowed to leave the country.Indeed, the St. Petersburg Times reported in June that, according to Tampa International Airport records-, on September 13, while most of the nation’s air traffic was still grounded, a private jet landed in Tampa and picked up three young Saudi men and then left.Isikoff also disputes the movie’s claim that the Carlyle Group—a private investment firm in which both George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and members of the bin Laden family were involved—profited “from September 11 because it owned United Defense, a military contractor.” Isikoff contends, “United Defense’s $11 billion Crusader artillery rocket system developed for the U.S. Army is one of the only weapons systems canceled by the Bush administration.”Again, Isikoff is twisting the truth. The Crusader contract was canceled after the Carlyle Group sold United Defense. Fahrenheit 9/11 says this:September 11th guaranteed that United Defense was going to have a very good year. Just six weeks after 9/11 Carlyle filed to take United Defense public and in December made a one day profit of $237 million dollars.On January 10, 2002, the Los Angeles Times’ Mark Fineman, wrote:On a single day last month, Carlyle earned $237 million selling shares in United Defense Industries, the Army’s fifth-largest contractor. The stock offering was well timed: Carlyle officials say they decided to take the company public only after the September 11 attacks. … On September 26 [2001], the Army signed a $655-million modified contract with United Defense through April 2003 to complete the Crusader’s development phase. In October, the company listed the Crusader, and the attacks themselves, as selling pints for its stock offering.Critics of the film are worried that Fahrenheit 9/11 could have an effect on the presidential election. After all, the film has so far raked in $60 million while showing on 1,725 screens.To fight back, some unknown person or organization hired the PR firm Russo, Marsh & Rogers of Sacramento, California. The company, which has strong ties to the Republican Party, set up a Web site,, to attack Fahrenheit 9/11. The PR flacks who managed the site encouraged:Americans who found in Moore’s movie Fahrenheit 9/11 an attempt to undermine the war on terror, to let movie theater operators know about their objections. Think about it. … If you walked into a Wal-Mart store and saw they were selling merchandise that attacked the military, our troops and America’s battle against Islamic terrorism, wouldn’t you complain to the store manager or write a letter and ask that they not sell that product because it was undermining our national effort?Others on the right aim to counter Moore with a movie of their own making, Michael Moore Hates America: A Documentary That Tells the Truth about a Great Nation.That will be a hard sell to anyone who sees the film. Fahrenheit 9/11 makes clear that Michael Moore loves America. It’s the Bush administration he can’t stand.

Joel Bleifuss, a former director of the Peace Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is the editor & publisher of In These Times, where he has worked since October 1986.

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