The War On Terror: How The White House Circumvented Human Rights From ‘Enemy Combatants’

Adam Fitzgerald
15 min readMay 28, 2022

“We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we’re going to be successful. That’s the world these folks operate in, and so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.” (Vice President Dick Cheney, Meet The Press, September 16th 2001)

US Vice President Dick Cheney was the single most prepared man in the White House on September 11th 2001. Probably the most assured in the country on that fateful and harrowing day. During the 1980's he secretly participated in a top-secret program which simulated a doomsday scenario where it was to ensure the continuity of government in a nuclear fallout with the Soviet Union. The challenge was to ensure civil order and control over the military in the event where most of the executive branch was decimated. On September 11th 2001, it was Cheney who calmly took control in the Presidential Emergency Operations Command Center. Cheney was a skeptic regarding the CIA and was insistent on reviewing data himself due to the fact that here was no proper analysis of intelligence before giving it to the President. With the exception of Richard Clark, the CIA’s Counter-terrorism Center and the FBI, the Bush Administration had no insight into Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda,

The lesson for Bush and Cheney was that Bin Laden saw them as soft. Soon after the September 11 2001 attacks, Cheney’s saw fit to add some of the best lawyers in the country who would work in secret at the White House while the Department of Justice came up with legal ramifications for a vast expansion of government power in waging the war on terror. These lawyers drafted legislature in which enemy combatants could not be protected under the Geneva Convention, where torture can be legal to an extent and where the President can suspend ‘writ of habeas corpus’ which guarantees a person the right to challenge his imprisonment in front of an independent authority. In which they could be held in indefinite detention for the duration of the war against terrorism.

Arthur Schlesinger remarked on what he thought about President Bush’s policy on torture in 2000,

”No position taken has done more damage did the American reputation in the world ever”.

On the evening of September 11th a series of cables shown to CIA director George Tenet, and his Chief of Staff John Moseman, found that the CIA were closely monitoring two men known to be Al Qaeda subjects. Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, up until January 2000 where they reported that they lost track of both men as they left an Al Qaeda summit meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. However Tenet, would lie to the National Commission On The Terrorist Attacks of Sept 11th and the Joint House Inquiry as they claimed the CIA had warned the Bush White House about an attack by Bin Laden in August 2001.

One such cable that reached the CIA’s Bin Laden Issue Station, code-named ‘Alec Station’, was read by Doug Miller (NYC FBI Counter-terrorism) he would read the Central Intelligence report that stated that Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi both had dual US entry visas and we’re heading to the United States at Los Angeles International Airport on January 15th 2001.

However, Miller’s draft report to FBI headquarters in Washington DC was not validated by the CIA’s Bin Laden Issue Station Chief, Tom Wilshire, and the CIA sat on this information for 16 months until Richard Blee (Chief of Station Alec Station) vaguely mentions al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi with the White House leading investigators and officials at a principals meeting on August 24th, 2001. This was not the first time the CIA managed to intentionally withhold information from the FBI or the State Department.

Back in January 2001 during the transition from the Clinton to Bush administrations, Cofer Black sent a classified letter titled “The Blue Sky Memo” to the Bush Administration warning of al-Qaeda and steps needed to fight against it. No action was taken on these ideas in the few remaining weeks of the Clinton administration. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger did not recall seeing or being briefed on the Blue Sky memo. Nor was the memo discussed during the transition with incoming top Bush administration officials.

The CIA also never cared to mention to anyone that the NSA also had a wiretap on an Al Qaeda communications hub located in Sana'a Yemen. This came from information, also gleaned by the NSA, from Bin Laden’s satellite phone which was also monitored by the signals intelligence agency.

Richard Clarke also tried, repeatedly, to get Bush’s National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice, to hold principals meetings reporting about Al-Qaeda only to be ignored. Clarke also plead his case to Bush to help the Northern Alliance in their fight against the Taliban only to be rejected. The CIA were known to hoard information from other competing agencies, but this time, it cost lives.

During Tenet’s testimony, Joint House Inquiry panelist, Carl Levin, inquired to Tenet about the CIA’s refusal to share al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi’s US visas with the FBI, Tenet responded that nobody had read the cable since it was an information only cable. Clarke was later interviewed by Newsweek about this”

”I believed, for the longest time, that this was one or two low-level desk officers who got this information about Hazmi and Mihdhar and somehow didn’t realize the significance,” he told them. But “50 — five oh — 50 CIA officers knew this, and they included [Tenet and] all kinds of people who were regularly talking to me? Saying I’m pissed doesn’t begin to describe it.”

