Flying Blind


It’s hard to believe that the nation could be any more unprepared for attacks than it was in September 2001 under the leadership of Bush and Cheney. After some 50 years of incessant scare-talk about Soviet missile threats and billion of dollars to create an instant military response to incoming attacks, we found ourselves protected in the real attack of 9-11 by four jet fighters, two of which were sent off in the wrong direction.

The job of defending the country involves a chain of command that runs from the president to the secretary of defense and on down to the various military commands. But Bush complained that the phones aboard Air Force One didn’t work properly, leaving Vice President Cheney—who is not in the chain of command—to issue shoot-down orders from his command center. Out of touch and unsure of what to do, Bush flew cross-country without any fighter protection. As for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the man who under the law should be implementing the president’s orders, he was absent for some of the morning, attending to the Pentagon rescue efforts for part of the time. He took only one call from Bush, during which the crucial question of whether or not military pilots should be ordered to shoot down commercial airliners was not discussed. At 11:15, according to the 9-11 Commission’s investigation, Rumsfeld told the president he was working on refining the rules of engagement—which, as noted above, the vice president, who has no authority to do so, had already issued on his own. Some time after 1 p.m., well after three planes had hit their targets and one had crashed, Rumsfeld put out rules of engagement for the pilots.

Despite what the commission tactfully refers to as a lack of “imagination,” no one has ever been held accountable for the scarcely believable bungles of that day, and the Democrats have shied away from the subject for so long that any last-minute effort to take up the issue will be difficult. The Kerry campaign actively repulsed efforts to get involved in this, and the effect of last week’s announced support of Kerry by survivors, including the Jersey Girls, remains to be seen.

Additional reporting: Laurie Anne Agnese and David Botti