The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States

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The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States (official government edition). US Government Printing Office (http://www. gpoaccess.gov/index.html), 732 N. Capitol Street, NW, Washington, DC 20401, 2004, 588 pages, $8.50 (softcover). http://www.9-l !commission, gov/report/911Report.pdf.

The stakes in the war on terrorism are very high-nothing less than our nation and way of life. The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States was charged not only with analyzing one of the most horrendous events ever to occur on American soil and the dire threat, it represents to our nation, but also with making recommendations to prevent a recurrence. This review of the commission's report, however, may generate more questions than answers.

In terms of readability, some of the report's chapters resemble a dry intelligence estimate, others an engaging political history such as Barbara Tuchman's The Gww.s of August, and still others a painful PowerPoint briefing. The writing, vetting, publishing, and distributing of the report proved atypical for a US government publication. Certainly not a transparent process, the writing and publishing proceeded under a curtain of secrecy; nevertheless, many of the interviews conducted by the commission turned into public show-trials, and a number of commission members regularly appeared on television, voicing some blatantly partisan agendas. A dense tome of nearly 600 pages, the text appeared on the Internet and was available for public purchase even before most Pentagon personnel received copies. Furthermore, the composition of the commission-an unusual mix of senior statesmen, partisan politicians, and serious scholars-and the influence of its staff were extraordinary and controversial. Bizarrely, some members behaved (and still act) like celebrities on tourappearing on the lecture circuit, television, and the Web; promoting their own books; and lobbying for their positions (even during the commission's interview process). Overall, the commission and its report took the form of a hybrid mix of politics and policy, research and drama. In the end, it recommended a vector similar to one that the US government is already pursuing, with some structural changes in the bureaucracy.

A strength of the report is its great detail concerning the execution of the attacks (pp. xv-46 and 145-324). Readers will find the chapter "Terrorist Entrepreneurs" especially provocative; take, for example, its description of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) : "Highly educated and equally comfortable in a government office or a terrorist safe-house, KSM applied his imagination, technical aptitude, and managerial skills to hatching and planning an extraordinary array of terrorist schemes" (p. 145). Perfectly capable of leading a normal, productive life, this particularly twisted murderer instead made a conscious decision to kill innocents in cold blood. Such psychoanalysis of the terrorists is mildly interesting but should be more chilling-rather than apply their energies to helping their people build a better life, terrorists prefer to destroy and kill. Fortunately, the 9/11 report points out that Islamist terrorism is "the catastrophic threat" (p. 362), representing a way of thinking that completely opposes American values and Western civilization. It also validates the assertion that we must vigorously guard against mirror imaging in war planning and homeland defense.

The report's explanation of terrorist motivations, however, suffers from the lack of any regional, political, and religious history that underlies the terrorist threat. Without a sense of continuity, the full texture of the terrorist psyche and their malevolent Weltanschauung (worldview) becomes simplified and homogenized. A better study would include a historical review, perhaps beginning with early Middle Eastern history and the emergence of Muhammad. Certainly it should have included a summary reaching back to the region's colonial past. …