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September 11, 2006

What’s In A Face: The (Not So) New Bush 9/11 Strategy


Roger Cohen had a very astute piece in the NYT last Thursday.  (Unfortunately, it’s only available under Times Select.)  The main point was that Bush — given his sly political instincts, and the fact he always gets up for an election — has found a new (and highly visual) angle to hype the terrorism threat.

Writes Cohen:

By bringing 14 high-level terror suspects out of secret prisons run the the Central Intelligence Agency and into the relative open of the Guantanamo Bay detention center, and by demanding that Congress approve war-crimes trials of these men by military tribunals, Bush seemed to change the political dynamic.

He put a face to an increasingly faceless phenomenon: “terror.”  There, suddenly, were the visages of three senior Al Qaeda suspected operatives, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, and Abu Zubaydah.  They were a reminder of the successes in fighting back against those who brought murder and mayhem to America five years ago.

By detailing some of the critical intelligence gleaned from interrogations of thee and other prisoners, Bush also contrived a more persuasive posing of the core question in the fight against terrorism than he has mustered in a long time.

Cohen does not necessarily think the approach can save Bush and the Repubs from losing the House.  He does say, however, that it has helped Bush climb back to the 40’s in popularity, and it’s a reminder to Democrats that the White House is not to be underestimated.

In a sick (but not necessarily surprising) supposed twist, a bin Ladin tape (showing the 9/11 hijackers) was released the day after Bush gave his White House speech calling out the terror suspects.  If you don’t think this (pathetically familiar) strategy is working, by the way, here’s how The Times lent its bullhorn to the “gang of 14.”  And above, you can see that this well worn pic of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is making the newswire rounds again.

(image: AFP/file.  2003.  Via YahooNews. image 2: AFP/Getty images.  September 8, 2006.

  • readytoblowagasket

    “He does say, however, that it has helped Bush climb back to the 40’s in popularity, and it’s a reminder to Democrats that the White House is not to be underestimated.”
    OF COURSE he says that Bush’s popularity is in the 40s, when in fact it isn’t.
    Can’t comment on the article itself because I refuse to pay for reading it. But it must contain some important information if it’s Times Select. Which means that only a select (online) audience will be privileged enough to know that information. The general public, meanwhile, remains unaffected.
    But, hey, let’s just take a NYT reporter at his word, because his bosses would never allow the administration’s threats against the newspaper in June to influence his reporting on the administration one way or the other.
    Not to mention that calling 40 percent “approval,” “popularity,” or a “climb” are feats of delusional optimism in themselves.
    Must we lend a helping hand by parroting the (exclusive) MSM?
    Here’s another exclusive: Bush’s approval rating remains high on eBay.

  • readytoblowagasket

    By the way, does Roger Cohen live in the U.S.? Has he ever lived in the U.S.? Didn’t think so. So he basically has absolutely no authority to state, “Bush seemed to change the political dynamic” or “They were a reminder of the successes” or “Bush also contrived a more persuasive posing.” What change? What successes? Who was reminded? Who was persuaded? Your friends at the club?
    Note to Roger: Americans don’t give a shit about any terrorists other than Osama bin Laden (and his buddy Saddam Hussein, of course). We’re really simplistic that way. If we can’t pronounce it, we can’t remember it.

  • ummabdulla

    I’ve seen this picture so many times that I can’t really come up with anything to say about it. Only that when I first glanced at it, I thought I saw the word “hirsute”, but it was “astute” (in the first line).
    Do people find the photos themselves scary, though?

  • Darryl Pearce

    I want to see current pictures of these guys–not five-year-old snaps. It would put a different spin (yes?) to see them already “through the ringer” of Dubya’s interrogations.
    I can only imagine (because that’s all I have): broken, feeble, beaten and defeated. Where’s your terror now, Mr. Bush?

  • The BAG

    The point is not about Roger Cohen but the fact the Administration has chosen to “brand” its anti-terror campaign with the names and faces of known terrorists.
    It’s a calculated risk to publicly expose these figures, as opposed to keep them buried in the system. From a PR standpoint, however, it is Bush/Rove hoping to turn a rotting negative into a surprising positive.
    One might dismiss the image of Khalid Mohammed as if it was an old TV re-run, but I doubt the target audience — the less politically aware mid-term voter — is that familiar with this image (or the images of the other 13 in question). And even if they are, the Administration has had considerable success in the past pounding these kind of visual and narrative memes into the popular imagination.
    To hyper-politically conscious liberals, these scare tactics are (and have always seemed) small-minded and obvious. However, this is exactly the response BushCo. is hoping for from the Dems as we barrel into the mid-term election — and the reason hardly anybody on the left has picked up on Mr. Cohen’s observations.
    I’m not asking for you to look at the picture the way you see it, but to pick up the idea (using the same kind of transpositional tactic BushCo is) of how it is being deployed. (That’s what the quotation marks are for.) Subtle? Yes, as subtle as Bush suddenly — from about a week ago — starting to quote from, and mention the name bin Laden over and over again.

