The Rough Riders of 9/11

by Gary Phillips

Just the place for a Snark! I have said it twice:
   That alone should encourage the crew.
Just the place for a Snark! I have said it thrice:
   What I tell you three times is true.
      —The Hunting of the Snark by Lewis Carroll

As the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, it probably comes as no surprise to even a casual reader of this site that I would be in the camp who firmly believe the quintet of George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Karl Rove, the Rough Riders of 9/11, led the electorate and the all-too willing mainstream media by the nose in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

According to Richard Clarke, then of the National Security Council and Bush’s counterterrorism advisor (first appointed under Clinton) in interviews and in his book, Against All Enemies, no sooner had Bush returned to the White House later that day (given he’d been in a classroom that morning at the Emma E. Booker grade school in Sarasota, Florida when the planes hit), while bodies weren’t even being extracted from the rubble, than Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld stated "We need to bomb Iraq.” Others said, Clarke stated, “No no, al Qaeda is in Afghanistan. We need to bomb Afghanistan." Clarke has also written that Bush wanted him to find a reason to attack Iraq as well.

Thereafter the devised whisper campaign began, the attack an opportunity the Rough Riders couldn’t pass up. The peg to hang this on was the Taliban, villains in anyone’s book, and Iraq’s dictator, our former strongman when we needed him, Saddam Hussein. The Rough Riders said he was amassing weapons of mass destruction (WMD). It was a masterful snow job and goes to show you what can be accomplished when you have public and private entities, if not always working in concert, certainly echoing one another.

Not that there weren’t voices of reason and dissent. Because of his experience there, former foreign service officer and ambassador Joe Wilson was sent to Niger, a country said to be a link in Hussein’s WMD chain. His Sunday, July 6, 2003 Op-Ed in The New York Times, “What I Didn’t Find in Africa,” was pretty dang clear. Wilson wasn’t on the hunt for the Snark, but yellowcake, the slang for a kind of refined uranium powder used in the production of nuclear weapons. He wrote in part,

Given the structure of the consortiums that operated the mines, it would be exceedingly difficult for Niger to transfer uranium to Iraq. Niger’s uranium business consists of two mines, Somair and Cominak, which are run by French, Spanish, Japanese, German and Nigerian interests. If the government wanted to remove uranium from a mine, it would have to notify the consortium, which in turn is strictly monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency ... In short, there’s simply too much oversight over too small an industry for a sale to have transpired.

In hindsight, the Administration must have figured that Wilson, married to CIA officer Valerie Plame, would understand and play ball or at least come back with “inconclusive” findings. After all National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice had opined we couldn’t be a hundred percent certain how close Iraq was to obtaining a nuclear weapon but emphasized, "We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." Since Wilson veered from the playbook, they put right wing sycophantic columnist Robert Novak on him and blew his wife’s cover.

Bear in mind by the time we launched the sortie that began our invasion of Iraq, we already had boots on the ground in Afghanistan. Less than a month after 9/11, we pounded Afghanistan with several bombing raids followed by American and United Kingdom troops storming into there on October 19, 2001. Selling that war didn’t take the months of massaging the message as it did with Iraq. The ruthless and backwards Taliban had seized power in Afghanistan in 1996. They were doing all sorts of nasty stuff, like forbidding women being doctors, blowing up ancient artifacts, aiding and abetting al Qaeda, and in general being a bunch of dicks with their warped interpretations of Islamic creeds. Left or right, there wasn’t much love for them in the West. Though certainly progressives were opposed to invading Afghanistan due to the toll it would take on innocent lives, and some argued the invasion was merely a blatant grab to control their oil whether 9/11 happened or not, it was on.

