By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Photo courtesy Congressman Dana Rohrbacher
"[Rohrabacher] says the Taliban are devout traditionalists—not terrorists or revolutionaries. He believes a Taliban takeover [of Afghanistan] would be a positive development."
—Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, November/December 1996 issue
In the hours after the deadly Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist strikes, fear loomed that the federal government had fallen into disarray and would be impotent to stop additional attacks. It didn't help that President George W. Bush hid for several hours at military installations in middle America or that a Bush staffer claimed (without evidence) that Air Force One was a target of foreign terrorists. Members of a special House Intelligence subcommittee on international terrorism evacuated the U.S. Capitol and, in hopes of calming public anxiety, called an emergency press conference.
"Today's vicious attacks were clearly intended to instill fear, cause panic and kill innocent Americans in large numbers," said Representative Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia), head of the House terrorism group. "If terrorists believe they could shut down the U.S. government and paralyze the American people, they were simply mistaken. The government is functioning."
Then Chambliss turned to a bigger question: How could Middle Eastern terrorists hijack four loaded passenger jets and convert them into missiles without any detection by U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies?
"Obviously, nobody knew that this threat was imminent in the way that it happened," Chambliss said. "But terrorism throughout the world, particularly directed at Americans, has been in existence for any number of years. And our committee is striving hard to ensure that we provide the best intelligence possible to hopefully ensure that these types of incidents don't ever happen again."
California's Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat in Chambliss' group, expressed sadness at the death toll but struck a confident note. "Understand that we are getting you the information as fast as we can and that we're taking the steps necessary to protect you and your families from further harm," said Harman (D-Redondo Beach). "The bottom line here is that the U.S. is strong."
But Chambliss and Harman's hope to present a rosy, bipartisan façade for the national C-SPAN audience faded quickly. Representative Dana Rohrabacher—not a member of the terrorism committee—appeared and demanded to speak. Unlike his colleagues, the Huntington Beach Republican had no plans to offer sweet-sounding reassurances.
"Listen! Hold on!" said Rohrabacher. "I am a bigger expert on Afghanistan than any member of Congress."
As a speechwriter and special assistant to President Ronald Reagan, Rohrabacher played a key role in the late 1980s getting money and arms, including U.S.-made Stinger missiles, to Afghan holy warriors, then at war with the Soviet Union. He once bragged of being "certainly a major player" in a coalition inside the White House that supported anyone "opposing Communist domination around the world." In November 1988, he even visited the Afghan front lines during a five-day hike with an armed mujahideen patrol in eastern Afghanistan. Among those fighters he encountered, he later recalled, were "Saudi Arabians under a crazy commander named bin Laden."
Rohrabacher carried that record to a C-SPAN microphone on Sept. 11. "Let me just tell you, this is not just a day of infamy; this is a tragedy," he said. "It's a day of disgrace." Excoriating the intelligence community, he demanded to know, "Where's the FBI? Where's the CIA?" and asked how they would explain their "catastrophic incompetence."
"I've been begging people to do something about Afghanistan," he said. "And I said if we didn't do anything about the Taliban, we would pay a dear price."
The next day, The Orange County Register reported in a top story, "Horror and Hindsight," that the terrorist attacks "could turn out to be a horrific told-you-so" for Rohrabacher. To make sure his "angry" comments were amplified, the congressman granted multiple television, radio and newspaper interviews and authored an unsolicited column that carried this note: "A must read. You will be livid over the level of incompetency [sic] in our intelligence agencies." In it, Rohrabacher claimed that the Clinton administration—out of office for eight months when the attacks occurred—had ignored his pleas not to negotiate with the Taliban, a fundamentalist Islamic party controlling most of Afghanistan since 1996. (A hardcore partisan Republican, Rohrabacher remained silent about numerous meetings between George W. Bush's advisors and the Taliban throughout 2001.) On Sept. 17, 2001, the congressman declared, "There is rage in my soul."
Right-wing organizations across the nation immediately picked up on Rohrabacher's anti-Taliban, anti-Clinton statements and hailed him a "hero."
In fact, Rohrabacher's post-Sept. 11 finger-pointing was a fraud designed to distract attention from his own ongoing meddling in the foreign-policy nightmare. Federal documents reviewed by the Weekly show that Rohrabacher maintained a cordial, behind-the-scenes relationship with Osama bin Laden's associates in the Middle East—even while he mouthed his most severe anti-Taliban comments at public forums across the U.S. There's worse: despite the federal Logan Act ban on unauthorized individual attempts to conduct American foreign policy, the congressman dangerously acted as a self-appointed secretary of state, constructing what foreign-affairs experts call a "dual tract" policy with the Taliban.
A veteran U.S. foreign-policy expert told the Weekly, "If Dana's right-wing fans knew the truth about his actual, working relationship with the Taliban and its representatives in the Middle East and in the United States, they wouldn't be so happy."