Monday, September 11, 2006


We all have our memories of the morning of September 11, 2001, and the only event I can recall in my lifetime which was comparable was Friday, November 22, 1963- the day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. On 9-11-01 the whole country stopped. We shared the same emotions: horror, fear, anger, resolve. We felt a communal bond, which lasts in some part to this day. Southerners who never failed to mock or denigrate New York and its denizens were proud to wear FDNY or NYPD shirts and put aside their historic differences after modern day reality intruded.

I came to September 11th from a slightly different perspective. I’ve never been a government employee. I was never privy to secret information about terrorism at home or around the world. No one briefs me and the knowledge I have is and always has been freely available to all.

But when I got a phone call from my son, Ben, the morning of September 11th, my immediate reaction was that Osama Bin Laden was behind the attacks by hijacked airplanes and that a foreign terrorist attack had occurred on American soil for the first time since the British burned the White House during the war of 1812. Ben called me on his cell phone from inside the barracks of his Marine Reserve Unit in Washington, D.C., on the Anacostia River, just across the Potomac from the Pentagon. The huge plume of smoke from the 9:43 a.m. crash of American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon was clearly visible to Ben and his fellow Marines. Ben called me several times that day to update me on his situation. At some point I predicted to him that we would have American troops on the ground in Afghanistan within 90 days.

I knew without a shadow of a doubt that Ben’s reserve unit would soon be activated, and I thought that there was a good chance that at some point he would be on the ground in Afghanistan. I missed my mark by 16 months and several hundred miles. His unit was activated in January of 2003 and sent to Kuwait, where they awaited a “go” order to invade Iraq which came on March 20, 2003.

As I spoke to my son that terrible day, I immediately flashed back to the weekend in August of 1998 when I had driven over 800 miles from Albany to Annapolis, Maryland, to see Ben and his Naval Academy Class of 2002 graduate from their plebe summer ordeal. As I arrived at the Naval Academy, every American flag in sight was at half mast. Earlier that day, Friday, August 7th, over 250 people were killed and 4,000 were wounded when our embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya, were bombed by members of Al Qaida.

Although it was clear to me and any other rational observer that we were at war with the same group which had killed six in the unsuccessful attempt to bomb the World Trade Centers in 1993 and had killed seventeen American troops in Khobar barracks in 1996, that summer President Clinton was in the midst of fighting off the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment hearing over his lies about sex in and out of the White House. At the time, Clinton’s response was limited, strangely enough, by perceptions created by a satirical movie released earlier that year- “Wag the Dog.” The movie, based on Larry Beinhart’s novel “American Hero,” posited the scenario of an American president embroiled in a sex scandal who distracted the nation by concocting a war against Iraq on false pretenses.

Clinton refused to authorize ground troops or even air strikes on the places which American intelligence knew had planned the attacks and trained the attackers- Osama Bin Laden’s camps in Afghanistan, where the fundamentalist Taliban ruled after the fall of the Soviet sponsored government. A few cruise missiles were launched into Afghanistan from the relative safety of ships afloat in the Persian Gulf, and others were launched off the coast of Africa at a pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum, Sudan. Nothing vital was hit, and Al Qaida was left free to plan their next attack, which took place in a port in Yemen, two years later, when the U.S. destroyer Cole was bombed by boat on October 7, 2000, killing seventeen American sailors.

The CIA repudiated the claim that there were prewar ties between Saddam Hussein’s government and Al Qaeda

At the White House the day after President Bush had frozen while reading “My Pet Goat” after being informed of the September 11th attacks, he was questioning National Security Agency Counterterrorism chief Richard A. Clarke about a connection between Iraq and the 9-11 attacks. Clarke had to respectfully point out to the President the same information which the Senate Intelligence Committee released on September 8, 2006.

“The Central Intelligence Agency last fall repudiated the claim that there were prewar ties between Saddam Hussein’s government and an operative of Al Qaeda, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, according to a report issued Friday by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The disclosure undercuts continuing assertions by the Bush administration that such ties existed, and that they provided evidence of links between Iraq and Al Qaeda. The Republican-controlled committee, in a second report, also sharply criticized the administration for its reliance on the Iraqi National Congress during the prelude to the war in Iraq”

The truth- and every American intelligence professional in the region knew it- was that Saudi expatriate Osama Bin Laden was no fan of Saddam Hussein and vice versa. There was no operational or political connection between Al Qaida and Iraq. In short, Iraq had absolutely nothing to do with the attacks- they didn’t plan them, fund them, or encourage them. Not a single hijacker was Iraqi. At least 14 were Saudi citizens, three were from the United Arab Emirates (the country which President Bush fought so hard to put in charge of America’s ports earlier this year), one was from Lebanan, and Mohamed Atta, the reported leader, was Egyptian.

“Egyptian intelligence services had conveyed to the United States the threat, which included a reference to an airplane stuffed with explosives”

In spite of then National Security Advisor Condaleeza Rice’s sworn testimony before the 9-11 Commission that “no one could have imagined planes being used as weapons” before the attacks, memos have now been made public that not only was it imagined, there were active plans put in place before the G-8 Summit in Genoa, Italy in July of 2001, to prevent such an attack. Anti-aircraft measures were taken to protect the President and other world leaders from terrorists using planes as weapons.

“Al-Qaeda, the organization of suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden, had threatened to kill U.S. President George W. Bush and other leaders of the G-8 when they met in Italy earlier this year [2001] in July, The New York Times reported ...

The report of the newspaper has quoted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Italian Deputy Prime Minister, Gianfranco Fini.

"We learned of a communique from bin Laden, on June 13, 2001, in which he indicated that he wanted to assassinate the U.S. president and other G-8 heads of state during their summit in Italy this July," the report quoted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as saying in an interview with a French television station on Monday.

... Egyptian intelligence services had conveyed to the United States the threat, which included a reference to an airplane stuffed with explosives.”

Like many Americans, I was scheduled to fly the week of September 11, 2001. My trip fro Albany to my home near Phoenix was slated to depart September 13th. But America’s skies were empty for three days, and my flight didn’t get out until late on the 14th. A six hour trip ended up taking two days, as I had to spend the night in Atlanta when the connecting flight from Atlanta to Phoenix was postponed until the next day.

My wife, Dawn (we’ve since divorced but remain friends) had asked me to fly out and bring her back to Albany. But the whole context of the trip changed after the 9-11 attacks, and I can still hear her voice shaking when we spoke the evening of September 11th. As we drove back across the country in her little Honda Civic, we saw American flags and signs everywhere, affirming our communal bond and our strength as a nation. We drove from Arizona to Georgia, over 2,000 miles but the spirit we encountered and the sentiments were the same everywhere.

Five years later we can bemoan the loss of that spirit. We can decry the partisanship, as one political party has attempted to use the fears and anxieties stirred up to gain and then hold political power. The truth is more powerful than that. Those of us who lived through those days won’t forget the bonds that were forged, the reality of the feelings, among northerners and southerners, big city folk and rural farmers, among Christians, Jews and even Muslims who deplored what insane fundamentalists had attempted to do in the name of Allah. Presidents and their advisors, Senators and Congressmen, will come and go. They will say what they will say, all in an effort to serve their own agendas. But the true strength of our country was revealed in the days following September 11, 2001, and it wasn’t in the ships, missiles, planes, or guns we manufacture.


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