Rudy Giuliani's Five Big Lies About 9/11

On the stump, Rudy can't help spreading smoke and ashes about his lousy record

This is naked revisionism—and not just because of his own well established, head-in-the-sand indifference to the 1993 bombing. It's as unambiguously partisan as his claim that on 9/11, he looked to the sky, saw the first fighter jets flying over the city well after the attack, and thanked God that George W. Bush was president. Bob Kerrey, the former Democratic senator who sat on the 9/11 Commission, put it fairly: "Prior to 9/11, no elected official did enough to reduce the threat of Al Qaeda. Neither political party covered itself in glory."


Giuliani's lifelong friend Louis Freeh, the former FBI head who has endorsed him for president, wrote in his 2005 autobiography that "the nation's fundamental approach to Osama bin Laden and his ilk was no different after the inauguration of January 21, 2001, than it had been before." As Bob Kerrey noted, the five Democrats and five Republicans on the 9/11 Commission said much the same thing. Freeh added that both administrations "were fighting criminals, not an enemy force" before 9/11, and Giuliani is now making precisely the same policy point, but limiting his critique to Clinton. Even the fiercely anti-Clinton Freeh credited the former president with "one exception," saying his administration did go after bin Laden "with a salvo of Tomahawk missiles in 1998 in retaliation for the embassy bombings in East Africa."

The best example of Giuliani's partisan twist is the USS Cole, which was attacked on October 12, 2000, three weeks before the 2000 election. The 9/11 Commission report found that in the final Clinton months, neither the FBI, then headed by Freeh, nor the CIA had a "definitive answer on the crucial question of outside direction of the attack," which Clinton said he needed to go to war against bin Laden or the Taliban. All Clinton got was a December 21 "preliminary judgment" from the CIA that Al Qaeda "supported the attack." A month later, when the Bush team took office, the CIA delivered the same "preliminary" findings to the new president. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told the commission "there was never a formal, recorded decision not to retaliate for the Cole" by the Bush administration, just "a consensus that 'tit-for-tat' responses were likely to be counterproductive." Rice thought that was the case "with the cruise missile strikes of 1998," meaning that the new administration was deriding the one response that Freeh praised. Bush himself told the commission that he was concerned "lest an ineffective air strike just serve to give bin Laden a propaganda advantage." With all of this evidence of bipartisan paralysis, Giuliani has nonetheless limited his Cole attack to Clinton.

Illustration by John Kascht

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Additional research assistance by Benjamin Bright, Ben Greenberg, Jan Ransom, Ethan Strauss, and Tom Wiedeman.

It is all part of a devoutly partisan exploitation of his 9/11 legend. Though Giuliani volunteered to execute bin Laden himself after 9/11, he's never criticized Bush for the administration's failure to capture him or the other two top culprits in the attack, Mullah Omar and Ayman al-Zawahiri, a silence more revealing than anything he actually says about terrorism. The old evidence that Bush relied on Afghan proxies to capture bin Laden at Tora Bora, and the new evidence that he outsourced him to Pakistani proxies in Waziristan, evokes no Giuliani bark. Imagine if a Democratic president had done that—or had said, as Bush did, that "I just don't spend that much time" on bin Laden.

At the Republican National Convention in 2004, Giuliani began his celebrated speech by fusing 9/11 and the Iraq War as only he could do, reminding everyone of Bush's bullhorn declaration at Ground Zero that the people who brought down these towers "will hear from us," and declaring that they "heard from us in Iraq"—a far more invidious connection on this question than Dick Cheney has ever made. Giuliani even went so far, in his 2004 testimony before the 9/11 Commission, to claim that if he'd been told about the presidential daily briefing headlined "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in the U.S.," which mentioned New York three times, "I can't honestly tell you we would have done anything differently." Pressed about whether the city would have benefited from knowing about a spike in warnings so vivid that the CIA director's "hair was on fire," Giuliani just shrugged. He'd seen many close friends buried after 9/11, but his answer had more to do with the November election than the September attack that took their lives.

"They don't see the threat," he derides the Democrats wherever he goes, ridiculing even their adjectives. "During the Democratic debates, I couldn't find one of them that ever mentioned the words 'Islamic terrorist'—none of them," he contends. "If you can't say the words 'Islamic terrorists,' then you have a hard time figuring out who is our biggest enemy in the world."

In fact, during the three Democratic debates, the candidates referred to "terrorism," "terrorists," or "terror" 24 times—only the modifier was missing, though John Edwards did warn in June that "radical Islam" could take over in Pakistan. By focusing on "radical Islam" as opposed to "Islamic terrorism," the Democrats may actually be avoiding any suggestion that America is engaged in a war against Islam—and even Giuliani would concede that Osama bin Laden is a perversion of Islam. Indeed, though Giuliani is claiming that he's been "studying" Islamic terrorism since 1975, a search of Giuliani news stories and databases reveals that the first time he was cited using the term was in his May 2004 testimony before the 9/11 Commission: He made a passing reference to the sarin-gas drill and said it simulated an "Islamic terrorist attack." If the use of this term is a measure of a leader's understanding of the threat, what does it say about Giuliani's own decade of denial that he never used it in the '90s, when he was the mayor of the only American city to have experienced one?


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