  • Cactus

    I think (hope?) I see The Bag’s point. By the “simple” act of moving prisoners around the chain of gulags, the BCF have put them back in the headlines: “Heh, heh, did you guys forget about all those terrists we caught for ya’? Well, here they are, right on your doorstep.”
    Not to be self-referential, but a few posts ago I said that by mis-use of language the BCF was broadening the definition of acts of terrorism to include us all as terrorists. By shoving these bearded faces to the forefront, they are telling us to forget about binLaden, remember all these bad guys we’ve caught for you; this is why there have been no attacks on us. Like your cat dropping a dead bird at your feet, hoping you will forget the horrible act of killing the bird. (Yeah, I’m anthropomorphising the morality of a cat, but……)
    The question I have is why are not the democrats (DLC???) speaking up about this? The “L” does stand for leadership, yes? When will they wake up and start fighting back? If they don’t, and I fear they won’t, the field and the goal will go to the BCF once again.
    Where is Al Gore?
    Where is Walter Cronkite, forgodsake?
    Where is Howard Dean?

  • readytoblowagasket

    The BAG, the point about Roger Cohen is that his conclusions are in fact completely wrong (and based on unsubstantiated opinion, by the way).
    Yes, the administration is *trying to* manipulate Americans in every possible way, but so far, it doesn’t seem to be working, it’s not a “positive,” as you or Cohen suggest. It’s a big zilch. No one here seems to care about these bad guys the way the administration wants them to, least of all Congress. And that’s the difference with the upcoming elections compared to 2004.
    The interesting story in the U.S. is that Rove’s PR machine suddenly has no gas. Despite the fact that Americans are being cluster-bombed by terrorism and 9/11 propaganda. But Congress simply isn’t echoing the administration. And neither is the media as it was two years ago.
    From regarding the legislation that Cohen characterizes as Bush “demanding that Congress approve war-crimes trials of these men by military tribunals”:
    “Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said Congress will come to a resolution.
    ‘Obviously there will be differences in approach by the administration and the Congress,’ Warner said.
    Warner, Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham drafted a proposal different than the White House measure that would guarantee legal rights to defendants and access to evidence used against them.
    ‘I think it’s important that we stand by 200 years of legal precedents concerning classified information because the defendant should have a right to know what evidence is being used,’ McCain said.
    White House spokesman Tony Snow downplayed reports that there are major differences between the White House and Congress.
    ‘It’s going to get worked out,’ Snow said when asked if the White House will negotiate with the lawmakers. ‘It may be that the Hill is willing to negotiate.’
    Bush’s proposal faces opposition from members of Congress, including Republicans, over objections to whether prosecutors could use sensitive evidence that defendants would not be allowed to see. Some Republicans say it is violates constitutional rights of due process and could encourage other countries to use the same procedure against captured U.S. military personnel.”,2933,212481,00.html
    So FOX is reporting the exact opposite of what Cohen claims is happening. That’s because it’s *not* happening. Warner, McCain, and Graham think these terrorists should have their rights *guaranteed*!
    Maybe a bunch of positive polls will come out after the 9/11 festivities, but until then, this is not a story that’s working for Rove. Like Rumsfeld’s “appeasers” speech, some things are actually backfiring.

  • The BAG


    The significance here is much more fundamental than the fact the prisoners are being moved around.  To try and reclaim the advantage he lost when the Supreme Court negated the legal underpinnings of holding “enemy combatants,” BushCo has decided to bring these men to trial.  To that extent, they will be given lawyers; the formulation of their trails (still, likely to be some form of military tribunal) is purported to be largely determined by the Congress; they will have access to the Red Cross; their treatment will be subject to the rules of the Geneva convention.  Big capitulation to the rules of justice, right?  On the surface, yes.  But Bush was so legally out-of-bounds and fighting such a losing battle (both inside and outside the party), he had no choice but to give it up.  However, in his major briefing at the White House the other day (attended by some pretty pleased 9/11 family members, one should add), Bush bent over backwards to telegraph the new strategy for exploiting the prisoners.  “To start the process for bringing them to trial,” he said, “we must bring them out into the open.”

  • The BAG

    As I mentioned in the original post, Cohen is also skeptical that strategy will be that effective. Still, my post was primarily to highlight the visual strategy. It could be the administration is so weakened at this point that there is nothing they can do to prevent large losses in the mid-term election. Still, Rove is as dirty as they come when election time rolls around. Let’s see how much they do use these prisoners as the new “poster boys” for their terror war, and whether they do get any mileage out of it. …My sense is that Rove has a number of key Congressional districts he’s focusing on where he’s hoping terrorism scare tactics or anti-immigration scare tactics will ultimately save a few seats and trim the extent of the election damage.

