Extracts from a Radical’s Diary

Up at eight after a horribly humid night; the air conditioning in the cottage has broken down, a week ago.

Breakfast at the Banana Café with the gang — Ken and the rest. We agree that Condoleeza Rice put on a much better performance before the Sept 11 Inquiry than we had expected; she was very professional with her evasions. I wonder if she was not a bit too clever. Her lip-trembling opening statement for twenty minutes, like a sophomore called upon to deliver the valedictory at the end of term, contrasted with her Iron Lady responses to some of the tougher questions.

There are certain signs, bits of body language, that normally reveal when a witness is fudging or even lying. One is this: the witness unconsciously tugs at the lobe of an ear, or strokes one finger down his cheek close to the nose, like wiping a tear, as he answers.

But there are also certain phrases. To my mind, the subtle give-away, revealing her underlying bad conscience, was when one Commissioner asked her if she recalled the title of the now famous Presidential Daily Briefing of August 6, 2001. She paused, her eyes expressionless, and then said: “I believe it was …” and gave the precise wording of the PDB’s title. The “I believe” is a seemingly harmless phrase, what the Germans call a Floskel, which a witness unconsciously uses when he has been caught.

“Where was your hand at that precise moment, Ms Rice?” — “I believe it was in the cookie jar.”

[. . . ] I work all afternoon and evening on “Churchill’s War”, vol. iii: “The Sundered Dream”. Purchased a can of mushroom soup at Fausto’s. Heated it and had it for supper then worked on until a torrential downpour began around midnight.
April 12, 2004

Many Americans watched George Bush’s televised remarks yesterday — I know that I did too, in some disbelief. In that press conference at Fort Hood, Texas, to a pool of hand-picked poodles of the press, the president mumbled that if the now declassified Presidential Daily Briefing of August 6, 2001 had said that Osama bin Laden was planning to attack New York and Washington, and to fly planes into buildings, then he would have been ready for him. He was as inept and incoherent as his National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice, watching him with furrowed brow from a few yards away, had been cute and tricksy (and Condi thoroughly deserved the “soul-baring” treatment that Janet Jackson meted out to her on Prime Time TV last night).

As Richard Cohen [cohenr@washpost.com] says in his syndicated column in today’s Washington Post, it would be no great achievement to be ready for an attack if the attacker told you precisely where and how to expect it.

A little bell tinkled in my memory, and George Bush turned into Idi Amin. Another little bell, and I realised why.

A friend of mine was among the first journalists to get into Idi Amin’s office after his overthrow, and found on his desk

· a large Idi Amin medal (which the journalist later gave to me: it has now been seized by the British government trustee); and
· a blue official file, labeled Property of the Republic of Uganda, Top Secret.

The folder was half an inch thick, containing several hundred pages of transcripts, the official Court of Inquiry into the Israeli raid on Entebbe airport.

There were all sorts of parallels. Idi was taken totally by surprise. Israeli commandos had landed three giant transport planes on the runway, uninvited, fought a running battle with the Ugandan army, rescued hostages held in the airport by Palestinians, bundled them into the planes, and taken off into the night sky. Binyamin Netanyahu’s brother was among those killed in the operation (I offered the file to the State of Israel years later, but they were rather sniffy about accepting it; fortunately it has escaped seizure).

I AM not a racist, but I could not help chuckling at some of the less illuminating exchanges in the Idi Amin Inquiry. A Condoleeza was nowhere to be seen, just a bunch of dimwitted Black army officers and NCOs, onto whom the buck had been passed.

One was a lieutenant in the airport’s Research Department. (For Research, read Interrogation). He was asked what he was doing at the time the shooting began in the airport building. The lieutenant said: “I was downstairs in the basement torturing a suspect when I heard shooting begin.” His further account has him running upstairs, seeing men in uniform (“I could not see whose side they were on — their faces were black”), taking cover in the lady’s lavatory, and panicking when somebody tapped on the door. “I shot at him through the door. Unfortunately he was not an Israeli.”

The Ugandan Army colonel responsible for perimeter security was next called to testify. “Colonel,” said the barrister, and one can almost hear his well-modulated Harvard Law School tones ringing round the courtroom. “Colonel, tell us what in your opinion led to the success of the Israeli operation.”

“They did not tell us they were coming. They took us completely by surprise. Nobody told us. If the Israelis had told us they were coming, we would have been ready for them.”

As I said, a little bell rang in my memory when I watched George Bush make his statement at Fort Hood yesterday. What a pity we won’t be seeing his testimony to the Sept 11 inquiry on TV.

But we shall be seeing Attorney-General John Ashcroft; I wonder if any of the Commissioners will ask him why he was advised not to fly by commercial airliner in July 2001, that is, at roughly the same time as that PDB was being drafted?