On Thursday, Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney will sit together and speak—off the record and in private—to the 9-11 Commission. Bush and Cheney can make a record of the interview, but the commission, under a bizarre agreement, is prohibited from doing so.
By refusing to appear separately or in public, the two may have taken the panel for a ride, but they can’t avoid the tough questions forever. Both give every sign of having been asleep at the switch on 9-11. Worse, for months they have been engaged in collusion to obstruct justice by thwarting first congressional and then commission investigations. Sooner or later, both must be served with subpoenas, sworn to tell the truth, and ordered to testify under threat of impeachment and/or criminal prosecution.
Let’s start with Bush. Here’s the setup: Morning, September 11, 2001. At 8:40 NORAD is notified Flight 11 has been hijacked. At 8:43 NORAD is notified Flight 175 is hijacked. At 9, Bush arrives at the Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, where he takes a call from Condoleezza Rice before entering an elementary school classroom for a photo op. Certainly by that moment Rice must have known that one plane had hit the World Trade Center and another had been hijacked.
Now a few simple questions for our president, the last six from the Family Steering Committee, whose members lost loved ones on 9-11:
1. What did you know about the emerging crisis before speaking to Rice?
2. Who told you? What was your response?
3. What did Rice tell you?
4. And why, after speaking to her, did you go ahead with a meaningless photo op?
5. Why was Flight 77 allowed to plow into the Pentagon 52 minutes after Flight 11 had smashed into the WTC?
6. Given the warnings on hijackings and flying bombs, why were there only 14 fighter planes assigned to cover the entire U.S., with only seven airborne that morning?
7. A briefing prepared for senior U.S. officials in early July 2001 stated: “Based on a review of all-source reporting over the last five months, we believe that [bin Laden] will launch a significant terrorist attack against U.S. and/or Israeli interests in the coming weeks. The attack will be spectacular and designed to inflict mass casualties against U.S. facilities or interests. Attack preparations have been made. Attack will occur with little or no warning.” As the weeks went by, senior officials continued to receive intelligence information warning of an imminent Al Qaeda attack.
Did you receive such warnings before 9-11? If so, what did you do in response?
8. Mr. President, European security forces were widely reported to have prepared elaborate measures to prevent a possible bin Laden attempt to assassinate you at the G8 Summit in Genoa, Italy, in July 2001. According to German intelligence sources, the plot involved bin Laden paying German neo-Nazis to fly remote-controlled model aircraft packed with Semtex into the conference hall and blow the leaders of the industrialized world to smithereens. The reports were taken so seriously that you stayed overnight on an aircraft carrier offshore, according to CNN, and other world leaders stayed on a luxury ship. Two days before the summit began, the BBC reported: “The huge force of officers and equipment which has been assembled to deal with unrest has been spurred on by a warning that supporters of Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden might attempt an air attack on some of the world leaders present.”
Italy surrounded the summit with anti-aircraft batteries, kept fighters overhead, and closed off local airspace. No attack occurred. U.S. officials at the time stated that the warnings were “unsubstantiated,” but after 9-11 reversed themselves and took credit for preventing an attack. Were you aware of the planned Al Qaeda attack on Genoa using planes as weapons? If so, what did you do to safeguard the homeland and U.S. facilities overseas?
9. As commander in chief on the morning of 9-11, why didn’t you return immediately to Washington, D.C., or the National Military Command Center once you became aware that America was under attack? At specifically what time did you become aware that America was under attack? Who informed you of this fact?
10. Please explain why you remained at the Sarasota, Florida, elementary school for a press conference after you had finished listening to the children read, when, as a terrorist target, your presence potentially jeopardized their lives?
11. What was the purpose of the several stops of Air Force One on September 11? Was Air Force One at any time during the day a target of the terrorists? Was Air Force One’s code ever breached on September 11?
12. Was there a reason for Air Force One lifting off without a military escort, even after ample time had elapsed for military jets to arrive?
13. What prompted your refusal to release the information regarding foreign sponsorship of the terrorists, as illustrated in the inaccessible redacted 28 pages from the Joint Intelligence Committee Inquiry Report? What actions have you personally taken since 9-11 to thwart foreign sponsorship of terrorism?
14. Who approved the flight of the bin Laden family out of the United States when commercial flights were grounded, when there was time for only minimal questioning by the FBI, and especially when two of those same individuals had links to WAMY, a charity suspected of funding terrorism? Why were bin Laden family members granted that special privilege and protection, when protection wasn’t available to American families whose loved ones were killed on 9-11?
Now for the vice president:
1. Mr. Cheney, we know—more or less—what Bush did on 9-11. What did you do? A chronology, please.
2. Did you receive any orders from Bush that morning? If so, what were they?
3. Did you issue any orders, either in your own or in the president’s name, to civilian and/or military agencies of the U.S. government that day? If so, what were they?
4. Before 9-11, Bush entrusted you to head a task force to work alongside the new Office of National Preparedness, a part of FEMA. This office is supposed to oversee a “national effort” to coordinate all federal programs for responding to domestic attacks. You told the press, “One of our biggest threats as a nation” may include “a terrorist organization overseas. We need to look at this whole area, oftentimes referred to as homeland defense.”
The focus was to be on state-funded terrorists using weapons of mass destruction, and you mentioned neither bin Laden nor Al Qaeda. Your task force was supposed to report to Congress by October 1, 2001, after a review by the National Security Council. Bush stated that he would “periodically chair a meeting of the National Security Council to review these efforts.” Yet neither your review nor Bush’s seems to have taken place before 9-11. Your deadline was a couple of weeks later.
What had you done up to then? How many meetings had you held? Who were the members of your task force?
Additional reporting: Alicia Ng and Phoebe St John