  • Margaret

    I look forward to the future, when, some decades from now, we won’t “celebrate” 9/11 every year, as we did for so many decades, John Kennedy’s assassination. At some point, we will be saturated with the same images, the lack of resolution, the futility we feel about the perpetrators being dead and outside our justice. I say that not out of disrespect for any of the victims, but, because, in stroking this injury, we spend less energy on the problems which brought the act about. And every year that the hole in lower Manhattan fails to be filled with new building, we are carrying that hole in our hearts.

  • Cactus

    I don’t pretend to understand ‘military tribunals’ nor the laws thereof. But isn’t the Pres. assuming that the world will think these tribunals will be acceptable? Rather, isn’t the question WHETHER they are acceptable to the world. Or is he just playing for the local audience and the rest of them foreigners can go to blazes? Is this high-stakes poker with the November 7 the pot?
    Yes, some republicans in congress are making disagreeable noises. But they have done that before and quickly been brought back into the fold, so counting on them for a challenge to W’s wishes is like confidently crossing quicksand barefoot. As for the media becoming more oppositional, they can read the polls like the rest of us. When W is down in the polls it emboldens the sharks. I seriously doubt they will take W to task over anything. They will allow one or two reporters/columnists to do a takedown; if the poll numbers go back up they can always be fired with no loss of face.
    As for SCOTUS, the decision which supposedly triggered this ‘change’ in treatment of prisoners was, if I remember correctly, one reached with Roberts’ abstention because he had heard the case before becoming chief justice. If W gets the legislation he wants passed (with the items the court disallowed before) Roberts can vote this time and will likely vote for it.
    Just because he finally mentions the camel in the middle of the room, that everyone knew was there for five years, doesn’t mean he’s ready to capitulate. W does what W wants to do and when anyone thwarts his goal-seeking activity, he gets mean and bounces around frantically. His speech gets more testy and less coherent. Witness his ‘discussion’ with Matt Lauer on the “Today” show.
    “In his speech, Mr. Bush fiercely resisted that characterization. “I want to be absolutely clear with our people, and the world,” he said. “The United States does not torture. It’s against our laws, and it’s against our values. I have not authorized it — and I will not authorize it.”” [NYT 09/07/06] Does anybody remember Cheney lobbying the house and/or senate to ensure the continuance of the torture provisions? Apparently W thinks we are all senile. Now, do we believe that the ‘extraordinary renditions’ have ended?
    Finally, note that none of these trials will begin until AFTER the election. So W can get the bump by looking like he is taking action (other than bouncing around) and still not have to do anything. Will they really get lawyers and visits by the RC? The rest of the prisoners in Guantanamo are not getting to see lawyers or RC visitors. Why do we think these special 14 will? If he gets the law passed that he wants, then we are back to square one with the lawsuit and supreme court, etc., etc.
    Guess what I’m saying here is that basically I agree with The Bag, except that I’m not giving W the benefit of any doubt up front. The way I approach W is, if his lips are moving he’s lying. If he said the sun was going to come up tomorrow, I’d start looking for the mushroom cloud, or wonder if there was an alternate meaning for the word ’sun.’ For instance, he said “To start the process for bringing them to trial,” I read ’start’ doesn’t mean continue or finish. One can start something on Friday and not finish it till Monday — in 2008.

  • Cactus

    Further to my post above, apparently the Geneva Conventions still won’t apply to detainees held by the CIA:,1,5028355,print.story?coll=la-headlines-nation
    While lawyers for the armed services “generally” endorse W’s separate military court, “….the lawyers voiced concern about the fairness of preventing a defendant from hearing and confronting evidence against him.”
    So, it sounds like a crap shoot at this point. Or maybe more appropriate would be “52-pickup.”

  • Bob

    I have found that anything on Times Select worth reading is usually available on Google Blog in a day or so.

  • ummabdulla

    There’s been pressure from governments and human rights organizations around the world to shut down Guantanamo altogether. Of all the men (and boys) who have been there, many have been released (hundreds, isn’t it?), and only a few have actually been charged. There was little evidence that there were many real terrorists there. (I think they do have contact with their lawyers and the Red Cross, though; at least when they send and receive letters to their families, it’s through the Red Cross. And some families have hired lawyers for their sons there.) But now they can say that Guantanamo does hold real, high-value terrorists, so it has a new reason for its existence.
    I do see the BAG’s point that this move serves to remind people about those guys.
    They can also use this to support their boasts about how many of Al-Qaeda’s organization they have captured. And if the voters being addressed are quite stupid, it won’t occur to them that if one of bin Laden’s lieutenants was killed or arrested five years ago, he might have replaced him by now.
    In Europe, they’re demanding to know which countries in the EU, or soon to be in the EU, have allowed those secret CIA prisons. Bush is pressing the countries not to tell.

