U.S. Policy: "Putting out the fire with gasoline"?

I took the opportunity to question Homeland Security head Michael Chertoff and the Co-chairs of the 9/11 Commission, Lee Hamilton and Thomas Kean.

You can find the trancript here, and also on DC Indymedia, with audio files attached.

With the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, outside the studios of ABC News this morning:

Sam Husseini: Sir, does U.S. policy like the invasion of Lebanon--backing the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, like the invasion of Iraq, does that cause resentment in the region, that makes your problem harder and that Al Qaeda types feed into?

Secretary Michael Chertoff: In 1994 Khalid Sheikh Muhammad put together a plot that is very similar to this plot and is in some ways a model for this kind of plot, the one we saw this week. Now, in 1994 there wasn't any war in Iraq, there wasn't any invasion of Lebanon. I mean the fact of the matter is history teaches us we do not provoke terrorism. What tends to foster terrorism is when the terrorists think we're weak or when we try to appease them.

Sam Husseini: But Secretary, Israel invaded Lebanon and occupied it for 20 years beginning in the 1980s and was still occupying it when what you're talking about, the Gulf War -- the first Gulf War -- which Bin Laden rhetorically uses to gain following was just a few years before the 1994 attempted hideous terrorist attack.

Isn't U.S. policy pouring -- trying to put out the fire with gasoline?

Secretary Michael Chertoff: See, what my observation of the history of this is that no matter what we do or don't do terrorists are going to carry out their acts, but the thing that is most likely to inspire terrorism is weakness. When terrorists saw us withdrawal from Somalia that actually inspired them to believe they could win against us. When we fight back and when we take the war to them that actually sets them back. There's no doubt in my mind that the war against terror is won through strength and not through weakness, by taking the war to the enemy and not by retreating.

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With 9/11 Commissioners Hamilton and Keane outside the NBC studios in Upper Northwest Washington this morning:

Sam Husseini: I'd like to ask a foreign policy thing, gentlemen. You spoke about the motivation of the terrorists and how to decipher them. This is Bin Laden's statement from October 2004, and he's talking about his--what he says his initial motivation is -- in seeing the Israeli bombing of Lebanon back in 1982. To quote: "When I saw those destroyed towers in Lebanon it sparked in my mind that the oppressors should be punished in the same way and that we should destroy towers in America so that they can taste what we tasted and so they will stop killing our women and children." Now, now, his stated and his real goals -- just like other politicians stated goals and real goals -- might be different. But those are his stated motivations, that he says to the people of the region and to us...

Hamilton: Osama bin Laden is a very skillful propagandist. He weaves all kinds of possible appeals to the radicalized muslim world. Some of it is religious, theological, philosophical. Some of it relates to American policy. The original thing that set off Osama bin Laden was the presence of American forces in Saudi Arabia--

Sam Husseini: Which have been removed --

Hamilton: Which have now been removed, that's correct, but --

Sam Husseini: So he [inaudible]

Hamilton: I think it is, I think it is -- well -- we withdrew those I think for our own interests. You can argue whether he would claim it's a victory, we would not, of course. But the point is that he cleverly weaves a lot of different appeals to get this radicalized muslim world--

Sam Husseini: But don't make matters worse? Now we're backing another Israeli invasion of Lebanon -- aren't we planting the seeds of further terrorism? Aren't we putting out the fire with gasoline here? And you can do all the security measures, all the law enforcement, but if that continues isn't that a fundamental argument--

Hamilton: Foreign policy gets very complicated. When you take certain actions to support a friend, the security of Israel, as we did, it has consequences. No question about it.

Sam Husseini: Are you aware gentlemen --

Hamilton: Look, look -- I don't want to get into an argument about Middle East policy--

Sam Husseini: No, no, different issue -- different issue. I'm broadening it out.

Hamilton: Yeah?

Sam Husseini: Sibel Edmonds is a whistle blower, who i believe came -- Sibel Edmonds, are you familiar with her, she was a translator for the FBI, --

Hamilton: Yes.

Sam Husseini: -- I believe she came to the Commission, --

Hamilton: Yes.

Sam Husseini: -- I don't think that you folks considered her work, and her saying that part of the FBI had been infiltrated by foreign -- presumably Turkish elements -- and her case is now under seal. Are you continuing to consider that, have you had second thoughts about taking up what she brought to the Commission, which I don't -- I believe was not included in the Commission report.

Hamilton: There were thousands and thousands of things brought to the attention of the Commission. When you have a commission investigation with a deadline, as we did, you have to make many many judgments about what evidence is most credible and what evidence is less credible. I don't know that we made 100% -- were 100% right in all of our judgments. We did invest her particular charge --

Sam Husseini: Have you had second thoughts?

Hamilton: -- and we thought it was less credible than a lot of other things. But that's, look, the 9/11 Commission Report is not a final report.

Sam Husseini: I understand, I mean have you had second thoughts since then?

Hamilton: I have not.

Sam Husseini: On the democracy question, you both have said US is to help democracy in the Middle East. But Israel is bombing lebanon which was a function democracy, it had a parliament, with the backing of Saudi Arabia. So is that the actual motivation of US Policy when it gives the backhand to the Palestinians when they have a democratic election and to the Lebanese, getting their infrastructure pummeled, when they're a democracy and we're doing this in conjunction with the Saudis -- perhaps the most autocratic regime in the region. It doesn't add up and it doesn't add up to the people who... does it add up to you?

Keane: Well, There's no-- there's no question that we've got to look hard at the autocratic regimes in the Middle East, and the ones we support and why, and I think we've got to work with those leaders to make those regimes less autocratic. There's no question about it. I think we've gotta--not only that, we've gotta help some of them in education systems because these madrassas, which we know teach hate in a lot of cases, are there for a reason. They're there because there aren't schools that are alternatives. These young people in the Middle East cannot go to the kind of school we talk about and learn trades or skills that'll enable them to support a family. So they go and learn about religion, that's all they learn about, and then they can't support a family--they're destitute and therefore they're liable to look at ideologies, look at other things.

Hamilton: Ok, thank you very much.

Sam Husseini: ...That's not being done by Hezbollah, what about...

[originally published at husseini.org on August 13, 2006]