By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
WASHINGTON, D.C.The 9-11 commissioners looked pretty silly, pulling their chairs up around George W. Bush and Dick Cheney in the White House this morning for a good 'ol gab fest. Some of them probably didn't figure on becoming props in Bush's re-election campaign.
That's exactly what they became. As the meeting got under way the Bush campaign launched its spin. "This is a good opportunity," White House press secretary Scott McClellan solemnly declared, "for the president to sit down with members of the commission and talk with them about the seriousness with which we took the threat from Al Qaeda, the steps we were taking to confront it, and how we have been responding to the attacks of September 11." He added, "This is a private meeting. The discussion from this meeting will be reflected in their final report."
And when it was over, the president briefly talked with reporters, saying he had had a "good discussion" with the commission. In a condescending tone, Bush said, "I'm glad I did it. I'm glad I took the time. . . I enjoyed it." He didn't say what the questions were or how he answered them, but when reporters pushed, the president said, "If we had something to hide, we wouldn't have met with them in the first place." He added, "We answered all their questions."
So once again, without telling us anything of substance, the president comes off looking solemn and presidential, capturing the news for a full day of headlines that can't help but further tie down his campaign stance as the wartime president.
The meeting couldn't possibly hurt the president. It was secret. Bush and Cheney could cover each other's butts so there are no discrepancies. There is no record. No oath. Just a nice friendly get-together. It has little to do with informing the public.
Even so, after three hours of talking, the commission issued a statement saying the meeting was "extraordinary" and went on to gush, in a statement: "The commission found the president and the vice president forthcoming and candid. The information they provided will be of great assistance to the commission as it completes its final report. " Whatever that means.
What should the commission have been doing? Read what Monica Gabrielle, one of the Jersey Girls, wrote in the Los Angeles Times this morning: "I want to know the whole ugly truth. My husband, Richard Gabrielle, died on the 103rd floor of Tower 2 that day; I want to know what was done beforehand to prevent it from happening, and I want to know what we're doing to prevent it from happening again. My great fear is that their answers will never find their way to the public. I can't be at the meeting. I'm not allowed in. "
Did Bush and/or Cheney answer any of the tough questions? Who knows? We will never know. Gabrielle posed some questions of her own. And here are some that ought to get straight answers:
For Bush:Given the warnings on hijackings and flying bombs, why were there only 14 planes assigned to cover the entire U.S. on 9-11, only seven of them airborne? Why wasn't the Pentagon defended? Where was Rumsfeld and what was he doing? Did you ever talk to him? What were you doing reading stories to kids in Florida when you knew the nation was under attack? Why didn't you get back to Washington ASAP? What were you doing hop-skipping around the country all day? What about this story put out by the White House that Air Force One was a target? Is that for real? Who let the Bin Laden family skip the country when all commercial flights were grounded?
For Cheney:What were you doing all day? Give us a chronology of your movements. Did you issue any orders that day, either in your name or the president's?
See also: Grilled to Order.