Tenet’s Version Doesn’t Have a Prayer


George Tenet tried to rewrite his own role in history by going on 60 Minutes last night and calling the Iraq invasion “a national tragedy” that even he knew four years ago was unwarranted and unjustified.

But his own war-like words at the time put the lie to that claim. I’m not talking about his “slam-dunk” language. I’m quoting from his little-reported but highly public prayer a month before the invasion.

Going public last night to promote his book, Tenet had this little colloquy with CBS’s Scott Pelley:

Pelley: “You said Iraq made no sense to you in that moment. Does it make any sense to you today?”

Tenet: “In terms of complicity with 9/11, absolutely none. It never made any sense. We could never verify that there was any Iraqi authority, direction and control, complicity with al Qaeda for 9/11 or any operational act against America. Period.”

Let’s go back to early February 2003, a little more than a month before the unjustified invasion.

On February 5, 2003, Colin Powell made the Bush regime’s case for war at the U.N. Security Council, even (straight out of Jonny Quest) showing slides of cartoony drawings of mobile WMD labs racing across the Iraqi desert.

The next day, February 6, was the National Prayer Breakfast, where the blood lust was palpable.

The AP’s Ron Fournier wrote a perfunctory account of “the 51-year-old tradition that brings hundreds of lawmakers, military leaders, foreign heads of state, and spiritual leaders together in prayer.” The crowd, wrote Fournier, “included 56 senators, 240 House members, first lady Laura Bush, National Security Director Condoleezza Rice, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and CIA Director George Tenet.”

Fournier dutifully quoted Bush (read the POTUS’s own version):

“This is testing time for our country. At this hour, we have troops that are assembling in the Middle East. There’s oppressive regimes that seek terrible weapons. We face an ongoing threat of terror.”

Tenet also spoke at the prayer breakfast, as I previously noted, and nobody was more hawkish. His words didn’t make news. (C-SPAN last showed the event video on February 9, 2003.) But this is what he said, I kid you not. The CIA director walked to the podium and, with no introductory remarks, intoned his own cartoonish view of the world:

God teaches us to be resolute in the face of evil, using all of the weapons and armor that the word of God supplies.

In chapter six of Paul‘s letter to the Ephesians, we’re told, Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stance against the devil’s schemes.

Our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the principalities, against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Therefore, put on the whole armor of God so that when the day of evil comes you may be able to stand your ground and after you have done everything to stand, stand firm then with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of justice in place and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes with the gospel of peace.

Take up the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God, and pray at all times.

Breastplates? And you wonder why Saracens have referred to Bush and his henchmen as “Crusaders”?

Leave aside the fact that the armor supplied by the Defense Department was inadequate — as soldiers told SecDeaf Don Rumsfeld to his face and as my colleague Tom Robbins wrote about in an October 2004 story about soldiers’ families.

You can also leave aside the rest of Tenet’s homily, which focused on “forgiveness and mercy.” That’s because Tenet sounded even more like an Old Testament character, condescending and patronizing — you know, slay your enemies but be charitable toward them:

At the same time, the word of God also calls us to a life of forgiveness and mercy. . . . We are told, love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back, despairing of no one, and your reward will be great and you will be the sons and daughters of most high, because He is kind to the ungrateful and selfish.

Be merciful even as your father is merciful. Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you.

A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you give will be the measure you get back. The word of the Lord.

Tenet then sat down. Four years later, the war he supported and promoted has killed as many Americans in Iraq as the number killed in New York City on 9/11.

And now, having put down the good book and picked up his own, Tenet’s preaching a different tune.

“The hardest part of all of this has just been listening to this for almost three years,” he told Pelley, adding:

“Listening to the vice president go on Meet The Press on the fifth year of 9/11, and say, ‘Well, George Tenet said, “slam dunk.” ‘ As if he needed me to say slam dunk to go to war with Iraq. And they never let it go. I mean, I became campaign talk. I was a talking point. You know, ‘Look at what the idiot told us, and we decided to go to war.’ Well, let’s not be so disingenuous. Let’s stand up. This is why we did it. This is why, this is how we did it. And let’s tell, let’s everybody tell the truth.”