Nearly six years after 9/11, Rudy Giuliani is still walking through the canyons of lower Manhattan, covered in soot, pointing north, and leading the nation out of danger’s way. The Republican frontrunner is campaigning for president by evoking that visual at every campaign stop, and he apparently believes it’s a picture worth thousands of nights in the White House.
Giuliani has been leading the Republican pack for seven months, and predictions that the party’s evangelicals would turn on him have so far proven hollow. The religious right appears as gripped by the Giuliani story as the rest of the country.
Giuliani isn’t shy about reminding audiences of those heady days. In fact he hyperventilates about them on the stump, making his credentials in the so-called war on terror the centerpiece of his campaign. His claims, meanwhile, have been met with a media deference so total that he’s taken to complimenting “the good job it is doing covering the campaign.” Opponents, too, haven’t dared to question his terror credentials, as if doing so would be an unpatriotic bow to Osama bin Laden.
Here, then, is a less deferential look at the illusory cloud emanating from the former mayor’s campaign . . .
1. ‘I think the thing that distinguishes me on terrorism is, I have more experience dealing with it.’
This pillar of the Giuliani campaign—asserted by pundits as often as it is by the man himself—is based on the idea that Rudy uniquely understands the terror threat because of his background as a prosecutor and as New York’s mayor. In a July appearance at a Maryland synagogue, Giuliani sketched out his counterterrorism biography, a resume that happens to be rooted in falsehood.
“As United States Attorney, I investigated the Leon Klinghoffer murder by Yasir Arafat,” he told the Jewish audience, referring to the infamous 1985 slaying of a wheelchair-bound, 69-year-old New York businessman aboard the Achille Lauro, an Italian ship hijacked off the coast of Egypt by Palestinian extremists. “It’s honestly the reason why I knew so much about Arafat,” says Giuliani. “I knew, in detail, the Americans he murdered. I went over their cases.”
On the contrary, Victoria Toensing, the deputy assistant attorney general at the Justice Department in Washington who filed a criminal complaint in the Lauro investigation, says that no one in Giuliani’s office “was involved at all.” Jay Fischer, the Klinghoffer family attorney who spearheaded a 12-year lawsuit against the PLO, says he “never had any contact” with Giuliani or his office. “It would boggle my mind if anyone in 1985, 1986, 1987, or thereafter conducted an investigation of this case and didn’t call me,” he adds. Fischer says he did have a private dinner with Giuliani in 1992: “It was the first time we talked, and we didn’t even talk about the Klinghoffer case then.”
The dinner was arranged by Arnold Burns, a close friend of Fischer and Giuliani who also represented the Klinghoffer family. Burns, who was also the finance chair of Giuliani’s mayoral campaign, was the deputy U.S. attorney general in 1985 and oversaw the probe. “I know of nothing Rudy did in any shape or form on the Klinghoffer case,” he says.
Though Giuliani told the Conservative Political Action conference in March that he “prosecuted a lot of crime—a little bit of terrorism, but mostly organized crime,” he actually worked only one major terrorism case as U.S. Attorney, indicting 10 arms dealers for selling $2.5 billion worth of anti-tank missiles, bombs, and fighter jets to Iran in 1986. The judge in the case ruled that a sale to Iran violated terrorist statutes because its government had been tied to 87 terrorist incidents. Giuliani has never mentioned the case, perhaps because he personally filed papers terminating it in his last month as U.S. Attorney: A critical witness had died, and a judge tossed out 46 of the 55 counts because of errors by Giuliani’s office.
“Then, as mayor of New York,” Giuliani’s July speech continued, “I got elected right after the 1993 Islamic terrorist attack . . . I set up emergency plans for all the different possible attacks we could have. We had drills and exercises preparing us for sarin gas and anthrax, dirty bombs.”