Among the revelations and arguments about the use of waterboarding and other forms of enhanced interrogation techniques to make suspected terrorists talk, the excesses of Abu Ghraib, and the use of modern day mercs Blackwater, we had—and still have for all I know—war profiteer Haliburton making out like bandits. As an example, one Pentagon audit suggested they overcharged the Army by $61 million for gas, another caught potential overcharging for their personnel being put up at the Kuwait Hilton, and that Halibiurton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR) built showers that electrocuted our troops, sold contaminated water to our troops, and once, as a matter of routine, submitted a proposal for cafeteria services that was $67 million too high, among many other such bids.

money goes a-flyin'
illustration by John Blackford; photos: Peter van Agtmael/Polaris (desert),
Konstantin Inozemtsev/Alamy (money).

The height of surrealism had to be the almost $12 billion in $100 bills airlifted into Baghdad on 40 shrink-wrapped pallets by the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority. The cash was distributed with no proper control over who was receiving it, and how it was being spent. The idea being that to win friends and influence hearts and minds, we had to spread the wealth to warlords and religious leaders, pay for construction projects, and what have you. This was the biggest transfer of cash, mostly Iraqi money, in the history of the Federal Reserve. A congressional committee found, no big surprise, that the majority of the cash, some $9 billion of those monies, can’t be traced. Then you have Congress' Commission on Wartime Contracting finding that $60 billion, give or take a billion, has been burned up in both theaters of operation due to waste, lack of oversight, and outright fraud.

And what’s up with the yahoos on the left and right who claim the destruction of life in the Twin Towers was part of a conspiracy? A put-up job, as you’ll sometime hear from certain speakers on KPFK for instance. But not just the tinfoil-hat-wearing crowd, there are structural engineers, architects and the like orbiting groups like Scholars for 9/11 Truth, headed by former Marine Corp officer Jim Fetzer, a PhD, who argues the buildings couldn’t have burned and collapsed like they did just from jet fuel. That the events of that day were planned with the collusion of or from within our government—and like all conspiracy theories, it eventually centers on some cabal—to provide the excuse to get us into the two wars. But what’s to be shocked about when we have serious contenders for the presidency who think we lived with dinosaurs, gayness can be counseled away, and global warming is a natural joke.

On this near tenth anniversary remembrance of 9/11, I honor and remember those more than 3,000 people who perished in the Twin Towers, the people who died in the strike on the Pentagon, and those brave souls who took over United Airlines flight 93, which was apparently intended to crash into the White House. Instead it slammed into a field. I pay homage to the first responders and too many of them who contracted ongoing respiratory and other ailments due to exposure to toxins and dust and who knows what all else in the rubble of those buildings. I also mourn the Iraqi and Afghan citizenry, the men, women and children, who have died in crossfire or have been mistaken for a terrorist or just because they were a “hadji” were killed or wounded by an overeager soldier or marine. Let’s have an end to the professional Islamophobists paid to whip up anti-Muslim emotions, and an end to these overseas conflicts and a safe return home of our troops.

Lastly, and ironically, as the manhunt for Gaddafi goes on by the insurgents in Libya, our 2.5 war, I acknowledge the one statement among all the other boneheaded, nonsensical and useless remarks by neocon wingnutter William Kristol. He was one of the standard bearers of the policies of invasion. Yet as Steven Colbert might say, Kristol uttered a “truthiness.” In the fall of 2002, during the run-up to the Iraq war, he stated that getting rid of Saddam would start a chain reaction in the Arab world that would be very healthy.

Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Gary Phillips' latest is Treacherous: Grifters, Ruffians and Killers, a collection of his short stories.


Nice, Gary. You strike a balance between the sloemnity of the occasion and the necessity to examine it, and later events.

The creation of the Department of Homeland Security,the rise of Blackwater and the abrogation of legal responsibility at the Justice Department under Alberto Gonzalez are three more features of the catastrophic Bush administration.

Today, I cant believe that Dick Cheney has the temerity to relñease his book on the tenth anniversary of 9.11. I think that if we dont speak up, all will be lost.

Trust me, Gary, I lobby for sanity in these regards.

2011-09-4 by Robert Hagen

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