March 28, 2004

"The Bush people keep saying that Clinton was not doing enough [to combat the Al Qaeda threat]," said Ms. Kleinberg. "But ‘nothing’ is less than ‘not enough,’ and nothing is what the Bush administration did."

The "US mainstream news media" TV news show anchors,
White House "correspondents" and Sunday morning
propapunditgandists continue to slight the importance
of the questions for which the 9/11 families are
demanding answers, they continue to ignore the
relationship between these questions and the answers
provided by Richard Clarke. If, in spite, of the
complicity and cowardice of the "US mainstream news
media," the US electorate makes the connection between
the anger of the 9/11 families and the anger of
Richard Clarke, the _ resident is finished. 2+2=4

Gail Sheehy, NY Observer:
"The Bush people keep saying that Clinton was not doing enough [to combat the Al Qaeda threat]," said Ms. Kleinberg. "But ‘nothing’ is less than ‘not enough,’ and nothing is what the Bush administration did."

Repudiate the 9/11 Cover-Up and the Iraq War Lies,
Show Up for Democracy in 2004: Defeat Bush (again!)

Four 9/11 Moms Watch Rumsfeld And Grumble
by Gail Sheehy

In the predawn hours of Tuesday, March 23, Kristen
Breitweiser, Lorie Van Auken, Mindy Kleinberg and
Patty Casazza dropped off their collective seven
fatherless children with grandmothers and climbed into
Ms. Breitweiser’s S.U.V. for the race down Garden
State Parkway to the Hart Senate Office Building on
Capitol Hill. It’s a journey that they could now make
blindfolded—but this one was different. On March 23,
testimony was to be heard by the commission
investigating intelligence failures leading up to the
Sept. 11 terrorist attacks from Defense Secretary
Donald Rumsfeld, among others.

These four moms from New Jersey are the World Trade
Center widows whose tireless advocacy produced the
broad investigation into the failures around the Sept.
11 terrorist attacks that now has top officials from
both the Clinton and Bush administrations duking it
out in conflicting testimonies at this week’s
high-drama hearings in the Hart Office Building before
the 9/11 commission.

After two and a half years of seeking truth and
accountability, they had high hopes for this week’s
hearings, which are focused on policy failures.
Instead, packed into the car at 4 a.m. in what has
become a ritual for them, their hearts were heavy.

The Four Moms had submitted dozens of questions they
have been burning to ask at these hearings. Mr.
Rumsfeld is a particular thorn in their sides.

"He needs to answer to his actions on Sept. 11," said
Ms. Kleinberg. "When was he aware that we were under
attack? What did he do about it?"

When the widows had a conference call last week with
the commission staff, they asked that Secretary
Rumsfeld be questioned about his response on the day
of Sept. 11. They were told that this was not a line
of questioning the staff planned to pursue.

They were not especially impressed with his testimony.
In Mr. Rumsfeld’s opening statement, he said he knew
of no intelligence in the months leading up to Sept.
11 indicating that terrorists intended to hijack
commercial airplanes and fly them into the Pentagon or
the World Trade Center.

It was his worst moment at the mike. Commissioner
Richard Ben-Veniste ran through a list of at least a
dozen cases of foiled plots using commercial airliners
to attack key targets in the U.S. and elsewhere. Mr.
Ben-Veniste cited the "Bojinka" plot in 1995, which
envisioned blowing up Western commercial planes in
Asia; that plot was foiled by the government and must
have been on the mind of C.I.A. director George Tenet,
who was having weekly lunches with Mr. Rumsfeld
through 2001. In 1998, an Al Qaeda–connected group
talked about flying a commercial plane into the World
Trade Center.

"So when we had this threatened strike that something
huge was going to happen, why didn’t D.O.D. alert
people on the ground of a potential jihadist
hijacking? Why didn’t it ever get to an actionable
level?" the commissioner asked.

Mr. Rumsfeld said he only remembered hearing threats
of a private aircraft being used. "The decision to fly
a commercial aircraft was not known to me."

Mr. Ben-Veniste came back at him: "We knew from the
Millennium plot [to blow up Los Angeles International
Airport] that Al Qaeda was trying to bomb an American
airport," he said. The Clinton administration foiled
that plot and thought every day about foiling
terrorism, he said. "But as we get into 2001, it was
like everyone was looking at the white truck from the
sniper attacks and not looking in the right direction.
Nobody did a thing about it."

Mr. Rumsfeld backed off with the lame excuse, "I
should say I didn’t know."

He said that on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, he was
"hosting a meeting for some of the members of

"Ironically, in the course of the conversation, I
stressed how important it was for our country to be
adequately prepared for the unexpected," he said.

It is still incredible to the moms that their
Secretary of Defense continued to sit in his private
dining room at the Pentagon while their husbands were
being incinerated in the towers of the World Trade
Center. They know this from an account posted on Sept.
11 on the Web site of Christopher Cox, a Republican
Congressman from Orange County who is chairman of the
House Policy Committee.