In fact, Giuliani was oblivious to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing throughout his mayoralty. A month after the attack, candidate Giuliani met for the first time with Bill Bratton, who would ultimately become his police commissioner. The lengthy taped meeting was one of several policy sessions he had with unofficial advisers. The bombing never came up; neither did terrorism. When Giuliani was elected a few months later, he immediately launched a search for a new police commissioner. Three members of the screening panel that Giuliani named to conduct the search, and four of the candidates interviewed for the job, said later that the bombing and terrorism were never mentioned—even when the new mayor got involved with the interviews himself. When Giuliani needed an emergency management director a couple of years later, two candidates for the job and the city official who spearheaded that search said that the bombing and future terrorist threats weren’t on Giuliani’s radar. The only time Giuliani invoked the 1993 bombing publicly was at his inauguration in 1994, when he referred to the way the building’s occupants evacuated themselves as a metaphor for personal responsibility, ignoring the bombing itself as a terrorist harbinger.
U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White and the four assistants who prosecuted the 1993 bombing said they were never asked to brief Giuliani about terrorism, though all of the assistants knew Giuliani personally and had actually been hired by him when he was the U.S. Attorney. White’s office, located just a couple hundred yards from City Hall, indicted bin Laden three years before 9/11, but Giuliani recounted in his own book, Leadership, that “shortly after 9/11, Judith [Nathan] got me a copy of Yossef Bodansky’s Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America,” which had warned of “spectacular terrorist strikes in Washington and/or New York” in 1999. As an example of how he “mastered a subject,” Giuliani wrote that he soon “covered” Bodansky’s prophetic work “in highlighter and notes.”
The 1995 sarin-gas drill that Giuliani cited in his July speech was also prophetic, anticipating many of the breakdowns that hampered the city’s 9/11 response. The drill was such a disaster that a follow-up exercise was cancelled to avoid embarrassment. More than a hundred of the first responders rushed in so recklessly that they were “killed” by exposure to the gas. Radio communications were described in the city’s own report as “abysmal,” with police and fire “operating on different frequencies.” The command posts were located much too close to the incident. All three failings would be identified years later in official reviews of the 9/11 response.
Giuliani went on, in this stump speech, to list other examples of his mayoral experience confronting terrorism. There was the time, he says, “we had what we thought was a sarin gas attack.” And there were also the 50th anniversary commemoration of the United Nations and the 2000 millennium celebration to contend with, times, he said, “when we had a lot of warnings and had to do a tremendous amount to prepare.” And let’s not forget, he pointed out, the 1997 NYPD arrest of two terrorists who “were going to blow up a subway station.” Giuliani used this thwarted attack as proof of the city’s readiness: “A very, very alert young police officer saw those guys,” he said. “They looked suspicious, [so he] reported them to the desk sergeant. The police department executed a warrant and shot one of the men as he was about to hit a toggle switch.”
Each of the claims in Giuliani’s self-serving account is inaccurate. The supposed “sarin attack” was simply the discovery of an empty canister marked “sarin” in the home of a harmless Queens recluse. It was sitting next to an identical container labeled “compressed air” with a smiley-face logo. Jerry Hauer, the city’s emergency management director at the time, was in London, on the phone with Giuliani constantly. Hauer finds it ironic that Giuliani is still talking about the incident, since they both thought it was “comically” mishandled then. “The police went there without any suits on and touched all the containers without proper clothing. They turned it into a major crime scene, with a hundred cops lining the street. Rudy at one point said to me, ‘Here we have the mayor, the fire commissioner, the chief of the police department, and one of my deputy mayors standing on the front lawn of this house. Shouldn’t we be across the street in case this stuff ignites?'” This overhyped emergency led to a misdemeanor arrest subsequently dismissed by the district attorney.
Similarly, the security concerns during the 1995 U.N. anniversary focused on Cuba and China and didn’t involve Arab terrorist threats. The millennium target, well established at subsequent trials, was the Los Angeles International Airport, not New York. While there’s no doubt the Clinton administration did put the country and city on terrorist alert for Y2K and other reasons, it was an arrest on the Washington/Canadian border that busted up a West Coast plot.
The subway bombing, meanwhile, wasn’t stymied by the NYPD. An Egyptian friend of the bomber—living with him in the apartment where the pipe bomb was being built—told two Long Island Rail Road police officers about it. When the NYPD subsequently raided the apartment, they shot two Palestinians who were there—one of whom, hit five times and gravely wounded, was later acquitted at trial. No one had tried to set off the bomb at the time of the arrest, though news stories reported that; the bomber had reached for an officer’s gun, according to the trial testimony. The news stories also initially suggested a link to Hamas, though the lone bomber was actually an amateur fanatic with no money and no network. As conservative a source as Bill Gertz of The Washington Times wrote that FBI counterterrorism investigators were “concerned that the initial alarmist statements about the case made by Mayor Rudy Giuliani”—apparently a reference to leaks about Hamas and the toggle switch—”will prove embarrassing.”
