How Karl Rove and Torture Influenced the 9/11 Report

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A 9/11 commission chief answers to allegations that he let Karl Rove influence the probe investigating the Sept. 11 attacks.

The following is a two-part transcript on the 9/11 Commission Report recently conducted by Democracy Now!. The first explores the role that Karl Rove may have played in influencing the report’s findings, and the second looks at how information gained through torture form a major part of of the 9/11 Commission Report.

Former 9/11 Commission Chief Philip Zelikow on Allegations He Secretly Allowed Karl Rove & White House to Influence 9/11 Probe

Philip Shenon, author of The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation, recently suggested on Democracy Now! that Philip Zelikow, the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, sought to minimize the Bush administration’s responsibility for failing to prevent the September 11th attacks. Shenon also revealed that Karl Rove repeatedly called Zelikow during the probe. In the following interview, Zelikow responds in his first broadcast interview since the publication of Shenon’s book.

Democracy Now! Co-host Juan Gonzalez: I’d like to ask you, Philip Zelikow, on the issue of — the book by Philip Shenon, The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation, raises obviously some disturbing criticism, in addition, about the Commission’s work. I was struck in particular by the questions he raised about your communications with Karl Rove during that period and also that the issue of whether you sought to have your secretary remove the logs of your phone calls with Karl Rove during that period. Could you respond to those issues raised by Shenon?

Philip Zelikow: Well, not only can I respond to them, the commissioners actually have responded and will respond to anyone who asks them, because I was authorized by the Commission to talk to White House officials regularly, as was the general counsel, Dan Marcus. But on this business of Rove, it’s a little ironic, since I don’t even really know Rove. We had two brief contacts that had to do with University of Virginia business, because I used to direct a presidential research center. In both cases, we handed off the issues to others. The university actually has records on this matter. I told Shenon all of this.

The business about phone logs, actually two of the three people who took my calls don’t even remember the story. This appears to be a garble having to do with whether the message slips would be left out on the counter. I mean, this —

Amy Goodman: Well, let me ask you directly this very straightforward allegation of Philip Shenon, that he said that you called in your secretary, shut the door, informed her she was no longer to keep phone logs of your contacts with the White House. She got so alarmed that she — thinking it was improper, that she went to the chief lawyer for the Commission to alert him about what’s happened. Did you tell her not to keep logs of your White House calls?

Zelikow: Yes, well, if someone will just go talk to the chief lawyer of the Commission, you don’t have to rely on my account of this. I mean, there other people who have knowledge of these facts. And there’s no there there.

Goodman: You did not tell her not to keep logs.

Zelikow: There are no phone logs for the Commission. There are no phone — the Commission had no phone logs. So I couldn’t tell her not to keep logs in a situation where the Commission didn’t have phone logs.

Goodman: She kept your logs.

Zelikow: No, I did not have any phone logs.

Goodman: So you’re saying you did not — this is a completely fabricated story?

Zelikow: I did not have phone logs. This is a garble of something that’s probably come second — you know, two or three layers removed from people who don’t actually understand the way our office worked. But no one in the office thought that I was concealing anything from the commissioners, and the commissioners don’t think I was concealing anything from them, because they were briefed on all these contacts.

And they also knew very well what my relationship with the White House was, since, as the commissioners have recently put it, Zelikow was the White House’s biggest problem. And they, the commissioners, if you will just call them and ask them, will point out that I was actually a source of constant trouble for the White House, and the White House had hoped that the Commission would put someone else in my job. And in fact, the White House’s biggest supporters, like Bill Safire, were slamming me in their columns during 2004, because I was leading the Commission to knock down the theories they supported.

Gonzalez: There appears to be, at least according to Shenon, one commissioner, Max Cleland, who did raise questions about what was happening on the Commission, and he was removed, according to Shenon, because of his — or shortly after raising his criticisms of what he thought were cover-ups occurring in the Commission. He was removed. Is there any accuracy to that Shenon claim?

Zelikow: He was not removed. Max resigned from the Commission. There are commissioners who know very well the circumstances of Max’s resignation. And if anyone wants to know more about this, he should talk to either Max or Tom Daschle or the commissioners involved, because Max resigned on his own and quite voluntarily for very personal reasons that commissioners know about, but which I was not a part of at all.