Now the CIA were going to be trusted with leading the nation out of the “rubble”, so to speak, by capturing terrorists involved with the attacks, and also being the lead in interrogating them. Leading federal and intelligence officials to question their ability to conduct these operations with any validity or moral standing.

On the evening of September 12th the first and only foreign flight to enter US airspace after the national shutdown was a private jet carrying several British intelligence officials including Sir Richard Dearlove the chief of MI6, David Manning, foreign policy adviser as well as a number of others. The British were nervous about how the United States would react toward Al-Qaeda but Tenet said no action would be taken against Iraq. As many leading Neoconservatives' allied with Israel were later whispering in Bush’s ear over. The very next day Bush conveyed his National Security Council in the situation Room. Tenet and Cofer black lead the briefing with Tenet proposing boosting the Northern Alliance with CIA paramilitary teams and Special Forces from the US military.

Near the end of the briefing, Black turns to President Bush and exclaimed

“You give us this mission, we can get them, when we’re through, they will have flies walking on their eyeballs!”

After the briefing, Bush approved of almost everything the CIA asked him for, and then some. Bush had also remarked to Ashcroft and stated that a terrorist attack should never happen again. To which Ashcroft replied that he would do whatever it takes.

The Bin Laden Issue Station was located in a drab 5th floor government office building in a shopping mall in Tysons Center Ridge. Select employees tasked t its station needed a special identity card to be swiped thru to enter. It’s primary task was to collect data on Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda anywhere in the world, while employing a multi-national agency task force to work alongside with them. But the CIA’s counter-terrorism Center could not fully understand Khalid Sheikh Mohammed altogether, was he Al-Qaeda or freelancer? Cofer black took bin Laden head on. During the early 1990’s while living in Khartoum, Sudan, Bin Laden tried to have black assassinated.

Which pushed this to a personal issue with Black regarding the fanatical Saudi. The CIA had never penetrated the Al Qaeda network and after 4 years the Bin Laden Issue Station was seen as an embarrassment and Michael Sawyer chief of station was replaced with a more agency minded individual in Richard Blee. Later as Black was tasked to lead the Counter-terrorism Center, he would outline a memo inaugurating the idea of using of paramilitary death squads which were authorized to hunt and kill Bin Laden.

Just days after the attacks, White House lawyers drafted a proposal that would give the Bush White House virtually unchecked Authority and the ability to do virtually anything. Alberto Gonzalez, White House Lead Council, demanded that Congress expand on the president’s authority even further than what was already agreed-upon. Bush wanted to wage war against suspected terrorists abroad and inside the United States. Congress however approved on a compromise. They would give the president the authority to treat the war on terror as an armed conflict with few boundaries. Bush could use all necessary and appropriate force to wage war against any Nation harboring terrorists, whether they were persons or organizations determined by Bush that were part of the September 11th terrorist attacks.

On September 14th 2001, the Senate voted unanimously, 420 to 1, to expand on more unlimited War Powers for the President. A secret White House Memo from the Justice Department argued that in times of National Emergency if the president decided the threat justified deploying the military inside the country he would be given authority to do so. he also could legally raid or attack dwellings with terrorists who were thought to be aiding and abetting. Despite the risks that third parties could be injured by exchanges of gunfire. The government could also shoot down civilian airliners that were hijacked by terrorists and set up military operations inside American cities. Two men who were influential in drafting these remarkable pieces of legislation were John Yoo. Deputy Chief of the Justice Department, and Timothy Flanagan, lawyer for the White House Counsel Office. Both men were active in the Federalist Society, a group of conservative lawyers who wanted to re-establish the original interpretation of the Constitution.

John Yoo and David Addington wanted to authorize the fight against terrorism from a criminal justice matter to a full-fledged military war. Thereby allowing the CIA and Pentagon to capture or kill and question terror suspects as swiftly as possible with as much latitude as possible. Both Bush and Cheney made clear they wanted to be as aggressive as the law would allow. Yoo would argue that no one could limit the method, timing or place regarding the President’s war on terror. On October 25th, Vice President Cheney called for a meeting with members of the Senate and House Intelligence Oversight Committee as he outlined a closely guarded plan from Bush, it was the terrorist surveillance program which allowed for the NSA to intercept phone calls and other communications including emails to and from the United States without a warrant. There would be a vehement disagreement between the White House Counsel and lawyers in the NSA about how to bypass US laws regarding the privacy of citizens data. The White House later engaged with NSA Director, Michael Hayden, about the need for the NSA to collect as much meta-data as possible without the use of walls. He was given the “green light”.