Giuliani’s terrorism biography is bunk. As mayor, his laser-beam focus was street thugs, and as a prosecutor, it was the mob, Wall Street, and crooked politicians. He can’t reach back to those years and rewrite such well-known chapters of his life.
2. ‘I don’t think there was anyplace in the country, including the federal government, that was as well prepared for that attack as New York City was in 2001.’
This assertion flies in the face of all three studies of the city’s response—the 9/11 Commission, the National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST), and McKinsey & Co., the consulting firm hired by the Bloomberg administration.
Actually, Giuliani didn’t create the OEM until three years after the 1993 bombing, 27 months into his term. And he didn’t open the OEM’s new emergency command center until the end of 1999—nearly six years after he’d taken office. If he “assumed from the moment I came into office that NYC would be the subject of a terrorist attack,” as he told Time when it made him “Person of the Year” in 2001, he sure took a long time to erect what he describes as the city’s front line of defense.
The OEM was established so long after the bombing because, contrary to Giuliani’s revisionism, the decision to create it had nothing to do with the bombing. Several memos, unearthed from the Giuliani archive and going on at great length, reveal that the initial rationale for the agency was “non-law enforcement events,” particularly the handling of a Brooklyn water-main break shortly after he took office that the mayor thought had been botched. Before that, in December 1994, when an unemployed computer programmer carried a bomb onto a subway in an extortion plot against the Transit Authority, Giuliani was upset that he couldn’t even get a count of patients from the responding services for his press conference.
Jerry Hauer, who was handpicked by Giuliani to head the OEM, testified before the 9/11 Commission that Giuliani was “unable to get the full story” at the firebombing and “heard about the huge street collapse” that followed the water-main break “on TV,” adding: “That’s what led the mayor to set up OEM.” Hauer went through five interviews for the job, and the only time terrorism came up was when Giuliani briefly discussed the failed sarin-gas drill. He even met with Giuliani’s wife, Donna Hanover; no one said a word about the 1993 bombing. Hauer’s own memos at the time the OEM was launched in 1996 emphasize “the visibility of the mayor” during emergencies (rather than the police commissioner) as a major objective of the agency. The now- ballyhooed new office was, however, so underfunded from the start that Hauer could
only hire staffers whose salaries would be paid for by other agencies like the NYPD.
With that kind of history, it’s hardly surprising that the OEM was anything but “invaluable” on 9/11. Sam Caspersen, one of the principal authors of the 9/11 Commission’s chapter on the city’s response, says that “nothing was happening at OEM” during the 102 minutes of the attack that had any direct impact on the city’s “rescue/evacuation operation.” A commission staff statement found that, even prior to the evacuation of the OEM command center at 7 World Trade an hour after the first plane hit, the agency “did not play an integral role” in the response. Despite Giuliani’s claim today that he and the OEM were “constantly planning for different kinds” of attacks, none of the OEM exercises replicated the 1993 bombing. No drill occurred at the World Trade Center, and none involved the response to a high-rise fire anywhere. In fact, the OEM had no high-rise plan—its emergency-management trainers weren’t even assigned to prepare for the one attack that had already occurred, and the one most likely to recur. Kevin Culley, a Fire Department captain who worked as a field responder at OEM, said the agency had “plans for minor emergencies,” but he couldn’t recall “anybody anticipating another attack like the ’93 bombing.”
Instead of being the best-prepared city, New York’s lack of unified command, as well as the breakdown of communications between the police and fire departments, fell far short of the efforts at the Pentagon that day, as later established by the 9/11 Commission and NIST reports. When the 280,000-member International Association of Fire Fighters recently released a powerful video assailing Giuliani for sticking firefighters with the same radios that “we knew didn’t work” in the 1993 attack, the presidential campaign attacked the union. “This is an organization that supported John Kerry for president in 2004,” Giuliani aide Tony Carbonetti said. “So it’s no shock that they’re out there going after a credible Republican.” While the IAFF did endorse Kerry, the Uniformed Firefighters of Greater New York, whose president starred in the video, endorsed Bush. Its former president, Tom Von Essen—currently a member of Giuliani Partners—was the fire commissioner on 9/11 precisely because the union had played such a pivotal role in initially electing Giuliani.