  • readytoblowagasket

    Bob said: “I have found that anything on Times Select worth reading is usually available on Google Blog in a day or so.”
    So this supports the point that a Times Select piece doesn’t qualify as being in the mainstream. And it therefore doesn’t have an influence on the mainstream public opinion in this country.
    But a much more important point is, if The BAG uses an *exclusive* article, he can’t expect *us* to give an informed response to his post for a couple of days when it’s available on Google. So then BAGnewsNotes isn’t a community forum on that particular day, it’s just The BAG’s opinion. Well, I object to being shut out on any day, and so should everyone else.
    A third point is, the news flash that Cohen misses completely (because he doesn’t live here) is that things in this country *have already* changed course. You have to be here to notice it, and you have to be paying attention to notice it, because the change is subtle and hard to articulate. The change isn’t a bang or a whimper, it’s somewhere in between. Like a change in the seasons. But it’s real and it’s documentable and it’s cumulative. It’s not just my wishful thinking, I can cite many and various sources pointing to proof of it.
    I can’t say when I myself started noticing it (sometime this summer?), but I can say that the terrorist poster boy theory is flat so far. I’ve been paying attention to the coverage of this particular story and I’ve been surprised and confused that it hasn’t followed the same predictable trajectory of coverage and emotional reaction that it would have followed two years ago. You don’t have to believe me, all you have to do is read, watch, and listen to the mainstream U.S. news to see for yourself.
    Cactus (and anyone else): Here’s an informed and readable article that traces the cumulative legal changes affecting the “enemy combatant” detainees since 9/11, and it touches on the GWOT, the recent Supreme Court decisions, and military tribunals. It’s called “Recovering from 9/11: Return to the Rule of Law.” It’s not written by a pundit or a blogger, it’s written by a professor at Notre Dame Law School.
    I stand by my own observations that things are changing in this country. I spent some time reading Michelle Malkin yesterday, and the wingnuts are extremely disgruntled that *Republicans* are jumping ship. (A pretty entertaining development, actually, since the wingnuts are beginning to vent as much vitriol at Republicans as at Democrats. Ha ha ha!) Maybe it’s time for liberals to look up from licking their wounds before another opportunity passes us by.
    P.S. And for those who don’t know me and wonder if I’m a right-winger just visiting to stir things up in this comment thread, I came out of the womb a liberal, much to my parents’ dismay, and I’ve never ever faltered.

  • Cactus

    rtbag: Haven’t had time to check the references yet, but in the article you cite, I thought she was rather forgiving of Rice with no apparent backup. Also, she is certainly more optimistic than I am. Generally, though, it was a good wrap-up of the legal/military consequences of W’s actions. I do agree that it will be an uphill battle to get back our reputation in the world community.

  • jawbone

    NYTimes photo layout indicates where each was captured.
    None was on any known “field of battle.”
    Unless the whole world is BushBoy’s “field of battle.”

  • Aunt Deb

    Bag, this is interesting. I’m sure you’re right about the hoped for effect of once again parading these men’s pictures before the unknowing public. They will believe the president’s misrepresentations. And they will be angry and appalled when most of these men are not tried or the evidence is disallowed because of the way it was extracted.
    Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, for example, seems not to have given his interrogators any actionable intelligence until he had been held for over a year. Human Rights Watch says that he was moved from Pakistan where he was captured under unclear circumstances to Bagram and from Bagram to an undisclosed prison until he resurfaced at Guantanamo just recently.
    Whatever intelligence he did provide was most certainly done so under torture. Human Rights Watch reports stories that his two young sons were taken prisoner and removed to the US and there is a suggestion that KSM gave evidence in return for his children’s safekeeping. He was also subjected to waterboarding.
    None of this will matter to those Americans who believe the president when he tells them KSM is evil and capturing him has made America safer. They will just be angry at those of us who argue that he should be given a fair trial.

  • ummabdulla

    I assume that some of these guys were fighting the U.S., but I also know that people used to collect money to help the Afghan people, and then actually go to Afghanistan and personally hand it to the people it was intended to go to. There were charity workers there, and in many cases, they were the ones who were easily rounded up and handed over for the reward money – often after making it safely to Pakistan. I remember an article at the time in Newsweek, I think, where an Afghan guide was complaining that he had been paid to take some Kuwaiti charity workers across the border, and he was saying that he’d never do it again, because they weren’t hardened fighters at all, and they had a hard time making the journey across mountain passes, in the snow, etc. Those were the kind of guys who were turned in, because they could get a bounty for any Arab they found.

  • Rafael

    You know, people do have extremely short memories. While the right calls out for all out destruction of places like Lebanon or Iraq, “’cause people that support terrorist deserve the same fate as terrorist” they forget that the IRA used the big cities of the North East as their own personal piggy bank!

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