From “An Oral History of the Bush White House: Politics and Power” at Vanity Fair:
We had this confluence of characters—and I use that term very carefully—that included people like Powell, Dick Cheney, Condi Rice, and so forth, which allowed one perception to be “the dream team.” It allowed everybody to believe that this Sarah Palin–like president—because, let’s face it, that’s what he was—was going to be protected by this national-security elite, tested in the cauldrons of fire. What in effect happened was that a very astute, probably the most astute, bureaucratic entrepreneur I’ve ever run into in my life became the vice president of the United States.
He became vice president well before George Bush picked him. And he began to manipulate things from that point on, knowing that he was going to be able to convince this guy to pick him, knowing that he was then going to be able to wade into the vacuums that existed around George Bush—personality vacuum, character vacuum, details vacuum, experience vacuum.
Lawrence Wilkerson, top aide and later Chief of Staff to Colin Powell
That night, on 9/11, Rumsfeld came over and the others, and the president finally got back, and we had a meeting. And Rumsfeld said, You know, we’ve got to do Iraq, and everyone looked at him—at least I looked at him and Powell looked at him—like, What the hell are you talking about? And he said—I’ll never forget this—There just aren’t enough targets in Afghanistan. We need to bomb something else to prove that we’re, you know, big and strong and not going to be pushed around by these kind of attacks.
And I made the point certainly that night, and I think Powell acknowledged it, that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. That didn’t seem to faze Rumsfeld in the least.
It shouldn’t have come as a surprise. It really didn’t, because from the first weeks of the administration they were talking about Iraq. I just found it a little disgusting that they were talking about it while the bodies were still burning in the Pentagon and at the World Trade Center.
Richard Clarke, chief White House counterterrorism adviser
October 7, 2001 American and British forces begin an aerial campaign against Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, where al-Qaeda has its base, followed weeks later by a ground invasion. The Taliban government falls and al-Qaeda is routed from some of its strongholds. One person captured is John Walker Lindh, the so-called American Taliban. His handling proves to be a harbinger. The Defense Department’s general counsel, Jim Haynes, authorizes military intelligence to “take the gloves off.”
I was called with the specific question of whether or not the F.B.I. on the ground could interrogate [Lindh] without counsel. And I had been told unambiguously that Lindh’s parents had retained counsel for him. I gave that advice on a Friday, and the same attorney at Justice who inquired called back on Monday and said essentially, Oops, they did it anyway. They interrogated him anyway. What should we do now? My office was there to help correct mistakes. And I said, Well, this is an unethical interrogation, so you should seal it off and use it only for intelligence-gathering purposes or national security, but not for criminal prosecution.
A few weeks later, Attorney General Ashcroft held one of his dramatic press conferences, in which he announced a complaint being filed against Lindh. He was asked if Lindh had been permitted counsel. And he said, in effect, To our knowledge, the subject has not requested counsel. That was just completely false. About two weeks after that he held another press conference, because this was the first high-profile terrorism prosecution after 9/11. And in that press conference he was asked again about Lindh’s rights, and he said that Lindh’s rights had been carefully, scrupulously guarded, which, again, was contrary to the facts, and contrary to the picture that was circulating around the world of Lindh blindfolded, gagged, naked, bound to a board.
Jessalyn Radack, ethics adviser at the Department of Justice
When I arrived in New York, in July 1998, it was quite clear to me that all the members of the Security Council, including the United States, knew well that there was no current work being done on any kind of nuclear-weapons capability in Iraq.
It was, therefore, extraordinary to me that later on in this saga there should have been any kind of hint that Iraq had a current capability. Of course, there were worries that Iraq might try, if the opportunity presented itself, to reconstitute that capability. And therefore we kept a very close eye, as governments do in their various ways, on Iraq trying to get hold of nuclear base materials, such as uranium or uranium yellowcake, or trying to get the machinery that was necessary to develop nuclear-weapons-grade material.
We were watching this the whole time. There was never any proof, never any hard intelligence, that they had succeeded in doing that. And the American system was entirely aware of this.
Sir Jeremy Redstock, British Ambassador to the U.N. and later the British special representative in Iraq
November 4, 2002 Defying precedent, the Republicans make decisive gains in the midterm elections; the White House interprets the results as an across-the-board green light. In an interview with Esquire released in December, John J. Dilulio Jr., the former head of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, complains that the “compassionate conservative” agenda is dead and that politics alone drives the White House.
I happened to be in the stairwell of the West Wing when the president was walking down, and he goes, Hey! He goes, Dilulio piece. He goes, Is this true? Is this … I mean, is this stuff … is this, is he right? What the hell’s goin’ on?
And whoever was with him at the time—it was probably Andy Card, Andy and Karl—they were like, Oh, no, no, no, no, no, it’s fine. We’ll get back to it. That afternoon we get a call from Josh Bolten, who was at the time the head of domestic policy, saying, O.K., we need to have a “compassion” meeting.
I’ll never forget the discussion—we’re sitting around the table, and someone says, I know what we should do. We should tackle chronic homelessness. I hear there are like 15,000 homeless people in America.
What can you say to that?
David Kuo, deputy director to the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives [more]
I can think of a few things to say. In all likelihood, I’ve said them all.
It’s not okay to let all of this go and move on, as Barack Obama has said. The Bush administration needs to be held accountable before moving on can be healthy and wise and can lead to new restrictions on executive power that will make future administrations accountable. It’s called democracy; it’s called the rule of law.