The IAFF video reports that 121 firefighters in the north tower didn’t get out because they didn’t hear evacuation orders, rejecting Giuliani’s claim before the 9/11 Commission that the firefighters heard the orders and heroically decided to “stand their ground” and rescue civilians. Having abandoned that 2004 contention, the Giuliani campaign is now trying to blame the deadly communications lapse on the repeaters, which were installed to boost radio signals in the towers. But the commission concluded that the “technical failure of FDNY radios” was “a contributing factor,” though “not the primary cause,” of the “many firefighter fatalities in the North Tower.” The commission compared “the strength” of the NYPD and FDNY radios and said that the weaknesses of the FDNY radios “worked against successful communication.”
The commission report also found that “it’s impossible to know what difference it made that units in the North Tower weren’t using the repeater channel,” because no one knows if it “remained operational” after the collapse of the south tower, which fell on the trade-center facilities where the repeater and its console were located. The collapse also drove everyone out of the north tower lobby, leaving no one to operate the repeater console. In addition, the commission concluded that fire chiefs failed to turn on the repeater correctly that morning—another indication of the lack of training and drills at the WTC between the attacks. In the end, firefighters had to rely exclusively on their radios, and the inability of the Giuliani administration to find a replacement for the radios that malfunctioned in 1993 left them unable to talk to each other, even about getting out of a tower on the verge of collapse.
The mayor had also done nothing to make the radios interoperable—which would have enabled the police and firefighters to communicate across departmental lines—despite having received a 1995 federal waiver granting the city the additional radio frequencies to make that possible. That meant the fire chiefs had no idea that police helicopters had anticipated the partial collapse of both towers long before they fell.
It’s not just the radios and the OEM: Giuliani never forced the police and fire departments to abide by clear command-and-control protocols that squarely put one service in charge of the other during specified emergencies. Though he collected $250 million in tax surcharges on phone use to improve the 911 system, he diverted this emergency funding for other uses, and the 911 dispatchers were an utter disaster that day, telling victims to stay where they were long after the fire chiefs had ordered an evacuation, which potentially sealed the fates of hundreds. And, despite the transparent lessons of 1993, Giuliani never established any protocols for rooftop or elevator rescues in high-rises, or even a strategy for bringing the impaired and injured out—all costly failings on 9/11.
But perhaps the best evidence of the Giuliani administration’s lack of readiness was that no one at its top levels had a top-secret security clearance on 9/11. Hauer, who had left the OEM in 2000 to become a top biochemical adviser at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, was invited to Gracie Mansion within days of 9/11 for a strategy session with Giuliani and a half-dozen of his top advisers, including Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik, Tom Von Essen, and Richie Sheirer, who succeeded Hauer at the OEM. Hauer, who had the highest-level clearance, says that “no one else in the room had one at all.” He was told that the FBI “was trying to get them expedited clearances.”
Hauer had previously taken Sheirer down to the White House to meet with top counterterrorism brass and learned on his way into the meeting that Sheirer hadn’t “filled out the questionnaire.” When Kerik’s nomination as homeland security secretary blew up in 2004, news accounts also indicated that he’d never filled it out. Von Essen was so out of the loop that he said that prior to 9/11, he was told “nothing at all,” and that he started hearing “talk of an organization called al Qaeda and a man named Osama bin Laden” a few hours after the attack. “It meant nothing to me,” he wrote in his own book.
“I was reading the daily intelligence in Washington,” Hauer recalled, “and I didn’t feel comfortable talking about things that people weren’t cleared for. Talking in general with Rudy one-on-one was one thing, but talking to Richie and Bernie and Tommy violated my security clearances.” Though Giuliani’s top team had failed to seek the clearances they needed prior to 9/11, Kerik and Giuliani attacked the FBI for not sharing information with local law enforcement officials when they testified a month after the attack at a House subcommittee hearing.