"Ironically," Mr. Cox wrote, "just moments before the
Department of Defense was hit by a suicide hijacker,
Secretary Rumsfeld was describing to me why … Congress
has got to give the President the tools he needs to
move forward with a defense of America against
ballistic missiles."

At that point, National Security Advisor Condoleezza
Rice, the Secret Service, the F.A.A., NORAD (our North
American air-defense system), American Airlines and
United Airlines, among others, knew that at least
three planes had been violently hijacked, their
transponders turned off, and that thousands of
American citizens had been annihilated in the World
Trade Center by Middle Eastern terrorists, some of
whom had been under surveillance by the F.B.I. Yet the
nation’s defense chief didn’t think it significant
enough to interrupt his political pitch to a key
Republican in Congress to reactivate the Star Wars
initiative of the Bush I years.

"I’ve been around the block a few times," Mr. Rumsfeld
told the Congressman, according to his own account.
"There will be another event." Mr. Rumsfeld repeated
it for emphasis, Mr. Cox wrote: "There will be another

"Within minutes of that utterance, Rumsfeld’s words
proved tragically prophetic," Mr. Cox wrote.

"Someone handed me a note that a plane had hit one of
the W.T.C. towers," Mr. Rumsfeld testified on March
23. "Later, I was in my office with a C.I.A. briefer
when I was told a second plane had hit the other

The note didn’t seem to prompt any action on his part.

"Shortly thereafter, at 9:38 a.m., the Pentagon shook
with an explosion of a then-unknown origin," he said.

He had to go to the window of his office to see that
the Pentagon had been attacked? Now the moms were
getting agitated.

"I went outside to determine what had happened," he
testified. "I was not there long, apparently, because
I was told I was back in the Pentagon, with the crisis
action team, by shortly before or after 10 a.m.

"Upon my return from the crash site, and before going
to the Executive Support Center," he continued, "I had
one or more calls in my office, one of which I believe
was the President."

Then commission member Jamie Gorelick, who served as
deputy attorney general and general counsel for the
Department of Defense in the Clinton administration,
had her turn with Mr. Rumsfeld.

"Where were you and your aircraft when a missile was
heading to the Pentagon? Surely that is your
responsibility, to protect our facilities, our
headquarters—the Pentagon. Is there anything we did to
protect that?"

Mr. Rumsfeld said it was a law-enforcement issue.

"When I arrived at the command center, an order had
been given—the command had been given instructions
that their pilots could shoot down any commercial
airlines filled with our people if the plane seemed to
be acting in a threatening manner," he said.

Ms. Gorelick tried to get Mr. Rumsfeld to say whether
the NORAD pilots themselves knew they had authority to
shoot down a plane.

"I do not know what they thought," he answered. "I was
immediately concerned that they knew what they could
do and that we changed the rules of engagement."

One of the hardest things for the families to hear was
how every witness defended how he had done everything
possible to combat the threat of terrorism. No one
said, "We fell short."

Secretary of State Colin Powell complained that the
Bush administration was given no military plan by the
Clinton administration for routing Al Qaeda. He then
described how Condoleezza Rice undertook a complete
reorganization of the failed responses of the Clinton
years—not too much more than a series of meetings that
took up the next eight months.

"Then 9/11 hit, and we had to put together another
plan altogether," said Mr. Powell.

He also claimed that "we did not know the perpetrators
were already in our country and getting ready to
commit the crimes we saw on 9/11."

Some of the widows groaned. In fact, the Moms had
learned, the F.B.I. had 14 open investigations on
supporters of the 9/11 hijackers who were in the U.S.
before 9/11.

And after the Clinton administration foiled the
Millennium plot to blow up LAX, the C.I.A. knew that
two Al Qaeda operatives had a sleeper cell in San
Diego. F.B.I. field officers tried to move the
information up the line, with no success.

What’s more, most of the 9/11 hijackers re-entered the
U.S. between April and June of 2001 with blatantly
suspicious visa applications, which the Four Moms had
already obtained and shown to the commission. The
State Department had 166,000 people on its terrorist
watch list in 2001, but only 12 names had been passed
along to the F.A.A. for inclusion on its "no-fly
list." Mr. Powell had to admit as much, though he said
that State Department consular officers had been given
no information to help them identify terrorist
suspects among the visa applicants.

One of the key questions that the Moms expected to be
put to Mr. Powell was why over 100 members of the
Saudi royal family and many members of the bin Laden
clan were airlifted out of the U.S. in the days
immediately following the terrorist attacks—without
being interviewed by law enforcement—while no other
Americans, including members of the victims’ families,
could take a plane anywhere in the U.S. The State
Department had obviously given its approval. But no
commissioner apparently dared to touch the sacrosanct
Saudi friends of the Bush family.