Goodman: One of the points that Philip Shenon makes in his book, The Commission, is not only your relationship — your ongoing relationship with Rove, but with Condoleezza Rice, which went way back before the Commission, of course, that you co-authored a book with her.

Zelikow: May I just stop you, though? When you say my “ongoing relationship with Karl Rove,” I had no ongoing relationship with Karl Rove. I’ve never worked with Karl Rove. I’ve never had any political dealings with Karl Rove at all in my life. So this is — your question just kind of assumes things that just aren’t true.

Goodman: He talks about —

Zelikow: Now, I have had a relationship with Condi Rice, sure.

Goodman: — conversations that you had with Karl Rove at the White House and also a longtime relationship with Condoleezza Rice and talks about —

Zelikow: Sure.

Goodman: In the book, he talks about how the staff felt pressured and that any negative references to Condoleezza Rice in her role in the lead-up to the 9/11 attacks was whitewashed in the report, because of pressure from you, her friend, her co-author, longtime colleague.

Zelikow: But, you know, Shenon doesn’t say that.

Goodman: Well, he does argue —

Zelikow: Shenon doesn’t say the report was — excuse me, Shenon does not say the report was “whitewashed,” quote/unquote, in any way at all.

Goodman: Well, let me say that he talks about the pressure that high-level staffers felt when talking — when writing about Condoleezza Rice.

Zelikow: Oh. Well, why don’t you — you or any journalist should call up the high-level staffers and ask them. And ask them whether or not they felt that they were bullied or pressured. The leader of that team, who worked in the Clinton White House, I’ll add, has gone on the record with the Associated Press saying that their team did not feel bullied in any way at all. He is happy to talk to any reporter about this. Another member of the staff who plays a very prominent role in Shenon’s account wrote to all the commissioners, reached out to all of them, and described Shenon’s account as, quote, “a case study in hype,” close quote. But journalists — so journalists who want to check this out, go talk to them. You don’t have to take my word for it. Go ask them if they felt pressured.

Of course, the irony in all of this was, at the time, the White House’s supporters were denouncing me, and here, three-and-a-half years later, I’m being attacked from the other side. The commissioners themselves don’t feel that they were — the commissioners feel that they understood exactly how I was running the Commission staff and how I was doing the work. They had transparency into what was going on. And I think they can speak for themselves now on the final product. But Shenon never alleges —

Goodman: What Shenon argues, what he argues —

Zelikow: — that any key facts were left out of the report.

Goodman: What he argues is that you sought to intimidate staff to avoid damaging findings for President Bush, who at the time was running for reelection, as well as references to Condoleezza Rice in any damaging way.

Zelikow: He — you’re saying he says “sought to intimidate,” quote/unquote?

Goodman: Yes.

Zelikow: I don’t think so.

Goodman: This is what Shenon alleges in The Commission, in his new book.

Zelikow: Well, as I — I mean, anyone who was in the White House at the time would find that accusation ridiculous. But, as I say, talk to the staffers. Ask them. Ask them if they thought that I was trying to intimidate them. The leader of the team is happy to talk to any reporters who will ask. So what I’m trying to do is, I don’t want to get into an argument where I’m saying, you know, Shenon says this, Zelikow says that. You don’t have to trust me or take my word for it. Go to the commissioners, go to the staffers, many of whom worked for Democratic administrations. I worked for one month on a transition team. Our general counsel had been the number three person in Janet Reno’s Justice Department.

*****

The 9/11 Commission & Torture: How Information Gained Through Waterboarding & Harsh Interrogations Form Major Part of 9/11 Commission Report

A new analysis by NBC News reveals that more than a quarter of all footnotes in the 9/11 Commission Report refer to controversial interrogation techniques. Yet, Commission staffers did not question the CIA about its techniques. They even ordered a second round of interrogations in early 2004 to get more information from the detainees.

Democracy Now! Co-host Juan Gonzalez: CIA Director Michael Hayden acknowledged Tuesday that the Agency had used the interrogation technique known as waterboarding on three individuals since the attacks of September 11th. Hayden also claimed the CIA has practiced what he called “enhanced interrogation techniques” on one-third of the around 100 prisoners he says have been detained. Hayden made the admission in testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

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