3. Don’t blame me for 7 WTC, Rudy says. In response to his critics’ most damning sound bite, Giuliani is attempting to blame a once-valued aide for the decision to put his prized, $61 million emergency-command center in the World Trade Center, an obvious terrorist target. The 1997 decision had dire consequences on 9/11, when the city had to mobilize a response without any operational center.
“My director of emergency management recommended 7 WTC” as “the site that would make the most sense,” Giuliani told Chris Wallace’s Fox News Channel show in May, pinpointing Jerry Hauer as the culprit.
Wallace confronted Giuliani, however, with a 1996 Hauer memo recommending that the bunker be sited at MetroTech in Brooklyn, close to where the Bloomberg administration eventually built one. The mayor brushed the memo aside, continuing to insist that Hauer had picked it as “the prime site.” The campaign then put out statements from a former deputy mayor who said that Hauer had supported the trade-center location at a high-level meeting with the mayor in 1997.
Hauer doesn’t dispute that he eventually backed the 7 WTC location, but he clearly favored MetroTech. His memo said that MetroTech “could be available in six months,” while it took four and a half more years to get the bunker up and running at 7 WTC. He said that MetroTech was secure and “not as visible a target as buildings in Lower Manhattan”— a prophetic comparison. Listing eight positives about MetroTech, the memo also mentioned negatives, but said they weren’t insurmountable. “The real issue,” Hauer concluded, “is whether or not the mayor wants to go across the river to manage an incident. If he is willing to do this, MetroTech is a good alternative.” Notes from meetings indicate that Hauer continued to push MetroTech in the discussions with the mayor and his top deputy.
But Hauer says Denny Young, the mayor’s alter ego, who has worked at his side for nearly three decades, eventually “made it very clear” that Giuliani wanted “to be able to walk to this facility quickly.” That meant the bunker had to be in lower Manhattan. Since the City Hall area is below the floodplain, the command center—which was built with a hurricane-curtain wall—had to be above ground. The formal city document approving the site said that it “was selected due to its proximity to City Hall,” a standard set by Giuliani and Giuliani alone.
The 7 WTC site was the brainchild of Bill Diamond, a prominent Manhattan Republican that Giuliani had installed at the city agency handling rentals. When Diamond held a similar post in the Reagan administration a few years earlier, his office had selected the same building to house nine federal agencies. Diamond’s GOP-wired broker steered Hauer to the building, which was owned by a major Giuliani donor and fundraiser. When Hauer signed onto it, he was locked in by the limitations Giuliani had imposed on the search and the sites Diamond offered him. The mayor was so personally focused on the siting and construction of the bunker that the city administrator who oversaw it testified in a subsequent lawsuit that “very senior officials,” specifically including Giuliani, “were involved,” which he said was a major difference between this and other projects. Giuliani’s office had a humidor for cigars and mementos from City Hall, including a fire horn, police hats and fire hats, as well as monogrammed towels in his bathroom. His suite was bulletproofed and he visited it often, even on weekends, bringing his girlfriend Judi Nathan there long before the relationship surfaced. He had his own elevator. Great concern was expressed in writing that the platform in the press room had to be high enough to make sure his head was above the cameras. It’s inconceivable that the hands-on mayor’s fantasy command center was shaped—or sited—by anyone other than him.
Of course, the consequences of putting the center there were predictable. The terrorist who engineered the 1993 bombing told the FBI they were coming back to the trade center. Opposing the site at a meeting with the mayor, Police Commissioner Howard Safir called it “Ground Zero” because of the earlier attack. Lou Anemone, the highest-ranking uniformed officer in the NYPD, wrote memos slamming the site. “I’ve never seen in my life ‘walking distance’ as some kind of a standard for crisis management,” Anemone said later. “But you don’t want to confuse Giuliani with the facts.” Anemone had done a detailed vulnerability study of the city for Giuliani, pinpointing terrorist targets. “In terms of targets, the WTC was number one,” he says. “I guess you had to be there in 1993 to know how strongly we felt it was the wrong place.”