When Republican commissioner James Thompson asked Mr.
Powell: "Prior to Sept. 11, would it have been
possible to say to the Pakistanis and Saudis, ‘You’re
either with us or against us?’", Mr. Powell simply
ignored the issue of the Saudi exemption and punted on

Fox in the Chicken House

To the Moms, the problems with the 9/11 commission
were always apparent. But the disappointing testimony
from Mr. Rumsfeld was especially difficult to bear.
The Moms had tried to get their most pressing
questions to the commission to be asked of Mr.
Rumsfeld, but their efforts had foundered at the hands
of Philip Zelikow, the commission’s staff director.

Indeed, it was only with the recent publication of
Richard Clarke’s memoir of his counterterrorism days
in the White House, Against All Enemies, that the Moms
found out that Mr. Zelikow—who was supposed to present
their questions to Mr. Rumsfeld—was actually one of
the select few in the new Bush administration who had
been warned, nine months before 9/11, that Osama bin
Laden was the No. 1 security threat to the country.
They are now calling for Mr. Zelikow’s resignation.

Ms. Gorelick sees their point.

"This is a legitimate concern," Ms. Gorelick said in
an interview, "and I am not convinced we knew
everything we needed to know when we made the decision
to hire him."

But despite her obvious discomfort at the conflicts of
interest apparently not fully disclosed by Mr. Zelikow
in his deposition by the commission’s attorney, Ms.
Gorelick believes that the time is too short to
replace the staff director.

"We’re just going to have to be very cognizant of the
role that he played and address it in the writing of
our report," she said.

That doesn’t satisfy the Four Moms. They point out
that it is Mr. Zelikow who decides which among the
many people offering information will be interviewed.
Efforts by the families to get the commission to hear
from a raft of administration and intelligence-agency
whistleblowers have been largely ignored at his
behest. And it is Mr. Zelikow who oversees what
investigative material the commissioners will be
briefed on, and who decides the topics for the
hearings. Mr. Zelikow’s statement at the January
hearing sounded to the Moms like a whitewash waiting
to happen:

"This was everybody’s fault and nobody’s fault."

The Moms don’t buy it.

"Why did it take Condi Rice nine months to develop a
counterterrorism policy for Al Qaeda, while it took
only two weeks to develop a policy for regime change
in Iraq?" Ms. Kleinberg asked rhetorically.

Dr. Rice has given one closed-door interview and has
been asked to return for another, but the
commissioners have declined to use their subpoena
power to compel her public testimony. And now, they
say, it is probably too late.

"That strategy may not turn out well for the Bush
administration," Ms. Gorelick said.

Bob Kerrey, the commissioner who replaced Max Cleland,
expressed the same view in a separate interview: "The
risk they run in not telling what they were doing
during that period of time is that other narratives
will prevail."

The Four Moms have enjoyed some victories along the
way. The first was when the White House finally gave
up trying to block an independent investigation; the
commission was created in December 2002. The Moms shot
down to Washington—stopping in traffic to change out
of their Capri pants and into proper pantsuits—to meet
with the new commissioners, who thanked them for
providing the wealth of information they’d been
gathering since losing their husbands on Sept. 11. Ms.
Gorelick expressed amazement at the research the women
had done, and vowed it would be their "road map."

"We were their biggest advocates," said the
husky-voiced Ms. Kleinberg. "They asked us to get them
more funding, and we did. It could have been a great
relationship, but it hasn’t been."

Mr. Zelikow’s idea of how to conduct the
investigation, the Moms said, is to hold everything
close to the vest.

"They don’t tell us or the public anything, and they
won’t until they publish their final report," said Ms.
Casazza. "At which point, they’ll be out of business."

Ms. Kleinberg chimed in: "Why not publish interim
reports, instead of letting us sit around for two
years bleeding for answers?"

"We have lower and lower expectations," said Ms. Van
Auken, whose teenage daughter often accompanies her to
hearings; her son still can’t talk about seeing his
father’s building incinerated.

The irony is that two of the Four Moms voted for
George Bush in 2000, while another is a registered
independent; only one is a Democrat. But until they
felt the teeth of the Bush attack dogs, they were
either apolitical or determinedly nonpartisan. Now
their tone is different.

"The Bush people keep saying that Clinton was not
doing enough [to combat the Al Qaeda threat]," said
Ms. Kleinberg. "But ‘nothing’ is less than ‘not
enough,’ and nothing is what the Bush administration

An unnamed spokesman for the Bush campaign was quoted
as saying of Sept. 11, "We own it." That comment
particularly disturbed the Four Moms.

"They can have it," said Ms. Van Auken. "Can I have my
husband back now? "

"If they want to own 9/11, they also have to own 9/10
and 9/12," said Ms. Kleinberg. "Their argument is that
this was a defining moment in our history. It’s not
the moment of tragedy that defines you, but what you
do afterwards."

If the final report of this 9/11 commission does
indeed turn out to be a whitewash, the Four Moms from
New Jersey have a backup plan. Provided there is a
change of leadership, they will petition the new
President to create an independent 9/11 commission. As
if one never existed before.

Posted by richard at March 28, 2004 11:53 AM