On September 20th 2001, The Project for the New American Century (PNAC), an influential neoconservative think tank, publishes a letter addressed to President Bush, insisting that the war on terrorism include as one of its objectives the removal of Saddam Hussein from power — “even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack.” “Failure to undertake such an effort will constitute an early and perhaps decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism.” PNAC also says the US should demand that Iran and Syria cease all support of Hezbollah, and if they fail to do so, the US should “retaliate” against those two countries as well. Israel is praised in the letter as “America’s staunchest ally against international terrorism.”

Douglas Feith suggests in a draft memo that the US should consider “hitting terrorists outside the Middle East in the initial offensive, perhaps deliberately selecting a non-al-Qaeda target like Iraq.” Other regions he proposes attacking include South America and Southeast Asia. He reasons that an initial attack against such targets would “surprise… the terrorists” and catch them off guard.

The Bush White House had forced the hand of the intelligence community to “find” Al Qaeda and an Iraq connection. When the FBI failed, the CIA had taken up the task, but were split. Tenet however, had a wild card.

“There were constant efforts to pressure the intelligence community to provide assessments that would support their views. If they couldn’t get what they wanted out of the intelligence community, they simply created their own intelligence.” (Flynt Leverett, senior staff member of the Bush National Security Council)

Meanwhile the White House especially, Vice President Cheney, wanted to reformat laws regarding prisoners of war. On November 13th 2001, John Yoo had sanctioned White House plans to give the Defense Department sole authority to decide which terrorists will be tried in Military Commissions. Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and Attorney General John Ashcroft, were left out of the loop. Addington would later edit the draft to where the White House, and not the Defense Department, would decide which terrorists were tried. The memo also ignored international law, suggesting the President could abide by it or not and terrorists would not be afforded protection of the Geneva Convention.

This would mean that any foreign nation that the President deems as a nation that allows terrorists living inside it or have conspired in terrorism would come under attack. Defendants would have limited rights to confront their accusers, they also would not be able to see evidence against them while also unable to stand in front of the accusers at trial. Another term for this is, “indefinite detention’. These rules for the Military Commission would be dictated on an ad-hoc basis by the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld.

Stephen Kenny an Australian lawyer remarked that the United States will never charged anyone, and that there is no incentive to. They can hold and interrogate every single detainee forever. On December 19th 2001, Pakistani Security Forces captured an individual escaping from Afghanistan Ibn Shaikh al-Libo he was turned over to the CIA, he was chief of the Khalden training camp in Afghanistan, FBI agent from the New York City office, Jack Cloonan, advised FBI agents to interview him. Russell Fincher from New York City office and Marty Marion a New York City detective, spoke with al-Libi. They got such information including one plot which was the bombing of a US Embassy in Aden, Yemen. The information from al-Libi was shared with the CIA. Much like with every FBI prisoner, the CIA took over the al-Libi case.

Cloonan retired in disgust over the decision. However, the decision came from Bush who favored Tenet over Mueller as Bush preferred the CIA tough-guy approach. He also approved of the rendition program and after 9/11 the staff at CIA counter-terrorism had grown from 300 to 1,200 in weeks. It is not known exactly how many people have been renditioned by the CIA since the program remains classified. The United States chose Egypt as the country to send prisoners using the program to enforce torture methods. Egypt was notoriously known for using torture methods which are illegal inside the United States. Each rendition subject is authorized either by George Tenet, or the head of the counterterrorism center. In 1998 President Clinton signed a classified memo “Apprehension, Extradition, Rendition and Prosecution” of wanted fugitives. after 9/11 CIA black sites was seen in Cuba, Afghanistan, and Poland. Soon over a dozen countries were secretly involved in the program.