Bizarrely, Giuliani even tried in the Wallace interview to deny that the early evacuation of the bunker left him searching for a new site, contrary to the account of that frantic morning he’s given hundreds of times, often for honoraria reaching six figures. “The way you’re interpreting it,” he told Wallace, “it was as if that was the one fixed command center. It was not. There were backup command centers.” To minimize the effect of the loss of the bunker, Giuliani said that, “within a half hour” of the shutdown of the bunker, “we were able to move immediately to another command center.”
In fact, as Giuliani himself has told the dramatic tale, he and his entourage were briefly trapped in a Merrill Lynch office, “jimmied the lock” of a firehouse, and took over a deluxe hotel until they realized it was “sheathed in windows.” They considered going to City Hall, but learned it was covered in debris. The only backup center that existed was the small one at police headquarters that had been put out of business when the WTC bunker opened; but Giuliani said its phones weren’t working. “We’re going to have to find someplace,” Giuliani said, according to his Time account, which described it as a “long and harrowing” search. “Our government no longer had a place to work,” he wrote in Leadership.
They wound up at the police academy uptown and, according to the account Giuliani and company gave Time, “we are up and operating by 4 p.m.”—seven hours, not a half-hour, after the attack. But Giuliani told the 9/11 Commission that they quickly decided the academy “was too small” and “were able to establish a command center” at Pier 92 “within three days,” virtually building it from scratch. Hauer said he’d asked for a backup command center years before 9/11, “but they told me there was no money for it.” After Hauer left, and shortly before 9/11, the city announced plans to build a backup center near police headquarters—a site quickly jettisoned by the Bloomberg administration. Police officials told reporters that they were looking for space outside Manhattan and underground, citing the lessons of 9/11.
4. ‘Democrats do not understand the full nature and scope of the terrorist war against us.’ Giuliani blames what he calls Bill Clinton’s “decade of denial” for the mess we’re in, and uses it to tarnish the rest of Clinton’s party. “Don’t react, kind of let things go, kind of act the way Clinton did in the ’90s” is his favorite way of characterizing the Democratic response to the threat of terrorism. “We were attacked at Khobar Towers, Kenya, Tanzania, 17 of our sailors were killed on the USS Cole, and the United States government, under then-president Clinton, did not respond,” Giuliani told the rabidly anti-Clinton audience at Pat Robertson’s Regent University. “It was a big mistake to not recognize that the 1993 bombing was a terrorist act and an act of war,” he added. “Bin Laden declared war on us. We didn’t hear it. I thought it was pretty clear at the time, but a lot of people didn’t see it, couldn’t see it.”
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.
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?
5. ‘Every effort was made by Mayor Giuliani and his staff to ensure the safety of all workers at Ground Zero.’ So read a Giuliani campaign statement in June, responding to a chorus of questions about the mayor’s responsibility for the respiratory plague that threatens the health of tens of thousands of workers at the World Trade Center site, apparently already having killed some.
The statement pointed a finger at then-EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman, issuing a list of the many times that “Whitman assured New Yorkers the air was safe.” Instead of also detailing the many times Giuliani echoed Whitman—for example, “the air is safe and acceptable,” he said on September 28—the campaign cited several Fire Department “briefings” about “incident action plans” for the use of respirators, suggesting that the city had tried to get responders to protect themselves from the toxins at Ground Zero. The press release did not make a case that any of these “plans” had ever resulted in any real “action”; nor did it dispute the fact that as late as the end of October, only 29 percent of the workers at the site were wearing respirators. Of course, the workers might have noticed that the photo-op mayor never put one on himself. Instead, the other 9/11 visual we all remember is Giuliani leading at Ground Zero by macho example: The most in the way of protective gear he was ever seen wearing was a dust mask on his mouth.
When the cleanup effort was widely hailed as under-budget and ahead of schedule, there was no doubt about who was in charge. “By Day 4,” the New York Times reported in a salute to the “Quick Job” at Ground Zero, “Mr. Giuliani, the Department of Design and Construction (D.D.C.), the Office of Emergency Management, contractors and union officials decided it was time to bring order to the chaos.” Giuliani controlled access to the site as if it were his backyard. Yet, when the scope of the health disaster was clear on the fifth anniversary in 2006, he told ABC: “Everybody’s responsible.” Throwing federal, state, and city agencies into the mix, he diffused the blame. On the Today show the same morning, however, he was more accusatory: “EPA put out statements very, very prominent that you have on tape, that the air was safe, and kept repeating that and kept repeating that.”
