Path to 9/11 screenwriter and producer Cyrus Nowrasteh asserted that the unedited version of a scene in his film in which Clinton national security adviser Sandy Berger abandons an opportunity to capture or kill Osama bin Laden is an accurate representation of history. However, the scene depicts an event that did not happen, and Nowrasteh himself has acknowledged that the edited portion was fabricated.
As advertised, the January 28 edition of Fox News' Hannity's America featured the unedited version of a scene from part one of ABC's deeply flawed "docudrama," The Path to 9/11, in which Clinton national security adviser Sandy Berger is shown abandoning an opportunity to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. Discussing the scene, host Sean Hannity, Path to 9/11 screenwriter and producer Cyrus Nowrasteh, and CBS terrorism analyst Michael Scheuer all asserted that the unedited version was a more accurate representation of history, even though both versions of the scene depict an event that did not happen and Nowrasteh himself has acknowledged that the scene was fabricated.
As Media Matters for America noted, Fox News advertised that the January 28 Hannity's America would feature "the video Bill Clinton doesn't want you to see," adding that Clinton "forced ABC to cut out an entire scene" and that Fox News would "expose the clip at the center of the controversy." While Fox News did not specify which scene it would broadcast, the Los Angeles Times reported that the Berger scene was among the "outtakes" from the film that Fox News obtained "by taping a public talk" that Nowrasteh "gave to a World Affairs Council chapter."
Hannity aired both the edited and unedited versions of the scene, which depicted Berger refusing to authorize a raid on an isolated compound in Afghanistan, known as Tarnak Farms, to capture or kill bin Laden, even though CIA officers and Afghan fighters were in position just outside. The most dramatic difference between the two versions was a shot of Berger hanging up on then-CIA director George Tenet as he asks for authorization -- that shot was edited out at the last minute by ABC. Even with the edit, the scene still falsely portrayed Berger abandoning the opportunity to act against bin Laden. According to the 9-11 Commission report, Tenet stated that "he alone had decided" to abort the mission on May 29, 1998 -- weeks before the target date of June 23. The report further noted that both intelligence and military officials had serious doubts about the likelihood of its success. It also noted that the operation had been planned out and rehearsed, but gave no indication that CIA or Afghan personnel were in position and ready to conduct the operation when it was canceled.
Nowrasteh himself admitted the scene was fabricated, telling The New York Times that "Berger did not slam down the phone. That is not in the report. That was not scripted." Nevertheless, after airing both versions, Hannity hosted Nowrasteh and Scheuer, who defended the scene's accuracy. Nowrasteh claimed the pressure to edit the film "was just an attempt to sort of suppress history."
Scheuer, a former CIA analyst, was head of the CIA's bin Laden unit during the Clinton administration. Scheuer anonymously authored Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror (Potomac Books, 2004), which harshly criticized the Bush administration's actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. In the words of former counterterrorism czar Richard A. Clarke, the book declared "that the U.S. war on terrorism is a failure." Scheuer is also quoted in the 9-11 Commission's final report -- identified only as "Mike" -- criticizing Clinton administration officials for calling off a strike against bin Laden in December 1998.
From the January 28 edition of Hannity's America:
HANNITY: And for a more in-depth look at these cut clips and the truth behind the story, we're joined by the writer and producer of ABC's Path to 9/11, Cyrus Nowrasteh. And former CIA senior intelligence analyst and current CBS News terrorism analyst Michael Scheuer is with us. All right, Cyrus, let me begin with you. First of all, you know, you based this -- you felt what you had in there originally was true. Tell us about the political pressure to edit it.
NOWRASTEH: Well, you know, I wasn't privy to a lot of that pressure. I mean, it was sort of a national hysteria at the time, and I think there was just an attempt to sort of suppress history.
HANNITY: Are you angry at what happened? Are you angry that they edited your work in this case?
NOWRASTEH: Well, of course. You know, you want it to show as you originally intended, but I think the intent and meaning of the scene remained the same. I think the scene is still very powerful, and I've talked to many people and heard from many people across the country who felt -- you know, they got the message. They understand.
Scheuer, when asked if the unedited version was "more accurate," responded: "I think so," even though he later noted that the "putting together or the drama might have been off the mark a little bit." Scheuer also claimed the scene reflected the "habit" of Clinton's National Security Council "to throw the decision back on to Mr. Tenet," even though Tenet acknowledged making this decision on his own:
HANNITY: I would argue that it's very different. Michael, let me bring you in here. You were in charge of the bin Laden unit here. Was Cyrus' original edit more accurate than what aired eventually?
SCHEUER: I think so. I think there was a habit of the National Security Council to throw the decision back on to Mr. Tenet. But I also think there's an odd situation here because the argument that they didn't have the opportunity to kill Osama bin Laden is just a lie, and the film is exactly right in that context. The putting together or the drama might have been off the mark a little bit, I'm not sure. But the fact remains that bin Laden, all things being equal, should be splattered over the terrain of southern Afghanistan.
Scheuer went on to attack the 9-11 Commission, claiming that it could have released "documentary evidence" proving that the film "was correct in the sense that the opportunities existed":
HANNITY: Well, let me ask you this: Does this, maybe, explain Sandy Berger stuffing documents in his pants?
SCHEUER: Mr. Hannity, I think that the real failure here is the 9-11 Commission. They had documentary evidence that could have been made available to the American public that demonstrated that the film that we're talking about was correct, in the sense that the opportunities existed. We'll certainly never know what documents Mr. Berger destroyed, but I think his destruction of documents makes it incumbent to publish some of the documents the commission has.
The 9-11 Commission's final report described several plans, attempts, and opportunities to capture or kill bin Laden from 1996 through 1999, including the Tarnak Farms operation noted above.