“Members of the Rendition Group follow a simple but standard procedure: Dressed head to toe in black, including masks, they blindfold and cut the clothes off their new captives, then administer an enema and sleeping drugs. They outfit detainees in a diaper and jumpsuit for what can be a day-long trip. Their destinations: either a detention facility operated by cooperative countries in the Middle East and Central Asia, including Afghanistan, or one of the CIA’s own covert prisons — referred to in classified documents as “black sites”, which at various times have been operated in eight countries, including several in Eastern Europe.” (Washington Post, December 18,2005)

On January 18th 2002, Rumsfeld sent an order to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, declaring that the military no longer needed to follow the Geneva Convention rules in handling of people suspected of being Taliban or Al-Qaeda. The President has decided that all prisoners captured are enemy combatants. After being beaten by his captors in Egypt, al-Libi fabricated a story regarding Al-Qaeda and Iraq. al-Libi told Egyptian officers…

“Iraq — acting on the request of al-Qa’ida militant Abu Abdullah, who was Muhammad Atef’s emissary — agreed to provide unspecified chemical or biological weapons training for two al-Qa’ida associates beginning in December 2000. The two individuals departed for Iraq but did not return, so al-Libi was not in a position to know if any training had taken place.”

His forced confessions were used by Secretary of State, Colin Powell, to the United Nations Security Council to go to war against Iraq. Tenet had vouched for a Libby to Powell who was skeptical. A year later al-Libi recanted the story about Al-Qaeda procuring chemical and biological weapons. He was sent back and CIA custody where al-Libi told investigators…”They were killing me, i had to tell them something!”.

On September 8, 2006, the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released “Phase II” of its report on prewar intelligence on Iraq. Conclusion 3 of the report states the following:

“Postwar findings support the DIA February 2002 assessment that Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi was likely intentionally misleading his debriefers when he said that Iraq provided two al-Qa’ida associates with chemical and biological weapons (CBW) training in 2000 … Postwar findings do not support the CIA’s assessment that his reporting was credible … No postwar information has been found that indicates CBW training occurred and the detainee who provided the key prewar reporting about this training recanted his claims after the war … CIA’s January 2003 version of Iraqi Support for Terrorism described al-Libi’s reporting for CBW training “credible”, but noted that the individuals who traveled to Iraq for CBW training had not returned, so al-Libi was not in position to know if the training had taken place … In January 2004, al-Libi recanted his allegations about CBW training and many of his other claims about Iraq’s links to al Qa’ida.

He told debriefers that, to the best of his knowledge, al-Qa’ida never sent any individuals into Iraq for any kind of support in chemical or biological weapons. Al-libi told debriefers that he fabricated information while in U.S. custody to receive better treatment and in response to threats of being transferred to a foreign intelligence service which he believed would torture him … He said that later, while he was being debriefed by a (REDACTED) foreign intelligence service, he fabricated more information in response to physical abuse and threats of torture. The foreign government service denies using any pressure during al-Libi’s interrogation. In February 2004, the CIA reissued the debriefing reports from al-Libi to note that he had recanted information. A CIA officer explained that while CIA believes al-Libi fabricated information, the CIA cannot determine whether, or what portions of, the original statements or the later recants are true or false.”

The Bush-Neocon war hawks such as Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz and Robert Kagan, ultimately got what they wanted after 20 years. A full scale invasion of Iraq. Later, on May 19th 2009, Egyptian authorities found al-Libi hanged in his cell, his death was ruled a suicide. Suspicions arose that he was killed, on orders from the CIA, as they feared international organizations were going to visit him and get him to speak on his torture from his captors.

On May 12, 2012, the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission found Yoo, along with former President Bush, former Vice President Cheney, and several other senior members of the Bush administration, guilty of war crimes in absentia. The trial heard “harrowing witness accounts from victims of torture who suffered at the hands of US soldiers and contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan”.

According to the Foreign Policy Journal:

“Professor Gurdial Singh Nijar, who headed the prosecution said: “The tribunal was very careful to adhere scrupulously to the regulations drawn up by the Nuremberg courts and the International Criminal Courts.

Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and their legal advisers Alberto Gonzales, David Addington, William Haynes, Jay Bybee and John Yoo were tried in absentia in Malaysia.

The trial held in Kuala Lumpur heard harrowing witness accounts from victims of torture who suffered at the hands of US soldiers and contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan.

They included testimony from British man Moazzam Begg, an ex-Guantanamo detainee and Iraqi woman Jameelah Abbas Hameedi who was tortured in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison.

At the end of the week-long hearing, the five-panel tribunal unanimously delivered guilty verdicts against Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and their key legal advisors who were all convicted as war criminals for torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.” (Foreign Policy Journal, May 12, 2012)

The legislation passed by the Bush White House, led by it’s legal counsel and with massive influence from the CIA and NSA, will forever have a ripple effect on this nation, and thru-ought the rest of the world.



Adam Fitzgerald

Geo-political scientist/researcher into the events of September 11th 2001.