The city had its own test results, of course, and when 17 of 87 outdoor tests showed hazardous levels of asbestos up to seven blocks away, they decided not to make the results public. An EPA chief, Bruce Sprague, sent an October 5 letter to the city complaining about “very inconsistent compliance” with respiratory protection. Sprague, who wrote the letter only after unsuccessful conversations with Giuliani aides, likened the indifference in a subsequent court deposition to sticking one’s head “over a barbecue grill for hours” and expecting no consequences. An internal legal memo to a deputy mayor estimated early in the cleanup that there could be 35,000 potential plaintiffs against the city, partly because rescue workers were “provided with faulty or no equipment (i.e. respirators).” Bechtel, the major construction firm retained by the city as its health and safety consultant, urged it to cut the exit-entry points from 20 to two so they could enforce the use of respirators and other precautions, just as was done at the Pentagon, but the recommendation was ignored.
A Times editorial concluded in May that the Giuliani administration “failed in its duty to protect the workers at Ground Zero,” faulting its “emphasis on a speedy cleanup” and its unwillingness “to insist that all emergency personnel and construction workers wear respirators.” John Odermatt, a former OEM director working at the campaign, couldn’t tell the Times whether Giuliani had lobbied Congress on behalf of sick workers, nor could anyone at the campaign offer any evidence that Giuliani had ever, while earning millions at his new 9/11 consulting business in recent years, tried to secure federal funds for responders.
Should the current presidential frontrunners square off in 2008, Giuliani’s culpability and subsequent indifference at Ground Zero will, no doubt, be sharply contrasted to Hillary Clinton’s singular role in funding the Mount Sinai programs that have been aiding rescue workers for years. And the public price tag for the mismanagement at the pile (as the site was known among recovery and rescue workers) will run into the billions. Ken Feinberg, who ran the federally funded Victims Compensation Board, has already paid out $1 billion to the injured, concluding after individual hearings that hundreds “were diagnosed with demonstrable and documented respiratory injuries directly related to their rescue service.” Anthony DePalma, whose extraordinary Times stories have lifted the lid on Giuliani’s role, recently reported that the health-care costs for rescue workers could soar to as much as $712 million a year. And the city is administering a billion-dollar liability fund to satisfy the thousands of lawsuits.
Giuliani’s fellow Republican and former EPA chief Christine Todd Whitman did tell WNBC a couple of months ago that there were “telephone calls, telephone meetings, and meetings in person with the city” every day, with the EPA repeating “the message” and emphasizing the “necessity of wearing the respirators.” Whitman said she “would call my people at midnight after watching the 11 o’clock news and say, ‘I’m still seeing them without the respirators.’ ” The EPA, she said, “was very frustrated.” She also said “the better thing would’ve been to put out the fire sooner,” certainly a function of the city’s Fire Department, adding that it had “burned until January”—a continuous flame held to a smoking, toxic brew. Asked about the mayor himself, Whitman sputtered: “He was clearly in control and doing a good job. Everyone was applauding what was going on. EPA, we had some disagreements with things that were occurring on the pile, like not having people wear respirators—we wanted more emphasis on that. But overall, you know, it’s hard. Those are emotional times.”
The firefighters’ union pointed out that the respiratory debacle was, like the malfunctioning radios and so many other things, another symbol of the city’s failure to prepare for a major terrorist event. Fire Department memos after the 1993 bombing had urged better protective gear, just as they’d screamed for better radios. The UFA’s leaders pointed out that the department had “ignored many issues related to respiratory protection” for years. The union’s health-and-safety officer, Phil McArdle, likened the long-term effects of working at Ground Zero to Agent Orange in Vietnam. “We’ve done a good job of taking care of the dead,” he said, referring to the hunt for remains, “but such a terrible job of taking care of the living.”
Wayne Barrett is the co-author, with Dan Collins, of Grand Illusion: The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11, which was just published in paperback by HarperCollins.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 31, 2007